The Adventures of a Part Time Professional Gypsy (and her ginormous teddy thing)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I had a moment of weakness this week. Trust me, it doesn’t happen very often (which is why I can fix tyres with nothing but grass,  petrol and a match; and how I know my limitations when carrying a month’s worth of supply shopping home on a bicycle; and why I buy cheap-ass single ply toilet paper), but every now and then I have to swallow my pride and ask for help.

Yes, it begun as a Sunday just like any other Sunday (or at least the last seven of them). I’d woken up far too early for my liking, had a pretend-to-be-nutritious fake yoghurt (pronounced “yow-gurt” for those of you who continue to pronounce it incorrectly), jumped in the shower, and sped off to work. I was early too; so I seized the moment and some super glue and I stuck my badly abused running shoes back together. I sipped a delicious cup of coffeeish liquid as I forced the balls of my feet into the ground while the glue dried.

And then the work day began and so did my torment. As soon as I moved I discovered my folly. My left shoe had allegedly been ripped right through, so as I had filled the gap with super glue (and quite a lot of it), it had gushed in, seeped through my sock and coated the ball of my foot. And it was good superglue.

I spent the day trying desperately to free my foot - I tried swinging through the trees, I tried force, I tried to steam a kettle under it to get it free, I tried to free it with a pen. I tried to free it with a ruler and then work got too busy so I stopped trying to free it and hoped that with enough running back and forth my foot would naturally free itself.

It didn’t.

When I finally made it home for work I realized it was time to take the plunge and ask for help. So I consulted the world’s super power of wisdom – Facebook – and got some really great suggestions because most of my friends are ridiculously wise:

Luke: Soak it in warm water?

Mark:  go to hospital - they cut it off!

Kim: Paint thinner

Langa: The universe is trying to tell you something

Charl: Try team or nail polish remover

Taneal: Soak it in warm water with lots of sunlight washing up liquid!

Matthias: Yip, nail polish remover works or anything with an acetone base. Warm soapy water also does it. In sticky situations you can also take a blade and VERY gently cut between the skin and the glue VERY slowly.

Wendy: You wear it till the soles get worn out. Could take years.

Michael: Only one thing to do, amputate the foot.

Rick: Start to like wearing shoes.

David: Have you ever seen the movie Saw?

Neale: I reckon you should go on a trip as far as you can until the shoe falls off, or wears out. Pretty good excuse for a journey...

And while some of the suggestions really made sense (especially the last one) I had far too many options to consider.

And then my lovely housemate, Daisy, came in and after I tried to talk him out of it for his own good (my shoes aren’t quite as fragrant as I would like them to be) he made my push my pride aside and sit on the floor. With one big tug he ripped my shoe free. Talk about a knight in shining armour (and yes girls he is single if you’re interested).

I'm not kidding... he really is still single.
I then followed his example and ripped my sock free. And while it was good to be surrounded by so much freeness; a chunk of my foot remained glued to the chunck of my sock that was still glued to the inside of my shoe.

The moral of the story is that you should sometimes buy cheaper superglue and also that we all need help sometimes. And sometimes it hurts. But we need it. And as much as I would have loved to use the stuckness as an excuse for another trip, I think I definitely prefer to be a barefoot gypsy. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Happiness [and why you should laugh at those more miserabler]

I always smile a little bit more when I see miserable people – they always remind me how ridiculous it is to not be happy.

I took a walk to the shops the other day and, seeing as there was still daylight, I took the short cut through the park (at night it converts into makeshift homeless housing and I don’t like to disturb meal times because I know they don’t get much protein in their diets). I stopped to watch the tiniest human running through clusters of pigeons. The birds would fluster a couple of feet up in the air making her vanish in a cloud of feathers and then settle down in circles around her again so that she  could do it again. And again. And again. Her laughter filled even the furtherest corners of the park.

