{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

May 28, 2017

Book Review || The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman

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Phillip Pullman is the master of coming of age novels. In 'The Broken Bridge', we meet Ginny, the only black girl in a Welsh town, who has been treasuring her roots and becoming an amazing artist just like her mother. But her father is hiding a secret from her, and she comes to find that everything she knows about herself might be a lie.

This young adult novel is filled with the usual teenage concerns of falling in love, discovering who your friends are, and coming to accept yourself. But it has more going for it than simply that.

We see the world through Ginny's eyes - literally, the eyes of an artist. She sees everything as though she's preparing to paint it, and Pullman focuses a lot on describing the world as an artist would see it: in terms of different colours and hues, composition, and highlights and shadows. This contributes to making Ginny a believable artist instead of simply taking her word for it and was possibly my favourite part of the novel - there is true passion for her craft in Ginny's narrative.

The fact that she is an artist is a big part of her identity but she is forced to question it when her father's lies catch up with him and she wonders if anything he told her was true at all. Her art was what defined her, set her apart in a positive way, in a world where she was already sort of an outcast as one of only two black people in the town, and the daughter of a white man and black woman. When mysteries are laid at her feet about the town, her father, and her mother, she questions who she really is and realises that the idealist side of her - the artist - was selfishly looking at things in a certain way. There's a moment where she consoles a crying woman and actually moves herself around so that the artistic composition would be better.

In a way, this selfishness represents that of every teenager so caught up in their new emotions and urges, worries and needs that they forget there are other people in the world suffering in different ways. When Ginny meets her brother, he is also selfishly experiencing the world. However, the two of them begin to have a proper relationship when they open up to one another, in a way that many adults cannot do.

Another theme to consider in the scope of the novel is whether there is a perfect family at all. Ginny and her father are all alone until Robert comes along. Robert and his mother were all alone until tragedy struck. Andy has been exiled from his family, as has her best friend Rhiannon's older sister, who in turn is stuck in a loveless, abusive marriage. We are faced with the truth that there is no such thing as a perfect family, but the members within it can only do their best.

In many ways, this novel - written in 1990 - was written before its time. Touching on issues of broken families as it does, you can also throw in questions about homosexuality, racism, gangsterism, suspicion, selfishness, arrogance, roots and origins, and even a little bit of spirituality as well.

The novels' story of the broken bridge and its metaphorical meaning become clear at the end: no bridges are mended from only one side.

May 20, 2017

Stop Eating Meat, Cape Town!

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The City of Cape Town has tightened water restrictions again after an announcement that usable water levels in dams were only at 11.2%. They pleaded with the public to use only 100 litres a day. Well, this is all well and good, but how about curbing the water usage of the biggest culprits? And I'm not talking about big businesses who leave their sprinklers on all day or households who have swimming pools...

Here's looking at you, factory farms, meat farms, abattoirs! And, yes, I know that curbing their water usage has major economic setbacks, such as being unable to pay workers, meeting consumer demand, and so on. But we can use our lifestyles to change that.

On average, a single poultry abattoir deals with around 18,000 chickens a day to meet consumer demand. Processing a single bird uses around 17 litres, so that's already 306,000 litres used per day. Over 2 million litres a week. There are several poultry abattoirs in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Let's say there are 10: That's at least 20 million litres being used a week to process chickens. Just chickens. And you're being asked to use only 100 litres a day? Update 24 May 2017: It was pointed out to me by a commentator below (whom I only know as 'Anonymous' - thank you for fact-checking!) that I incorrectly stated 18,000 chickens per day as per the article I linked to, which actually stated 8,000 chickens. I apologise for this link error. Using this abattoir as an example, it would still mean, however, that 136,000 litres would be used per day - 952,000 litres per week - 9,520 million litres for an assumed amount of 10 poultry abattoirs. To me, this is still a lot of water being used when you're asked to use only 100 litres per day. Regardless of this, Selectra claims that a medium-sized poultry abattoir would process 20,000 birds per day. This is more than my original calculation anyway.

Add to this that, in essence, this water is sometimes returned to natural streams, within certain healthy and acceptable 'parameters', which are probably not met all the time, as many abattoirs struggle to maintain proper bacterial balance in their sludge dams - this is why they are sometimes red: it's not blood but algal bloom, and if this is released into natural streams... ruination of ecological system. Mostly, however, wastewater is dealt with in municipal sewer systems. And don't even get me started on the physical waste products, such as intestines, bones, and blood - where does all that go?

Perhaps it is time we took a more responsible outlook on drought over and above showering for only five minutes, making use of grey water, or only flushing once our toilets are good and dirty. What if we changed our lifestyles and stopped eating meat?

"Oh, but what about my protein needs?!" you ask.

"Okay, fine", you say, "but what about my calcium requirements?!"

Then you'll say, "Okay, smarty pants. What about my Omega oils intake?" To which I will say that it's likely you're deficient in them anyway and ...

"Erm, well I also need iron. Can't possibly get iron from anywhere else but meat!" Really?

"And Vitamin B12!?"

