Notes from all over

I haven’t written much since just before the end of my time in the Antarctic. It has been a rather busy time, as it always is and I have managed to go away and have little snatches of holiday on the last few months. My last trip in the Antarctic was defined by strong winds and amazing sunsets, with lots of humpback whales and a few killer whales to add into the mix. My ankle had started healing well and I was able to go out a bit, which was really cool as the penguin chicks were also at a really cute stage.

 My last night on the ship was super special as my “soul sister” Nicki was joining and she was in Ushuaia the night before, so we had a chance to see her. I didn’t think that we would see each other again as she was working on another ship. She has come back to the fold now and I am happy that I will get the chance to work with her in the Russian Far East. So many people think that living a life traveling to remote areas is a glorious way to spend one’s life and, indeed, it is quite extraordinary, however, it is a transient lifestyle, where one isn’t grounded in one place and having stable relationships is not something we rely on. It is tough, where one makes close friends (as we share cabins, one invariably becomes friends (or not) with one’s cabin mate). At the end of the contract, though, you never know whether you will see them again, or it may be over a year before you work together again. What I enjoy about the ship that I work on, is that we have a core group of expedition staff and we all get on, so when I join the ship it is like coming home to my family. It is however, a still a very artificial and superficial environment. One expedition staff member used to say in his introduction that he was part of a witness protection program and this was the best way to protect his identity. Well, he is not far off the mark, because if you don’t want anyone to find you, working on a ship like this is a brilliant way to do it.

After leaving the ship, I had to lug my 40kg of luggage and further 20kg of hand luggage, being slowed down by the moon boot, through Buenos Aires, Atlanta and onto Boston and Providence for a week of IAATO meetings and getting a chance to get to work with my new colleague Amanda. We are now a total of 5 women, making up the secretariat, most of us 40 somethings and fortunately we all get along particularly well.

 Finally, in mid-February I came home to my wonderful house and garden and even though I struggled horribly with jet lag for about 10 days, it was great being home. IAATO Work of course starts the very next day and we all know that the next few months will be hard stressful work in preparation for the Antarctic Treaty meeting and 10 days later our IAATO annual meeting. So when the pressure is on, the best thing to do is go on holiday. This is exactly what I did at the end of February and it was probably the first real holiday I had had for nearly a year. I went up to Zimbabwe with three bird club friends, to meet another couple of bird nuts, who I met on a similar trip to Mozambique and who I like immensely. Birding with this bunch is NO HOLIDAY. Up at 5:30 (sometimes we got to sleep in to 6) every morning, and out birding pretty much the whole day (with a packed lunch) until evening. I was toasted and went to bed at 8pm every evening. We went to many different habitats from wetlands, grasslands, and  indigenous forests. One of the most spectacular sights was going into a township area at dusk and watching thousands of Amur falcons coming in to roost. The sky was filled with birds coming in to the tops of the trees and the noise of all the falcons calling (a very high pitches Kew kew sound) and having a chat before bed time was particularly memorable. The locals thought we were very odd, as they probably never notice them. I don’t think many believed us when we told them that these birds had flown all the way from Siberia and China. We saw 254 species in 9 days, I don’t know how many lifer I had, but it was certainly well over 20. My favourite group of birds are the sunbirds and the Miombo Double collard, variable and bronzy sunbird are all new for me and what spectacular birds they are, so I have to put a few pics of them in, even though they were very far away so it had to be zoomed and cropped a lot, they are still stunning. The friends I was with are

 Zimbabwe is an interesting place to visit, as it is a hugely depressed economy with a 90% unemployment rate. It boggles my mind how people survive. They have moved onto the use of the US Dollar and every dollar that you get is black with grime it has been used so much. Everything is close to being between two and three times the cost of South  Africa, although at least there are supplies of most things. I did read last week however that Robert Mugabe has decreed that the importation of fresh fruit and vegetables is not permitted. I am not sure where the locals are going to get supplies from as just about every farm we drove past is overgrown, unproductive and destroyed. Farms where it was obvious were previously functioning are lying bare, with tunnels for growing tomatoes just a skeleton of their former selves, the shade netting hanging in shreds. The Zimbabweans who live there (over 6 million have fled to South Africa), are friendly and work within the constraints of their environment. It is a shame to see such a wonderful country being systematically ruined by a dictator and his cronies who are only interested in lining their own pockets and don’t care for the population. I will need to write a separate blog on Zimbabwe and how this grip of terror is implemented, it is a stranglehold that affects everyone right down to the poorest. 