The little walk got me thinking about my happiest moments [enter cloudy fade back walk down memory lane]…

At age 2, my first ever memory, was sitting in the nurse’s office at the Joburg Gen hospital waiting for my dad to finish surgery. The nurses all knew me well because I apparently used to cry if dad didn’t take me in to work with him. It’s a very bizarre memory because all I remember is kicking my legs back and forth and humming quietly and a smiley nurse handing me a lemon cream. I was the happiest kid south of the equator that day.

A few years later, at 8ish I think, after months of picking up rusty coins on sidewalks and saving tuck shop money and money that was probably meant to have been put in the offering basket at church, I remember calculating that I finally had enough money saved to go to Gold Reef City – South Africa’s best theme park (actually at that time I was pretty sure that I thought it to be the world’s best theme park).  My mother walked into my bedroom and told me she’d found the puppy she had promised me for my last birthday and that on the weekend we could go to the theme park with my two besties and collect my collie (who was to later to be known as Frisbee). I spent the better part of an hour jumping up and down in excitement. I didn’t have a care in the world.

So in all truth, I think this might have been a picture of Lassie, my brother's dog... but picture a much cuter version of this guy!
…And then there was finally breaking free of high school… getting my driver’s license and first car… the first [and only] time I got 100% for a major varsity exam [without studying or caring that I hadn’t]… there was the first full year I made it through without needing crutches…the first kiss…

The joy of almost beating a monk at am wrestling

The joys of time spent with good friends
The joys of hitch hiking

There were all the joys that came with the gypsy life... And there was the inexplicable joy that came when, back in 2010, I accidently found myself sitting on a plane home after years of being away. And even more joy came as I touched down in Joburg and found my unsuspecting mother proudly waving around a sign that read “Marijuana” expecting my Romanian friend instead of myself.  We both cried and laughed at the same time while airport security kept a vigilant watch from nearby.

You wouldn't thin a mall airport sign could bring you to tears...

Reunioning with mum...
Last year in Vietnam I found myself alone, in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain. Visibility was so bad that I couldn’t see anything and I’d almost had head on collisions with cars 3 times as I rode my trusty scooter down what would have been a picturesque mountain pass had the weather obliged. I stopped to have a quick break from uber concentration the road demanded and then my bike wouldn’t start. I shed a couple of tears – but the misery didn’t last very long because it suddenly dawned on me that I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world in a culture I knew nothing about with only a giant wet teddy bear for company and I burst out laughing because that is exactly where I wanted to be – that sort of adventure was more than most people even dream of.

The road out of Delat, Vietnam

Similarly, after abandoning our self-constructed raft in Malaysia, after watching our hard work and many earthly belongings finding new homes in the depth of the ocean, as we swam for hours to try and reach the nearest shore – singing and laughing to distract ourselves from the harsh reality that our lives were actually in very real danger – Happiness hit me like a heard of frigid elephants: how many people get shipwrecked? How many people ever get to swim for their lives? And I was in good company too – if I was going to die (and I really really really didn’t want to), I couldn’t imagine a better way to go about it.

While I cycled the 20+ km uphill to work on Saturday I first got pinged by a horse carriage and then hit by a boat and again I burst out laughing. The ridiculousness of having to work weekends for the foreseeable future – of cycling ridiculous distances to a ridiculous job – and being clipped by ridiculous vehicles that shouldn’t be on the road in the first place made me look at life afresh again. There really is no point in being unhappy – ever! – There is ALWAYS something to smile about!   

There’s no formula for happiness – it’s simply making the most of where you are while you’re there. And changing your perspective. You might be having a really bad day but if you look at it from a different angle you might find you are exactly where you want to be. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Old and Lonely

It’s really amazing how one minute you’re doing your weekend grocery and vital Easter egg shopping and the next you’re surrounded by ambulances and blood…

Three missed calls and a rude message later I finally picked up the phone. The brother had been rushing me because he was bored of waiting – but you can’t hurry shopping queues. And from last week’s hurrying of the cashier I have learned never to rush them either. They stop what they are doing look you in the eye and lecture you on how your whole life needs to slow down and while it’s embarrassing to have a horde of people listening to it – my cashier definitely had a point: I probably did need to slow down a little, and I think Jeandre’ (the brother) does too.

