Friday, December 2, 2016

A Conflict Of Priority.

There are some things that are now so politically sensitive that  it is almost impossible to voice an opinion without somebody accusing you of some ism or other.

There is the sadly commonplace issue of what to call that day that happens on the 25th of December. You know Santa, drunkenness, presents  .. and oh yes, it is to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus if you are a Christian. And a celebration of being nice to people if you are not. It was a pagan festival in Europe long before Christianity came along. It was the turn of the deep winter and those lucky enough to survive it celebrated.

I was talking to a Muslim friend this week, and he starting going on about how much he hates Christmas. Because he says  his non-Muslim friends suddenly become very tongue tied round him wishing him a err ‘happy holiday’. He was taken into side room at work and asked if he wanted to take part in the Christmas lucky dip or not.  ‘Why wouldn’t I?’ he asked, ‘I do work here and it is office tradition.’ His kids get very upset as everyone else is talking about what they are getting from Santa but nobody asks them, and make a very politically correct point of not asking them. It’s a sad state of affairs when kids are left out of anything, especially Christmas. His kids know that it’s a Christian tradition and that they do their own thing at other times of the year.  It’s about being happy and showing appreciation for friends and loved ones, which is the same in every language I am sure.

And then there was the more prickly issue last week, some professional footballers spoke out about the sexual abuse they had suffered as youngsters. I have no issue with that at all, and well done to them for speaking out but it was the first item on the news . The second item was the death of a two year old child at the hands of his 'parents'. Am I the only person in the world who thinks it is the wrong way round. There is a huge moral panic in this country about sexual abuse, it is now the territory of the moral stormtrooper, but it is not new it has been going on since time began and maybe the human race should realise that.

As a crime, and it absolutely is a crime, it can fuel all sorts of other criminal activity including human trafficking and murder. It is pushed so far into the extreme of something unspeakable that is simply goes more underground. Could there be a better way of dealing with it? Some kind of amnesty? I mean where do you go if you are an adult who realises they have a genuine sexual attraction to children? Can you go to your doctor and ask for help or does that get you placed on a register? A register that might be leaked to the press by a do gooder with a freedom of information issue? There was a famous case down south where a house was set on fire because the arsonists were so stupid they could not tell the difference between a paedophile and a paediatrician. And there were children in the house at the time of the fire. 

The mob mentality is alive and well. 

I treat many patients who have ‘survived childhood sexual abuse’, and just note that well know phrase 'survived'. I would say that 50% of them have come to terms with it, rational enough to know it was nothing to do with them, it was the abuser. And they have good counselling to understand why the abuser did it. They grow up to be sensible people with maybe just a tendency to keep a very close eye on their own children. 

Other survivors, to be honest, let the abuse define them and everything that goes wrong in their life is down to the abuse and sooner or later that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Even one of the very successful footballers revealed that he turned to drink and drugs during his career due to the abuse he suffered as a youth.

The victim, any victim should never ever let the power be the possession of the abuser. That line of thinking only damages an innocent victim even more. So I am concerned that there now seems to be a growing assumption that if you have been abused as a child then the rest of your life should be scarred by that abuse. And some abuse survivors have said to me that they feel quite guilty that they do not feel that way, and they then start wondering if there is something wrong with them.
The recent headlines covering Operation Yewtree where victims were reporting historic abuse 40 or 50 years ago by celebrities who were either dead or already in jail, seems to me to be a poison chalice. Instead of pursuing those already in jail or already passed away for each new abuse claim ( 840 have come through on the helpline since the footballer went on the TV yesterday )surely the  resources should be directed into counselling or, maybe more importantly, to try and address the internationally organised abuse that is going on today. Even as I type this, there are atrocities being committed on children in this society and they have a chance of being saved. 

The German system seems to have  a better take on it – there is no burden of proof for a criminal case, both parties are asked to come to the table and have counselling. In the end sometimes they meet and that can be a very healing process  because at the end of the day it often turns out that they were both victims. Not always so but it might be a start.

And what of society as a whole? Two things are obvious. The most sexually attractive woman, according to the media, is now child like – stick thin, hairless, big eyed with petite facial features. Previous societies have regarded age as wisdom but not us.
And then there is the general sexualisation of general that goes on and we almost accept it without noticing. There is the odd moral outcry when a clothing store markets a bikini for a 5 year old but one look at the magazines children read tell a different story. Don’t even get me started on beauty pageants ...... false eyelashes, fake tan, full make up and, I do believe the term is, a stripper dress.
So while all that is going on the newsfeed is coming through that a mother has just pleaded guilty to drugging her own daughter with sedatives so that she could spend more time with her boyfriend. The mum is in court as the little girl, 4 years old, died due to the drug interaction.

