What Happens Between “Enchanté” and “Auf Wiedersehen”

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A longish note to everyone we met during our almost four and a half years stay in Egypt.

 

When we Afrikaners meet someone for the first time, we like to greet them with the words “Bly te kenne”. These words literally translate to ‘may we keep knowing each other’.

At that point, the person you meet is just another stranger about whom you know nothing, except his or her name – if you manage to catch, pronounce and remember it! But as time goes by and you meet again and again you learn to pronounce their names correctly, meet their families – either in person or by hearing about them. You eventually learn about the person’s passions, talents, joys and heartbreaks. And then suddenly they are unfamiliar no more.

During our five summers in Cairo we met quite a few people, who by sharing similar experiences, challenges, difficulties and fun, had transformed from strangers into dear friends. Fortunately, living in an ever-changing international community for a while, there are plenty of opportunities to say “Bly te kenne” or “Nice to meet you” or “Enchanté”. Unfortunately during this temporary expat life, another phrase is being used way too often too, because coming and going is a given in this type of lifestyle.

Saying goodbye is never easy and when you have to do it that often, it really “sucks”, to quote our American friends. At first there are goodbyes to family and friends when you first leave to go live in a foreign country in a foreign culture between foreign people. And then there are all the in-between goodbyes when you go home on holiday and return – just to leave your loved ones behind again. And again.  And again. And again…

But then, all of a sudden the day arrives when you have to say goodbye to the foreigners – the strangers whom you met at a reception or a coffee morning or a welcoming party or in the street or at work, and who, in a short period of time, became friends. People who made your stay in a foreign place less foreign. Who helped turn uncomfortable into comfortable. Whose unknown faces had become so familiar and loved that you can’t imagine saying goodbye to them to probably never see them ever again! And that thought is just unthinkable!

So, for that purpose we have another wonderful phrase in Afrikaans and in some other languages with which we try to ease the pain of saying goodbye. We say “Tot weersiens”, which means ‘until we see each other’ – much like the Hebrew l’hitra’ot or the French a bientôt or the German ‘auf wiedesehen’.

If we say “Until we meet again”, we all know that – even if the goodbye part is inevitable for the now – we keep the hope afloat to meet again, because who knows? It just might happen! It already happened when we went on holiday to Greece and met up with old Cairo friends there and when some of our American friends visited us at home while on holiday! So, anything is possible!

Saying goodbye is too final. It means it’s over and done with. Finished. It shuts the door on hope. Goodbyes are no good. They are hope killers and killing hope is not good for one’s soul.

So, after this long account, I’ll come to the point. This note is not a hope killer. This is not our goodbye to you. This is just to say thanks to you for all the laughs and cries we shared. For the many, many, many glasses of wine we had together – and for lamenting together over all those almost-full glasses we lost to over-eager Egyptian waiters! And for all the caipirinhas (“por favor” wink-wink) and all the times we danced to C’est La Vie at functions we were supposed to and at functions we were not supposed to!

Thank you for caring for Deon when Michael and I were not here and making him feel less alone in Cairo. Thank you for helping him when he was dean. And thank you for always asking about ‘our Michael’ and conversing with him and treating him as part of our community and giving him the experience of a lifetime! Thank you for every “How are you?” and every smile and every hug and every kiss and every “I will miss you” towards the end.

We will miss every one of you – those to whom we have already said goodbye to four, three and two years ago and last year and this year, and you who we leave behind now. Every one of you and your families had touched our hearts in one way or another. From now on when we hear English in a foreign accent it will be your voices and your accents we hear it and then we will miss you even more. We will miss your smiles. We will miss dancing with you. We will miss laughing will you. We will miss everything about you.

We wish that you and your families will be blessed in whatever you do wherever you go. Our family’s prayer for you comes from the Bible:

God bless you and guard you.

God make His face shine upon you and show favour to you.

God lift up His face upon you and give you peace.

 

We will always remember you, because between “Enchanté” and “Auf wiedersehen” we have made too many memories together to forget each other.

 

Until we meet again, our friends.

 

With love from Deon, Fielies & Michael De Kock

June 2018 – Cairo, Egypt

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On Doing Something Really Well

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At my Cairo Hair Salon

As always I am tempted to read on my phone to kill the time, but I decide against it. I‘m trying to be more in the moment and to enjoy the ‘now’. So, I sit and watch as Issam, one of my hair dressers at a Lebanese salon in Cairo, is creating art in my hair for the night’s ball. He is working focussed and with precision, but most of all, with confidence. This is what he does, one can clearly see. His hands are moving easily – combing, straightening, curling, calling for pins from his young helper with two other trainees standing behind, looking on eagerly. One day they will be the Issams of the salon, doing the women’s hair for their balls.

The salon is functioning like a little ‘factory’. On arrival, one is greeted by one or more women at the reception, who might be the actual receptionist or one of the beauty consultants (I know they have a smarter title, but I can’t remember it now) who also operate from the premises. But from there on it is a manly affair. First, your hair will be washed and your scalp massaged by one of the eager young apprentices. They all look still fresh out of school – as if they had just made the trip from their home country. This is the part I always enjoy most – the head massaging. I sit back, close my eyes and relax. Very in the moment.

