Monday, July 27, 2009

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

2 Years in Johannesburg – A Recap

This week I celebrate a two year anniversary living in Johannesburg and working here. In this column I will examine some of the highlights, lowlights and insights I have gained.

Goodness – so much has happened in the last 2 years. Even in the last 6 months. I know the words ‘global pandemic’ already sound clichéd, but that alone is an event of earth-shattering proportions. Our collective ADD, driven largely by the media that is either chasing or eating its own tail, means that we’re unable to prioritise what information is really urgent. Our perception is that it is all noise. We live in a computer game reality. If our game strategy fails, we get another chance to redeem ourselves. In real life, you get one life, and not an inexhaustible supply of choices. We can learn, to some extent, from the backs and broad shoulders of those who came and failed before. If we don’t learn our troubles grow that much deeper so much faster, and get ready then for a molar clenching hard landing.

Now, like everyone else, 2009 proved to be a tough year for me, tougher than 2007 and even harder than 2008. There have been some nervous moments, certainly – both on the world stage, and on the stage of me at home, and at work, and in a relationship. All of those important areas have been severely tested.

I have realised in my two years here that Johannesburg really is an incredibly dangerous city. It’s tangible. You can feel the eyes and intent of predators around you perhaps more so here than anywhere else in the country. Then why live here at all? Because in the same way that criminal predators scope for opportunities, opportunities abound for everyone else as well. I guess it depends on whether you’re a glass is half full kind of person, and also whether you’ve so far escaped being terrorised at the hands of criminals.

I suppose my two year stint has been dominated in my mind by the trauma, the shock of my stint in jail; was it in April 2009? Just an hour, but of course I’ve lived in this country for over 30 years and I guess there is a first for everything. It is sad to see that criminality has rubbed off on those white folk who should have no reason to resort to ill-gotten gains. It is also troubling to see how the police operate. To ‘protect and to serve’ or to ‘threaten, intimidate and extort’? I refer specifically to my landlord who still owes me my deposit money; someone who not only stole from me in terms of not paying it back, but had the temerity to also set up a scenario so that it appeared I had damaged her refrigerator. There is one word for this sort of behaviour: evil.

In desperate times people resort to desperate measures. This same lady got attacked by three hoodlums and locked in her safe. It seems the lesson she learnt from this brutal incident is that the law is incidental. Perhaps she is angry with the world and feels she can trick it into owing her something because this is what she ‘deserves’. Interesting theory. The reality though is that bad choices result in people digging such deep holes for themselves, they eventually find they cannot get out. And of course, then they blame everyone else save themselves. That is the path to one’s own destruction, sorry to say.

On the flipside, it was a blessing in disguise to have had such an unpleasant woman as a landlady because it encouraged me to find a better spot much sooner than I otherwise would have, and indeed, I did find lovely new accomodations.

Unfortunately that process opened its own can of worms, which I’m not going to elaborate too much on here. One of the positive spin offs, again, was that in a bid to make up some extra cash I went on an enterprising drive, and made numerous prints on canvas of some of my photographs. I took these on three occasions to the Rosebank Rooftop Market. This was an exhausting experience physically, and draining in terms of having to sit through three lonely and cold episodes without having sold anything.

But it is important to try; to test ourselves. Lance’s experience in the 2009 Tour de France shows that. Once we have tried, it sets the parameters for further investment, further improvement, and naturally, further commitment – or else complete abandonment in favor of some other enterprise.

In the same way the two years spent year have been hazardous and difficult. But the experience has left me better equipped to deal with this big city, and life in general.

In a more generalistic sense, I have watched swine flu become a pandemic over the last year, and added to this, saw my predictions surrounding the world’s finances and world’s energy realized as both slid over the peak and are still sliding down the slippery slope. I see a permanent contraction coming, which is a deep depressions scenario. The consequences of this on the social fabric – South Africa is already having nationwide strikes – will be dire. It will finally manifest as civil unrest and then full scale war. In the next few years we will see large numbers of the human population cut down like wheat. It may be as little as one third to disappear, or as much as two thirds. They may sound like innocent fractions, but it boils down to tens of millions, hundreds of millions, billions of people unwillingly losing their lives. Through starvation. Through enraged mobs desperately seizing and looting and being punished by government. Through countries competing for fewer and fewer resources – from water, to food, to living space, to energy resources [though not necessarily in that order]. Bleak.