I detect a certain panic in your voice as you squeak, "...and zinc?!"

Do you really still want to tell me there is no other place to get everything you need to survive but meat?

"Oh, but I do take part in Meat Free Mondays! That's something, right?" Sure, it's something. But you have to ask yourself if it's enough.


Thank you so much to everyone who commented! I have also added some more related links below about water usage comparisons, since we are talking specifically about water.

Related Reading:

10 Vegan Cheat Sheets
From Lettuce to Beef: What's the Water Footprint of Your Food
The Water Footprint of Food
Waterwise: Your Water Footprint
And if there's one film you watch this weekend, please let it be this one!!!! Earthlings

{Lead image credit: By AerialcamSA - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link}

May 19, 2017

Welcome to the world, Caitlyn (and privilege and beauty conventions)!

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Twitter/HairbyStewart
Update: Okay, so I wrote the below essay just after Caitlyn Jenner publicly revealed her new look on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine last year, and I didn't publish it because I thought my criticisms were .... uncalled for at the time. I regret not publishing it then, because barely a year later people are realising that her privilege, which is my main criticism below, is not changing anything. Now the media is complaining that she is in fact taking up too much space in the trans conversation. Her public visibility as a white, rich woman is doing nothing for those on the ground suffering very real and often violent discrimination on the ground. Of course, we could go into the arguments about women being told in general that they take up too much space, but that is a conversation for another day...

Original piece written in June 2016: Following Caitlyn Jenner's very public reveal on the cover of Vanity Fair with a photograph by Annie Lebowitz, many have lauded her bravery at taking the world with her on her journey from a man to a woman. Of course she should be lauded - her face gracing the cover of the upstanding Vanity Fair is a major step in normalising transgender sexualities and is so necessary in our world fraught with prejudice and judgement.

I do not wish to detract from Caitlyn's achievements and all her very real experiences. But what is striking about her successful coming out is the very real fact of her privilege as a national hero and former male and how that narrative has largely been left out of mainstream media coverage of her coming out.

Caitlyn's history as a successful athlete cannot be overlooked. Her athleticism is an important part of her success. She made a name for herself as the 'All American Hero' after beating a Russian during the Cold War - a masculine trope that men still aspire to. This fame has contributed to her popularity. As a male athlete, she also received all the privilege that came with it: She was one of 4,824 men to compete in the Olympic Games in 1976, where the number of women was less than half that, and with women's sports not being so popular, one can imagine the sponsorship deals for women were not as lucrative as the deal he received from Wheaties for appearing on their box. Hell, pay equality is still an issue even today.

And then she's been successful outside of her athletics career in television and also in auto-racing - a notoriously male sport.

She recently accepted the Espy Arthur Ashe Courage Award in July for coming out because of the 'adversity' and 'peril' she faced by doing so. The very fact that she received the award at all raised its own controversy, as many believed others were worthier of the title. What's more is that she is not the first athlete to come out as transgender, but she is the first to be awarded for doing so.

I can perhaps see why she was chosen because the breadth of her influence has that much more potential as a result of her popularity on reality television. She thus had a lot more to win or lose by coming out publicly and also greater influence on the public's view on transgender people, which is not to say that is a bad thing.

In her acceptance speech for the above award, she practically accepted it on behalf of those transgender people who are struggling to come to terms with their status as the world struggles to come to terms with them. But that is my point: the transition for him was, not to say easier, because making that decision and going through with it could never be easy, but he had very public support over his move in a way that many young transgender youths today do not. Plus, his prolific career gave him the financial support many youths could only dream of.

My other concern is with the very public, very beautified way in which she came out. Her cover for Vanity Fair was indeed stunning ....
...but it concerns me that she chose a medium known for edited and touched-up images exemplifying conventional feminine beauty standards. Her image on the cover is flawless in a way that live footage of her is not. I have previously expressed my ire for how leaked 'real' photos mean nothing because they are not plastered on magazine covers and are not considered official publicity releases for celebrities, and the situation is similar here. Not only can Caitlyn enter the world and very publicly be accepted as a woman, she enters it as one of the most 'conventionally' beautiful women. As a man making the transition to a woman, how should she see Caitlyn's transition - which felt as though it happened overnight - in the face of her battles with hormones, fashion, beauty treatments and loved ones? How should those feel who are completely cut off from making any such transition and are forced to live in the wrong body? Furthermore, how do those who identify as women feel when who was once a man can be so beautifully flawless while they struggle at home with their masks and creams and lotions? How should they feel after a former man wins Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year award? What else can we think but that even men can perform femininity better than women? It's like that STEM competition for girls, which was opened for entries from boys and what do you know? The boy won!?

How can anyone compete with that?

May 5, 2017

Birthday Party || Top 10 Car Theme Ideas on Pinterest

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We recently celebrated Emma's fourth birthday (I can't even believe it!) and this year she wanted a car theme. I didn't have a lot of time to work on the themed decor for her party because I spent the first three days of the week repainting and redecorating her room (which included fresh paint on the wall and ceiling, an appliqued sea theme curtain; and waves painted with blackboard paint). I technically only had two days to do everything else, since one day was spent doing the shopping.

