At the beginning of October I developed a toothache. It persisted and got steadily worse. The dentist saw me immediately, for which I am very grateful, x-rayed the teeth, identified two abscesses, and gave me two antibiotics. One was anti-alcohol which meant I had a dry two weeks. The following week I was scheduled to fly to Johannesburg and drive to Eswatini (Swaziland). On the Monday there was a lump in my gum, and it was still very painful. I had an emergency appointment, the abscess was lanced, and the relief was immediate!
It has been an interesting and active four weeks. I travelled to South Africa in the middle of the month. The weekend before the journey we drove to Kent, to visit my half-sister Pat, who is 24 years older than me. Unfortunately her husband, David, was in hospital for a hernia operation. This did not go well initially. He has recovered now, but he was in hospital for the entire time we were there. His misfortune meant their children, who are slightly younger than me, were about. We had a lunch, with all my siblings present and then with members of Pat and David’s family. It was a four drive from Norwich. Going down the traffic uses the bridge across the Thames at Blackwall, coming back we drove thought the tunnel. These are both tolled, but there was a transponder on the car we hired which simply beeped. This is a theme of the blog post in July – transponders!
We had a good time. Ailsa found an idyllic cottage, ‘May’s Cottage‘. It had two bedrooms so my sister Gill, who took the train down from London, was able to stay with us. There was an area to sit outside and it was amazingly peaceful and beautiful. The swallows swooped, cows mooed and foxes barked. It is far enough from Gatwick airport that I was able to enjoy the sight of the planes but it was not too disruptive. All in all a very good weekend.
Normally when I post on the website I comment, at the end, on films I have seen or books I have read. This month’s post unusually begins with the two films I watched on the flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg in early November. The first was the new Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake. It was excellent, thought provoking and depressing. The story is of a 59 year old scaffolder who is unable to work because of a heart problem. He is caught in a bureaucratic nightmare of not getting the state benefits he should, because he is deemed fit enough to look for work. It is a searing indictment of the failure of the welfare state, increasingly the case in the UK. This is the result of global trends to elect people who don’t care, at least not in the way I was brought up. It made me ask what I would do if I had power, probably a basic income grant for all.
In Durban I am sharing the car with Rowan, who has travelled over to spend five months in South Africa. She has two days’ work a week in Umhlanga, so on those days I walk. There was a youngish white man, on crutches, begging on the street a few hundred metres from the flat. I asked him over to tell me his story and, in exchange, gave him a decent amount of money. He said he was a welder by trade. He lost the lower part of his left leg in a motor accident a few years ago. He said he was trying to scrape together enough money to replace his identity document in order to get work. He is living with his wife and child in one room in the town centre. How much of that was true? I don’t know. South Africa is a harsh society for people who don’t have resources.
July was full of travel: to Norwich for a few days, and a day in London; then to Swaziland and on to Durban; the return trip to Norwich late July. This was mostly done in economy – or on the KLM flights, in premium economy, which gives a bit more room. The exception in the class of travel was the trip to London. There seems little sense in how rail travel is priced. I needed to get an early train and the cost of a first class ticket was £46 while for an economy ticket it was £45, which really is a no brainer! On the train the toilet had a delightful sign under the lid, there is a photograph in the gallery, but it is a little out of focus. The sign said: ‘Please don’t flush Nappies; sanitary towels, paper towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes dreams or goldfish down this toilet’. How nice to see a sense of humour on the train. Apparently the carriage had been borrowed, or hired from Virgin Trains.
At the end of October I was involved in a series of Board meetings. The first was my final one as Executive Director of HEARD. This was held in our offices on 18 October. It was a bit unusual for us to hold it in Durban as we usually met in Johannesburg. This involved the least travelling for the Board members.
It is spring in southern Africa. The swallows are back, sweeping around the buildings at the university and across the freeways. That last comment may seem a little strange but bridges across these roads provide good nesting sites for swallows. I well remember, over 30 years ago, driving across the Highveld on my way to Swaziland. Two swallows flew suicidally in front of the car. The sadness I felt on seeing, in the rear view mirror, their bodies tossing and turning behind me is something that still resonates. I really felt terrible. It may of course be Darwinian! The surviving swallows and their offspring do not take these risks and there were none darting across the road this trip.