 Even though it was a very busy time, I came home refreshed and ready to get stuck into work. Being home and moving from a ship job to a desk job is a bit of a transition but I try not to think of it and just get on with it as best as I can.

My next mini-adventure was a long weekend down at our little place in Wakkerstroom (which a friend once called a pixel, because it is 40m2 on a 10 000m2 stand). For those of you who don’t know where Wakkerstroom is, it is about 300km South East of Johannesburg. It is a tiny town, with a large wetland and 23 species of endemic birds (Birds only found in South  Africa), two of which (the Rudd’s and Botha’s lark) are only found in this area. My purpose of going down was to scatter some of my mom’s ashes there, as it was a very special place to her, as it is to me. It happened to be a long weekend and even though we hadn’t planned on it, it was the 4th Wakkerstroom music festival. I am amazed that such a small community can have a music festival at all, let alone one that attracts such amazing talent. Our first concert was a violin recital by a matric student at Roedene school, whose rendition of Cesar Frank’s violin sonata was awe inspiring. It was held in the tiny Catholic church, which seats 50 people (although we are lead to believe that services only have about 8 parishioners). It is in this church that there is probably the most beautiful stained glass window I have ever seen, and I have been to many churches around the world. Perhaps it is because the design is so close to my heart, as it depicts Wakkerstroom, its wildlife, culture and landscape. So I have included iPhone pictures (not very good ones). See how many creatures you can spot and which you can identify. There are crowned cranes, bald ibis’, cape clawless otters, dragonflies amongst many other species. A friend from Wakkies had heard I was coming down and asked if I would give a talk on birds of the Antarctic to the bird club, I agreed thinking there would be 15 people or so, well, there were well over 50 (probably because of the music festival) but it was quite gratifying having such a response. The Saturday was a relaxing day, going to a guitar duo playing everything from Queen’s Bohemian rhapsody to Brazilian dances. It was so brilliant, I bought their CD. We went to the vlei birding in the afternoon, until the Gala concert in the NG Kerk, in the centre of the town. A beautiful sandstone building, seating 450 people, it was packed. The 2 hour concert was a selection of short pieces by each of the performers during the weekend. A truly uplifting experience. The Sunday, we were taken on a special trip by Glenn, who took us on a drive way up to a farm where there is a lookout with an almost 360 degree view of unspoilt grassland. How privileged we are to live in South Africa. On our way back to town we stopped at another farm where they do Bald Ibis monitoring (The bald Ibis is another special for the area). This is a breeding site, which is not presently occupied, but has a lovely waterfall. As dusk was approaching and the town had emptied out of all the “Foreigners” who had come to watch the concert, we headed down to the vlei to one of my favourite hides, where I spent some quiet time and scattered some of my mom’s ashes. For those of you who have been through this process, it is incredibly emotional, even though it is almost a year since my mom died. As we were leaving the sky was turning a deep red creating amazing reflections on the water.

 I have been really busy with talks while here and gave a talk on Climate change and the polar regions to about 350 people at Monash  University, I was amazed at the turnout and hope that I made some people think about the impact we have on our planet.

 I have had two other mini-breaks, one to St Francis Bay, which is a beautiful spot and where I could simply relax, go for walks and spend time putting this presentation together. It always takes me way longer than I anticipate, as I have to decide on a few pictures out of hundreds – and when one is handicapped with a severe case of indecision, it takes hours. I went down to Wakkerstroom a second time just for one night and met up with some special friends again and we had such a wonderful time.

 My next adventure is about to begin, with 2 weeks at the Antarctic Treaty meeting (Not that it means all that much, but these meetings are always over my birthday, which kind of sucks). Then I am home for 10 days, go to Providence in the US for 10 days for our IAATO annual meeting, home for 10 days and then off to Japan, the Russian Far East and Alaska to join the ship for 2 months. I can’t wait. So jet lag and sleeplessness will be my friend and I am sure I will be a zombie by the time I get to Japan, but it is all very exciting. I will be joining our new ship, the Silver Discoverer and this is a new itinerary for me, so in between IAATO work, I will be reading and preparing lectures for the ship as well.