What also made it more difficult this year was that I had to find and make vegan eats - last year we were still vegetarian so I could still make most of the goodies with egg when required. This year's baking went terribly - I must have been tired and everything kept flopping. Sigh. It was also difficult to come up with ideas for the theme in such a short time, so thank goodness for Pinterest! And if you're thinking, 'This looks exactly like last year's party, just with cars!' you and my hubby are in agreement there.

Emma wanted a strawberry cake, so the race track in the shape of a 'four' is a vegan sponge cake with strawberry flavouring. It's quite old-fashioned but Emma wanted it to look like this:
I made streetlight brownies like these:
And then everything else was pretty standard: popcorn, jelly beans, and crisps. Easy. I would have liked to be more creative and if you are planning a car-themed birthday, too, here are my top ten favourites from Pinterest:

1. Pot Holes or Wheels from Oreos

2. Vegetable Cars

(Though I don't think any child would grab these!)

3. Apple Cars

4. Checkered Flag Biscuits

5. Dip Sticks

6. A Car Photo Booth. 

I really wanted to do this one - I had even bought the card. :(

7. Car-Shaped Biscuits

8. Checkered Drinks

I wanted to put the checkerboard pattern around our disposable cups.

9. Dip Sticks and Traffic Light Condiments

10. 'I Wheelie Like You' Gift Bags


I hope these help you out and I would love to see your own ideas!

April 5, 2017

Book Review || Eat Your Heart Out by Felicity Lawrence

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I've been focusing very much lately on becoming healthier for myself and for the planet and while I thought turning to a plant-based diet was enough, Felicity Lawrence's frank book about the food industry, 'Eat Your Heart Out' was a wake-up call to commercial food and corporate interests.

I always knew that only a few companies owned most of the means of food production, thanks to widespread reports about them. But this meme is only the tip of the iceberg, because there are a few companies that control all the ingredients the companies in the reports use. I never suspected it was this bad - that everything came from these few suppliers. Nor did I expect the history behind our food system to be littered with human rights abuses, a disregard for animal and natural life, and political connections that should be making us shake in our boots from fear and anger.

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The chapters of Lawrence's book focus on the basic foodstuffs we require to have a so-called 'healthy' lifestyle: cereals, meat and vegetables, milk, pigs, sugar, fish and tomatoes, fats, and soya. Every single chapter reveals the systematic takeover of a product by massive corporations who care nothing for the livelihood of local farmers and residents, the ecosystem, the treatment of livestock, the sustainability of the product, nor the manner in which it is produced. The products are relentlessly marketed to consumers, sometimes with no evidence that the product or its additives are really healthy.

Corporate interests focus on making the most profit by producing the cheapest items, and this means farmers, workers, and consumers suffer at the end of the day: farmers suffer as their cost of production can never match that of major corporations, they sell their land, and their own earning ability and living is taken away from them; workers (particularly migrants, and very often illegal migrants) suffer from poor wages, poor working conditions, and sometimes even slavery; consumers suffer because they are forced to pay for and consume foods that are made from food sources stripped of all their healthy aspects (because that is the cheapest way), filled with bulking agents such as water and the by-products of agriculture for the meat industry, and jammed with 'healthy' additives that replace what was stripped in the first place that have really left us unhealthier than ever.

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The environment also suffers along the way, usually the environment where products are produced such as the Amazon for soya and Indonesia for palm oil, while the major corporations ship products to tax havens so that they pay minimal tax and taxpayers actually subsidise production and the way in which they work.

In the fish chapter (6) for example, Lawrence looks at Senegal, once a major exporter of fish. After independence, debt and the recession in the '70s forced it to open its agricultural system to importers (these major agricultural companies) resulting in farmers losing their livelihood and moving to the coast to make money from fishing. But the fishing waters are taken over by international entities who overfish the waters, destroy fish habitats while doing so, and fill their nets and trawlers with illegal, wasted by-catch while locals who bring in fish that do not meet the size or species requirements are penalised. Since the locals are not able to make a living fishing, they migrate to the European Union, usually crammed into ships in ways that resemble the slave ships their ancestors once travelled in, where they suffer from the new slavery of the minimum wage, the illegal migrant, and 'recruitment agencies' that continually negotiate lower and lower wages to match the needs of retailers and large corporations.

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And every chapter has a similar story of agricultural systems in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America being forced open and filled with Western imports while the Western countries' agriculture is protected, loss of livelihoods, environmental destruction, and a decline in general health. Even retailers do not go unscathed: their power over the market is nearly unparalleled, forcing factory workers and local farmers to continually lower their prices and increase their production or face being disregarded as a supplier entirely.

If there is one book that you read this year, please let it be this one. It is truly an eye-opening treatise on the state of our world, our environment, and our health. 