After this the young one leads you to your chair, clothe you in a white coat – not made of plastic, but of fabric – offers you something to drink, and vanishes to get the drink. Then one of the specialists arrives to do the cutting. My haircutting specialist is Charlie. When I first met him he had long hair, a few tattoos and a bit of a boepie (although he is a thinnish man), but he now fashions short hair, a slimmer waist and has a new tattoo of an ECG image in his neck. I like coming to this salon and I like Charlie, because the whole setup reminds me of my childhood. We lived in the small town of Delareyville where oom Peter Diab, also Lebanese, was our hairdresser. He later moved to the neighbour town, Sannieshof, where he bought the wholesaler, but he kept on doing hair, so when I went to high school there, I still got my hair cut by him. These are fond memories. I wonder what had become of the Diab family and all the other Lebanese families I grew up with?

After the cut, Charlie goes on to his next customer and the blow drying expert takes over. Most of the time the same or another washer will come to assist, holding hair, handing over brushes, plugging in the straightener or just standing, watching. Within an hour of arriving, one leaves the salon again. Hair serviced. They run a smooth operation here.

On Being an Expert

I am what people call a bit of “a Jack of all trades and maser of nothing”. I can write a little. I can draw and paint a little. I can do mosaic and pewter and decoupage a little. I can do a little crocheting, knitting and needlework. I can make things and build things (like when my husband returned home from work one afternoon and my son, the gardener and I built a braai). I can teach someone to use a computer. I can take photographs and I can make slide shows and short movies with them. I can garden. When my health still allowed it, I could play volleyball, tennis, squash, golf and almost anything else with a ball.  I cycled, ran half marathons, hiked in the mountains and walked (only if I couldn’t do something faster). On top of these things I continually learn to do or make something new. But, my frustration in life, is that I’m not an expert at anything. I really want to be an expert at writing, but that’s another story for another day.

I always look at people who do something really, really well and I wonder how it feels. How does it feel to be a heart surgeon who can remove a piece of someone’s 3mm-in-diameter aorta and replace it with something man-made, pull the even smaller veins through and make it work again? How does it feel to be a violinist in a classical orchestra, playing a masterpiece to perfection? How does it feel to be a steno typist in court, recording what is said by everyone with absolute precision and at the speed of real speech day by day?

These people are really professionals. They do this one thing so perfect that they are in demand in their specific field. They are good at it, because they do what they do for hours and hours almost every day of their life. They are not like me scrambling around the house, doing a bit of writing, then fixing trousers, then decide to make a bag, then try to paint something and then get the urge to make ‘art pictures’ on my camera and then get bored. And at the end of the day, none of those things I made are masterpieces. They might look nice or be useful, or they might be a flop, but they definitely aren’t perfect or even really good. I quite enjoy doing so many different things, because I get bored easily – except when I’m writing. I can do that for hours every day. I just wish I did. Maybe I would have been a better writer then and maybe I would be able to write a masterpiece.

I’m not belittling my efforts at all. I like being able to do so many things – even if I don’t do it all that well. It’s just that I really, really admire that excellent Grade 1 teacher who teaches children to read and write within two months from starting school, or the Djokovich or Federer or Murray who can hit a tennis ball precisely where they want to or the neighbour who’s cake is always a success. I think it must be an awesome feeling to do something so good that you know it will almost never fail, that it would almost always be hugely successful. Because later on, even if you do what you do slightly ‘worse’ your good reputation will pull you through. (Not that it works so well for our country’s rugby players.) Because even if the latest John Grisham novel wasn’t as good as all his previous ones, you will keep reading them, because you know that the next one will be on par again. Excellence breeds excellence. I read another version of that saying “Practice makes perfect” somewhere. It goes something like “Practice until you know you can’t fail anymore”.  I want to do just one thing that matters that well!

It is not only heart surgeons and tennis players than impress me though. People doing everyday jobs, like making burgers or sewing socks or putting products in their packaging amazes me. There are a few of these video clips doing the rounds on the net. I always watch them in astonishment, taking off the proverbial hat to them virtually by liking or sharing the clips. (Some of the footage is duplicated in the clips and the resolution isn’t always good, but I’m sure you will be impressed too.) https://youtu.be/vZK5mzj62Pk, https://youtu.be/494dUevcqJM, https://youtu.be/RsnTNCKMaR4, https://youtu.be/wo7qvyqQ_xE

And if you are one of those people who have the ability to do something perfectly well – enjoy it. I salute you!

 

© 2016  – I, Fielies (also Riëtte) De Kock is trying hard to be an awesomest wife and greatest lover, finest mom and to write some masterpiece – all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s two cats and the space in my head with more ideas and story characters than I can handle.

High Above the Clouds / Hoog bo die wolke

English version

This will be recorded as one of my most beautiful memories ever. We are on an Egypt Air flight from Amsterdam to Cairo.

Deon and I always listen to Paul Wilbur’s ‘Shema’ together on shared earphones when they play the Islamic prayers on the small screen – something that is done before every flight. Normally I switch my phone off after this, because I want to keep it charged should I need to make a call after we have landed. But today I keep listening. The time between sitting on the tarmac and take off can be a bit boring sometimes.