So there is a snippet from my life for the first few months of the year.

I hope all is well in your world

Clouds and Duncan


Personal reflections 10 Feb 2013

I normally write blogs that I hope are educational, perhaps entertaining and hopefully give some insight into places around the world. I am sitting here ready to go on my penultimate voyage to the Antarctic for this season, knowing that I should be doing work but my mind is wandering. I am revisiting events that have happened in the last few weeks, as well as where I am in my life and reflecting on what I have learnt thus far on my journey.

 I remember listening to a set of 14 lectures on ethics and the history of morality, a few months back and the one enduring thought that came out of the lectures was our purpose on earth and that the ultimate end to our lives was to be happy. Money could not be an end, as it is simply a means (perhaps) to being happy. Except, something like money could enslave you and end up making you unhappy. So I look at my life and ask “Am I happy?” and I have to admit, on the whole I am happy. I was sitting next to Juan, our ships’ geologist, while we were watching a DVD of our latest voyage, and he turned to me and says “We have the best job in the world”. I have to agree. We may work 14-16 hour days, for three or more months without a break, but we do have the best job in the world. So many people say to me “You are so lucky” and I have to disagree with them, luck has nothing to do with it. I have had some really tough times, things have not always gone my way, but I am where I am through a rather dogged persistence and clear idea of where I am going. Some people say you must never stop dreaming. Perhaps, I disagree, because dreaming implies that you don’t have a plan to reach those dreams. Decide what you want and go out and get it. There is no secret at all to success, and success in this context means achieving your dreams, not necessarily monetary in nature. To this day, I do not believe I was blessed with any extraordinary skill or ability and yet I have achieved many goals in many different fields. What then, is the secret to this success?

 Living with passion and loving what you do.

This, I think, has been the most important aspect of reaching your dreams. Whatever you decide to do, do it with everything in your very being. Commit yourself to what you want, what will make you happy. But, this comes with a corollary, you must be more passionate about what you want than time wasting activities, such as watching TV. This means that you may need to sacrifice some other aspect of your life, which is in reality less important to you. You will not miss these activities that suck up all your time. Sometimes this sacrifice is more extreme, when I was fencing, my whole life was consumed with fencing. I loved it and wanted to fence as much as I could. In the evenings at fencing practice, I would fence everybody over and over, eventually, there would be nobody left to fence in the hall, only then, would I go home. It was simply that I loved what I did, that I did it with all my heart and I was prepared to sacrifice many things, including relationships, so that I was successful. I don’t believe I had any more raw talent than the average person, but I just fenced and fenced and fenced until I became better than others and eventually there was nobody left to beat. Quite simple really. But you can only do that if you have the burning desire in your heart and you truly love what you do. Funnily enough, with this combination, you don’t notice that you are sacrificing anything, as you have reached your ultimate goal, to be happy.

 Following on living with passion, one needs to love what you do. Life is too short to spend 8-12 hours of everyday loathing your work. There are many aspects to ones work that make us happy or unhappy. I have had jobs that I absolutely loved, where I felt fulfilled and had purpose. This is what makes me happy. Then one aspect changes, in one case a new boss was appointed and his poor management and lack of leadership lead to me being very unhappy and three years after thinking I had the ideal job and found the place I would retire, I resigned, because I could not be true to myself and my rule never to do anything I don’t enjoy.

 Grab every opportunity

My other rule is to grab every opportunity that comes your way. Hmm, now this is a tricky one. It is something I try and adhere to and what it has resulted in is my being involved in many, many different projects varying from my work with IAATO to my paramedic work. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by all the things that I do and I do not feel as if I have the ability to give up anything (as they all bring me joy and fulfilment). Sometimes, though, these opportunities are cloaked in a disguise that you will never recognise and which may at the time never be apparent. Many opportunities have come my way through people that I have met doing something that will not bring me money, fame or success. It may be something as simple as helping an individual out who may be new in town, it may be volunteering your services and time or just showing the people you come in contact with your sincerity and passion (there is that word again) for what you do. Many people say to me, “Should I do x” x often being a course they are thinking of doing. My rule of thumb, is that the next 5, 10, 15 years will go by, whether you do the course or not that time will go by, but if you do the course, then in 3 years (Or however long the course is) you will have a degree or a qualification that you would not have if you had not started. This is really simple stuff, simply do what you want, life will not wait for you. I speak to so many basic and intermediate life support medics and encourage them to go and study for a higher level. So often the excuse is, I want to but I can’t because I don’t have the money, I don’t know where I will be in 3 years time, I am paying off my car, or something else. Well, in my mind, the course won’t get cheaper, when you have finished paying off this car, you will be paying off your house. There will always be an excuse. Just go and do it, get a loan if necessary, because by the time you qualify your earning potential will double and it will allow you to pay back your loan and car at twice the speed. Oh, but here is the catch, you have to have passion for your work to ensure you succeed.

