Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

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Being Jew-ish

Jew-ish is a notion I stole from actress Chantal Stanfield when we were working on From Koesistes to Kneidlach (coming to Cape Town in December, save the date, at the Baxter). She was talking about her husband, who is Jewish, and Jew-ish, in the lapsed kind of way that I am. We are not religious (I am an atheist), we are not kosher, we are not Zionists, and we are as critical of the problems inherent in Judaism as we are prepared to acknowledge the good in it.

I have had struggles with my Jewish identity for all my life. It is confusing and unsettling and sometimes even achingly painful. I won’t even go into detail. How I have emerged, at the age of 52, is as a much more committed human, South African, vegan, than Jewish person. I am deeply opposed to the Israeli government and its Apartheid crimes against the Palestinians. I am deeply opposed to any human rights abuses, including anti-Semitism, and I am constantly shocked at any group’s ability to be selectively moral, or morally outraged. Crimes against humanity must all be condemned with the same force. Nobody gets to pick and choose, and none can be worse than another because of who is doing it, or who it is being done to.

So, at a funny birthday party on Sunday I got into a dangerous conversation with a man I did not know, a Jewish man of my age group or slightly older, a man with good hair, teeth, clothes and definitely a house and car and servants and trips overseas, who described the increasingly shrinking jewish community of South Africa as ’embattled’. He gave reasons for this condition on the growing Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment in South Africa, and the government’s anti Israel stance. And I was blown away. Embattled? A community that lives in the best areas of Cape Town (and Joburg), that is seen as one of the wealthiest segments of South African society, with the best schools, big businesses, and high profiles, is ’embattled’? A community that isn’t driven out and forced into the sea to become refugees if they survive. A community that isn’t locked in and shut out, and water rationed and policed. A community that is not at war. On the contrary, the Jewish community is far more able and capable of serving other genuinely embattled communities.

The Jewish community that I know has always fed on this sentiment, this idea, this feeling of being embattled. It is probably in our genetic make-up. And even I agree that it is understandable. Israel is built on that foundation; that Jews are only safe in their homeland. But there is this completely skewed notion that Jews are struggling and under threat here. A notion shared by many whites. And it is such a dangerous notion because it separates out from the truth, totally minimises those who are actually embattled, like the poor, and ends up justifying ‘survivalist’ behaviour.

While there were many prominent Jews or Jew-ish people in this country’s struggle for liberation, there have been much fewer involved in meaningful transformation. Unfortunately, the sentiment of the SA Jewish community as a whole has aligned itself more strongly to a conservative, religious and Zionist-at-all-cost way of thinking. And because of this Jews have become easier targets. The sale of Tafelberg, here on our doorstep, is a fantastic example. So few (300 or so) Jews actively campaigned against the sale to the Phyllis Jowel Remedial School, yet allowed Helen Zille jump onto the anti-Semitic bandwagon when there was such deep resistance to the sale by pro-social housing campaigners. I can’t help but feel that the Jewish community is its own worst enemy here.

I write this with a yortzeit candle burning its last. I am commemorating the death of my mother a year ago. I lit the candle for connection, for ritual, for her really. And there is a part of me that longs for a true, deep and meaningful connection with something Jewish; not religion, not even culture, but something else wrapped up in identity and belonging. But I am still the black sheep, and the South African Jewish community (on the whole) shames me.

 

 

Why having both cats and dogs is necessary

Both Big Friendly and I have been under the weather, with a looming lurgy that hasn’t fully realised but has been simmering; not bad enough to take us to bed, but horrible enough to make the daily grind more grindy.

Jasmine, the old Florence Purringale of the house has kicked into action, following us around, sleeping hard up against us and purring her head off. Chassie has been joining me in the bathroom, rubbing his head on my feet while I sit on the toilet (very disconcerting but well meaning), and the dogs Frieda and Linus are a tag team of love and devotion. It is only Jonesie, the part time cat, who has not picked up on our needs, and continues with his irrational demands to be let in and out again whenever he screamingly calls for it.

Linus offers soft love, of the lolling about sort, while Frieda follows me from bed, to table to couch. She is a deep and close snuggler. Chassie looks for Big Friendly and attaches to his legs when he sits down on the couch. Often, neither of us can move because we are being pinned down by an animal who would be terribly disturbed if we did. The spin-off of being looked after by cats and dogs is that they huddle closer to each other too, which is seriously good for my heart.

Statues

Big Friendly’s best joke ever is about the Greek man who, through hard work and sweat becomes very wealthy and builds his mom a mansion. He asks her if there is anything she wants and she replies “statues”. He spares not an inch of space and covers the outside with concrete statues, the inside with marble statues, and even the carpark with iron horses. Then he asks her what she thinks and she says, “it’s lovely but where’s my statues?” He is confused and waves his hand the length and breadth of the landscape. She says, “no, man”, putting her thumb to her ear, and pinky to her mouth, “I want is-tat-you?”

As a kid I remember being bored out of my mind by statues. They were always a dull grey colour and the eyes were always terrible, blank and scary. Horses looked wrong, and the men (I don’t remember seeing any women) gave off a sense of power over things that irritated the natural rebel in me. As I got older I found the aesthetic of statues dull. They were the water colour still lives of the sculpture world.