{Image credit: Senegal Fish [By PIerre.Lescanne (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]; Migrant worker [By Sharon Ben-Arie - Photo by Sharon Ben-Arie, Attribution, Link]; Battery cages for chickens [By MyName (Ethelred) - Own work, Public Domain, Link]}

March 30, 2017

Movies || New Trailer has My Hopes Up for 'IT'

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I've never been much of a Stephen King fan - the only novel I could manage to get through from cover to cover was 'The Shining', and only because I hadn't seen the movie first. His novel 'It' I have not read but I have seen the film and while it had its scary moments, it's not on the top of my list of scary films. It just felt too long for me, the slow parts drawing attention from the jump scares and tension. I've never been afraid of clowns either (although I was freaked out my mealworms until very recently).

But... the new trailer for the remake of the miniseries was released and it looks amazing! I have high hopes that the film will change my perception of the story. I was concerned at first that 'It' would be a duology, but splitting the series into two different moments in time is a good idea for reasons of tension. Producer Roy Lee also mentioned that the second film may be done from the characters' point of view when they are adults, depending on the first film's reception, so maybe it will add something new to the story most people know.

I also think that the new take on the clown form as being entirely in control of his evil, with perfect makeup, instead of making do at the bottom of the sewers, all dirty and greasy, will make it more frightening. He is busy with his routine and knows exactly what he's doing. Bill SkarsgĂ„rd looks excellent as Pennywise, too.

The trailer is below. What do you think of it?


Did you know?

Hundreds of clown sightings took place from August 2016 and they have still not been fully explained. Some believe the clowns were marketing stunts for Rob Zombie's '31' or the remake of 'It', but no one has claimed responsibility. Some believe it may simply be mass hysteria or mischievous elements in society.

Will Poulter, most recently seen in 'The Revenant' with Leonardo DiCaprio, was originally cast as Pennywise.

'Coulrophobia' is not recognised as the official term for a fear of clowns.

John Wayne Gacy invented the character 'Pogo the Clown' when performing at charitable services. He also murdered 33 boys and men in six years before he was convicted in 1980. He was on death row until 1994.

March 29, 2017

Book Review || Bend-The-Rules Sewing by Amy Karol

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Amy Karol's 'Bend-the-Rules Sewing' is a real treat. Marketed as a book for beginner sewists (she calls them sewers - but for me it's too easy to get 'so'-wers and 'sue'-wers confused), it is the ideal partner for anyone embarking on their sewing journey. Not only that, but it offers some really special tips and tricks for advanced sewists as well.

Indeed, she introduces the book saying,
Beginning sewers have a real advantage over those who have been doing it a long time.
I call it the "why-not?" factor. New sewers tend to think differently than seasoned seamstresses. They don't know when they are breaking the rules, so they try crazy, adventurous things that can turn out fabulously... The goal of this book is to help experienced sewers loosen up and teach new sewers some basic skills.
And this is certainly what Amy achieves. Chock full of information about the basics of sewing, such as sewing machines and the tools of the trade, Amy demystifies much of what can seem daunting as a beginner: seam rippers, the correct scissors, bodkins, beeswax, the correct fabric, freezer paper - what on earth will everything be used for? Even for the advanced sewist, she makes much-hated tasks, such as seam ripping and bias tape-making seem a breeze.

What's more, she offers advice on how to really personalise your sewing projects, with tips on hand embroidery, applique, stamping, painting and marking that will make items unique and artsy.

I have been sewing for years and certainly did find some of her tips inspired, particularly the short tutorials on how to make a thread shank for buttons [39], easily inserting a zipper perfectly the first time [38], applying bias trim without that annoying edge stitching that never catches both sides of the tape [40], and making your own continuous strip bias binding [41]. Even her instructions on appliqueing make the technique seem as easy as staining a new white shirt.

The projects are also all simple and well-described, and it will be easy for anyone paging through the book to think about how they'll personalise the gorgeous items inside. My favourite projects include the 'Charming Handbag' with its handles that gather the bag when it's picked up [64] - amazing! - the 'Scalloped Baby Blanket' with some simple quilting [114], and the 'Puppet Theatre with a Matching Case' [118]. Every project comes with detailed instructions and additional tips specific to each, sometimes suggesting ways to personalise it.

So if you're looking for a new hobby or some inspiration for your old hobby (of sewing, that is), look no further than this book, which you'll be tempted to find a copy of all for yourself (since I lent this one from the local library).

Do you have a favourite sewing book you return to all the time? Let me know in the comments!

March 23, 2017

Movies || Moments to Cry For

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Some say that crying is good for your health: it releases stress, lowers blood pressure, and removes toxins. Others say crying is good for the soul, and there is no better way to tap into your emotions without having to explain your emotional outburst than to indulge in a film that tweaks your heart strings.

Apparently, when a woman falls pregnant and gives birth, the brain restructures itself to make a mother more empathetic to others' perspectives and emotions. If I was a sobbing idiot when watching the most heart-wrenching films before, now I'm the same at mere heartfelt moments. Like at the end of 'The Secret Life of Pets' when all the pets had happy owners arriving home and I couldn't help thinking about all the pets that had no one to care for them...