 Create your own opportunities

Sometimes, you need to create your own opportunities. People say to me “I can’t find a job” so my response is well start a business. You don’t need a lot of capital, you just need the belief in what you do to go out there and do something, whether it is teaching a skill that you may have (I put myself through university by starting schools fencing clubs close to where I stayed), selling items that you make, doing a course that will allow you to start your own little business, whether it is bookkeeping or bee keeping, you do not have to be reliant on someone else to give you the opportunities. A friend I hold in high regard says “Everybody has a super power, we just need to find out what that super power is” and my addition to that is, that super power is whatever you are passionate about. I think there is a trend coming through here. The key to success and to happiness is to be passionate about everything you do.

 Develop principles by which to live

Perhaps, I am unusual in that I developed my own personal set of principles at a young age. I often believe that we under estimate the ability of children to develop strong ethics and morals at very young ages. I am sure I was influenced by religion and my upbringing (although I am not religious now). I believe so strongly in fundamentals such as respect for others, kindness, helpfulness, not harming others and doing what I believe is right. The problem by developing one’s own set of principles is that one needs to follow them, regardless of the circumstances. This has led to situations where I have made myself extremely unpopular, and life has not necessarily been made easier. But in the end I would like to think that I have been an agent of change in many situations. Being the agent of change is not an easy task to take on and invariably leads to some heartache. The only consolation, though, is when that change does take place, and trust me, it does, you will know the pivotal role you played. Unfortunately, this role is seldom recognised and even less often lauded. You do not need to go to the extreme, such as perhaps I do, but do uphold your principles and values, as that is what gives us credibility and ensures that we never have regrets. Another friend I hold in high regard recently referred to me as a revolutionary and after sitting back and thinking about it, I had to admit that she was right, I go about trying to change to world, starting with the organisations around me. Change, unfortunately, is not well liked by most organisations or people, and sometimes, I am not as tactful as I could be.

 Live without regret

I try to live my life with no regrets. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all for me, or probably anyone and the only way to do this, is to stay true to your beliefs and your principles. Take every opportunity that is presented to you, remember Mark Twain’s quote of “You will regret more the things that you didn’t do, then the things that you did do” and that is so true, more now than ever.

 Find role models

Finally, find people who inspire you and take that part of them that you admire and make it your own. I had a friend (who I have since lost touch with), who inspired me to be the best fencer I could be, and whose passion for wildlife encouraged me to lead the path that I now find myself. Another friend, who has since passed away, taught me what it is to be strong yet warm. My housemate has taught me a lot about setting goals and following through, while being patient and kind, helping many other people reach their goals. I have learnt so much from so many it is difficult to begin to describe the impact that so many people have had on my life. So often, we have no idea of our sphere of influence (and this sphere can be negative and positive) and I think that teachers have probably the largest sphere of influence of any profession and yet we never go back to our teachers and tell them how they moulded our lives. You do not have to be a teacher, however, to have an influence on someone’s life. The one thing is, you will never know how much you influenced people’s lives. If you live your life with passion, loving what you do, living it according to your principles and values, taking the opportunities as they arise and living without regret, I believe that your influence can only be a positive one.

 My greatest wish in life, is to be an agent of change in someone else life. To be that inspiration that encourages someone to lose the shackles of indecision and to reach out for their dreams. Maybe, to get someone to think differently about the world around us and to respect our planet. Maybe, to treat people with respect and kindness, without anticipation of anything in return. Maybe to be inspired to continue learning and improving oneself. Some people have said that I have inspired them and for that feedback, I am grateful, I hope you in turn inspire those around you. I do not have any idea of my circle of influence and can only hope it is large and positive.