I feel very fortunate as I recently had reason to drive up to Swaziland and then on to Johannesburg. The occasion was the visit of Kim Duncan and Marina Galanti of the Rush Foundation. Their goal is to fund disruptive ideas around HIV prevention. I first met them at a meeting in Washington in September 2011, and then worked with them on a symposium in London held in June of this year. They have many good ideas – see www.rushfoundation.org. I suggested they visit HEARD and I would take them up to Swaziland and introduce them to the folk at The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA).
Kim and Marina arrived in Durban on Tuesday 2 October and spent the day at HEARD. In the evening we hosted a dinner with some of Durban’s key people in the HIV world. On Wednesday, I picked them up and we set off for Mbabane. The roads were clear, partially because of the Road Freight Association truck drivers’ strike which meant there were few heavy vehicles on the road.
It was a sunny and bright day and as a consequence we had a most enjoyable drive, although it did take rather longer than I had hoped. We stopped for coffee at Mtunzini, lunch in Mkuze at the Ghost Mountain Inn, and got to the Mountain Inn just before dark. We then had just a few minutes to change before going to Malkerns to Marandela’s Resturant for dinner with colleagues from NERCHA. This is also the location of House on Fire, where every year there is a major festival.
On Thursday morning I dropped Kim and Marina off at the NERCHA offices and drove to Johannesburg to catch the flight back to Durban. It took me four hours to get from Mbabane to the airport and eight from Durban to Mbabane so it probably made more sense to go that route. As always it is a chance to reconnect with some very beautiful parts of both countries. The drive through Swaziland from the border to Mbabane is always a pleasure. The contrast between the flat Lowveld with the Lebombo Mountains on the right hand side; the rolling Middleveld; and then the jagged hills of the Highveld makes the journey interesting and scenic.
It was great to have interesting company for the first stage of the journey. On the second day I played CDs and for the first time really listened to a country music song called Letter to Heaven. What a desperately miserable song. The brief synopsis is: little girl asks her grandfather to write a letter to her dead mother; included in the letter are the lines: ‘Tell mommy I miss her since she went away
I coming to see her real soon I hope’; the girl goes out to the post box; gets knocked down and killed while crossing the road; the postman sees this happen and remarks on the puissance of her words; and the letter gets delivered! Oh dear it is terrible – almost as bad as the one about the two orphaned children who freeze to death on the porch of the church. It shows I do not listen properly to the lyrics.
I was delighted by the greenness of the countryside all the way from Durban to Johannesburg, an indication there have been good spring rains across the region. The area from Lavumisa to Big Bend in Swaziland seems to fall in a rain shadow area, but this year it is looking good. We passed one field where the farmer had harnessed his donkeys and was plowing the rich black earth. This is also the part of the journey where the Lilac Breasted Rollers perch on the telephone wires. They are stunning birds. Back in Durban the Pied Manikins, very attractive but tiny little birds, are furiously nest building outside my office window.
Spring is a great time of year. It does have two downsides as far as I am concerned. The first is mosquitoes. They are back. Folklore has it is they do not fly very high and in theory my flat on the third floor should be a mosquito-free area. Unfortunately it is not and there are currently four patches of mashed mosquito on the wall of my bedroom. Scarlet blood and black body parts. The second is that the birds begin the dawn chorus a little earlier every day. By 4.30 am they have cleared their throats and are singing. After many years of waking in the very early mornings I now have taken to using ear plugs. This means I can sleep for a little longer. I fear that not even industrial ear plugs would keep the noise of the Hadedas out. Raucous and very loud. They roost in the trees around the flat and if a noisy vehicle, or ambulance with its siren blaring goes past they wake up and announce to the world that their rest has been disturbed. No consideration from those birds.
Is it the problem or the advantage of being an academic that one’s work is never done? There is always something new and interesting to read. At the moment I am on a number of news lists and fortunately they summarize the main articles that they believe would be of interest but there is still far too much to read. And then, of course, one of our main functions in our job descriptions is to add to the corpus of knowledge. I will have marked two PhDs in the last month. One was on gender-based violence and its links to HIV; the second a history of the epidemic and response to it in South Africa from 1980 to 1995. This is a really good way of getting a literature review and current thinking but it is daunting to be presented with a 300+ page document.