It is a majestic feeling when a plane jets into the air with the forceful sounds of Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’ in your ears. Outside the lush green landscape of Amsterdam is left on the ground as the plane swoops through the thick clouds to glide above them. This is one of the most beautiful pictures my eyes ever had the privilege of seeing! The cotton wool-like clouds are bundled onto each other with no earth to see down below. The music is still playing while I hear my spirit whisper in my heart: “Thanks for beautiful things, Father!” and “Thanks for all the undeserved treats. Thanks for all the places we see that I’ve never thought I would see and thanks for seeing some more than once!”

And then I heard the Halleluja choir with ‘Ode to Joy’ and Susan Boyle sings ‘Then sings my soul’, while mine sings with. I ‘halleluYAH’ on with Leonard Cohen and Delaney en Bonnie’s ‘Never Ending Song of Live’ follows passionately. Then André Rieu’s orchestra played “Auld Lang Syne’ and I long to be with my family and I wonder what they are all doing on this spring Sunday afternoon in South Africa. While I’m still wondering Neil Diamond makes a ‘Beautiful Noise’ and on the note of ‘Hava Nagila’ I have to close the plane window a bit, because the son reflects quite sharply from the Alps down below.

My finger chooses Josh Grobin’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire’ almost automatically, because one always tends to feel closer to heaven so high up in the air.

In the aisle seat Michael sat cramped-in and reads his new book and in the middle, next to me Deon rests on his forehead against the front seat, trying to sleep. I trust on his cell phone today should we need to make calls on the other side. For now my phone’s battery will help Josh fly high above the clouds over Europe.

Afrikaans

Hierdie sal in my onthou opgeteken word as een van die mooiste memoeries ooit! Ons is op ‘n Egypt Air-vlug oppad terug van Amsterdam na Kaïro.

Ek en Deon luister altyd na die ‘Shema’ van Paul Wilbur oor gedeelde oorfone as hulle die Islamitese gebede op die klein skerm wys – iets wat voor elke vlug gedoen word. Normaalweg skakel ek my foon hierna af, omdat ek nie die battery wil pap maak nie vir ingeval ek dit nodig sou kry nadat ons geland het. Maar vandag hou ek aan luister. Die tyd tussen in die vliegtuig sit op die aanloopbaan en opstyg kan nogal vervelig wees.

Dis ‘n majestieuse gevoel as ‘n straler opstyg met Verdi se ‘Nabucco’ se klanke in jou ore. Buite het ons die lowergroen landskap van Amsterdam op die grond gelos en die vliegtuig het die dik wolke ingeswiep – na waar ons bokant hulle sweef. Dit is een van die mooiste, mooiste prentjies wat my oë ooit die voorreg gehad het om te sien! Die wolke is soos watte-berge op mekaar gestapel, met niks aarde onder ons te sien nie. Die musiek hou aan speel, terwyl ek my gees in my hart hoor fluister: “Dankie vir mooi dinge, Vader!” en “Dankie vir al die onverdiende voorregte. Dankie dat ons plekke kan sien wat ek nooit gedink het moontlik is nie en party wéér kan sien.”

En toe hoor ek die Halleluja-koor en ‘Ode to Joy’ en Susan Boyle sing ‘Then sings my soul’, terwyl myne saam sing. En ek ‘halleluYAH’ verder saam met Leonard Cohen. En Delaney en Bonnie se ‘Never Ending Song of Live kom tussen-in en toe ek weer hoor, speel André Rieu se orkes “Auld Lang Syne’ en ek verlang na my familie en wonder wat doen hulle op dié lente Sondagmiddag in Suid-Afrika. Terwyl ek nog wonder, maak Neil Diamond ‘n ‘Beautiful Noise’ en op die nota van ‘Hava Nagila’ moet ek eers die vliegtuigvenstertjie ‘n bietjie toetrek, want die sonnetjie skyn nogal skerp so hoop bo in die lug waar dit van die Alpe af reflekteer. My vinger kies so half outomaties Josh Grobin se ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire’, want ‘n mens voel mos maar altyd ‘n bietjie nader aan die hemel so hoog bo in die lug.

In die gangsitplek sit Michael ingeprop en lees sy nuwe boek en langs my in die middel, sit-lê Deon op sy voorkop teen die sitplek voor hom en probeer slaap. Ek vertrou maar vandag op sy selfoon, sou daar ‘n ‘vir ingeval’ anderkant die landing wees. Vir nou help my foon se battery eers vir Josh om hoog te vlieg bo die wolke bokant Europa.

© 2016 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt, with my husband, young adult son, the building’s ginger cat, her friend and two kittens (so far) – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function normally .

On Having too Many Ideas and the Pure Evils of Multitasking

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Just keep reading. The advice part comes at the middle of the article…

Struggling to Focus

I really struggle to focus when it comes to my writing. To focus – not to concentrate. I can sit and do the same thing for hours. Unless I’m on my phone. Then I have the intention span of a two year-old and I can forget what picture I want to open only half a second after I’ve made the decision. I don’t have a search for the reason for my problem, because I know what the cause is. Ideas. I have too many of them. While I am busy researching links for  my Writing Club Facebook page, I think of a new short story that I want to write and then I think of a great idea for my next blog entry and while still busy with that I’m struggling with the plot problem of my decade-old novel.

