Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The house I rent has a long narrow outdoor space in the back. More like an alleyway than a patio or backyard, the walls are painted a warm bright orange. There are many cracks and plastered over bits.

An obscure lion fountain hangs off the wall and the other side is adorned with untamed plants and herbs.

Steph @ Orange Wall

I love this awkward and vibrant space.
Sitting in the confines of the orange concrete, everything is beautiful to me.

The sky looks bluer against the citrus hue,
barbed wire and neighbours’ metal roofs somehow look romantic.

Every person who sits against that wall is transformed into a stunning caricature of themselves, their uniqueness drawn out by that orange. I’ve taken to photographing my guests there.

Somehow, that wall, in my small rented home in the Southernmost bit of Africa, acts as a bridge for me.
In that space, (in the words of Mark Helprin), the world deepens and becomes art.



It is a cool night in the Malawian spring. Like most evenings, I’m in a guarded, walled compound in a low-density suburb called Area 3.

With nowhere to go and little to do, my ex and I decide to watch a movie. Our pick? The last king of Scotland; a film about Idi Amin and the horrors that this charismatic and terrifying character propagated in Uganda.

The scenery of the film looks so much like Malawi. Lush greenery, big smiles, a dreamlike quality of light… against this backdrop, the film narrates incomprehensible horrors.

At the end of the film, I stand up, stunned.
Unable to integrate what I had just seen, I stared into nowhere before walking out into the cool rain that was beginning to fall.
I stood outside sobbing, cold and wet in the dark, not being able to make sense of anything and not understanding how I could continue to be shocked by the injustices of the world. The film didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know from reading history and yet it still clawed at my insides.

I thrust my hand into the pocket of the hot pink sweater I took from my sister’s closest before leaving Canada a year earlier.

I felt a small mass of soft fabric. Pulling it out for examination, I found a fake red coronation style flower.

Somehow, in that moment, that flower was the most beautiful item I had ever seen.

My breathing slowed as I stared at the strange object in my hand. 

Suddenly, I saw hope and beauty as I stood on the soil of one of the plundered continent’s poorest countries.  The blood red cloth flower seemed like a small offering, a reminder that there is beauty in the oddest of places.



Since leaving the life I had in Canada a year and a half ago, I’m not sure if I have ceased to feel stripped and unsure of myself. I’m constantly puzzled by the world I have discovered.

As cliché as it sounds, the more I live, the smaller I feel. 
Last night, I stood in the little walled-in alleyway behind my house and stared up at the stars framed by the orange wall. It was as though I was shrinking and the sky was growing at the same time. Its vastness kept seeming bigger - beautifully and dizzyingly so and I, like Alice in Wonderland, rapidly shrinking after drinking some magical potion.

Moving to South Africa has been an exciting and shocking experience. I have yet to wrap my mind around my transition from living in one of the world’s poorest countries to the world’s most unequal country.


I have an open loft space in my home that I use as a studio and office. One day while walking down the steep stairs from the loft, I saw a larger-than-life outline of a woman on the wall. She had unruly hair and wide hips emphasized by harem pants.

Who is that?
I actually like her.

Everything seems to have so much texture these days. Although not always comfortable, I am realizing that I am living the life that I’ve always wanted.

My journey feels akin to a constant arrival.

I’ve been so caught up in my awe and bewilderment of the continent that is fostering me that I have failed to realize that I am exactly where I have wanted to be:  

In a house with a cracked orange wall.
A red cloth coronation in my pocket.
Followed by the shadow of an unruly woman who I actually like.

I carry these knick-knacks, turn them over, and cross them as hopeful bridges. Awkward little signposts that remind me of the beautiful and privileged journey that I’m living. 

Hanging out @ orange wall

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Directionless Travel

It was the Easter long-weekend and I was itching to get away.

I had a car, a map, some pocket money and no idea where to go or what to do.

I called three friends, who indicated that they too wanted to get away.

I told them to pack a bag and we agreed on a pick up time. 

The four of us then crammed into my small car, and decided to drive North. 

The trip served to be exactly what I needed.

Driving North towards Namibia

In the car and ready to go!

Steph, Allison, myself and Marina - Citrusdale

The first day we arrived in Citrusdale, a small-ish town that has citrus farming as their main industry. We stayed in a lovely lodge in a citrus grove.