South Africa is going through a difficult period, with a great deal of labour unrest. We were appalled by the recent police shooting of 34 miners in Marikane in the North West province. At issue here is more than money; it is about how our society will be structured. If all these pay rises are awarded then we will create a labour aristocracy. Those who are not in employment will be increasingly desperate and dispossessed. There will not be enough jobs to go round. However given the huge amounts of money being earned by some people and the perception that there is wide spread corruption, who can blame those with low salaries from wanting more? The tragedy of the commons is that there are finite resources. The solutions in my view are: tax the rich and don’t flaunt wealth. I wonder why the Reconstruction and Development tax imposed in 1994 was not kept. It was not much and I did not know people who resented paying it. There is an excellent commentary by the Jonathan Jansen looking at what is going on here. Please do read it – far more insightful than I can ever be.
Finally, I have been running at the weekends. The first run was 6.1 kilometers – and yes the way I do it is to run round the neighbourhood, then get in my car and measure the distance. My goal is eight kilometers – five miles. So the last run was longer and I was sure I had cracked it. No! The drive round afterwards showed I had covered just 7.2 kilometers, and at a very slow pace. My excuse for the speed is that I do like running up and down the hills in Glenwood and some are exceptionally steep. Perhaps the key is to simply keep going at this. With less weight (the goal and reason for running in the first place) and stronger legs I will make the target and manage something faster than the current snail’s pace of only nine kilometers per hour.
I flew from the United Kingdom to Durban on Monday, 11 June. It was the long daylight flight from Amsterdam so as well as working I saw the film Warhorse. After an overnight stay at the Intercontinental Hotel in Johannesburg and I flew to Durban on Tuesday. I went straight to the office and got a lift home at the end of the day. The next morning was an early start, I went back to Johannesburg, met up with colleagues from the British Department for International Development’s (DFID) office in Pretoria. We drove down to Swaziland where we spend 24 hours in meetings talking about a possible regional HIV and AIDS program. This included a dinner with members of Swazi civil society.
I had less than a week in Durban and then headed for Florence for a UNICEF meeting. On the Wednesday I flew out on the Air France A380, the biggest plane in the world (and it is quite fantastic), to Paris and changed for the flight to Italy. I was rather exhausted when I got in and so slept for part of the day before going out and wandering around the city. The weather was perfect, and it is without doubt one of the most spectacular cities I know. The two day meeting on child well-being was deeply interesting. We finished at about three o’clock on Saturday and I headed for the airport to get back to Paris, Johannesburg and Durban. The EUFA cup game between France and Italy was being broadcast in the lounge. I was the only one who cheered when Italy scored – and they won. I had one night in Durban and then flew to Cape Town to visit the Children’s Institute.
In Cape Town I managed to both deliver a birthday present to my niece in Hout Bay and meet up with my uncle, aunt, cousins and second cousins for dinner. Uncle Fred was one of those people who was an absolute role model for me. He and June live in a retirement home in Pinelands just outside Cape Town. They originally bought two units expecting to be allocated ones adjacent to each other so they could create a decent living space. The elderly lady who owned the one changed her mind about moving. They spent at least a year living in two separate apartments on two floors. When the lady died they were finally able to consolidate. I knew the whole story and happened to be visiting on the day that they got the news of the woman’s death. I am afraid that my reaction was:
“Oh good now you can settle in properly”, which is exactly what they have done.
The University of Cape Town put me up in a nearby guest house. After checking in and having a shower I went back to the reception and took a manager to my room to point out all the things that were wrong with it. These ranged from the steps into the room without a guard railing, actually quite dangerous; through to blankets on the bed – good establishments have duvets which can be washed between every guest, that doesn’t happen with blankets; a faulty shower and a number of other minor issues that were annoying. It was a rather twee establishment and they had a blackboard in the reception area with a quote on it, something like “happiness is a state of mind” and as I walked past it with the manager I pointed out that happiness only has only one ‘p’. Afterwards I thought ‘and so does pedantic’.
I then had less than two weeks in Durban before heading back to the United Kingdom and on to Washington for the international AIDS conference. It was very busy. The buzz in the office, as people prepare for the conference: writing papers, making posters, planning the stand, sending material and generally getting ready, is exciting and rewarding. HEARD will have a significant contingent and it will be great to see how they do. Probably the best part of my job is seeing people grow and develop.