Multitasking towards Scatter Brain Syndrome

Every weekend I think of what to do the next week and plan it in my head, but come Sunday (when the work week starts where we currently live) I sleep too late, spend too much time on my phone checking Facebook, play Words with Friends or find something interesting that I have to do Bible study on. So by 10:30 I realise that our bedroom needs tiding, the building cats want food, our son wants to sound his view points on his latest university essay with me and while I’m listening to him, my mind wanders to have yet another few writing ideas on another few projects.

Am I too scatter-brained or do I have too many ideas? I can’t always determine, but I know that whichever it is – or maybe it’s both – it makes me unproductive. Having ideas as a (would-be) writer can only be good, can it not? I rarely have had problems with writer’s block in my life. That must be a good thing, mustn’t it?  Having lots of ideas is good. But it doesn’t help if any of those ideas ever get finished. Oh, I have finished manuscripts in my cyber Dropbox drawer. It’s not if I can’t finish anything. I can sit down and work on a long project to finish it. It’s just that I can’t finish everything that I want to, because I don’t know what to work on and what to leave.

I do something and then I leave it and then I do something else and then I leave it when a new idea pops into my head. I know I have this problem. And I have tried to overcome it many times. I am currently in one of those phases. I have decided to finish my Writing Club business idea. I have started well. Then I got sick. And now, a week later, I am writing a blog while still editing a short story whilst I should be busy with that instead.

The problem I find with my writing – as also in other areas of life – is that I try to multitask, in spite of being a hater of multitasking. Because I multitask in life too. I start tiding the bedroom, and when putting away some stuff in the bathroom, I see that the toilet need urgent cleaning and when I go to the kitchenette to fetch the cleaning products, I wash the morning coffee mugs and then remembered that my son didn’t have breakfast yet and when I take his breakfast to the TV room where we normally have it together, we watch the breaking news and I quickly do some research on some of the facts the reporter gave and then I see some interesting article that I have to share to my Writing Club Facebook page and while on the computer I see that there are some messages from my family group on WhatsApp Web and then I get involved in a who-looked-more-like-whom baby pictures debate and when it cools down I see more interesting articles on writing and read a few, and get new ideas for blogging and then my husband called to hear if I have started doing research for our trip and then I get into the mood to finish my short story and I write for an hour. And when I finally come to my senses again, the bedroom is still untidy, the toilet is still not cleaned, the coffee mugs are dirty again after having breakfast though, the breakfast plates had to be cleaned, there is new breaking news on TV, the family had decided that the baby looks like herself, my Facebook page have more notifications, my short story is still not finished, I haven’t done the research for our upcoming trip and I realise that I haven’t thought about what we’ll have for dinner. Then I leave everything I’ve been busy with and rush to the kitchen…

That’s my life. It’s not perfect. I frustrate myself. Days and weeks and months and even years fly by and I’m not getting done what I want to get done. In a few years’ time I will probably look back and ask my husband and son: “What have I done with my time?!” And they will probably remind me to read this blog entry to answer myself.

Having many ideas is a good thing. For creative people it is a wonderful thing. But if you can’t channel those ideas into some productiveness, they will always be just… ideas. Ideas means nothing if they sit in your head. They have to be acted upon – just like dreams. Ideas also have a tendency to get ‘stolen’. If you don’t do something with an idea, someone else, who is more focussed will and before you know it, another opportunity will be lost.

A Few Tips

Multitasking must be killed. We must live in the moment and concentrate on the task at hand – one at a time. Here are a few ways to try to do it. Let’s try it!

Focus

With the Olympics on, I couldn’t help to recognise again the athletes’ commitment to their respective codes. The archer’s focus on the target is a good example of how we as writers or other artists or people of any other career should learn to focus on one thing at a time. The archer can only hit one target with one shot. If his focus is on anything other than only his target, he surely will miss. Focussing on one writing piece at a time will eventually means that one project will be finished. And if that one is finished a next one will get finished and a next and a next.

Do Something Productive with those too Many Ideas – Make a List

Write down all the writing projects ideas you have in your head. By getting them out of your head and onto paper, you can start focussing on getting them done. Keep this list close and update it as you get new ideas.

Then Make a ‘To Do’ list

Now make a ‘To Do’ list. Decide what it is you want to achieve with your writing. Be very, very honest with yourself and focus on your strong points. Identify the projects that will be the most probably to get published and/or bring in some money. Prioritise you list. Then start and finish the first priority project on your list.

Don’t Move on Before a Task isn’t Finished

Don’t move to number two on your list unless number one is finished. In the case of number one being writing your novel, you can do blogging or other smaller projects in between, but always finish the allotted daily writing time for your priority project first, before going on to doing the smaller ones.

Plan your day – Have a Routine

You know the saying, ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail.’

If that archer didn’t practice for hours every day, he wouldn’t have made his country’s Olympic team and he wouldn’t have been able to win the gold medal. If he failed to aim at his target, he would have failed to hit it. If you want to go on holiday in Greece, you need to plan to take leave, buy plane tickets and book accommodation. Otherwise you will remain where you are. If you don’t plan anything, you won’t get anything done. It is as simple as that.