When I eventually made it into post-queue-freedom I tried to push one more thing with the brother: “Should we grab some beers on the way out?” – Jeandre’ was tempted but replied that he just wanted to leave the shops forever and that it was probably better for us to be healthier anyway so we didn’t.

But after climbing the escalator and descending the stairs (a random exit methodology I know, but yes, that is how the Garden centre works), we walked straight into two screaming woman and an old man in a pool of blood.

We calmed the younger woman down and asked her what had happened. “He fell on his face” she cried. “Do you know him?” “No. He was alone.” A security guard and I asked the man if he was okay to get up, and lifted him to his feet to try and get him into a more comfortable sit down/ stroke recovery position while we sent the older woman to find centre management and Jeandre’ ran to find ice.

Blood flowed in rivers from his nose and mouth as I sat him down and tried to find out how bad the fall was and how aware he was of his surroundings. “What’s your name sir?” I thought he replied Chad and called him that for most of our conversings… but it was in fact Ted. Ted was hard at hearing and softly spoken – the following was yelled and repeated many times over:
“How are you feeling?”
“Am I alright? I fell.”
“You’re bleeding a lot but you look alright. Did you trip over something?” I asked, wondering still if he had had a stroke.
“I just fell over.”
“Is there anyone I can call?”
“Do you have any family?”
“Do you have any friends?”
“No. I live alone.”
“Surely there is someone who we can call?”

Blood was now forming little meandering streams on the sidewalk.  Jeandre’ returned with a bag of frozen peas he had just shoplifted from Woolworths (He figured throwing a R50 note at the security guard as he fled the scene would make up for it). Now it was my turn to run to get toilet paper.

A crowd had gathered by the time I got back and Ted seemed to be slipping out of consciousness. So I carried on talking to him as we mopped the blood off his face and suit.
“And how old are you?” - “95” - “Do you know where you are?”… The conversation then shifted to actual medical support seeing as nobody with any official medical experience had shown up yet. We didn’t want to call an ambulance because we knew he had no medical aid or much money so we found a good Samaritan with a car and were almost set to go when the centre’s first aider finally pitched followed by one ambulance after the next. The whole street shone with bright flashy lights and uniformed people.

Apart from a big cut to his mouth and a potentially broken nose, Ted also had a broken wrist. He needed a hospital. The paramedics assured us that he would be well taken care of and that he wouldn’t pay a cent for it. Jeandre’ left them with his phone number just in case.

My heart was broken as I watched the whole scene unfold. Imagine having no family and no friends. Imagine living to be 95 without having anyone to celebrate it with. Imagine being taken to hospital with nobody to visit you. Imagine finally reaching the end of your life with nobody to say goodbye to. I tried to imagine what it felt like to be Ted.

Ted spent the entire time clutching his small bag of blood covered groceries. I had sent one of the screaming woman on a mission to find a new bag for him – but even then he wouldn’t let go and finally only gave way enough for us to slip his torn bag into a new one. He’d taught himself to trust nobody. It was as if those groceries were his prized possessions.

“Am I alright?” Ted asked the first paramedic on the scene after various tests and questions had taken place. The paramedic looked him I the eye and said a very respectable “Sir, if I were your age and I still had a heart rate like that and still walked to the shops, I would be very happy indeed.” A smile cracked across his face for the first time.  

In retrospect we probably should have stopped to buy beer (we would have made it home a couple of hours earlier) – but meeting Ted changed my life in a weird way. If I am lucky enough to make it to 95 in good health; I want a life filled with people, with trust, with meaning and a life filled with constant smiles. Without that it doesn’t matter how old you are - you’re pretty much dead already. I hope Ted finds that before it really is the end. 

The grandmother and the other Ted - she seems to get younger by the day - Teddy on the other hand  is starting to look a bit worse for wear.
Grey haired and old or uber young - we ALL need people!
The oldest pizza I've ever met - there's a reason it is now lonely in a garbage can somewhere.