I have noticed the pecarious view that most people take, which is essentially to ignore ‘bad news’ for as long as possible. A good example of this is my landlord, who I am suing for the deposit. Sure,you can ignore a person and make up your own self-supporting stories that you might tell friends and family, and yourself. It might make you feel better, and awaken sympathy in your friends, but is it the truth? Because reality eventually catches up. It might be in a court room, or in the dark bowers of the night, that close around you. We can blame others until kingdom comes, but it is only once we begin to acknowledge our mistakes, that growth, that salvation can happen from our troubles. I don’t see that happening soon. Of course, to admit you’re at fault as the judge rules is essentially meaningless. If you cannot show initiative, you cannot affect change. Is it change from within or change from without?

In terms of my writing and photography, 2007-2009 have been phenomenal years. My writing has reached the level now that it is appearing in top tier magazines like Men’s Health. I am on the verge of photographing the likes of Liezel van der Westhuizen and my photography is about to be released on a wider scale – more on that later.

In terms of sport, 2009 was a great year to revive my sense of my own potential in triathlon. I was able to shake off 8-9kg in the first 10 weeks of this year, something that I had struggled with earlier without nearly these sort of results. I was also encouraged by my performance in the half Ironman in March, which saw me finish around about 20th off the bike. Running needs work, and that work begins in earnest from August 1st, with the next season in mind. My goal is to aim for the South African team. For me that is about as lofty as Lance going for his 8th win. If you set high goals and you miss them, well, if you’ve worked hard enough, you may still make the podium in terms of an otherwise acceptable achievement.

In terms of work, our offices have consolidated which has been a tremendous bonus for me, and basically allows me to provide work to various amicable individuals, rather than having efforts possibly stymied by one in particular. So that is a positive development in an otherwise fairly restricting period.

My blog has surpassed 250 000 recently, and is currently close to 275 000 page impressions since the start, growing around 400% month on month. It’s gratifying to know that some people use SHOOT as their main source of news. That’s what I want. Others, friends of mine, I suppose, are interested in my thoughts and ideas on various news and other issues. It is encouraging to know that I may have changed or influenced even one or two other minds, so that these people understand the subtle troubles we are faced with. Very few do. Many people out there want a world that continues on for the next decade as it was the last. We know this is not going to happen. Things have changed, and in some respects, for the better. The trick is not to resist change, but someone to decide that change is part of the plan we have for ourselves, and so, a positive step, a decisive new line towards a better place.

Of course, knowing about the subtleties in the system means some of these really big changes don’t catch us by surprise. I think swine flu is going to eventually paralyze world, and once it makes front page headlines day after day after day, people will panic and despair. This will be worse for those who never took it seriously to begin with. So much is about mental preparation, and internalizing reality rather than being dismissive of it. The realities coming upon us now are not easily dismissed. The costs of doing so are becoming increasingly immediate.

For those regular readers out there, thank you for attention. I wish you strength and stamina for the seasons that await. They will surely test us all. It isn’t the end of the world for everyone, just the fat, the lazy and those prone to making easy and convenient decisions, and those prone to the blame game. Pick yourself up, get lean. I have always said one of the first and best strategies in terms of saving ourselves and being part of a sustainable solution involves changing show we consume. Particularly what you eat. So I encourage you to eat less meat, less raw sugar, more fibre, more fruit and vegetables. That alone can manifest some significant changes. Not only in you but in all those supply and demand forces that being driven to the extreme out there. C’mon! Get disciplined, get used to looking in the mirror, acknowledge what isn’t working and join me in moving towards what may be a solution for all of us left standing when the worst is over.

No comments: