Sunday, October 9, 2016

Things I've learnt over time

There are times when there is no logic to things people do
When I recently checked into the Lutheran Mission Guesthouse in Iringa, Tanzania, the guy at reception put me in a large room with the biggest bed I had ever seen.  I could lie sideways, upside down, it didn’t matter, as the bed was so huge it made no difference.  The next morning as I was heading out to my workshop, the same guy who checked me in the day before informed me that I must give him my luggage as I was moving to a new room.  “Why am I moving?”  I couldn’t hide my irritation.  “Because your room is booked by some other people,” he replied with a smile.  “So why did you put me in that room if you knew I couldn’t stay there?”  I thought that was a reasonable thing to ask.  He shrugged, “I don’t know.  No reason.”  What can you say to that?
Being back in Tanzania, albeit for just a few days, made me remember some of the strange laws that defied logic.  The traffic police dressed like sea captains in their white uniforms that would be covered in a layer of red dust by the end of the day.  The road blocks to check that buried somewhere in your car’s trunk would be a fire extinguisher so that you could put out the flames if your car suddenly randomly caught fire.
Going to Iringa Airport, I was surprised to see that they had upped their security.  Drivers of the vehicle have to step out of the car and be body-searched, while the people actually traveling and boarding the plane are left alone to sit and wait in the car for their driver to be allowed back in.  That defies logic.
At Dar-es-Salaam Airport I noted that my departure gate was Gate 7.  However, there were no signs anywhere for a Gate 7.  They only had Gates 1-6.  So I asked one of the staff there if they could tell me where Gate 7 was.  The response, “There is no Gate 7.  You must go to Gate 5.  We just say Gate 7 so you can go to Gate 5.”  Sometimes there are no words!
If you show compassion people will take advantage.
By the grand age I am now, life should have made me more cynical than I am.  But despite my cynicism, I know that people will continue to take me for a ride.  I am a Giver and people just cannot resist a Giver.  They spin you a story so that you will help them.  What annoys me the most is that they believe I am so gullible and stupid, and that’s why I help them.  The fact is, I see through their bullshit but there is something in me that compels me to help them.  Whether it’s the desperation in their eyes as they spin me a line or the fact that they have children, I don’t really know.  But I will do what I can to help them.  This is self-destructive behaviour.  I think I need therapy.  Because you give them a hand and they grab all of you in until you start drowning in their mess.  You give all you have until you have nothing left for your family.  And you know that nobody is going to help you.  You just have to work your way back up until the next person asks for help.
People are well-meaning but invariably let you down
Everybody has good intentions.  They make kind offers because at that time it makes them feel good.  However, because of time constraints or lack of resources, they let you down the majority of the time.  So when people offer to help, you need to have a back-up plan in case they don’t come through for you.  At the end of the day, the only person you should rely on is yourself.
24 Hours in a day is not enough
In fact 7 days a week is not enough.  A two day weekend is too short.  Time is the biggest enemy.  Time also has a special friend called Procrastination.  The amount of things that need to be done does not leave much time to follow your dreams.  Eat Work Sleep becomes my mantra.  Often it is just Work and Sleep.  However, recently I have decided to make time for reading and writing, my two loves.  Cooking is another favourite past time, but cooking costs money, so that is on the back-burner for a while.  Sometimes I think a 36 hour day would be better.  But then I have to ask, would I have the stamina to last that long?  As it is I start work at 5.30am and leave my office at 6pm feeling shattered and dreaming of an early night and sleep.  Then my brain can only do something mindless like watch the Crime Channel or Reality TV.  Serious thinking is beyond reach.  I really think we need to start protesting for a four day work week and a three day weekend.  That would definitely give our lives more balance.
Traveling gives your life an added dimension
For the life of me I cannot comprehend people who never leave their home town or city.  As a person who travels a lot, and by a lot – I mean more than most people, I have to say experiencing different cultures and seeing different places others just dream of, makes your life richer.  Seeing a place in a photograph is not the same as embracing it with all your senses.  Although endless traveling can be exhausting, the benefits make it all worth it.  One day when I am old and senile, I can look through all my photographs and remember the places I went, the food I ate, the things I saw and the amazing people I met.  I can honestly say, that I have lived my life to its fullest.  If you can travel, do it.  If you don’t have the money, find it and travel.  The world is out there waiting to be explored.
Being Happy and Healthy means more than being Rich
I have come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be rich.  Money is not my friend.  I get it in and I give it away.  While money can buy you lots of cool stuff, and means you can go on amazing holidays and also pay your debts, money can’t buy you happiness.  I know that sounds like a cliché but it’s true.  For the last two years I have let the lack of money cause me such stress that it’s affected my sleep and aged me considerably.  How stupid to give Money that kind of power!  So the last while I have decided to focus on being happy and healthy.  To start doing the things that I love.  And to not let well-meaning people try and dictate to me what I should and should not do.  This is my life, my decisions, my choices.  And the choice I am making is to be happy.
Your Family will always be your Family
Every family has their ups and downs.  You may not always agree with what each other does, and you may say things or do things which hurt each other.  But the bottom line is that they are your family.  They are a part of you and you are proud of their achievements and saddened by their disappointments.  No matter what, I will always be there for my family because I believe in family.  I look at my three children and I am overwhelmed with feelings of love.  If I didn’t do much right in this life, my three children are definitely something I got right.
It’s okay if you don’t like everybody
And it’s really okay if everybody doesn’t like you.  So much of my life was wasted trying to please people and make them like me.  I was the eternal people-pleaser.  (Read doormat)  I worried about what people thought about me, and tolerated people I disliked.  As I’ve grown older, I am more concerned about liking myself and not letting myself down than being concerned about what other people think.  There are some people who, when they walk into a room, make the hair on the back of my neck rise.  There very presence causes me irritation.  Therefore it is understandable that for some people, my presence and personality might annoy them immensely so that they can’t stand being around me.  And that is okay because we are all unique.  If we were all the same the world would be a very boring place.
I am finally comfortable with how I look
For years I wanted to be anorexic model-thin.  No amounts of dieting or exercise would ever make me look that way and I have accepted that.  In fact, I have embraced that I am overweight and have discovered that I can use it to my advantage.  Today I asked for a special seat as I am old and fat.  So they bumped me up to First Class and gave me three empty seats!  Bonus!  Of course, squeezing down narrow aisles will always be a problem.  And as much as I would love to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro it ain’t going to happen.  A helicopter flight to the top will do me just fine.
Strange things happen to me
Whether it is a young Maasai dentist offering me cows for my young daughter while having root canal treatment, or falling backwards into the bath of a hotel in Moscow in the middle of the night and getting wedged with my legs sticking into the air because I mistook it for the toilet in the dark, these sorts of things happen to me all the time.  Besides giving me a wealth of stories to tell, and making my life a rich tapestry of hilarious and sometimes dangerous adventures, it stops me from being bored.  I can never say my life has been boring.  From smuggling money out of a country in a sanitary pad, to making an emergency landing in rebel-held territory, I have experienced a lot and for that I am very thankful.  At the time you wonder, “Why me?”  But afterwards you feel special that you are always the one chosen to land up in disastrous and often extremely funny situations.
For example, my first night in Iringa I was way too tired to head into town to forage for food.  The Lutheran Mission where I was staying did not sell dinner.  So I dug in my backpack and found a bag of two minute noodles and a berry-flavoured teabag.  I asked the man at Reception if I could get some boiling water, a cup and a bowl.  He brought me a flask of boiling water, a cup and a side-plate.  I patiently explained that I needed a bowl as I had to pour the boiling water on the noodles.  He went back to the kitchen and returned with a dinner plate.  My patience was now starting to grow thin.  I showed him the noodles and modeled pouring the water onto it so he could see a dinner plate would not work.  He returned to the kitchen and came back with a very large stainless steel mixing bowl.  I smiled and thanked him.  However, I must have looked quite a sight eating my noodles out of a large mixing bowl with a teaspoon!

Yesterday flying on a little 8 seater Cessna as it bounced and bumped its way through dark clouds, I had an epiphany.  Life is a bit like the flight I took.  You have smooth bits where you can see the ground below and know exactly where you are heading.  Then you fly into a dark cloud and are blown around the skies, unable to see anything above or below.  To make matters worse, you discover that the seatbelt does not work, so if the plane does plummet to earth you will have no chance of survival.  But you trust, you trust that the pilot who appears to be sleeping in the cockpit, will fly the plane safely through the dark clouds until you come out the other side.  You can’t let those dark clouds overwhelm and panic you.  You can’t let the air pockets, sudden drops and being blown around the skies frighten you.  You have to focus on getting to the end of the cloud and letting the sun shine on you once again.  And trust that the pilot wakes up in time to land the plane!

Cindy Vine is an author and teacher living in Cape Town South Africa.  Besides writing, she runs an NGO which helps children who don’t cope with mainstream education.  Cindy is the author of Hush Baby, Defective, Not Telling, C U @ 8 and The Case of Billy B.  All her books are available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback format.

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