I was invited to the United States Consulate General’s home, along with several hundred other people to mark the 4th July. He, sensibly, arranged parking at a primary school down the hill and had a shuttle bus taking people to the house. There was a significant police presence as the guests included the provincial premier, various members of his cabinet, the American ambassador, King Zwelithini and other dignitaries. I decided to walk back to my car. Two Metro Police driving past saw me strolling down the hill. They knew where I had been, and asked if I wanted a lift. I have not yet been in the back of a police car and did not feel this was an appropriate time to start so thanked them very much and walked on. I slightly regret this now.
I was planning to return to Norwich on Tuesday. Our university decided to migrate our e-mail system to Microsoft outlook over the weekend. On Monday and Tuesday there were to be teams going around our campus ensuring that the changeover went smoothly. It did not! My PA spent most of Monday at the walk-in center with my laptop trying to get it set up to work on the new system. On Tuesday I went down with her and we kidnapped one of the technical people and brought him back up to the offices to try and sort things out. It took nearly all day. The level of stress was considerable and I correctly made a call that it would be better to delay travel by a day and ensure that I had all the technology that I would need for the next month. It does seem to be working now.
Coming through Amsterdam I had a really pleasant surprise. I used the business class lounge shower, and emerged wearing nice fresh clothes and feeling clean to bump into Father Michael Kelly, a Jesuit priest from Lusaka. He was a really critical part of our AIDS and education work 12 years ago. Apart from being a fantastically nice and thoughtful person he is an individual who I admire and who has mentored me over the years. He is now 83 so these encounters are extremely valuable and need to be savored. We had about 45 minutes to talk before he went off to catch his plane. He is one of the unsung heroes of the fight against AIDS, a most compassionate sensible man.
The next posting will be after the Washington conference. There will be a great deal of activity on the HEARD website though – www.heard.org.za so you can follow events there.
Films and books
Warhorse. The story of a horse Joey, requisitioned at the beginning of the First World War from a farm in Devon. The son of the farm, Albert, joins up. Towards the end of the war Joey, after being captured and ‘serving’ the German forces, gets caught up in the wire in no-man’s land. He is released by a German and British soldier in moment of armistice. He is to be put down but is reunited with Albert. The children’s book is by Michael Morpurgo was first published in 1982. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg. It is a moving story and is beautifully made. It is also complex and sometimes there seemed too many subplots for me to entirely follow. The message is war is hell!
A Thousand Words. This was billed as a comedy drama starring Eddy Murphy. It is a simple tale of an literary agent who is cursed by words. It was badly reviewed, and deservedly so. However on the 23.20 flight from Johannesburg it was watchable and I saw the last 30 minutes over breakfast so did not feel it was wasted time. There are other films on the KLM flights I am looking forward to seeing.
Random Violence by Jassy MacKenzie, Umuzi, Houghton, 2008 238 pages. This is a novel set in and around Johannesburg that has been on my selves for some time. I found it, initially, very difficult to get into. However I persisted and was pleased I did. I hope that she writes more. She has the potential to develop into another good South African crime writer. The end is a bit too much ‘and with one bound he was free’ but in general it was believable, well observed and well plotted. It is set in the period leading up to the World Cup and MacKenzie catches the nation’s mood very well. The heroine is a private detective named Jade de Jong, the daughter of murdered white senior policeman, who returns to SA after 10 years away and gets caught up in a complex plot involving property development and crime.
I think Durban is one of the nicest cities in the world. I have lived there for nearly 30 years. Ailsa and I bought our first house there and it is the place the children were born. The university has been, for me, a good work environment. At the beginning of my career I was well mentored and then given space and support to start my own unit. HEARD is going well with an amazingly good research output, high staff morale, adequate funding and a throughput of talented young researchers. All this is in our annual report, which will be on the website very soon.
In the middle of April I was in Nairobi, Kenya for a meeting on Efficiency, Effectiveness and Sustainability which the International AIDS Society organised. I am an elected Governing Council member and the Treasurer up to the International AIDS Conference in Washington in July (see www.iasociety.org.) It was a quick trip, flying up on Wednesday evening and returning to Durban on Saturday – I flew on the late flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg on Friday evening, slept at the City Lodge at OR Tambo airport and caught a flight down to Durban at a sensible time. I used air miles to upgrade the ticket so it was relatively painless. I had a colleague travelling at the same time as me so we chatted and went to the airport together. He will remain nameless given the story I am about to tell.
A while ago I noticed that my Yellow Fever vaccination was about to expire and so went and was re-immunised. Just as well, my companion had forgotten the card. The check-in staff would not let him on the plane without one, and they were quite adamant about this. He had to go across the airport to the clinic and get the shot, paying above the odds for it. Of course it takes time to become effective but this is generally overlooked. Indeed we were not even asked for the certificates! However the South African authorities can be very fierce about this!
I had two nights in Durban and on Monday the HEARD team flew to Johannesburg for the biannual donor and board meetings held at the aforementioned City Lodge. These went very well, with an excellent turnout for both, only one board member was not able to make it. From there I flew, in economy class, to Cape Town, a long two hour flight on a packed plane. This was for a Council on Health Research for Development meeting on the theme of Beyond Aid… Research and Innovation as key drivers for Health, Equity and Development, all the details are the websites at www.forum2012.org and www.cohred.org. This was most interesting.
There is no doubt Cape Town is stunning. I think it is the most beautiful city in the world. Driving in from the airport at about 6 pm the evening light was an amazing rosy shade. Coming round the side of the mountain on de Waal drive and seeing the centre of the city, the harbour with the huge gantries like a row of storks silhouetted against the south Atlantic, and in the distance, Robben Island, was breathtaking. I feel I have a champagne lifestyle on a soda water salary. I get to travel, stay in great hotels, see new and interesting places and meet all sorts of people.
The conference started on the Tuesday, so unfortunately I missed the first day. I was staying at one of my favourite hotels, The Cullinan, they describe themselves as ‘stylishly grand and perfectly majestic’ and I think this is fair. It is just a few minutes’ walk from the international convention centre. The relative merits of Durban and Cape Town are very different. I must admit to being tempted by Cape Town, as one of my friends said it has “the mountain factor”. This must have been the magnet that has drawn my extended family there. Friday was a public holiday, Freedom Day, marking the end of apartheid and the new democratic government. I spent most of it visiting family.
My brother Derek Whiteside was away on business and so I took Lynn, my sister-in-law and my three nieces Emily, Sarah and Katie out for lunch in Hout Bay – to a restaurant called Dunes. It is a stunning setting looking out over the bay with a band of ultra blue water just beyond the breaking waves. In the last while the euphonious dunes have blown away and now the view is straight on to the beach. We were at the restaurant joined by distant cousin Neil Hodgson and his daughter Lisa. He is a captain with South African Airways. As I am silly about aircraft and flying it is always great to talk to him and I (a minority perhaps) find discussing airline routes and types of planes to be deeply interesting. From there I went to visit my Uncle Fred and Aunt June (also Hodgsons) who live in a retirement home in Pinelands. This is on the way to the airport which makes dropping on them very easy. We were joined by my cousin Linda and her daughter Hayley (who has nearly completed her PhD at the University of Cape Town) and her sister, my cousin Sandra who was visiting from Uitenhage. The most family I have seen in a very long time.
Perhaps this posting is not just about relativity but also about reflection. Fred was very senior in de Beers Diamond Company and I have always looked up to him as a role model. Nearly 20 years ago he had a hip replacement operation that went wrong. As a result now finds it difficult to get around. He has a mobility scooter for inside the flat and a more robust one for going out. I still see him as a role model because of his attitude and stoicism.
They moved into the home two years ago expecting to get a large apartment. That arrangement fell through and they ended up with two apartments on different floors. They lived a schizoid life until the space next to theirs became available. Now they have been able to consolidate and expand at the same time, and actually have a very nice warm set of rooms.
Part of the conference ‘package’ was an evening out at Groot Constania, the original wine estate in South Africa, the vines being planted by the first governor of the Dutch settlement of Cape Simon van der Stel. We were taken there by bus, the scenic winding route round the coast, which left me feeling quite ill! However I soon recovered. The food and wine were fantastic and the entertainment was provided by South African diva Yvonne Chaka Chaka. This is what I mean by a champagne lifestyle. Of course one of the questions is who pays, because at the end of the day someone has to. We were told that it was the World Bank, and yet they were hardly represented which was a great pity. Fortunately, after the copious quantities of alcohol and excellent food, we went back on the short straight route.
I learnt, at the meeting, that health is underfunded, but more worryingly the health people do not understand how to advocate for more funding. They think that the fact that their cause is noble, it’s sufficient and this, sadly, is not the case! We know from our work that ‘crowding-out’ is a real issue. If foreign money is given to health then governments will tend to reallocate domestic resources. This is good, basic and responsible public administration. It is not what donors intend! I shall have to reflect on the meeting and write up some notes, since I was there in an official capacity as a person from the Department for International Development, although I would not presume to speak for the organisation. What was interesting was to meet people from a different circle from the one I normally operate in.
There has been a lot of music in Durban recently. I went to the University Jazz Centre to listen to a folky duo from Cape Town Andrew James and the Steady Tiger, I was so impressed that I went to hear them again at St Clements, a cafe on Musgrave Road. Their style is great; both are excellent guitarists with mellow voices. I thought they spent far too much time tuning the instruments though and exchanged emails with them about this. Some of their music is on their website. On the Friday evening The Collective, a new venue in Durban, hosted The South Jersey Pom-Poms, which is lead by a colleague from the University.
The suburb of Manor Gardens, which was beautifully and evocatively written about by Barbara Trapido in her book Frankie and Stankie (Bloomsbury 2003), is where we bought our second house. It was let to chaotic tenants for about four years and they left a month ago. When I first went to look at it my heart absolutely sank. There has been work going on and I went to check on progress on Saturday and then went to lunch at a new cafe in the neighbourhood. Exhibit owned by Eunice van der Vloet is a house with an art gallery, table chairs and a limited menu. It is an encouraging addition to the neighbourhood and I hope it prospers. Sadly the estate agents tell me Manor Gardens is a leafy green quirky suburb, and that is not what people want.
I have finally finished reading Catherine Hakim’s Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital, (Allen Lane 2011, 384 pages). I found it a thought provoking book. The two key points were: What is erotic capital and the idea of a male sexual deficit. It makes a number of rather challenging statements, but will certainly be of use in understanding behaviours and responding to AIDS.
In front of my flat there is a jacaranda tree. Since I am on the third floor I look straight out into the upper branches. The first blossoms begin to appear in October. By November the tree is covered with purple flowers. Gradually the green leaves take over, and today, in early February, there are only two sprays of flowers. The rest of the tree is a verdant green. The birds enjoy it, constantly flitting in between the branches. I have slightly mixed feelings about the birds. I am woken up by the dawn chorus, which begins at about 04:30. By five o’clock it is light. I generally get up soon after this and make my breakfast.
For the last week I have been at my office by 06:30. This has its advantages. One is that the world seems clean and bright at that time of day. Driving up through the bush and nature reserve surrounding the University the other morning I saw the largest gathering of monkeys I have ever seen in Durban. I suspect that a number of troops had joined together, because with all the rain we’ve had food must be abundant. A few minutes later there were two mongeese next to the road.
I have even seen a legavaan. As an aside I note that my computer does not like the word mongeese. What is the plural of a mongoose? Mongeese or mongooses? Nor does it recognize legavaan (a species of monitor lizard) the link is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varanus_albigularis.
I got back to Durban in the middle of January, having spent four nights in Johannesburg at a Global Poverty Dialogue. This was organised by the Brooks World Poverty Institute of Manchester University. The out of town delegates stayed at Melrose Arch in a very nice hotel, and the meeting was in Turbine Hall in downtown Johannesburg. This was once the city power station, coal fired and huge. It has been turned into a spectacular and historical conference venue and it was great fine to be there, although having to board buses and go backwards and forwards in rush hour traffic was not so much fun.
I have rather enjoyed Durban. January, February and March can be very difficult months as it is often hot and humid. So far, touch wood, this has not been the case. We’ve had a fair amount of rain but also there have been cool breezes blowing. This was just as well as the air conditioner in the lounge was not working. I noticed a small bird nesting in it just before I left last year. When I switched it on it just blew hot air. Today one of the chaps from the gym came up and pulled a mass of twigs from the inside of the unit and gave it a service, so room is cool and it did not cost me a fortune. I had not switched it last year on as I did not want to disturb the fledglings.
This past month has been marked by two sad events, the deaths of two people who were very much part of our Durban experience. The first was Dinah, who lived in the servant’s quarters at Manor Drive. She had been there for a long time when we bought the house and we allowed her to stay there, as she worked in the neighbourhood. It was a real eye-opener to see how people were treated under the apartheid regime. The room had no ceiling, only one window, no electricity, and no hot water. The walls were of a thinner brick than was used in the main houses. We put in a ceiling, a second window, and ran a power supply to the khaya, as these little houses were called. Dinah retired about six years ago and moved back to her home in the Transkei.
She was in regular touch with her last employer. Apparently he phoned her couple of weeks ago. She asked after his ancient parents. He replied, “they are very tired”.
She said, “yes I am tired too”.
The following evening Dinah went to bed and simply did not wake up. This is not a bad way to go.
By contrast the death of my past time domestic helper has been difficult for everyone. About three years ago she got TB, which was I learnt, because she was HIV-infected. Fortunately in South Africa people with TB and HIV go on to antiretroviral therapy earlier, and although her CD4 count was about 350 she got the medication. Unfortunately some of the drugs have side effects and she was one of the unfortunate few who experience this. In particular a drug called d4t causes difficulty for the peripheral nervous system and makes it very difficult to walk. This affected her. It was clear that she would have to stop working and her other employer and I were discussing what pension arrangements we could make.
Before Christmas she had a bout of flu and never really recovered. She was bed ridden and extremely unwell. Early in the new year the person one whose property she lived took her to a nearby private hospital where they diagnosed dysentery, TB and pneumonia. She was relocated into a government hospital and a few weeks ago transferred to a TB hospital for recuperation. Unfortunately she did not recover. Her daughters were able to visit her the day she died and learnt that the plan was to send her back to the main hospital. She was just not doing well.
She was one of those powerful women who held the family together. She got her two grandsons into good local school in Manor Gardens and was very ambitious for the grandchildren but less patients with her two daughters. I was appalled to learn that her eldest grandson, having had the benefit of an excellent primary education, is currently not in school because his parents have been unable to find a place for him. Had she been well enough she would never have allowed this to happen. While the proximate cause of death may have been TB, I suspect she was simply exhausted. She was about 54 years old, two decades younger than Dinah. You will have noticed I have not written her name, the stigma surrounding HIV means I am very reluctant to identify her.
I had intended to spend my first Saturday of February working. This did not happen. I went to the gym at eight o’clock, and met the person who was to fix my air conditioner. He came to the flat after he had trained, worked out that is – he knew what he was doing with the units. This meant I only left for my office at the university at about 11.00. I discovered that the air-conditioner there was not switched on, and it was far too hot to concentrate.
I came back to the flat and decided to go to the beach with my body board. On the way there I went to the voter registration station. At the moment the government has a campaign to register voters and since I have moved I needed to get on the electoral roll. There are local government elections coming up. This registration was surprisingly painless: an interesting combination of high and low technology. The form was filled in with a pen. Then the identity documents of both the person registering me and mine were scanned by a hand held device. The machine spits out a piece of paper and this is glued (prit) in the ID book, to prove that I am registered and have the right to vote.
I headed for the beach and discovered that there was no one else even thinking about going into the waves. The sea was incredibly choppy and unfriendly. Not a great end to the day.
Malla Nunn, Let the Dead Lie, Simon and Schuster, 2010, 382 pages.
This author lives in Australia, was born in Swaziland, and writes about crime in 1950s South Africa. This is her second book, the first was set in an area just north of Swaziland. The story in this book takes place in Durban. Many of the areas are familiar to me. The key character is working undercover in Durban’s docks and witnesses a murder. The story is about how he solves the crime. The book is set at a time when the apartheid laws are just being introduced and the classification of Emmanuel Cooper, the hero, is ‘coloured’, although at the end it seems he regains his status as a ‘white’ South African. Nunn is an excellent author, she astutely observes the tensions of the 1950s, the rise of the racist regime, and the complexities of relationships in this setting. I look forward to her next book.
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Hodder and Stoughton, 2010, 469 pages.
This is a complex and fascinating book. It is set in Japan from 1799 to 1817. It is the story of the Dutch trading center and the interactions between the Dutch and Japanese men and women. The heroes are Jacob, and the woman he falls in love with, Orito Aibagawa. In the course of the book they meet perhaps half a dozen times before she is sent to a monastic order. Mitchell has clearly done a great deal of homework and his depiction of life in Japan in the 1800s is deeply fascinating. The story is initially slow but engrossing.