‘Go to work’

My husband gets up at the same time every morning, showers, clothes himself, takes his bag and goes to work. And he remains there for eight hours of every five week days – working. For that he is rewarded with a salary at the end of every month. Input equals output.

Some writers have a day job and write for an hour or so every evening and some more over weekends. Well-known writers had got published for the first time this way – by writing only for a short time every day. Every day.

Some writers have the privilege of staying home and have more time than others to write. If you are one of those and still struggle to fill at least a few hours every day writing, you have to become more creative with managing your time and the way you work.

  • Identify your favourite writing place in your house/garden.
  • Decide on what part of the day your writing hours will be.
  • When the time arrives, literally pack your writing tools (laptop, notebooks etc.) in a bag and walk out of the house, through the garden (if you have one), back into the house and to your working place.
  • If possible, leave your phone ‘at home’ or switch to silent.
  • Stay at your working space for the time you have allocated.
  • If you have a whole study or office as working space, close the door after you have finished and open it again at the beginning of your writing period. This way you know that you can shut down and have time to do things with your family without feeling guilty, because you have already done your writing for the day.
  • Be jealous about your writing hours. Allow no disturbances, other than real Don’t make unnecessary appointments for those hours and say no to appointments that can be made for another time.

These tips may seem like common sense and they actually are, but we certainly tend to lose our common sense when we get distracted. Keeping to a regular routine and staying disciplined helps to divide between your living and working spaces and may help you to get into the right mind for doing more productive work.

Keep a writing log

I’ve started doing  this years ago, stopped and started again. I make a simple monthly spreadsheet and write down what writing related work I do every day, including reading. (I also keep a separate yearly reading list.) My columns include, Writing, Editing, Reading, Blogs and Other (like time spent updating my Facebook Writing Club page or journal writing). I blot out days that we travel and on which it isn’t possible to write, although some travels can offer wonderful writing time.

Keeping a writing log shows you how many hours per day you effectively spend on your writing projects and it serves as a motivational tool to better your productivity from month to month. It also helps with planning your writing schedule, because you can see how much time you need to spend on certain projects.

Take Stock Every Week, Month and Year

At the end of every week, month and year, evaluate your writing effort. Check your ‘To Do’ list and see what you have achieved. Go through your monthly writing logs and see where you can improve your productivity. Make changes and stay focussed – one task at a time.

Keep a Personal Journal

If you don’t keep a journal I have a question for you: Why on earth not?! Apart from being a therapeutic tool to write down your emotions, problems goals, dreams and feelings, your journal can be a treasure chest of ideas. Many of my journal entries have become blog entries. It also serves as a reminder of the dreams and goals you have and is a place to blow off some steam – as you are the only one who reads it.

You don’t have to write in your journal every day or even every week. Write when you want to, but keep writing, even if there are two-month gaps.

On days that you really can’t get other writing done (for whatever reason) – just journal. At least it will help you to stay in routine and not get rusty. I write in both languages I speak, depending on the reason, subject or mood I am in.

Learn more about journal writing at https://fieliesdekock.com/2014/03/17/article-on-writing-journal-writing/ 

Go forward one letter, word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, book at a time!

(OK, the bedroom is not going to tidy itself. Off I go…)

 

© 2016 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt, with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat, her friend and two kittens (so far) – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.

Those Big Small Things in between Facebook Status Updates

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Life is speeding so fast that it can overtake us very easily, leaving us clinging onto whatever we can to survive. And when we are in survival mode, we tend to focus on just that – survival. Sometimes we need to get off the runaway train, stay on the ground and just enjoy the moments of experiences added together that is called ‘life’. So many of us live for our “one day” – that day or days near or farther in the future when all our dreams will be realised into the utopian existences we spend all our free time imagining.

But sometimes we need real life to give us a slap through the face or shower us with the proverbial bucket of ice water to slow us down from our busyness or even to bring us to a halt in order for us to stop and be alive within the actual moment we find ourselves in.

It can happen through the shock of sudden death, the scare of illness, being faced with dangerous situations or just recuperating from something less serious – but as disruptive.

Shock or trauma or failure can sometimes be good for us. It can help us clean our systems, re-organise our priorities and re-evaluate the impossible goals we set for ourselves into obtainable ones and making us pause for a while. Very few things in life can be so good to us than coming to a complete standstill. And I really mean to stop doing what you’re doing and to live in the moment, with no looking forward to the tomorrow that may never be born.e always dreamt of living abroad for a period of time. Due to circumstances that dream got lost for a while, but after some time it found its way back into becoming a possibility and our lives were frozen in their tracks. Everything we did or didn’t do, planned or didn’t plan and decided had to be weighed first against the probability of going away for a few years. It changes one’s whole focus, lookout and pretty much everything you do.