All this aside, these are the films - in no particular order - that I will always turn to to release some emotional tension. Looking at the list now, most of them are about losing loved ones in some way or suffering animals. Pretty telling about what most bothers me emotionally...

What Dreams May Come

All about loss, this movie throws you from one emotional extreme to the other. The scenes make you feel full of wonder and appreciative of beauty. They are imaginitive and colourful and make you feel euphoric. But you are thrown into depths of sadness as Chris struggles to rescue his wife from a Hell that she has created. We are faced with the loss of a loved one and the impossibility of bringing them back to your reality.



Lady and the Tramp

The part in this film that pulls my heartstrings is when Lady is sent to the pound and treated to the howling of desperate, unadopted stray dogs careening in sadness. When that tear rolls down one of the dogs' snouts, it's over for me.



Dumbo

Another musical number: Dumbo is taken away from his mother and has the chance to visit her. She is locked up in a train carriage, chained to either side of the interior and can only touch him if she reaches through the window with her trunk. She rocks Dumbo with her trunk, tears sliding down Dumbo's face as we are treated to a montage of other animals sleeping peacefully with their own babies. I have to remove myself from the room if I don't want to end up in tears.



The Notebook

In this film, we are treated to an epic West Side Story-type love story with perhaps one of the most passionate kissing-in-the-rain scenes ever. At the end of the film, Rachel McAdams' character suffers from Alzheimer's and cannot even remember the man she loved so much, only having short moments of lucidity. I watched this before my father's death from the disease and blubbered and I believe if I had to watch it now, I would be a mess for days.

The Fault in Our Stars

If you've watched this film, you'll know it's about young, first love, illness, and death. This film makes me cry every time as lives and love are cut short because illnesses that could not be prevented.

If you want a breakdown of them all, visit The Daily Beast. The gas station scene is a killer.

Watership Down

Again the plight of innocent animals haunts my dreams. The Sandleford warren is warned about its impending doom by Fiver, a seer, but the chief rabbit does not believe him. He and his brother, Hazel, leave with a small band of friends. They experience several hardships until finding Watership Down. The parts that send me to tears are when Hazel dies and is collected by El-ahrairah: it's such a perfect ending for all the pain and terror this little bunny faced. Oh, and don't even get me started on Fiver's apocalyptic vision of the bloody and gruesome death of the rabbits of Sandleford. But those are tears of childish terror.



Still Alice

I haven't watched this since my father passed away - I am too afraid to do so - but it's about a highly-respected linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. We follow Alice through her most terrible moments, one of them being her frustration after finding an earlier video of herself giving instructions on how to commit suicide but being unable to remember the steps to complete the task. Then again, this scene is also terrible:



The Bridges of Madison County

The moment Francesca is forced to choose between her life with her husband and a life with an unexpected true love is heartrending.



Always

Pete, a daredevil firefighter, dies in a plane accident, returning six months later to mentor a new pilot. However, the new pilot is falling in love with Pete's girl, Dorinda, and she responds. He tries to sabotage the relationship, inspiring Ted to attempt a dangerous rescue. Dorinda refuses to lose another love and does the job herself. Pete helps her, using the time to tell her everything he should have told her when he was alive. Dorinda lands on the water and seems willing to sink into the lake but Pete appears to her, rescues her, and lets her go.



The Land Before Time

Little Foot's mother dies. Is there anything else you can say?



Honourable Mentions:

The Iron Giant - the robot sacrifices himself for his friends, choosing to be a hero.
The Fox and the Hound - the loss of a friendship simply because of different paths is sad.
Small Apartments - This might be a weird movie, but get through it, because an unexpected death will make you feel like forgiving everyone. You will also question the smallness of your life, want to aspire to be happy (because only you can choose to be so), and really live.
My Girl - The funeral scene. Need I say more.
Life of Pi - when the tiger seemingly abandons Pi on the beach and runs into the forest, I bawl. If you want to believe it's all a metaphor and the tiger wasn't real, fine. But my tears are real.
Meet Joe Black - At the end, when William Parish walks over the hill with Death and only the young man from the coffee shop returns - man, it kills me.



Do you have any movie moments that will make you tear up every time?

{Lead image credits: The Fault in Our Stars poster: Facebook/FaultinOurStarsMovie; The Land Before Time: Facebook/LandBeforeTimeMovies; Still Alice: Facebook/StillAliceMovie; The Lady and the Tramp: Facebook/DisneyLadyandtheTramp}

March 14, 2017

Is the Fight Against Rhino Poaching Futile?

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The plight of South Africa's rhinos is still a major point of interest in the country. It is heartbreaking that South Africa is responsible for the majority of Africa's rhinos, many having been hunted to extinction in other nations. This has largely been the result of quick action from the private and public sector in rescuing them. But despite this, it does not seem that South Africa is winning the battle against rhino poaching.