 While, I have no intention of dying anytime soon, I can quite honestly say, that should I die tomorrow, I have lived life to the fullest and have no regrets.

@home Madikwe reserve, SA. 9 October 2009

Dear Friends

I arrived back from two months in the Arctic a few weeks ago (although it seems like a lifetime) and so much has happened in this time. I have decided to sell my share of my business (which I started 10 years ago) to my business partner, who will take over all the staff and projects. I had been mulling over getting out of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for a long time, my concern had always been around active projects, as projects can go on for many years and there is never a good way to stop without affecting them. This seems the perfect solution as all projects will be continued and I won’t have a part in it. My decision was based on numerous factors; primarily I had stopped enjoying the work due to the increased corruption and incompetence experienced within government, to the extent where I think some officials are barely literate. The “being away” for long periods at a stretch has not helped matters, as I was then on the outskirts of projects and my work became largely administrative, which I loathe. I do have a policy not to do anything I don’t enjoy, now this is not always possible as there are always parts of a job that one doesn’t enjoy, however, when I start questioning what I am getting out of a job and overall I wake up thinking “Do I really want to do this today” then I know it is time to find something else to do and to move on. I had been at this stage for a while by now, as I didn’t feel I was making a difference. There is my second policy “If you are not making a difference, what are you doing?”

Anyway, the deed is done and now I have my house to myself (the offices used to be here) and I am able to re-arrange and reclaim my space. My future is rather uncertain in that I have many opportunities and a few I still need to create. Here is policy number three, “Don’t expect things to drop into your lap, you need to go out and create your own opportunities.” I am looking at doing my advanced life support paramedic course next year, however that is dependent on a whole host of variables, but is something that I really want to do and next year will be my last opportunity. My love of training presents me with numerous other opportunities and I will probably be developing short courses in the environmental field, which is something I have dabbled in before. Finally, of course, I have the work on expedition ships which is what I love the most.

One is told that losing your job is amongst the most stressful life situations one can be in, together with death of a spouse or close relative, divorce and moving house. This move has been stressful indeed, even though it was by choice, and I have gone through a whole kaleidoscope of emotions. All of this stress has, however, been tempered by my birding friend Jane Smart, who invited me to a few days at Madikwe game reserve on the North-north western part of South Africa, along the Botswana border. We were on the prowl for two mega ticks, one birding and one mammalian. The rare form of the (Yellow breasted) Crimson breasted shrike and the rather rare wild dog. For the shrike, our ranger took us for a drive for over an hour to another camp in the reserve, where a yellow form had been seen. Once there it took us a while of trying to call it up, when I saw a bird fly into a tree close by. One look with the binoculars confirmed that it was indeed the yellow form and I had the shortest opportunity to take a couple of photos before it flew off, not to be seen again. His mate, a normal red form of the shrike was more than happy though to be photographed at leisure.

The wild dogs were not quite so difficult, although also by no means very easy. On one of the days we caught a glimpse of them through the bush, but not a good look at all. The next day we were lucky enough to get to see them shortly after they had made a kill. The pack had a few pups with them as well, so it was great to be able to see them regurgitate the food for the pups. Once everyone was full, they played games of catch, leaping over a fallen tree really close to the vehicle. We also had a special viewing of a lion cub and a fleeting glance at his 2 siblings, they are so cute at this age it is a pity they have to grow up. The trip was rounded off by elephants, including a 2 week old baby that was barely 30cm high with a tiny trunk that it was using without a lot of agility. Hyena, rhino, a pride of lion, as well as, the usual suspects in terms of antelope completed our mammal count. Our bird list reached 112 species, which I was chuffed with, the yellow form of shrike can’t be counted as a separate species but was certainly my highlight.

Warm regards



@home, saving lives in Jozi, 2 June 2009

Greetings from Jozi

For those of you who don’t know I am an ambulance emergency Attendant (AEA) or an intermediate life support medic. I do this part time as a volunteer for the City of Johannesburg, trying to do my bit to improve the lives of the less fortunate in our city. I work on ambulance and response car, although not as much as I would like, depending on how much of the time I am in the country. I had a really good shift a few weeks ago where we had 11 calls in 12 hours, although most of them were not that exciting we did have one good case.

