Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Durban through a tourist's eyes

As I mentioned before, my department has brought over a scientist from America to give a series of astrophysics talks to both the public and the academics here, and I am his chauffeur for the week. This morning he wanted to go for a walk along the beachfront so I dropped him off near Suncoast and suggested he stroll down the beach towards uShaka. He said he'd phone me once he was done so I could fetch him. That was three and a half hours ago and he seems to be enjoying himself, so that's good. Perhaps he went into the Aquarium.

But anyway, after dropping him off I decided to take a drive along the boulevard and I tried to see Durban through the eyes of a foreigner and tourist. So many of those apartment buildings facing the sea are dilapidated with rusty balcony railings and laundry flapping in the wind. Oh crap that reminds me I forgot to take mine out of the washer this morning. Damn. Back to my point, there were also many many waifs and vagrants walking around, sleeping on the grass or begging. And I realised something: I don't see them anymore.

I don't know if I'm the only one, but I feel like they've become so common they're part of the furniture and my eyes more often than not slide right over them without thinking about what I'm seeing. It was an eye opener. I think we of the middle classes might forget about just how much poverty there is right in our backyards. We become complacent. It's easier to ignore.

On a more cheerful note, I also managed to find my way to the harbour and Wilsons Wharf where all the yachts are. Along the way I was able to re-appreciate the beauty of Durban's seaside view. Even with the gloomy clouds. Oh and after almost two years of living in Durban, I finally learnt which beach was Addington :)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Hello NASA!

Tonight the people in and around Durban have the rare opportunity of being able to attend a talk by an important NASA -- yes the American one -- scientist. He is the astrophysicist in charge of the James Webb Space Telescope. Here are the details:


Public Talk by Dr Matthew Greenhouse
"Looking Back in Time"
18:00 - 19:00
Senate Chamber, UKZN Westville


If you are around you should definitely come by - it should be an interesting evening. You can go here for more information.

I have been designated Dr Greenhouse's chauffeur for the week so my first task was fetching him from the airport last night (why do these flights have to get in so late?!). I was quite nervous to meet, and certainly intimidated by, this man who has spent more years than I've been alive in the astrophysics realm - he received his PhD the year I was born! Plus, he is in charge of the JWST, the one space project that the US is currently pumping money into. They have even sidelined helping to fund the SKA (the SA/Africa project is here), putting their JWST project first. So yes, it's important. To my happy relief he was a friendly character and there wasn't as much awkwardness as I had expected. It was a relatively quiet drive to his hotel but I am quiet a lot so pish.

Only one thing: the rental car is a Polo Vivo. They wanted to give me a Toyota Corolla at first but after my Corolla karma in Cape Town last year I hastily declined and the Vivo was its replacement (I drove three separate Corolla rental cars: I introduced the side of the first one to a fence/electric gate, and injured the tyre of the second). Not that they are much different proportion-wise. I am terrified of damaging this car, but wow, it's easy to speed in it and on the long open roads it's fun to drive. Far more power than my little Chevy.

So yes, that will be my week. It's a brilliant excuse to not get stuck into work. "Sorry, have to go drop off/pick up your important international guest". I like Dr Greenhouse though so I don't find the task odious. Looking forward to his talk this evening. Maybe I'll see you there?

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Settled and calm

Happy news! My PhD upgrade request has finally been submitted. Since my university is a tad disorganised that means that they still have to decide what sufficient body of evidence for an upgrade actually is, but at least it's in their hands now. I should hopefully know whether it's a yay or nay in about a month, which means hypothetically getting my funding in about two months. Not sure what I will do if it's a nay......... Anyhoo, the point is that after a few near-sleepless nights and being made procrastination's bitch (as always), I'm done with it and I can move on in life.

It's a good week to have it done actually. I finally feel sort of settled in the new flat. At the very least it's at the stage where I feel comfortable inviting friends over. And that's what is going to make this such a busy week. Tuesday, Wednesday and hopefully the weekend - times when the flat will be fuller than usual. Which reminds me: I need to sweep the floor...

But one of the things that has made me be at ease (other than the triumph of throwing out some of the stuff I no longer need) is I got my memory wall up :)

I found a bunch of little things stashed away in my drawers whilst cleaning out and so this looks more impressive to me than the old one. It's still got many of my important memories on there though: Aussie, Belgium, old friends, new friends, my Scotland trip way back when, honours year in PMB. In fact, bar the postcards and poems, every thing on that wall reminds me of some one special. I can lie on my bed and look at it on the down days and hopefully it will make me smile.

The only outstanding thing in my life is this stupid electricity bill from my previous flat. The municipality is working at a snail's pace. Oh, and the fact that I will never see my fridge magnets again :'( Old flatmate has become impossible to get hold of. Being as bad at letting go as I am, this still feels like unfinished business to me. If I die, it's enough to make me come back as ghost and haunt the hell out of their surrounds.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Back to DBN living...

As promised, though not quite on time.