A heartbreaking story in the media recently was the attack of the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in northern KwaZulu-Natal in February. Five poachers cut the horns off two of the rhinos - who would soon have been returned to the wild - while they were still alive. They were mutilated to such an extent that one, Gugu, died and the other, Impi, had to be euthanised.  The staff at the orphanage were also brutalised, and while donations have flooded in for the orphanage, the story is very disheartening, especially if allegations of an inside job are to be believed.

There are happy stories. Aquila Private Game Reserve's Saving Private Rhino project welcomed its first rhino orphan just over a week ago. Now seven weeks old, the fiery little orphan's mom died from an infection on a farm in Mpumalanga and conservationist Divan Grobler took on the care of the rhino for the 17-hour drive down to the Western Cape, after spending 10 days gaining the baby's trust.

Grobler seems to be a bit of a celebrity after hand-rearing another abandoned calf, Osita, and along with 10-year-old Hunter Mitchell - who raised more than R100,000 to care for Osita - the pair make a formidable example of how normal people can make a difference in the world, especially for our beleaguered rhinos.



The orphanage at the Aquila Animal Rescue Centre is the first of its kind in the Western Cape and has the added benefits of being without snares, bush meat poachers, and opportunistic poachers with weapons coming from Mozambique that plague more northern reserves. Once the orphans are rehabilitated, there are plenty of safe reserves in the area who will certainly be willing to take them on.

I have to commend people who try against all odds to turn the tide of human destruction. Despite the obvious danger in caring for rhinos, there are people who will do anything they can to help, even risking their own lives.

But I can't help but wonder if all their hard work is futile?

Surely we need the support of government in the fight against poaching and eventual extinction. At the beginning of February, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced it would allow rhino horn to be traded domestically and a tourist visiting SA could export a maximum of two rhino horns for their own purposes. While private rhino owners are purportedly pleased with the move because they can be rid of their stockpiles of rhino horn, the Humane Society International/Africa's executive director Audrey Delsink did not agree it was the correct move, telling TimesLive the regulation would open loopholes for rhino horn laundering, and endorsement of legal rhino horn trading - "...which has significant enforcement challenges and poor capacity" - would only serve to create weak spots in our already holey system.

One company is working on creating a 3D-printed rhino horn that is based on the genetics of actual rhino horns. Although originally these 'fake' rhino horns would be available in powder form and in products as powder, it was decided that they would only be dispersed into the lifestyle goods market, such as for sculptures, chopsticks, and other decorative items. But will this stop the slow road to extinction for the rhino? Conservationists do not think so. Save the Rhino International said in a statement that it would neither reduce demand for the product nor dispel the fictions surrounding its use and would normalise the use of rhino horn. It also added that over 90% of rhino horns that were currently circulating the market were fake already, and this has not stopped poaching.

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TRAFFIC, an organisation aimed at monitoring the wildlife trade, told traveller24 in 2016 that the sale of legal ivory stockpiles in 2008 actually increased the black market for the resource by 66%. Instead of curbing the slaughter of elephants, around 100,000 were killed between 2011 and 2014 because it was just that much more simple to sell 'illegal' ivory in the guise of 'legal' ivory. Of course, these kinds of loopholes are easily taken advantage of by the corrupt and corruptible.

It would appear that outwardly governments of both supply and demand countries are vehemently against wildlife and wildlife product trafficking, but neither is willing to accept their part in the issue. The supply country - South Africa for rhino horn - demands that the demand country - China or Vietnam - educate their populations on the myths of rhino horns' medicinal qualities, while the demand country expects the supply country to more seriously enforce law, capture perpetrators, and deal with the supply issue from the source. It is clear that this divided view is, however, not doing anything to help the wild animals who are the source of trafficked goods.

Certain African countries have made significant headway in the battle against animal trafficking, but this is because leadership is just as committed to protecting the resources as the rangers who are protecting the animals on a daily basis.

Perhaps this outright disrespect of animals, commodification of animals, ownership of animals comes from a more sinister place in the scheme of things: what if our spirit is declining along with the animals with whom we share this world? Imagine that everything was in balance - the fecundity of the planet and the proliferation of species was balanced in such a way that humanity could feel truly linked to the Mother Earth. And the more animals we kill - after all, we've lost 50% of the world's wildlife in the last 50 years - the less we feel like the caregivers of the world we were meant to be? We're losing that connection - can you imagine what it will be like when there is no one but us on Earth? It would be desert. Literally. Whatever the truth, it does not appear that any poachers are willing to stop, any customers are willing to stop buying, and hardly anyone at all is willing to look beyond their own selfish needs.

Further reading: 

Poaching Crisis in South Africa
WWF: Wildlife Trafficking report [PDF]
Two Nations Show Good News, Bad News for Africa's Elephants
Synthetic Rhino Horn: Will It Save the Rhino?
Can Fake Rhino Horn Stop the Poaching of a Species at Risk?

{Image credits:
Lead: By Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Second: By IkiwanerEdited by jjron - tilt correction - Own work, GFDL 1.2, Link}

March 11, 2017

Book Review || The Spirits Speak (or African Spirits Speak) by Nicky Arden

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It feels strange for me to have picked up this autobiography, "The Spirits Speak" (or "African Spirits Speak" as it was published later) by Nicky Arden, at a time when South Africa is once again in turmoil politically, especially as it was written around the time that we experienced the country's biggest political revolution. If there is one thing this book can teach us is that we are never too far from each other's cultures to learn about them, reconcile our differences, and learn to love each other.

