Sunday, 11 November 2018

Family Stories ~ Small Histories


Small Histories. 



It is summer in South Africa, 1990. I'm sitting in a garage, holding an old tin box. It is so worn by age that the colour has no description in the English language. I rub my hand across the scratched and worn away surface, feeling old friends inside. I know their faces without having to see them. If I open the box... when I open the box... I will know them and they will know me, but for now it is enough to sit here and listen to them whispering within their tin tomb.

The sun is bright outside the garage. I can hear cars in the distance and birds nearby. My grandfather would sit here for hours, squatting on his haunches with ease, even in his seventies. Sit and watch the world... smoke his pipe. Now he is gone and I am here in old clothes to help family remove grandpa's collections.

Grandpa was a pack rat supreme. There are at least twenty jam jars of screws and nails so rusted no-one could ever use them again. There are five books of wallpaper samples he used to decorate two generations of doll's houses and eight tins of World War two tank paint used mostly to repaint the concrete garden gnome that now sits on the front steps. There are Rhodesian TV magazines dating back to the sixties. Their covers show girls wearing mini skirts and enormous hair. Their adverts are for products and companies long gone and their TV listings are heavily nostalgic - Star Trek and Twilight Zone, Fred Flintstone and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.

My dad puts them alongside the rest of the junk to be recycled or dumped. So much of my grandfather's collecting was junk and yet he could create wonder from it. Like the penny farthing cycle he built from scraps of wire and metal or the castle forts and doll's houses he meticulously glued together from old empty matchboxes. I actually hated the doll's house. I'd wanted a castle, but even at eight I'd been awed at the craftsmanship that was needed to create a luxury double-story, with cardboard roof tiles and real windows of thin plastic sheeting, out of matchboxes.

Sitting amongst the dusty dregs of a lifetime's collecting I sit with "the box" and remember. I can't lift the lid. As long as the box is closed the memories inside are dormant - frozen. Inside this box time stands still. As long as the lid is shut my grandpa is alive and we are sitting in his room in Rhodesia as he tells me all the small histories. Once I lift the lid it will be over. The photos are not mine - they are going to other family members as keepsakes. So I sit and hold the memories a little longer. I have asked permission to scan as many as I want, but it won't be the same. I have no-one I can tell their stories to, as my grandfather told me, and scanned pictures on a screen aren't the same as brittle dry paper held in the hand.

Perhaps my heart is as sad to let them go as it is to let him go... but I have one consolation. I have the tales and the memories - the small histories. No-one can take those from me. I smile and open the box...

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Haunting Faces; Haunting Stories

Several years back, my dad was given copies of several old family photos. We never knew who they were, but yesterday a cousin managed to put names to the faces and a history I was absolutely not expecting. 

I've been on quite a journey lately. I took a DNA test and found some mind boggling facts about where my ancestors came from as well as a new cousin who was given up for adoption over 50 years ago. In piecing together how everyone fits, the extended family on my father's side came together to discuss this photo...


I knew someone in this photo was supposed to be my dad's grandmother (Heila Theron), but that was all. This is the side of the family that connected me through the DNA test to an already known cousin and a new one. But who were these women and how are we connected through their stories? I had no idea until yesterday when the cousin I already knew recognised her grandmother in the woman on the left.

We think the woman on the right is probably my great grandmother. Both sisters were adopted by their older sister (most likely the woman sitting in the middle) when their mother died. How do we know this? Because it's listed in the information from the Mafeking concentration records. They were both in their early teens when they were imprisoned. Their older sister was 27. 

WOW... that was a shock! My dad's family were Rhodesian so I truly was not expecting to ever find some of my family spent time in the concentration camps. When we studied the Anglo-Boer war in high school history it seemed as remote as the Napoleonic wars. And the story is a very tragic one. The oldest sister lost three of her own children in that concentration camp. How much pain was she holding in her heart... I can't even begin to imagine how it felt to watch your children die that way.

To put this into perspective for people who don't know South African history (this quote is from sahistory.org.za) ...

"Boer women, children and men unfit for service were herded together in concentration camps by the British forces during Anglo-Boer War 2 (1899-1902). The first two of these camps (refugee camps) were established to house the families of burghers who had surrendered voluntarily, but very soon ... the camps ceased to be refugee camps and became concentration camps. The abhorrent conditions in these camps caused the death of 4 177 women, 22 074 children under sixteen and 1 676 men, ... notwithstanding the efforts of an English lady, Emily Hobhouse, who tried her best to make the British authorities aware of the plight of especially the women and children in the camps."
  Photo of Lizzie van Zyl who died in the Bloemfontein camp
 
I've always been anti-war and this just added another reason for my firm conviction that we have to find a better way. This is also why I promote the white poppy as well as the red. Because it isn't just soldiers who die in wars... it's families. 