We get called to Park station, which is a major bus and train terminal and a really dodgy place (I would not go there under any other circumstances) for a man with chest pain. We find the patient, who is a homeless man, with chest pain who was having a heart attack. His health was really poor, he had tuberculosis (TB) and had stopped taking his medication (TB requires medication to be taken for 6 months and many people stop taking it, which leads to drug resistant TB), he also had all the signs of AIDS. On checking his blood glucose, it became evident that he was also a diabetic (a condition he didn’t know he had) and his breathing indicated that he was Acidotic from the diabetes. So we were presented with a really good medical case, and one where we could really help him. His ECG clearly indicated a heart attack, we could give life saving drugs, and saw a great, immediate improvement. We then took him to hospital where they could take over his care and treat all his chronic conditions. I don’t see our work as paramedics as saving lives, but rather at delaying death, as so many cases, such as this, we will keep him going for a while longer, but  with so many severe and chronic conditions and with inadequate health care, this patient is not likely to have a long life.

I am still in a dilemma over whether to take next year off and go and do my CCA (Advanced life support paramedic) course. Next year is the last year the course will be run, after which I will need to do a 4 year degree, and I cannot take the time off for that. Many people say, “Why do you want to do it, it is a major sacrifice and you will never work permanently as a paramedic”. It is a question I cannot answer, all I know if this is what I want to do. It will provide me with opportunities that I do ot have as an ILS medic. It is also one of my passions, one of those nebulous feelings that we cannot explain but which I believe we need to follow. It reminds me of a fellow volunteer who was once asked why she worked on Ambulance. I was tickled by her response, “You know, when you go under a bridge with your sirens on, it makes a really cool echo” she replied. It does indeed, and when we are feeling particularly playful, and the weather is good, we roll down the windows when responding to listen to the echo. It is not a real reason of course, but it demonstrates how difficult it is for us to capture why we do it. Some of the paramedics are clearly adrenaline junkies, there is nothing quite as exciting as responding against oncoming traffic at high speeds to go to help someone, or the adrenaline of a high stress accident scene with multiple patients, where every second counts, and you are responsible for bringing order to the chaos. Personally, I love the medical cases, where patients are really sick and in a critical condition, and what we do before they get to hospital determines whether they will live or die, or what their outcome in hospital will be.  The one reason we don’t do this job is for thanks, because we simply don’t get any. Occasionally, the patient or their family thanks you, but most of the time, the situations are stressful for the family and patient alike and they are just thinking of the now. How do we deal with the situation we find ourselves in? This is where the most important part of our job comes in: Compassion. By being calm and collected, and showing compassion, we are often giving patients and their family far more than drugs and interventions. Often a patient who is dying, knows they are about to die and are scared, but if their loved ones are not close by, it is up to us to provide them with their final comfort.

So will doing my Advanced Life Support (ALS) course change my life? Well, this qualification would increase my scope of practice quite significantly and provide me with many other opportunities. I would be able to do ALS short courses such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support, which I could then teach. I could work as a paramedic around the world as South African paramedics are recognised as being the best in the world, due to all the trauma we see. The costs are high, a year without earning anything is tough enough, but I would still have to pay my expenses to live and eat, as well as the cost of the course itself. I couldn’t hope of ever earning back the money that I would spend and not earn while doing the course. I know that I am working in the Antarctic for the whole season, and would only finish in March, so I would miss the bridging course that is run a few weeks before the course, to get candidates ready and where the final exam is the entrance exam to the course itself. I would thus need to write the entrance exam to get onto the bridging course as well as the final bridging course exam before I left for the Antarctic and this would only happen if the Instructors at the Academy looked favourably on my case and allowed an exception. They take 24 people onto the bridging course and then only 12 onto the course itself, so I would have a lot of work to do to get onto the course. I really want to do it, but there seem to be so many obstacles in my way that if I do end up doing it, it will be a minor miracle. I do believe in minor miracles at the moment, so let’s hope this turns out to be one. Watch this space…..

Back at home while working in my office, I have been fortunate enough to see sunbirds (and some other birds) coming to visit the Strelizia outside my office window. I have kept my camera close at hand and tried to snap some shots of them as they flit in for some nectar. They move so fast it is tricky to catch them, but I have a few reasonable shots. I also had a leopard tortoise visiting from the botanical gardens next door, so I will pop a picture of him in too.