In every species there is a strong instinct to protect the young, can’t help thinking we might be losing that in amongst the political correctness. Some straight talking required I think. 

Caro Ramsay  02 12 2016

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Feeding the addiction

Stanley - Thursday

I’m in the bush, recovering from the world.  I am a total addict.  The more I’m here, the more I need to be here.

This time, the contrast with what came before is very stark.  Even though I have internet access (spotty at best), I’ve had no interest in keeping up with what is happening.  I’ve left behind the pervasive anger, intolerance, and deafness that is blanketing the planet.  I don’t know what is happening in the Middle East, Europe, or the USA.  I don’t know what my Facebook friends are up to.  Have the markets spiked because of the US election?  Or tanked?  I don’t really care because there’s little or nothing I can do about it.

Life is basic here.  Wake up early; have a cup of coffee and some fruit.  Occasionally egg and bacon.  Head out in the rickety Land Rover to wander around the three thousand hectares of bush I have traversing rights on.  Hope to see something interesting.

There is always something interesting.  The first blades of grass pushing through the drought-stricken earth fascinate me.  How do they do it?  Where do they get the energy to brave a new year? 

And in the midst of the barren red soil, a gorgeous plant with red flowers stands proudly for all to see.  

And another:

I wonder how long they will last.  Will they be eaten?  Or wither away, more victims of the drought?

Animals are sparse.  Not surprising really, even though the waterholes are full thanks to the floods of four years ago, which replenished the water table.  Unlike the grass, which is virtually non-existent, the trees look good, most with good foliage, also thanks to the good water table.  I guess their roots can reach the water.

He has right of way.
Surprisingly the impala look healthy – must be eating leaves, since there is no grass.  But I see very few youngsters.  Perhaps the impala women took a year off from being pregnant because their offspring would die for lack of food.

The most interesting animals this time have been two mother-child pairs of rhinos.  (Frankly, I can’t tell the difference between a baby boy rhino and a baby girl.  Not at a distance anyway.)  Someone else saw eight rhinos together, something I’ve never seen.  We’re all worried about rhinos – over a thousand killed in South Africa alone this year.  Poached to satisfy irrational desires in Vietnam and China.  It’s impossible to stop the poachers, who have little to lose.  We should be doing more to stop the demand.

Also interesting is seeing the corpse of a hippo.  Starved to death by the drought.  Enough water in the dams to survive the heat.  But nothing to eat.  Sad.  However, the vultures weren’t complaining.

Here's a hippo uncharacteristically out of the water during the day scrabbling in the dust for something to eat.  The vultures are keeping an eye on him too.

There are a few animals about - always delightful to look at.

Elephants are fine - plenty of leaves on the trees

Don't know what the steenbok is living off - luckily it needs little

A warthog praying for rain

The buffalo also look healthy - must have learnt to eat leaves
Sometimes I don’t drive around hoping for an interesting chance encounter.  Sometimes I take a cooler of food and drink to a hide and settle in for a few hours to watch the passing show.  There’s always something going on.  If there are no animals, there are birds – about four hundred species in this area alone.  Except when there is a drought, when many of the seed eaters are smart enough not to arrive.  This too has benefits – I don’t worry about trying to identify each LBJ (little brown job) – there aren’t any.

But I had one spectacular sighting – a pygmy kingfisher – a bird I haven’t seen in years.  It’s about the length of one of my fingers, but much more beautiful.

Yesterday one of the first migrants returned - the woodland kingfisher.  Its call fills the air.  Click here to hear it.  One of the magical sounds of the bush.  And early in the morning I heard to iconic call of the African bush - the African fish eagle.  Didn't see it though.  Click hear to hear its beautiful call.

Photo: Hennie van Heerden from
And the rollers have started to return too - one of the stunning birds of the bush.

And early in the morning I heard the iconic call of the African bush - the African fish eagle.  Didn't see it though.  Click hear to hear its beautiful call.

African fish eagle - a cousin to the bald eagle, I would guess
 When the day is over, a gin and tonic awaits – medicinal, of course.  It’s important to take quinine to minimise the chances of contracting malaria.  And a glass of wine or two to prepare the mind for contemplation.

Then early to bed.  And the next day, the cycle repeats.

It is special here.  As I write this blog, I can hear some male lions grumbling about something.  Probably not happy that their female partners haven’t provided enough food, or that they had to exert themselves to get to it.  And when male lions grumble, the whole neighbourhood knows about it.  The decibel level of a lion’s roar must be about equivalent to a jet engine.

I also hear hyenas calling.  I don’t understand hyena talk, but I imagine the message has something to do with food.  Perhaps the food the lions are grumbling about.