Nicky Arden is among those white people who ran from the unrest in South Africa during apartheid, in 1966. She frequently refers to herself as a coward for doing so, for being unable to stay in the country of her birth and fight for the struggle in the way that many others had.
It is just that the world had forgotten them - those who were that other minority in the quilting of whites. There were those who opposed and fought; there were those who opposed and left; there were those who supported the Nationalist regime. But there were also those who, like me, did not have the courage to fight for their belief - and courage is what it took in those days of torment and unlimited detention - for whom, unlike me, Africa nevertheless remained home; who covered eyes, ears, and mouth in order to stay in a place they loved. This day [1994 elections] was for them, too, a reckoning. [244]
She and her husband return to South Africa after Nelson Mandela is released from prison and apartheid has been brought down; it is during this visit and a trek into the bush that she meets a sangoma who tells her she needs to study to be one, too.

Nicky's journey from here onwards is inspirational: she breaks so many boundaries and taboos on her journey to become what is traditionally seen as an African icon. However, this novel is not about her physical journey but her emotional one, one that takes her right into African culture, where she discovers that she, and all of us, have always been welcome would that we stopped being so afraid and proud.

This novel is about the potential for reconciliation, a gift that black people in South Africa were - with open arms - willing to give to the white people who had heretofore either taken an active part in oppressing them or a passive part by doing nothing to change it.
And what love and acceptance poured from those black Africans who called into the radio station; what forgiveness shone from their words. Would that country have ever reached this conciliation had they not carried in their hearts such true generosity of spirit? Not a word, not a sound, not a sigh of anger, of retribution, only delight and merciful inclusion. [244]
Through Nicky's little group of sangomas and thwasas (sangomas in training) she not only learnt how to love herself but to be loved by a culture that was all too willing to share its love with her, indeed they teach her how to love herself.

This novel left me somewhat melancholy and yearning for the vision of the reconciled South Africa that sparks hope in all its pages, a vision that has somewhat been battered by corruption and a lack of progress in the country's most important arenas.

However, Nicky Arden's story of her journey is highly recommended for those who feel out of touch with their cultural roots or who feel a yearning to learn something about someone but are too afraid to ask.

March 5, 2017

Book Review || The Ghost of Hannah Mendes by Naomi Ragen

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I really wanted to like Naomi Ragen's historical romance novel 'The Ghost of Hannah Mendes'. I really did. But I felt as if I was trapped in a Mills & Boon nightmare of tropes.

It starts off with the matriarch of a Jewish family, Catherine, discovering she has but months to live and regretting that she did not pass on her heritage as was her duty, both as the eldest and as the carrier of her family's traditions. She is visited by the ghost of her famous descendent, Gracia Mendes Nasi (who is based on a real person) and warned that the family tree is dying, since Catherine's two grandchildren seem set on becoming old without settling down and having children. In possession of only a portion of Gracia's memoir, she decides to make her grandchildren, Francesca and Suzanne, find the rest of it, with the hope that they will reunite, come to value their heritage, and decide to settle down with good Jewish men.

I think I couldn't like this novel because I couldn't like any of the characters in it. Catherine is the stereotypical rich woman feeling lost after realising money isn't everything; Suzanne is the stereotypical black-sheep-of-the-family because she wanted to be with her married boyfriend who was not Jewish and a vegetarian; Francesca is the stereotypical working woman floundering after being fired from a job she was very good at and suffering from traumatic romances. Every single character feels as though their characteristics were ticked off of a list for their character types.

And of course, these women so set against romance and pleasing their families just happen to find love with men who are literally too darn good to be true, practically dripping out of the pages of quick-read romances. And they are even Jewish to top it off! What a happy coincidence! It's all too cut-and-dry for me and the love scenes filled with unpredictable passion, love at first sight, feelings of safety and security, are sickly sweet. Certainly, you may love someone with all of your being but no one is perfect and in real life things get in the way. No matter how ideally the pair may be matched.

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A portrait suspected to be of Gracia Nasi
I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel - the locations visited, the story of the Spanish Inquisition, and Gracia's own experiences - and I know that the theme of the story is to honour your family and your traditions and your religion, but I really feel there was something missing in the telling. Ragen tried to cram too much into the novel. In my opinion, she should rather have focused on either the Catherine-granddaughter story or written the entire story in Gracia's time. Throwing the memoir into the story seemed haphazard and there are moments in the plot - such as after Francesca meets Elizabeta - where everything is up in the air, pained attempts at cliffhanging that were more annoying than intriguing.