Stopping for a peach

Fruit Stand
Fruit stand

Every day contained some sort of sweet offering in the form of an 
adventure. Our first day, we stumbled across hotsprings and soaked in the soothing warmth of the water.


The next day we drove to Algeria (yes the area is actually called Algeria due to its similar appearance to the former French colony!) and took a stunning day hike to a waterfall and mountain lookout.

The road to Algeria

Hiking in Cedarburg

Hiking in Cedarburg

Oliphants River

Steph @ Waterfall

We stopped to switch drivers, still in our bathing suits. Feeling freer than I have in a long time, we got out and did an impromptu dance on the side of the road.

Sometimes you just need to get out and dance while switching drivers...

We then drove further North and then East to the ocean.
We saw seals and incredible ancient cave paintings.

A seal!

Cave Paintings

Dusky Cape Town pulled us back days later. The city slowly approached, the shadow-like deep blue mountain ranges unapologetically announcing the city.

Despite being disappointed that the vacation was over, I had the sense that I was coming back to a fairy-tale place. The Mother City continues to pull me to her and I have no choice but to allow her to wrap herself around me. 

Cape Town and her mountains in the distance

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Public Policy as LOVE (?)

I am taking 3 courses this semester: Public policy, Public management and Comparative social policy in Africa.

I am quite enjoying learning about the theoretical underpinnings of public policy and administration. Although I have been asked many times why I have chosen to study HERE, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.  South Africa is a world of things in one country:
  • A relatively new inclusive democracy.
  • A regional superpower.
  • A developing country with highly developed areas.
  • Steeped in history.
  • A huge success story AND facing insurmountable challenges and shortcomings.
  • A dynamic political space bourn out of years of struggle.
  • Much more!

Cape Town boasts a fabulous University to study public policy and administration against this backdrop.

Sitting in class a few weeks ago, our stand-in professor (our regular one was in Kenya monitoring the elections), said something odd. We were debating if the public policy cycle theory can actually be applied to the real world.

The case in point was the South African Government’s response to HIV/AIDS.

The professor took us through the era of AIDS denialism and the shift towards acknowledging and better addressing the issue.

Mangosuthu Buthelez
He told of us his experience working under Prince Mangosuthu Buthelez, the Chairman of the Zululand District House of Traditional Leaders, the traditional Prime Minister of the Zulunation and leader of South Africa’s opposition Inkatha Freedom Party. Mangosuthu Buthelez lost 2 children within a few months of each other to AIDS related illness. Despite incredible stigma, fear and political pressure, he decided to go public with their sero-status in efforts to change government policy.

He even broke with Zulu tradition and allowed himself to be filmed by the BBC walking in the graveyard where his children were buried. He did this in hopes of raising awareness and turning the tide on a critical, unaddressed issue in South Africa at the time when people were dying in droves.

So you see…’ the professor concluded, 'public policy isn’t just about theory, or politics, or the myriad of other things that we so often focus of as students or practitioners'.


I took a sharp breath and suppressed a chuckle.
POLICY and LOVE never go together in the same sentence!

How could he not know that? He has worked extensively in British and South African politics and studied at Oxford.

After a few moments, I become aware of my cynicism.

Over the past year or two, I have found myself becoming increasingly jaded, especially in Malawi where I was surrounded by extreme poverty and suffering in my daily life.

Studying domestic and international politics, reading the news and seeing challenges has oftentimes left me wondering, in the words of my late friend, Joan Anne Nolan, who wrote during the post-apartheid transition:

Do you ever think that the world will be whole? I feel such a loss because of the tattered & ragged edges of our souls. The world is too harsh & I wish for an innocence that really does not feel corrosive pain...’

On my best days I aim to see opportunity in challenge and appreciate the small beautiful gems that life has to offer in hopes that I can affect positive change in my own, small way. My worse days do not need mentioning. 

The teacher’s words help me to situate myself and check my pessimism.

If it’s all bad, why am I working and studying in the field?

Isn’t love the reason why I chose to study policy and administration in the first place?

My underlying belief is that bureaucracies (domestic and international) at their best can be vehicles for supporting and elevating people.
That public policy can be a mechanism towards supporting and upholding humanity.

If that’s not love, then what is?