And before I finish writing this blog, a miracle happens.  When I started writing, the sky was glowing with millions of stars.  Orion and his belt and sword were over there.  And I’m sure I saw his dog, Canis Major, wag its tale and wink, watched by the seven sisters.

Then a flash or two in the distance.  A bit later a gust of wind.  Another gust.  Then for fifteen or twenty minutes, the wind howls.  Mosquito-repellant cans blow off the table, doors bang, chairs blow over.  The sky is now full of lightning, but surprisingly little thunder.

More wind.  More lightning.

Then the thunder starts.  I love it.  Flash, bang, crash.  Mette hates it and burrows deep under her pillow.

And then I smell it.  Rain is coming.  Nothing nicer than the smell of impending rain in the African bush.

And then it rains.  Much needed rain.  Coming down horizontally.  Sometimes through the screens that comprise our outside walls. 

Even the lions are quiet.  So are the hyenas.  In awe of the storm and thankful for it.

And then it is over.  Just the sound of water dripping from the trees.

I settle down to finish the blog, thankful I had the foresight to cover the Land Rover.  I don’t like driving around sitting on a wet seat.

(Photos: Stan Trollip, Mette Nielsen, Martin Sambrook)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Leipzig it's brrrr

Coming to you from Germany, in Leipzig, and the Christmas Market. I'm grabbing my chance with some wonky wifi to show some photos.
In the cold we visited the war monument, biggest in Europe, and left via the Leipzig cemetery. Here were tombstones with the names of those lost in the 1945 air bombing of Leipzig tragically killing people just weeks before the end of the war. This woman with the cane had been eight years old and she remembered running to the underground shelters and how her home escaped fire but the two schools by it didn't.
Cara - Tuesday in Leipzig

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Mayan Long Count

Annamaria on Monday

Don’t worry I am not going to get all New Age and silly on you.  But I have always been fascinated by the calendar in use in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.  It is way more sophisticated and accurate than our Eurocentric  culture would have us imagine.  And it may have something to tell us about what the world is going through right now.  Certainly the Mayans predictions have to be every bit as believable as your average recent political poll.  Perhaps more on target?

Note: I am going to use the term “Mayan” here to designate a wider group that includes many communities, like the Aztec and even contemporary  Guatemalan groups that used or still use a version of the Mayan way of counting the days , years, centuries, and millennia.

Second note: the Mayans counted in base twenty—perhaps when they counted they used their fingers AND toes.  Fear not, I am not going to speak vigesimally (i.e. base twenty) here.  After all I am writing for more people than just Michael, our resident mathematician.  Fortunately for me, researchers have already converted the calendar into base 10.

When thinking annually, the Mayans divided the year into 18-twenty day months, with a period of five days that had no name at the end.  They considered these days dangerous, because during them, the door between the realm of earth and of the underworld stayed open, and the evil gods could wreck havoc on mortals.

The part of the Mayan calendar that most fascinates me is called the Long Count.  For reasons no one seems to understand, the Mayans wanted to be able to predict things like the phases of the moon and eclipses thousands of years into the future.  By most calculations, they started the Long Count on 11 August 3114 BC (or BCE, if you insist), which relates to the beginning of human time in their creation myth.  They carved their dates onto stela with their fascinating hieroglyphs.


Scholars have translated the Mayan dates to the Gregorian calendar using astronomical, historical, and archeological evidence.  They are certain they have it right.   The Long Count told the Mayans when one b’ak’tun (creation) would end and when the next one would begin.

A few years back, on 20 December 2012, the world saw the end 13th  b’ak’tun and the next day the beginning of the 14th.  A lot of nonsense circulated at that time that the world was going to end.  Scholars of Mesoamerican culture pooh-poohed all that.   And they turned out to be right.  Since we are all still here.

In fact, the Mayans actually thought the change from one civilization to another something to rejoice over.

Another myth said that these cycles consisted of a period of order and calm followed by one of chaos and difficulty.  And that the last twenty-five years of one and the first twenty five years of next tended to be particularly difficult.

When I first learned about this myth, in the late 70’s, in discussing it with a friend, he thought we would be entering a periods of chaos in 2012.   My assessment was different.  “This past four hundred years or so don’t look like times of order and calm to me,” I said.  “I think we will be leaving chaos and entering order.”  I hope that thinking turns out to be true.  If so, once we get past the first difficult twenty-five years, things may just get a whole lot better.

Which would mean that Susan’s prayer (and mine) of yesterday just might come true by 2037.  If I am still alive then, I will turn 96, the age at which my father died.  I am not too keen on the current turmoil lasting for the rest of my life.  But then, 2012 saw President Obama—our first black President, resoundingly reelected.

Perhaps my hopes will be borne out.  That what we are witnessing now is the death throes of bad forces.  I pray.