Could you say this is a feminist novel, since it is told only from the points of view of the women? I wouldn't say so. The female characters feel as though they've been written by a man, their only concerns their appearances and their stereotypical interests. Plus, the whole idea behind it is that the female granddaughters are not becoming mothers and not getting married, which is unacceptable. While Gracia Mendes is an amazing character historically, lauded in the novel for her business acumen and saving thousands of refugees during the Inquisition and for keeping her family together, it felt a little preachy to me.

In the end I finished the novel just to see how it ended, which is ~ unpredictably ~ happily ever after.

{Image credit: Bronzino [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

February 28, 2017

Addendum: Movie Review || The Lovely Bones

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I'll come right out and say it - the film version of 'The Lovely Bones' was disappointing. Was it because I watched it so soon after reading the novel by Alice Sebold? Perhaps. But I don't think it would be unfair of me to say that this was not it at all.

Peter Jackson's 'The Lovely Bones' certainly had the main plotline down: a girl is murdered and experiences heaven while simultaneously watching as her family learns to live with her death. The film tried sooooo hard to create that fleeting sense of Susie at once being in heaven and on Earth with her family. It tried to use stunning visuals of the natural world that made up Susie's heaven and how she interacted with it to show the passing of time on Earth. But for someone who hadn't read the novel, I think it would be too confusing, especially since the characters did not appear to age as much as they did in the novel, with the exception of Lindsey, who marries and can be seen pregnant at the end of the film.

I was impressed with Stanley Tucci's performance as George Harvey, the serial killer who murders Susie. He was indeed awkward and chilling and his performance was on point - I especially loved the contact lenses, since his familiar face was distorted. Mark Wahlberg was, as Susie's dad Jack, typically Mark Wahlberg-y - angry instead of despairing and desperate as I read the character. I was disappointed also that the story disregarded a lot of what Susie's mom, Abigail, was experiencing: her love affair with the consulting detective was left out entirely, and I think this actually played a large part in why she decided to leave the family, because it reminded her that she was something other than simply a mother.

The story was significantly simplified: Lindsey comes to suspect Harvey before her father does, who only remembers Harvey when he spots him in one of Susie's photo sets; Ray Singh has been reduced to a love interest, and for some reason becomes the biggest thing that Susie misses while she's in heaven - she cannot even rest until she possesses Ruth and kisses him; Ruth is reduced to the girl who saw Susie's ghost and the film disregards her psychic talents; and poor Grandma Lynn has become nothing but comic relief, among other things.

I suppose the subject matter of the book is much more complicated than could be carried across to film - there is just something about Sebold's novel that is deeper and more insightful than the film expresses. While both the novel and the book attempt to bring a positive spin on grief, I feel like the film was too focused on a happy ending and justice for Susie - after all, when Harvey dies at the end, it is his death we view in gruesome shots - it feels as though the redemption of Susie's family had to happen when Harvey dies. In the novel, the reality is that redemption is self-made, a decision that each individual makes to retain the bones of family and friendship ties instead of break them.

{Movie poster credit: By Source, Fair use, Link}

February 25, 2017

Book Review || The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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I could not put Alice Sebold's 'The Lovely Bones' down. Literally. Thankfully I was ill this entire week and had ample opportunity to not put it down, and finding out what's become of Susie and her family and her killer became an itching need when I wasn't holding the book in my hand. This novel will break your heart and then smear some hope all over the bloody pieces.

Sebold's writing is difficult to describe: it feels a bit like when you're waking from a dream of being surrounded by butterflies' wings brushing your cheeks and you swear that, upon opening your eyes, the dusty scales from their wings are floating around catching the light when it's really just dust motes. This unique ability of placing the reader in two worlds at once is the most compelling part of this novel. Descriptions of the world around the characters is so whimsical yet feel so removed from history that nothing seems real, and this is the perfect metaphor for how it must feel for a family to suddenly and violently lose a loved one.

Through the use of Susie's ghost, every character becomes practically transparent - we know everything there is to know about their motivations and their history because Susie is now timeless. This is the perfect use of an omniscient narrator and I'm not certain I've ever come across one that has been so successful without being obtrusive.

Susie's death obviously has a profound effect on everyone who had her in their lives. Her father becomes obsessive, her mother escapes, her sister hardens her heart, her brother resents the loss of attention. She is never far in the thoughts of friends and family and perhaps it is this connection that allowed her to see so much and so purely into their hearts. What I liked the most about this situation was that there was no narrative judgment: Susie seemed to harbour nothing but unconditional love for those she observed and this is a wonderful thing to believe of our spirits when we leave.

The heaven that Sebold presents to us probably fits everyone's idea of it. It is different and perfect for every individual, and we'll have access to everyone we've lost in the past, whether we remember them or not. The spirit's ability to linger in the real world to give literal spiritual support is something every grieving family hopes for. Whether I can believe that to be true is another story.

'The Lovely Bones' is an addicting read that is written with a truly unique spirit and you shouldn't miss it. Thankfully, I had not seen the film at the time of writing, so nothing was spoiled for me and we'll see if the film can match the novel. Keep an eye out for my addendum soon!

UPDATE: Find out whether the film could match up in my addendum!

Have you read the novel and what did you think? What is your idea of heaven?