Saturday, 3 November 2018

Dona Nobis Pacem ~ Think for Peace

This is my tenth anniversary of taking part in Blog for Peace.  Ten amazing years of creating a global community all focussed on one topic - peace. We are huge, on every continent including Antarctica, but have we made a difference?

That has bothered me lately, as I look at the chaos on media news. If so many people worldwide want peace, why are we still so far from our goal? It took some arguments on Facebook, an ancient maxim and a song to make me realise what I'd been overlooking: that we need to THINK for peace.

The arguments came about due to my friends being a very varied bunch of people. I've learnt so much from them, especially the ones whose politics, culture or religions are very different from my own. I'm ok with differences, but there are many who aren't ok. I have friends who openly fear "those people" who are also my friends. Worst of all... because they fear each other, they begin to resent or even hate each other. And that's when I remembered that ancient Roman maxim: DIVIDE AND RULE.

It's a very simple technique that was used in warfare and is now used in business and political strategy. Here's the basics of how it works:
  • create or encourage divisions among others to prevent alliances that could challenge the balance of power
  • foster distrust and enmity
  • encourage meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for others to rebel
    ...and those last words triggered the memory of a song: "Work For Peace" by Gil Scott-Heron.


    The Military and the Monetary,
    get together whenever they think its necessary,


    they are determined to keep the citizens secondary, 
    they make so many decisions that are arbitrary.

    The only thing wrong with Peace,
    is that you can't make no money from it.
     
    There it was - my missing link. World powers and big business do not want peace because there is no money to be made from it. So they talk a lot of words about peace, but they foster the old maxim of divide and rule.
    How many news items have you seen this year where the message was that the other side is not to be trusted?
    How many internet sites have sent you information on why you should fear people who are different to you?
    How many times has the military and the monetary tried to force us apart?
    I watched a TV movie a few months back. It was a sci-fi thing about aliens invading the planet. Young soldiers were given special goggles through which they could see these "invisible aliens" in order to hunt them down and kill them. But one young man loses his goggles and realises that they're actually killing human beings. The battle isn't about aliens, it's about the government wanting to cull over population. There was no enemy; no alien invasion. Only divide and rule.   

    What if this were the truth right now? What if there were only a handful of genuine "bad guys" and those allowed to flourish in order to keep us all so afraid we toed the line and obeyed all the rules? What if we stopped thinking for ourselves and let THEM think for us... 

    Is it that far fetched? I don't know. All I know for certain is that my Facebook wall is made up of THEM. My friends are black, white, Asian and Native American. They are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Hindu and Pagan. I have witches chatting to church-going good folk on my Facebook wall. I have a Kosher vegetarian and a Halal vegetarian. I have an atheist vegan and a meat-eating Hindu. I have politically Left friends wanting the world to be a better place... I have politically Right friends who want the same.

    They may have different things they believe and ways of living, but all of them want the same basic things: a decent salary, a nice home, safety for their families, healthy food, clean water and a better world for their children.

    THEY. ALL. WANT. THE. SAME. THINGS.

    Let that sink in for a moment, please and then... THINK.

    Think before you allow random (and often fake) news to fill you with fear. 
    Think before you allow others to tell you who to hate. 
    Trust your intuition or trust in your God.
    Keep calm and think for yourself.
    THINK.


    I based that design on a British World War II poster made to help people cope with the ongoing stress and fear of war. The message is just as important now as it was then. Keep calm and carry on. We absolutely cannot achieve peace by becoming angry or fearful of each other. We have to find ways to communicate, to share our similarities as we balance our differences.

    Thursday, 1 November 2018

    Walking the Path


    I recently asked my spirit guardian how best to deal with grief and sadness. He said, "Give grief all the time and space it needs, but don't live in it." 

    I understood exactly what he meant. W
    e've all met people who "live in it" in a negative sense. They get into that space of intense grief, anger or bitterness and... they get stuck there. I think people like that are a bit like travellers going through a dark forest. I'm not sure if they get lost or deliberately stop walking, but years pass and there they still are, still sitting in the dark with moss growing over them.

    We all face dark forests at some time or another. The path of life can take us through meadows and deserts and forests. Sometimes it's gentle and the scenery is lovely and sometimes it's not, but all of it is a part of the great adventure of living. You have to keep on walking and that can really hurt when someone you love steps off the path to take a different route. 


    There's a movie that sums this up most beautifully. It's called The Way.




    It's about a grieving father who walks the Camino (ancient pilgrimage journey across Spain) for his dead son. He leaves his son's ashes at each marker along the route. Sounds a gloomy movie, but it's actually very funny in places. In the end, his journey becomes so much more than he expected, just the same as every life story. Farewells are painful, but you have to keep walking. So we find our ways to deal with the sadness as we walk. We give our emotions whatever space and time they need, but we don't stop and live there. 

    Thoughtful Thursday... All that we Share

    Such a clever video and all the more vital to watch since the tragedy in Pittsburgh this past weekend.