27 June 2009

End of June

Saturday morning. Sun already up. All week the mornings have been grey with the sun appearing midday or later. Typical of coastal California. Our evening tend to be quite perfect - sunny, warm, calm - so can't really complain about yucky mornings. I've just finished week 3 of summer vacation. Loving every minute of it.
School is becoming more and more distant. I did indeed have a terrific year. What a precious group of 3rd graders. So sweet, motivated, polite, but energetic. Next year will definitely not be as good. For one thing, we will be having larger classes - no less than 25 kids. No way I can provide the quality education possible with a smaller group. C'est dommage. but the budget problems are serious - a real crisis. Many teachers have been laid off, including many tenured teachers who have taught close to ten years. Hopefully most of the tenured folks will be hired back.

This week I got into my writing and actually did a fair amount of work. So that feels good. I always like to read books with strong writing and with content that is close to my subject matter. BLOOD ORANGE by Troy Blacklaws, an excellent memoir of a white South African, and Evelyn Waugh's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED are my current books of choice. In both cases the stories start out in places I know well - Muizenberg and Oxford. It's wonderful to read excellent descriptions of places familiar to me.

The last couple of days I was a bit saddened by the death of Michael Jackson. I liked his music, though not as passionately as my brother, Kalvin, did. I remember when I first moved to California MJ moved into his Neverland Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley and on my first trip back to SA I told Kalvin that I lived near MJ. Kalvin was rolling on his bed in pain because of a toothache. He must have been around 14 or 15. As soon as he heard me talk about living not too far from MJ's ranch he sat up and instantly forgot about his toothache. He wanted all the details I could give him about MJ.

The day's chores beckon - pool, garden, food shopping, etc.

16 June 2009

Indian South Africans - who are we?

On Saturday evening we went to a party in the Hollywood hills of LA. The hosts, RayAnn and Devan, were a charming, attractive couple from South Africa. A significant percentage of the guests were South African Indians who live in various parts of California. RayAnn and Devan have a beautiful house with a sort of Hollywood modern interior design and decor. Spacious, open plan, lots of glass sliding doors for views, stainless steel appliances, etc. Beautiful paintings of South African scenes hung on their walls. I found out that the artist was a friend of the hosts. An enormous deck provided sweeping views of the hills and city skyline. The excellent meal was catered by a Greek Restaurant. Definitely, a terrific party, very organized, loads of great food, and it was a lot of fun to get to know new people.

But ... South African Indians always manage to stir up a mixture of sentiments in me. On the one hand it's wonderful to interact with people who take me right back to what is special to me. Yet, at the same time all my resentment for the community that raised me surfaces. Don't get me wrong. I really liked the folks I met. They were genuine, sincere, and warm. The type you know you can turn to when you need a friend. But, somehow, I can't help an awareness of the absence of certain characteristics that I value. I'm aware of too much attention to appearances, and too little to deeper issues. I'm also aware of the identity conflict we, South African Indians, struggle with. A minority group, raised in a western country, but surrounded by a third culture - African. What are we? We hate our Indiannness at times, but embrace aspects of it at other times. We hate the whites of South Africa, but we ape them in many ways. We claim to love the Zulu culture, but the evidence is absent.

These reflections of Indians of South Africa reminded of a conversation I'd had with my friend, Sri, a little over a year ago.

I remember saying to him over a bottle of Fat Tire Beer, how ashamed I was of being an Indian from South Africa. “I have a very low opinion of them.” He grinned – and his gentle brown eyes reflected both amusement and amazement. I remember Daryl sitting between us and not saying anything. He was too exhausted from digging holes and mixing concrete in the brutal heat earlier in the day when the temperature hovered around 90 degrees. The hottest April day in Santa Barbara on record. This was of course, 2008.