The realisation of a dream can be a horribly, scary affair and takes courage to pursue. (Read my previous blog on this at https://fieliesdekock.com/2015/11/10/the-process-of-realising-a-dream-can-be-a-nightmare/)

We only heard six months later that we were going to live abroad. In Egypt. I cried for a day and then my previous positive-self reappeared and I made a pro’s and con’s list and, surprise-surprise, the pro’s list convinced me – not that it was the longest! (How is it that when your prayers are being answered and you get what you ask for that you get confused?)  But the crying subsided and the excitement and frightfulness kicked in. We had a lot to do – easier stuff and more difficult stuff. All the easier stuff had to do with the ‘whats’ in our lives. The more difficult ones had to do with the ‘whos’. My mother lived with us for 17 years and she had to be relocated. And we had to find houses for our four dogs. It wasn’t easy.

Fast forward…

…to living in Cairo, Egypt, for two years.

It takes time to settle into a new environment. And it took me one year an nine months to get so used to the new place to fall into a little bit of a rut – in spite of (or maybe because of) busyness.

Precisely one year and nine months after arriving here, I fell into a not-so-slightly ‘down’. (Don’t worry – it was caused by stupid pains, and although they remained, the depression flew out of the window after a few doctor’s visits. ((And I realised that my ‘depressions’ are always health related.)) And it is a fact that everything seems worse if you are far away from ‘home.’)

Now that the background history is told, I will get to the point. Since that day, three years and three months ago when we first heard that we may be moving, I have learnt to live in the moment. Because of the uncertainty of our situation, we stopped buying unnecessary things, didn’t make decisions with long-term consequences and just started taking every day as it came.

Due to the fact that we came to live in a country where the security situation can be volatile, our circumstances can change at any time and our stay can end unplanned and abruptly. So, I decided to keep living here the way we lived back home for those uncertain fifteen months before we left – in the moment. And I already decided to keep doing that when we get back home one day. But, as I am writing this – even that isn’t a certainty, because that is a tomorrow that is still to come. I pray though that it will happen for us all.

But back again (!) to the reason for this writing. During all these experiences the last few years, I have learnt to enjoy the ‘little’ things in life. Don’t get me wrong. With our current, temporary lifestyle come lots of privileges, which we enjoy and appreciate enormously! I mean, without this experience, my dream to see at least something of Europe would probably always have stayed only in the dream phase. We have cruised the Nile and we are scheduled to go again soon. We have snorkelled in the Red Sea (and fell in love with it)! On a French mountain I have played in the snow for the first time in my life! I attended my first (second, third and shortly my fourth) ball! I have stood in a chamber in The Valley of the Kings outside Luxor containing the petite mummy of king Tut. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. These are memories I will cherish for as long as my mind allow me.

But as it is in life – privileges don’t come free or cheap. And in between these very wonderful experiences are those that don’t reach Facebook status. And they take up way more time than those very wonderful ones. They are the ones that can make or break us. The in-between times when the heat, dust, cultural differences, strange religion, terrible traffic, the thin, sick, hungry street dogs, the stray cats, the tummy bugs, the illiteracy (mine!), the overwhelming crowdedness, the ‘ununderstandable’ customs, the poverty, the dirtiness, the interestingness, the bland food, the overripe tomatoes and all the things you miss from home, make you wonder how on earth did you make it so far and how on earth will you make the rest of the time?

I remember back home when we had some challenges, we would go for a walk in the afternoons and with my hand in my husband’s and with our son and our dogs tagging along, I felt like the richest person alive! And this, I personally believe, is where the secret of happiness lies: to find blessings and joy and thankfulness in even the littlest things in mundane life.

I have listed just a few of these things that make me happy. Some of them are not so little at all.

  • Reading Bible and praying whenever I want to, because the Living God of the Bible is always everywhere.
  • Mild weather.
  • Walking to the shops.
  • Walking to the shops on my own legs.
  • Walking to the shops on my own legs in mild weather.
  • Having good Egyptian people in our lives.
  • Eating the last piece of biltong someone thoughtfully brought when visiting.
  • Sitting (in the still mild weather) in our garden, listening to the birds chirping without the competition of the air conditioner sounds (because the weather is still mild and the aircons are still off).
  • Aircons in summer!!!
  • Drinking rooibos tea with my husband and son on a Saturday morning outside in the garden (when the weather is mild) or in the TV room or swimming pool (in summer, when the weather is not so mild).
  • Sleeping through the night without fear of violent house-breaks.
  • Waking up in the morning. (What a privilege!)
  • Having an Afrikaans (my native language) speaking buurvrou (neighbour) in the building across ours!
  • Having even more friends from home nearby and being able to lunch with some of them every week!
  • Feeding at least two of the many hungry cats in this huge city.
  • Watching ‘our’ two cats doing all their cat-things in our garden on top of the parking garage.
  • Taking pictures. Lots and lots and lots of them.
  • Being thankful for every ‘big’ or ‘little’ thing that works out.
  • Being safe after there had been uncertainties.
  • Aircons droning out the muezzin calls.
  • Power coming back on after cuts. (These days they aren’t as frequent and as long as in during the first year. Something to be thankful for – especially in summer!)
  • Experiencing everything with my husband and son!
  • Kissing my husband good night.
  • Kissing my son good night. (That’s probably not something he would like people to read on the Internet ((but he likes it – I can tell)).)
  • Seeing my husband happy because he can watch South African rugby and cricket matches on the satellite TV channels.
  • Paging through the teabags at my Japanese friend’s dinner to find a rooibos tea bag!
  • Having lots of friends from around the world to hang out with, visit new places with and to learn from.
  • Being able to buy the medicine I need and don’t get from home.
  • Being healthy (I hope).
  • Coming home to a haven of safety and tranquility.
  • Having a good landlady.
  • …the list can go on…

