11 November 2009

The joy of banks...

I'm in the mood to vent today and it's aimed at banks. I went to Standard Bank on Friday to change my address and I had all the info and paperwork I needed to get it sorted out - FICA compliant and everything. Surely this should be a reasonably straightforward process. But it's not...

Unfortunately the young chap who helped me didn't notice that the address on the form I had didn't exaclty match the supporting document. Now I understand that these things have to be perfect, but surely checking that something like this is done porperly is the simplest thing to do. Back to the point... I then got a call yesterday to say that they noticed the discrepancy and that it needed to be sorted out. It was also mentioned that if I don't I run the risk of my accounts being frozen and whatever else. This was their mistake, or what?

I then decided to head over to Nedbank to find out about student loans. There I couldn't even get the right information out of one of the consultants. He gave me some information I believed to be incoreect (this was confirmed later when I went to a different branch) and even when I double-checked with him and rephrased my question he stuck to his guns...

Now I know that there are loads of jokes that do the rounds about lawyers being parasites and I think most of us have heard a few of these jokes over the years. But honestly, I'm of the opinion that banks should be given the prime spot amongst blood-sucking parasites. They look after our money, making a profit in the process and can't even make sure that the people on their staff know what they're talking about. I don't know if I'm the only one who sees it this way, but aren't the proceeds of our money being used to pay their salaries?

In the end, one thing's for sure and that is that when they're trying to get more money out of you they'll have all their ducks in a row... I'm done... for now...

09 October 2009

Money silences voices…

In my humble opinion one of the most bemusing occurrences over the past year or so (apart from the all-too-regular gaffe from “Dubya” or Comrade Julius) was the socialist-style practices implemented by the USA in order to save its teetering free-market empire. Clearly nobody saw this as contradictory or hypocritical or anything of the sort because thankfully we had the Washington spin machine explaining how it was in our best interests that this was being done. Did anyone really buy that?

But then again this kind of (confusing) occurrence is far from irregular these days. We are sold the story about free-market capitalism is the way to go and the story doesn’t change when the fairytale (sand) castle starts crumbling. And, when (someone) turns out huge profits just months after requiring a bail-out then that success is somehow supposed to be evidence of the advantages of the system. Surely our memories can’t be that short.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that according to a recent article in the “Cape Argus” it seems a wild-wild-west of sorts has arrived in South Africa just in time for the World Cup in 2010. plane ticket prices are going through the roof and it seems the airlines, as well as that privately run airports who “tax” us, are going to make a killing. Bottom lines will most likely be healthier than ever until the bonuses and incentives get paid. When it all hits the fan, as it invariably does from time to time, the recipients of those bonuses will resign and move on leaving an array of red numbers in their wake. And it’ll be up to average Joe and Josephine to foot the bill of someone’s highly visible and pubic, yet somehow unaccountable mismanagement.

Call me cynical, I guess I am, but this doesn’t make sense to me. sure, I know we live in a world where money is power (aka ‘might’) and might is right but we also live in a world where we are told time and time again that we have a right to make our voices heard. It’s funny though how a little money here or there ensures that those voices never really get heard…

02 October 2009

Am I Still Nomadic?

A nomad is usually someone who has no permanent abode but moves around from place to place, usually seasonally, but it can also refer to any wanderer or itinerant. When I started this blog back in March 2008 that tag fitted me perfectly – I had lived in the UK, I was in Peru at the time and was planning at seeing a few other places too. But does this tag “(global) nomad” still fit?

The “(global)” part might be all that accurate, after all I’ve been in Cape Town since December and it seems I’m going to be here for the next while. But I still feel somewhat nomadic. I don’t have a permanent place to stay in Cape Town, I’ve had a number of different jobs (some of them seasonal) and I have every intention of exploring some new horizons when the opportunities present themselves.

The lessons continue though. I’m seeing Cape Town and the rest of South Africa in a new light – I think I’ve said that in a previous post. And, I’m continually finding myself in areas of work doing things I’ve not done before… Hardly ever a dull moment…

14 April 2009

Leadership or Loudership

Originally written on 04 April 2009.

In a recent copy of Time magazine (16 March 2009) there is an article called “Why Bosses Tend to Be Blowhards”, which mentions that a recent study looks at the fact that what often appears to be good leadership is in fact ‘loudership’. The latter term is something they coined to describe the fact that those who are perceived to be good and/or creative leaders are at times just the first to speak or the loudest voices. The interesting thing is that perception of leadership is at times not affected by the actual lack of competence on their part.