Sri and Premi had just returned from a trip to South Africa. It was Sri’s first time there (he grew up in Tamil Nadu and Premi in Durban), and he was still reeling from what he’d seen. After a reflective pause, Sri said, “I can’t get over all the BMW’s I saw coming into the lot on the wedding day. He shook his head in disgust. “How materialistic. And so insensitive to all the poverty around.”
I sat up, the hackles on my neck rising. My being critical of my people was one thing. I grew up in the community. I knew their history, their struggles and their challenges. But someone who only just learned of the existence of these people had no right man, no right. “When I say I have a low opinion of them,” I said, “I didn’t mean that there’s nothing good to say about them. The wealth that you saw – it wasn’t something that was handed to them. Indians in South Africa, despite the oppressive environment in which they grew up, despite apartheid, were able to make the most of the little they were given. They had access to education – inferior though it was – and worked hard. It’s remarkable that there is so little poverty among Indians. As a teacher here in Santa Barbara I find it so strange that the Latino community doesn’t capitalize on what they’re given, like the Indians of SA did.”
Premi, eager to add her two cents, brought a plate of chili bites that she’d just fried, to the table. She had just taken up a job with the county as a social worker. “You know, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. I find it shocking that the low income families here get so much help and their kids have such great opportunities. They get to go these good public schools and the teachers work so hard, but they just don’t seem to appreciate what they have.”
Daryl grunted. This isn’t PC, he was trying to say (spouses, as you know can read each other’s minds, finish each other’s sentences, etc.), but his brain and vocal cords weren’t in sync. All that heat, and him being English and all.
I wanted to continue Premi’s criticisms. I mean, as a public school teacher as well as a product of a hardworking low income community, I am constantly flummoxed by the Latino phenomenon. It’s a sensitive topic. Nobody wants to sound racist. Everyone wants to make excuses and find intellectual explanations for the poor performance of our minority kids. Society gets most of the blame. So, I chose to veer away from the topic and asked about her impressions of South Africa after having been away for six years.

Anyway, back home in Santa Barbara, as I reflect on my background, I'm filled with gratitude. I am able to see the world and the people I meet from a perspective that gives me greater understanding.

Whew! That was only Chapter 1 of the weekend. Wait till you hear about Sunday!

15 June 2009

The summer begins ....

Blimey, it sure has been a long time. Lots has happened since the Jesusita fire. Lots. I will not, however, bore my loyal blog followers (yes, yes, I do have those, you know - not many. OK, a number less than 5 if I must really be honest. Still, it's more than my Twitter followers, which is still greater than the number friends on Facebook who bother to look at my profile!)) with boring details. I'll try to stick only to the sensational.

Today felt like the real Day 1 of summer vacation. I started my day with a latte, the NYT, and then a swim, followed by a hot tub soak and a few minutes in the steam room. Now, is there a better way to start the day? It's been such a long time since I was able to have a leisurely start to my day.

Last week, the first week of summer vacation, we were in San Francisco, then Yosemite. Lilli, our niece from Cambridge, came out to California to celebrate the end of exams and secondary school. We tried to show her a good time in SF by making her walk her legs off. We meandered through Golden Gate Park which has beautiful gardens and meadows and little forests. We absorbed the lively, alternative atmosphere of Haight-Ashbury. Then we took the scenic drive up Twin Peaks for a panoramic view of SF. Continuing on the drive we got onto the coast and discovered a fabulous trail with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. We had wine at Buena Vista Cafe, then dined at our old favorite, Greens Restaurant, from where we watched the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge. The previous evening we had dinner at another favorite, Dosa, on Filmore. This place serves up Indian food that really satisfies in every way. So, we had a fun weekend. San Francisco definitely takes on a different atmosphere in the summer compared to winter. Lots more people are up and about having a good, old time.

On Monday morning we drove to Yosemite, and were lucky to get a campsite in the valley - after some effort and waiting around. it was all worth it, though. To get up in the morning and be greeted by the gorgeous granite monoliths of Yosemite is quite special. But the campground was enormous and filled with people. Not the best way to enjoy nature and the wilderness. Daryl made a scrumptious chili and we ate heartily. The next morning we awoke early and set out for Half Dome. The first third of the trail was quite stunning especially when we got to the waterfalls. So much green, and water, and the sheer slopes of the stunning mountains. The strong scent of pine everywhere. Birdsong in the air. The sun was out, but the air temperature a bit cool - perfect for hiking. We were in high spirits the whole time. For lunch we had bread, left over chili, cheese, trail mix and a dessert of cherry pie. Yes, we are well.
We made great progress and then we came to the last bit. First, we had to climb up hundreds of steps carved into a fairly steep slope. This was not easy, especially when the trail narrowed and it seemed like there was just emptiness on either side of the steps! Not something you would do if you had a fear of heights. After the steps the cables started. I quit at this point. Daryl and Lili continued, hoping to get tot he very top of Half Dome. They gave up at the very last stretch. So, we felt good that we had done all but the last bit of the trail.
Going down was easy, but we were tired. We had walked up 8 miles and now we had to descend those 8 miles. We got back to the valley around 7:30 - about 11 hours after we had started. Luckily we weren't camping that night. We drove out of the park in search of a motel. We found a rather cute one in Fish Camp. The restaurant at the motel made us vegetarian pasta which we devoured. Fish Camp was surprisingly chilly. We had to turn the heating on in our room. After hot showers we slept like logs.

So, talk about starting vacation with a bang!!

As if that wasn't enough, we returned home to a fully scheduled weekend. More on that later!