These are just a few things and when writing them down, I realise that they are not so little. They are pretty big and important. They are the glue that holds life together. To be in awe when seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time or feeling small against the largest of the Giza pyramids is splendid, but one can survive life without it. Of course travelling enriches our lives and I am a big supporter thereof (even if it is just exploring outside of you immediate comfort zone) and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on these experiences! But it really is the ‘small’ things that we can’t live without, which makes the mundane extraordinary – which is the difference between letting life get away from you and living in the moment. It is the ‘small’ things in life which brings sustainable happiness.

 

© 2016  – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock is trying hard to be an awesomest wife and greatest lover, finest mom and to write something all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s two cats and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.

The Process of Realising a Dream can be a Nightmare

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To conceive a dream is so easy. You just think it up and if you are passionate enough about it, you obsess over it. You envision every little detail. You see it in that sacred secret place where dreams are pictured in all its splendid tints and facets and glorious results. In that place that has no space and no limits. The place that no-one else can see. You dress it up, colour it in, expand it limitlessly and enjoy the outcome as if it already happened. You feel the magnificent emotions even before you even started doing anything about it. What a sweet, sweet place that place called imagination is!

Sometimes in life it happens that we lose those beautiful imaginary creations of ours – because of circumstances or because of failure. Sometimes the loss is due to our own limitations, flaws, choices or immature doings. Some of them we lose or have to let go, because they were only meant to teach us and to make us braver.

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But, sometimes we get a chance to transform those imaginations into reality. I know that for the millions of go-getters out there, this is the moment they lived for and waited for their whole lives. It is the moment in which they can grab their dream in both hands and force life into it. Now me, I’m not one of those people. The realisation of my dreams scares die dinges out of me. For me the process of realising a dream is a nightmare. Because this is where two worlds meet – that fantastic world of comfort, no responsibilities and no liabilities and the scary, scary world where you have to face the proverbial music and actually do. It’s a world that makes your tummy ache and your head burst and where you want to faint, turn around and push your dream back in the safety of imagination’s womb and forget that you were ever able of conceiving such a frightful creation.

Because realising a dream is not only about day dreaming. It is about hard work, unpleasantness and vulnerability. The process of realising a dream is much like childbirth. For months a new person grows inside you. You nurture it, dream about its features, character, life. You wait in anticipation as the little human grows and grows until one day it can’t stay inside you anymore and needs to get out into the world.

I am not making this analogy easily. I know that losing a dream can never compare to losing a baby, but writing from the heart also means writing from experience. Loss nestles itself very deep in the human soul. All kinds of loss. If it is the loss of a human who had grown inside your body for a time or a dream that has grown inside your being. It feels. That is what makes us human and how we deal with the loss is what makes us individually who we turn out to be.

Some expecting mothers choose to abort the new life just after conception, because it came as an inconvenience, but doing so leaves a void in their souls that can never be filled. Some moms lose that life – not because of own choice, but because of circumstances or because that life wasn’t sustainable. It hurts. So. Much. Even if you know it wasn’t meant to be or that it wasn’t your fault – and somehow in your heart there always remains a memory of love. And sometimes more than just memories linger. Very real nightmares continue to occur of what could have been but was not. The same happens when losing dreams.

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If so blessed to walk full term, expecting mothers very often experience a lack of sleep at the end of the pregnancy and angst and nightmares before the birth. They know that there is no way around it. The baby must get out – and no fear, angst or nightmare can stop or even delay the process. The little human’s life depends on being born.

In life, when one loses an unborn baby, the law of survival urges us to try again, until that new conception or the next or the next clings to life and grows and lives long enough to see the light.

To survive not only life, but ourselves, we have to try again when we lose a dream. We need to learn to dream new dreams. Dreams that would stick, go full term and burst into realisation when the time for it has come and the expecting ‘womb’ cannot contain it any longer.

We also need to embrace the birthing process like a fed-up, anxious, scared new mother who knows that the baby must be born – no matter what! It is never easy and many, many things can go wrong. There can be complications with the birth or defects that hadn’t been detected beforehand. In extreme cases even a still-birth is a possibility.

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It can be the same with dreams. A dream is made to be born or aborted. To abort it will always leave an emptiness and a lifetime of wondering ‘what if?’ Of course there is the possibility of miscarriage too. We can take the big step, try and not succeed. Or the dream can be ‘still-born’ and be a failure. From experience I have also learned that failing at something is far more liveable with than aborting or not even trying to do something. The margin between failure and success can be so minute sometimes. But the gap between aborting and not trying is absolutely unbridgeable.

So, my son, when the time comes and the pangs make you fear and want you to abort and you feel anxious and inadequate and unqualified – remember the mother, who in her fear and pain and angst, push through, knowing that life depends on it.

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© 2015 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.