Now I don’t know about you but I’ve come across a few of these ‘leaders’ over the years. In fact I wonder if I have been that kind of ‘leader’ at times. So I guess there are numerous age-old questions regarding leadership still remain. While I could comment on certain experiences I have had (I’m not going to go there) I look at the political landscape of South Africa at the moment, then again one could also look at the world. Those in power or those who hold sway don’t necessarily have the best ideas or the best intentions, nor do are they necessarily the smartest – I don’t think it’s necessary to name names for this to be understood.

One suggestion is that if you someone is doing something stupid that you should make a noise and join the loud party. What do you think? Some might say it’s better to keep your mouth shut and hope the worst of it will blow over. Personally, I’m not sure what the best approach is. In fact, I’m not sure there is a blanket best approach. But it’s an interesting idea coming out of this research, don’t you think?

24 March 2009

It’s all About the Money...

Prior to a recent visit to China, the USA’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that she would press China on human rights but that those issues would not keep the USA and China from working together to address the global financial crisis.

In a world where we often hear politicians talk about moral leadership, human rights and democracy it’s interesting to hear someone’s true motives coming to the fore albeit unintentionally. As always we find a politician making a grand claim or promise with no real intention on following through on the words of the promise because their priority is actually revealed in the afterthought. What do I mean by this?

Clinton said that she was going to press China on human rights – something that we have heard about from time to time. China’s involvement in various alleged human rights infringements have been in the news over recent months and years – whether it’s the treatment of pro-democracy voices inside their own country, the treatment of Tibet or their connection to the events in the Darfur region. While this sounds encouraging what follows the but reveals their true priorities. Economics. More specifically their priority is the mess caused by US banks and multinationals. Sure it’s going to be sold as something that is in the best interests of the global economy but realistically the bottom line is seen as more of a priority than lives and rights of unknown non-Westerners.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s just refreshing to see true motives being revealed, even if it was unintentional.

03 March 2009

Coloureds, Culture & Coconuts….

Originally written on Saturday, 28 February 2009…

In a previous entry on this blog (
http://nomadiclessons.blogspot.com/2008/09/thoughts-on-rainbow-nation.html) as well as in another blog I write I briefly touched on my cultural/ethnic heritage and some of my thoughts on being a coloured South African (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coloured).

But sometimes I have to ask the question, what is a coloured South African? And, I have to believe that I’m not the only one asking this question. The reality is that this cultural/ethnic label is a product of the apartheid and there is such diversity within this artificially constructed social group. When I lived in South America I was occasionally asked about my ethnic/racial heritage. I developed an answer that consisted of my saying that I was the ‘rainbow nation’ in one person. I am the descendant of slaves and slave owners, foreigners and natives. I know that at some point in my genealogical story I have native ancestry, as well as European ancestry. While that is true this is not the culture embraced by people with a similar story. What is our culture? Who are the people who arrived here as slaves from various places around the Indian Ocean? In broad terms we know who they were but we have lost contact with that culture, with that language. The late Taliep Peterson musically explored a similar question just before his death through his play Ghoema. But looking at Peterson’s rendering the reality is that while many accept this as a part of the general history there still exists a lack of comfort with elements of the story, nor is there a central unifying culture. This is hardly surprising considering the fact that in a sense this ‘cultural group’ is in reality an amalgamation of those who didn’t fit the black, white and Indian labels in the old regime. This is not a value judgement, after all if I were making a judgement it would be aimed at the person I see the mirror every morning too. So what is ‘coloured culture’? I’d suggest that nobody really knows, but rather that a collaged sense of culture and identity has been developed. So where does this leave us?

Because of my life experiences, as well as the fact that I almost entirely speak English, I’ve occasionally been referred to as a coconut – brown on the outside but white on the inside. This is an interesting concept though, especially since the ‘brown’ on the outside is at best not clearly defined and at worst unknown. So what does it mean to be coloured? I sometimes wonder what makes up our identity beyond homo sapien and South African. This is a complicated issue though and one for which there are no quick and easy resolutions. Some will undoubtedly suggest that I’m one of the few who is confused, but so be it… I welcome comments, criticisms and thoughts…

24 February 2009

Tasty Vinaigrettes…

Vinaigrette is a mixture of vinegar (or sometimes citrus juice) and oil, often flavored with herbs, spices, and other ingredients… Commercial preparations are often emulsified with lecithin or similar additives, while fresh preparations can be more weakly emulsified with mustard or left as mixtures that will separate.

It’s been a while since I had anything to say on this page. Okay, truth be told I almost always have something to say but I’ve been a bit lazy when it comes to sitting down in front of my keyboard lately.