But it was the years and years of attending the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and seeing the 1820 Settlers Family sculpture protruding from the aloes, and decorating the dust alongside that huge 1820 Settler Monument (that apparently celebrates the arrival of English to the area – the irony) that alerted me to the singularity of history that monuments like statues portray. Here, an intrepid British family look out at the land they are about to make their home. They are just off the ship, in their British best. He, in huge top hat, holds books, while the girl child looks up adoringly at mother and father. What a gorgeous family.

And the message was (and still is) that they were coming to where nobody was. All the people that were actually there, in that place, were (and still are) invisible. As if they didn’t exist. They did not count as humans; as people.

Now imagine being a Xhosa person from exactly that place. Imagine seeing this distortion of history every single day of your life. Imagine looking at that representation of a family who stole the place of your family, your ancestors, your birthright. And, for one moment, imagine how that person would feel when you defend the right of that statue to be there, above the right of the one that isn’t there.

Here’s the deal. As far as I am concerned, there is only one way to keep statues that offend, tell half histories, and hurt, and that is to build, right next to them, the other side, the alternative vision, the silent voice. That is not going to happen. So, let’s tear them down.

Feeling Safe

Yesterday my friend and I Skyped with our bestie in Oz. It was about 230pm here and in Melbourne it was 11pm. The first thing that we couldn’t believe was that we were speaking to her (and seeing her face) while she was on a tram! The miracle of modern technology still astounds a neanderthal like me, and I can’t believe I live in that sci-fi  fantasy of video calling.

The second thing that blew my mind was that she was on a tram, going home, by herself, at 11pm at night. She was free to use her cellphone to Skype us. She was waiting to get off at her stop and walk the rest of the way home, by herself, in the middle of the night. She was safe. And I was jealous. I was totally, unashamedly jealous of that freedom, because I have never felt it here, at home. I have never walked by myself at night, or caught public transport at night (or regularly during the day even). When I come home, in my car, I scan the road I live in. I look up and down and left and right. When I leave, in my car, I make sure my valuables are nowhere to be seen.

Poor me. I, who have a car. I who will pay for an Uber if I need to. And then there is the majority of women in this city, and country, who have no option but to take public transport and to walk home by themselves at night, and are scared every day of their lives. Women whose cellphones get stolen as they run the gauntlet from station to home. Women who have to sit with steel tight knees and thighs on overcrowded minibus taxis so they are not harassed. Women who cannot find themselves alone in a train compartment, or taxi for fear of losing their lives. Women whose children are unsafe while they wait for their mothers to come home. Women who are in the cross fire of gang wars. Women who are afraid, all the time.

I want women to feel safe here. I want to feel safe here. But I think it is too big an ask and that breaks me.

Vegan French Toast

  • a recipe without pictures because I ate too fast

I love vegan french toast much more than I ever loved egg french toast because I never liked the egginess of french toast. With vegan french toast you can get it 100% right and it is delicious.

Ingredients

2 slices of thick white bread

2 tbs chickpea flour

1/2 cup non dairy milk (I used soy milk because it’s what I had)

Turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, salt (as much or as little as you like)

mild oil for cooking

maple syrup

sliced banana

Whisk the flour, milk, spices in a shallow bowl. Soak bread in mix while oil is heating in the pan. Fry until golden. Cover with maple syrup and banana. Try to savour each bite. Mine was gone in a second.

Being Vegan

One of the absolutely surprising and truly positive experiences of my weekend away was how I was treated as a vegan. There were 11 of us women, and I was the only vegan in the group. We did huge communal feast style cooking for lunch and supper, and we took turns, and at every single meal I was taken care of, honoured, consulted and respected. Special food was made for me, but I was never made to feel bad, and not once did I ever go hungry. It was the best and most wonderful response that I have had since becoming a vegan almost 8 months ago.

And it got me thinking. I am much more accustomed to having to defend myself, explain myself and go into battle. My conversations around being a vegan are usually challenging; where people demand to know why I have become vegan, demand a list of where I get my protein, and demand to know how I negotiate the meat eating world. I have even been challenged on my world views, religion (or lack of it), and how I come to terms with having animals as pets.

What this weekend away did for me was make me realise that, really, the tables need to be turned, properly and 180° towards challenging people who eat meat. Just because meat eaters are a majority doesn’t mean they are the ones off the hook. The eating of animals needs to be challenged more than the not eating of them. It is the meat eaters who are problematic, and need to justify and answer for their ways. And this is why they get in first, call us names, become confrontational, and make the Vegan memes. They feel bad, and their best defence is to point fingers and criticise.

I have never tried to force anyone to become a vegan (it took me long enough to commit to it), and I am careful about initiating the vegan conversation. Mainly because I am familiar with a teasing (at best) or even hostile (at worst) response. I am careful not to make my choices impact on others and am used to ‘making a plan’ if people haven’t catered for vegans, or considered the possibility of them. Film sets are a challenge. Mainstream restaurants can be tough going. But truthfully, it should work the other way around; like it does for smokers. Smokers are made to feel bad, and their habit is frowned upon. Don’t you think it is the meat eaters who are like the smokers, not the vegans?

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