Last Sunday, we had the first (and hopefully the last as it is almost fully burned now) fire on the mountain where I stay. I guess I should have been really worried because it was coming pretty close to the fenceline where I live and the wind was gusting quite strongly, but I don’t believe in worrying about things you have no control over, so I took photos before having to go out for dinner. Fortunately the fire services came in time and managed to control the fire and all was good.

From the roads of Jozi


Post Script: Everything came together, I received permission to write both entrance exams before I left for the Antarctic, and to miss the Bridging course. I would only know if I got onto the course after the bridging course, when my exam is marked with the others. In the end I did get onto the course, with what is rumoured to be the highest mark in the class. Sometimes, even when everything is pointing away from what you want to do, if you put your mind to it, you can make it work.

@home 4 December 2008

Greetings from Jozi

Somehow life just keeps flying by at a rate unbeknown to man (which reminds me of the saying “Time flies like an arrow, Fruit flies like a banana” – which actually has nothing to do with the monologue at hand). My little existence has been busy as always for the last six weeks, so I thought I would put a few thoughts on paper (cyberetically speaking).

My travels have been very local, with only a trip to amazing place called Rocktail bay, which is about 800km from Johannesburg on the North coast close to the Mozambican border. As per usual, it was a birding trip, although Rocktail is also a diving mecca. We went there though to find a very rare bird called a pink throated longclaw, which we were fortunate to see. The area is really beautiful with montane grasslands, leading up to coastal dune forests, which then opens out onto the ocean. I love coastal forest and the birding is always interesting, especially as so much of it is done by ear. So the better your call recognition is, the more birds you can find and track down. One of the other reasons we went there was to get the opportunity to see leatherback turtles laying their eggs on the beach. Anyway, despite two night drives we didn’t see any as it was still early in the egg laying season. The drives though were fantastic as we drove within the high water mark and had the sea crashing down on one side, with ghost crabs, which are almost luminous in the light, scuttling out of the way. The rest of the birding was good, although I didn’t get any other lifers (Birds one has never seen before) I am attaching a few pics of special birds (green twinspot) and what I think is a great shot of a Natal (Red capped) Robin bathing.

With diving on the mind, and with a missed opportunity to dive at Rocktail, because I am not qualified, I decided that now was the time to do my diving course. This, helped by the fact that my best buddy got a 30% discount voucher at the same time, so we could do it together.

Anyhow, this week I went off to start my dive course, when I had to fill in the medical questionnaire it required that I see my doctor because I have had a pneumothorax (Collapsed lung). For those of you who don’t know the story, it is actually quite a good story to tell, for those of you who do skip this section.

In my misspent youth (I am now misspending my adulthood), I spent all my time fencing and ended up giving up 8 years of my life fencing at an international level, until I qualified internationally for the Olympics in 1996 only to be told I couldn’t go because I wasn’t black (South African politics is funny – except when one is at the receiving end). Anyway, I carried on fencing for a few years afterwards until this particular incident where I was fencing in a competition against a good buddy of mine, who was also on the National team. As the story goes, I attacked, she countered, her blade hit my chest above the plastic breast plate, didn’t bend as it should have, managed to shatter in two places (the blade that is) and then go through my 1600N FIE rated jacket and into me. It was, however, the hit that punctured the lung not the blade. In the end I got the point, but had to retire from the competition and get rushed off for a three day stint in hospital with a chest drain. At least after all of that Kelly won the competition (she is my friend after all and I would much rather a friend puncture my lung than someone I didn’t like). I hope Kelly doesn’t read this because I know she feels really bad even though it wasn’t her fault.

Back to diving, so I visited my doc (who I get on really well with because the only time I ever go and see her is before I travel to some remote land and need a script for whatever medication I want to take with me). My doc refused to sign me off and called a pulmonologist who also said it was very high risk and I shouldn’t do it. Can you imagine what it is like being told you can’t do something because of one’s own limitations? I couldn’t, so this for me has been pretty devastating, because I don’t believe there is anything I can’t do if I put my mind to it. I could go the route of extensive medical checks, lung function tests and CT scans, but at this stage I will just carry on with my life as it stands (Or hurtles as the case may be).