The Curious Occurrence of People’s Comings and Goings on Earth

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I am sometimes, actually all the time, a bit flabbergasted by the fact that people, well-known or not, live an extraordinary life – for the good or the bad – and then one day, as if they were mere mortals from the onset, are no more.

I’m busy reading John Baxter’s book, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World. It’s a collection of stories, anecdotes, quotes and by-the-way facts about the streets, corners, buildings, passages, cafes, gardens, restaurants, fashions and people of Paris – from the past to the now. By the way he frequently quote and referred to Ernest Hemingway, one can’t help to think that he must be at least a little bit obsessed with the larger than life (in more than one way) American writer.

I read a book the way I take a walk on the beach or go about my daily chores. I start out with a goal to go somewhere but stop to take a picture of a see-through crab or a washed up piece of wood or I want to clean the toilet, but instead open the cupboard and see paint waiting to change something’s colour.

Although I am not diagnosed with some attention deficit disorder that comes with a long abbreviation, I get distracted easily. It’s not that the books I read are boring (I take care not to waste time reading what I really, really dislike), but because the writer triggers my curious bone, which leads me to visit my good know-it-all friend, Google, to make sure that what I read is true or to learn more than the author was willing or allowed to mention. Maybe it’s because I love knowing as much as I can or maybe it is because I question e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g or maybe it’s just because I’m a naturally curious female person. Whatever the reason, my Google friend is always more than willing to help and a visit there is never a short, focussed or a goal driven one. I turn off at every interesting link, follow even the faintest paths from there and end up at a totally different place than I intended to. But that’s a point for another day’s ramblings.

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Today I visited Google to read up again on Hemingway’s life. And what a life it was! It was busy, full of intrigue, drama, trauma, tragedy, excitement, love, strife, journeying, disappointments, successes and conflict. Relationships were formed and broken often. Some mended after time – others never.

Ernest not only survived World War II, but also a few other wars as a journalist as well as car crashes, two airplane accidents, and life threatening illnesses. It is so sadly ironic that in spite of cheating all these potential killers, in the end he took his own life.

John Baxter lives and walks where Hemingway and Sylvia Beach of the original Shakespeare and Company bookshops, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali and Scot and Zelda Fitzgerald lived and ate and created and partied.

When we visited Paris and London and Jerusalem and Amsterdam and walking the streets of Cairo and braving a sand storm at El Alamein in the Egyptian desert, I can’t help to be in awe to think that in a strange way my life somehow ‘connects’ with those people’s lives who lived decades and centuries and millenniums ago. I remembered looking at the Eiffel tower in total amazement knowing that Ernest did too. And so did a lot of other famous and less famous persons from the past and present.

I looked at the centuries old buildings in London and I realised I walk where Shakespeare dreamt up his plays, where Dickens wrote his prose and Churchill maybe had sleepless nights over the nightmare that was the Second World War.

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In Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, I read a young girl’s letters and I could identify with her passion and her dream to become a writer. Anne’s dreams died young, but her spirit lives on, still touching the hearts of people like me when I walk where she walked and try to imagine what it was really like to live indoors and quiet for months to be safe from people who want to kill you just because of the race you were born into.

In the Valley of the Kings the mummified remains of young king Tut is displayed for whoever is brave enough to take on the desert heat. How is it possible that he and I can be in the same room with thousands of years stretching between our births?

My eyes gazed over the hills surrounding Jerusalem and I know that just over two thousand years ago, Yeshua (Jesus’ name in Hebrew) entered the city triumphantly on a donkey as it had been prophesied hundreds of years before and cried over the sins of His people.

When my brother died too young I felt so many conflicting emotions. The feelings of sadness and heartbreak were normal, but for a while I questioned the reason for his existence. Why was he born if he was going to die ‘before his time?’, I argued with God. But of course it wasn’t true. He lived a full life, even though it was shortened. And through him God created more life. Life that still goes on and will go on. Just two months ago our family welcomed his second granddaughter into this world. Somehow he will remain here with us, because his DNA lives in those who came from him and his memory lives in us who loved him.

The memory of all those who lived before us are still alive. Their deeds and the legacy they left are still with us – good or bad. People today still have scars caused by Hitler, Stalin, Hussein and the likes. But others were healed because of a Mother Theresa and the Florence Nightingale who chose life instead of hate and death. Einstein, Bell, Edison and Pasteur and many more from the past slaved away so that the future would be easier, safer and healthier for us. And we still listen to the genius collections of notes composed by the Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi and Beethoven.

Thanks to the many, many graves at El Alamein and other graveyards all over the world, our world didn’t tumble down because of the doings of power hungry dictators. Their bodies are decomposed under the hard, dry, desert soil or in the unharbouring (yes, I like making up words) waters of the world’s oceans, but their sacrifices and legacies outlived them. Some had famous names like Roosevelt, Montgomery, Smuts and Mountbatten, but some were just simple men – sons, brothers and fathers, like my great uncle, Kosie Coetzer.

People live different lives, but we all leave something behind when we ‘leave’. Big or small. Good or bad. Pure or evil. Our lives are entwined with one another. The past is still with us and will always be. We are the future’s past. I wonder what we will leave behind for those coming after us. What will I leave? I hope it will be something worthwhile.

© 2015 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.