Having started moving in to the new flat in DBN on Saturday, last night things have finally been (mostly) put in their places. I spent the first two nights camping out on my mattress with a borrowed pillow and blanket, plus we had no kettle yet. Despite the carload of stuff I brought back down with me from PMB, I had stored another carload of stuff at a friend's place. RHCP concert in JHB was where she was on the weekend so I had to wait until Monday to collect the rest of my things. This included all my kitchenware, bedding, linen, and assorted crap. It's this crap (and not all of it is) that had me on the floor of my new bedroom for about five hours, sorting through and doing my best to throw unnecessaries away. I'm a hoarder... About mid-way through, my floor looked like this:

Some of the mess I can make.

And yes, that is a colouring book from my younger days. I am keeping it. There are still many blank pictures and eventually my sister will have kids. I plan on colouring in with them. You may notice something else. Does anyone remember these?

The Little Ark files: Discovering the World of Animals

I must admit, I don't remember any of my friends having these back in the day, but my mother can't be the only one to have bought them. We loved them. I have kept the three files, with information about all sorts of animals, and some activity sheets that teach kids to follow instructions and logic and visualisation of end products and how to get there. The only thing we no longer have, and I have to assume they were given away years ago, are the little story books that came with all this. Cartoonified animals with stories that (if I remember correctly) had some sort of moral or factual lesson attached. I can almost picture them... Anyhoo, I am keeping these even though, with the internet, these sort of encyclopedia editions are redundant and possibly outdated. I have always learnt better being able to touch the pages I'm reading and again, I would like to share them with my sister's kids when they exist. It's a little bit of history.

The main thing I enjoy about being a hoarder, despite the hassle of storing and carting all the stuff around when one moves, is that every time you do move, you get to go through all the things you've kept over the years and revel in the happy times gone past. As noted to me by a friend, you could be remembering the cringe-worthy times too, but that's why you only keep the good stuff. Plus, with nothing bad happening to us, we'd never know the great joy and appreciation of when something good happens. But I'm digressing. Here's a list of some of the stuff I've kept over the years:
  • Childhood marbles (I even had an ironie)
  • Get well cards from my Gr 5 class when I had my tonsilectomy
  • Matric work books
  • School work from matric
  • Undergrad workbooks
  • Old art that was planned to be put to use but never was
  • Letters from friends
  • Love letters
  • School diaries from 2003-2006
  • My journals
  • Scrapbooking stuff that I'd cut out from magazines and never used
  • Birthday and Christmas cards
  • Old Saltwater Girl magazines (can't believe I read those - I've never been a surf child)
  • Plus a bunch of other bric-a-brac
Now I have been carting all that stuff around with me for years. I am happy to say a lot of it has now been chucked out and ready to be recycled into, well, whatever gets made from recycled paper. I have kept my marbles though. Obviously. And my journals - my gosh I was melodramatic when I was a teenager. They make for amusing reading most of the time. Hindsight amusement. I almost threw away my school diaries too. I mean, what's the point of keeping a veritable calendar book that you can never reuse? And then I started paging through them and I found a gem like this:

That's one of my best friends from high school with my favourite living thing: my pup Picasso. He is getting old and grey now, with aching joints and blurring eyes, but he still has his bouncy play-with-me!-play-with-me! moments and it's so good to be able to look back at a photo like this and remember the days when he was five times as small as he is now. I think this was only the second day we'd had him. Great Dane pups are soo cute!

But yes, back to why I am keeping the diaries. I don't know if it's because I went to an all-girls high school or if it's just what many teenage girls do, but our school diaries were a mixture between actual date books with things to do and dates to remember, and journals with documentation of things we did, people we saw, and things we liked. We'd cut pictures out of magazines or newpapers and scrapbook our diaries. Friends would write notes in other friends' diaries, sometimes secretly so we'd be surprised by a friendly note. There are references to anecdotes I'd forgotten happened - and it looks so artsy and creative. My 2004 diary is about one and a half times as big as it was new, just because of all the stuff stuck in it. I love remembering those days and all the good, bad, ugly and exciting things that happened. SO. They are being kept. Ready-made scrapbooks of my younger days.

And the letters - I used to write a lot of letters to people. I've got hand-written letters from friends dating back to 2002. Oh my goodness, that's ten years ago! Jeesh. And the letters that were written to me with hearts and flowers in mind; there aren't many but they are worth keeping. I often wonder if the other half of those conversations still exist, because heaven knows I don't remember what I wrote. I can often glimpse my mind from the responses to questions in the letters to me, but still. I miss writing letters though. And snail mail. I love snail mail, when it gets to you. That feeling of getting a personal letter in the post is fantastic. Beats getting bills any day. I think I will snail mail again soon.

Well this post is getting rather long and I should really be working instead of ruminating on life. But in summary, I have kept a fair amount but am rather proud of myself for chucking out a lot too. Almost two garbage bags worth. And as for being back in DBN, it's good. It will take getting used to again. Adjusting. But my flatmate and I should do well here. And we have big plans for the flat. Big plans.....