I am still very active in the emergency medical side and recently finished my intermediate life support refresher course and Basic Life Support for health care providers (BLS for HCP) course. Thus, I have all the continuing professional development points required for my continued registration with the health professions council, which is really stressful for those of us who take it seriously. I also then completed the course and practical evaluation to be an instructor for the BLS for HCP course, so that I can teach the course as part of the city of Johannesburg’s EMS academy. Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time and money doing stuff for which there is no recognition, plenty of abuse (Especially when working on the road) and the only reward is the enjoyment one may get with satisfying calls or interested students. I suppose there is my answer. I did teach a couple of days of the Basic Ambulance Course and it was a mixed bag of fairly awake and interested students to significantly synaptically challenged individuals, so we will see with the assessments next week which of them have osmotically absorbed sufficient information and skills to pass. Paul and I worked on ambulance on Friday night, which was fun and exciting, with our night starting off with a multi car accident on the highway, leaving us to treat two priority 1 patients and there were probably a dozen other injuries. This was followed by a pedestrian vehicle accident, where a guy was hit by a car, almost went through the windscreen, bounced off the roof and over the back of the car. His main injury was a fractured leg and a small laceration on his head. Needless to say he was rather drunk at the time. So my philosophy now is going to be “If I am to be hit by a car, let me be drunk”, although of course the chances of getting hit by a car increase when drunk. In fact, I wonder how many countries have “Don’t drink and walk” campaigns like ours? With two other MVAs (motor vehicle accidents), our night was complete, leaving me to get home at 3:30 in the morning, going past another serious MVA on the way home. There is something to be said for Friday nights at the end of the month.

I am contemplating doing my CCA, basically upgrading my paramedic skills to that of an advance life support paramedic, as Joburg will probably be running its CCA course in conjunction with the University of Johannesburg in 2010. It is a huge decision because the course (If one can get onto it) is a highly intensive year long course (only about 50% finish and 30% pass), which will mean that I will have to give up my life and work for a year. It does open many doors and allow one to practice at a much higher level with many more drugs, and of course I enjoy the academic challenge. Please will someone tell me what I should do because I cannot make up my own mind.

I am one of these unrehabilitated (unrehabilitatable?) idealists who wants to make a difference in the world, which I have decided is not going to be a reality, but maybe I can change something in someone else’s life in a positive way. I also believe it important to recognise the people who have had an influence in one’s own life. So October and November is a time of remembrance for me for a very dear friend who died of cancer in 2002 after 4 excruciating years of chemotherapy. Carol believed in me when I didn’t, gave me moral support when I needed it most and taught me what it is to be an intelligent, strong yet warm woman. We spent many happy weekends together sharing our passion for birds and through Carol’s passing I have made a number of very close friendships, which I cherish dearly. So it was great to be able to spend an evening with some of these friends a couple of weeks ago, regaling Carol stories and having a wonderful dinner together.

I have handed over the torch (Or chain of office would be more correct) at our local Soroptimist club, so I am now the immediate Past President, which does take a load of guilt off my plate, as I was never able to devote myself to the cause with as much drive as I had enthusiasm. So I wish the new president luck and think it is going to be a fantastic year, starting off with the JHB club organising a workshop on the trafficking of women and children, particularly before the 2010 world cup. (Random thought: Why do men from so-called “civilised countries” feel the need to use prostitutes when away from home for an event like this, thus fuelling the trade in women and children?)

This has been an interesting week (and it is only Wednesday), with my lawyer phoning to say that he is putting my case in the suspended section, as he doesn’t think it is going to go anywhere. For those of you who don’t know, I am currently being sued for defamation by an unscrupulous lawyer as a bullying tactic to stop me from speaking out against a development and appealing the decision, (well there is a bit more to it than that), but his bullying tactic worked and not being one to waste energy on negative stuff I am very pleased that it looks as if it may go away.

I then had ETV news and 702 (a local radio station) call me up asking for an interview on the water pollution issue. Now, we have just had one of our top water quality scientists being suspended for saying how poor our water quality is, so I decided not to enter the fray at this point and politely declined their request.

The business is also slowing down, with many companies closing at the end of this week or next for the summer holiday. Once again, when counting one’s blessings, I must say thank goodness I have the fantastic staff and business partner that I have, and who will continue running the company while I am away.

Which reminds me of a silly quote which has nothing to do with the rest of the blog, but makes me chuckle:

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend,

Inside of a dog it is too dark to read”

Groucho Marx

Love from Jozi