Recently I was chatting to someone about matters relating to reconciliation and specifically the challenges stemming from racial segregation. We spoke about South Africa’s history as well as the challenges of being a minority USA resident – she was born in Central America. We’ve both had experiences where we have been (and she still is) a part of student bodies that are, at least superficially, integrated. While there are at times still some prejudices, mistrust or other segregation by-products I’m not going to dwell on those right now.

I was actually thinking back on my experiences at high school and one of my college experiences and I likened those student bodies to a vinaigrette type salad dressing. The reason for this is that while the ingredients don’t dissolve they combine to form something new that none of the elements could manage on its own. Vinegar, oil, spices and herbs can combine to transform a simple salad but it takes a bit of shaking, stirring or mixing to get all the ingredients to work together. So what happens when everyone leaves the campus? Well from I experience I’d say that this would be like no longer shaking or stirring the mixture. They oil and vinegar separate, the pepper possibly sinks to the bottom and perhaps some of the herbs will float, or vice versa. I’ve seen this happen where friendships/connections across cultures are only superficial that once the whisk (the campus experience) is removed we tend to separate and return to what is familiar.

Is this a good thing? Is it natural? Is it just the ways things are (supposed to be)? Is there then any point to mixing things up in the first place? How do we maintain the flavour of the vinaigrette? I have my own thoughts and/or answers to some of these and perhaps in another entry I’ll delve into some of them, but for now I thought I’d make this observation. That’s all… What do you think?

Mail me at: nomadiclessons@gmail.com

21 October 2008

Building Empires…

About a week ago I was walking through town with a friend and as we often do we ended up talking about political and related issues. This particularly conversation turned toward the topic of empires – they come and they go. This is what has happened throughout history and it will continue to happen. One particular question that came to mind for me was to what degree we should laud the empires of the past and their achievements.

So why on earth did this come to mind? Well, it’s not unusual to look with amazement at the achievements, chronicles and artefacts of the so-called great empires of the past – such as the Egyptians, the Chinese and the Romans. Yet at the same time it is quite common for people to feel animosity toward economic and/or political empires that indirectly or directly impact their lives. So my question is how do we hold these conflicting perspectives together? Can we despise those empires who attempt to gain so much control now and still sing the praises of empires built with so much blood mix in with the cement? This is a question I ask myself too – after all I too have find myself in awe of the achievements of these empires.

Not really anti-USA?

From time to time I find myself in the middle of a conversation regarding the state of our little global village, whether specific issues in specific locations or overall trends. Based on the responses I occasionally get to the things I say and the opinions I share I realise that people regard me as being anti-USA, so I thought I should clarify a few things.

While I’m not going to look at it at length there is a well-known line from the USA’s Declaration of Independence that reads as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. As with any idea or belief someone, somewhere will try and find problems with this statement but there is something striking about this idea of equality among men at that time in history – or at any time I guess. After all, it flies in the face of so much of the outworking of human ambition. Along with other ideals on which the republic was founded I find this to be something essential and undeniable, although it is in the sporadic and limited applications of these beliefs that my concerns are based.

When “all men” becomes all white men or all American men then I have a problem. When the “unalienable rights” are perceived in such a way or extend so far that the pursuit thereof infringes on the rights of others then something is wrong. When someone’s life is more important or valuable than that of another based on where they are from, then someone has gone off-track. Or, when someone’s pursuit of happiness results in someone else’s unhappiness then we have to question the process and the legitimacy of that happiness. There is a strong-foundation at the base of the USA but I, like many others, believe that some of the builders have not stuck to the original blueprint.

16 October 2008

Babies, puppies & New Year’s Day…

Every Wednesday afternoon I have a 2-hour English conversation class at a local company and in order to get there I can walk down a street that has a pet store, usually with a variety of puppies just inside the window and more inside the store. Sometimes just standing there for a few minutes watching those balls of fur puts a smile on my face. So what does that have to do with babies and New Year’s Day?

As I walked away from the store one day I started wondering why people like puppies and came up with one and surely not the only answer – at the very least this applies to me. They are new, innocent and unspoilt among other things. Obviously though I’d say that the “cute factor” is the main reason. So once again what about babies and New Year’s Day? Well I think that apart from the obvious and inherent cuteness of babies there is this idea of newness coming into play when we get excited about babies or 1 January. I think most people would agree that the world we live in is seriously troubled at the best of times, even if Hollywood tries to sell us something different. So, when I see a baby, a puppy or arrive on 1 January there is a sense that regardless of everything going on in the world here is something that is new and unspoilt. There is potential for all kinds of great things that flies in the face of the challenges that life can throw at us. I would even go beyond that and say that especially a baby or a New Year can cause us to dream, to hope and for some to pray for something more, something better…