School’s out, now what?

If you had told me a week or two ago that I would be wracking my brain over whether or not to leave the UK six months into my degree, you would have got an unequivocal no from me. I still have so much to do right? A podcast to finish, two documentaries to shoot, concerts to attend, so much travelling to do here and in Europe.

But the situation has changed – drastically so and it still changing . So to put this all in context, I am studying towards my master’s degree in Digital Documentary at the University of Sussex. As the degree name suggests it is a practical heavy and intensive course which is exactly why I chose it. I wanted to sharpen and hone my skills behind a camera lens again and hopefully use what I had learnt to take my journalism career on a slightly different path, not a complete off-ramp, just an on-ramp to a different highway lets say.

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Our podcasting class in a practical session in the foley studio.

Anyway, my studies got underway last September with a slight disturbance at the end of November when academic staff went on strike for a week and a half, but other than that, all hunky-dory. We had access to a state of the art foley studio, photography and filming studio, edit suites and a fully kitted equipment store which we could take advantage of 24/7. The new term held the promise of building on what we had learnt, adding to our technical proficiency and hopefully producing work worthy of watching and listening to. My subjects this term are podcasting and short documentary and I was super excited to dig in, learn and grow. But three weeks in that enthusiasm was tempered with the announcement and commencement of another round of strikes – this time for four weeks. Luckily for one of my subjects, neither of my two tutors were striking so we continued to attend those classes when we could, on and off-campus. While all of this is happening the coronavirus infections in the UK are growing, slowly but steadily. But nothing is amiss, we all bought hand sanitizer, washed our hands and kept travelling, drinking and eating together.

Eventually the strike ends and the first day (last Monday) we are meant to resume classes, contact classes get cancelled for the rest of the academic year. As in the last time we were in class (weeks ago) was the last time I was seeing my classmates and tutors in person – wild. We get reassured that teaching will continue online and our assessments adjusted accordingly. My immediate thoughts were this is great, the government is finally taking the pandemic seriously, this is a good call. It’s not until a few days later when we are told we will no longer have access to the equipment store and labs we need to produce our practical assignments that my brain starts breaking. How is one to film without equipment? My phone, my own little DSLR? Surely not, that goes against the dream we were sold, the thing we came here for. I start to think of the ways in which it might be possible to record via Skype or phone for my podcast; try to think of a way – if any – that I can adjust the documentary projects I had in development. A day after that, people I know start talking about the practicalities of going home. At this point, two of my five roommates have fled to their home countries overnight. It still seemed rash, I felt confident in my “obvious” decision to stay.

A day after that development my scholarship sponsors assured us that they would help facilitate our exits from the UK if we so chose. Some universities have actively encouraged their international students to go home. That’s when I first began to even think that this was an option I would consider. But how in a critical phase of the pandemic here and in my home country? New infections were/are on the rise in both. Deaths were on the rise here. People weren’t all capable of practising social distancing at home. People are unwilling to practice it in some cases. I would be covered if anything happened to me here. I left my medical aid when I left home. I could make others sick in transit or at home. Oh shit, I would have to be on a plane on a train. I haven’t done a lick of work in weeks, will I be able to motivate myself to press on? Social distancing, cool cool cool. Why’s there no toilet paper at the shops? Wow, September is far. June is far. May is far. Can I do it, here? Where would I rather be stuck for the next few months?

These frantic thoughts have raced through my mind on a loop since Friday. I change my mind every hour on the hour, I feel like the window is closing to make and commit to a decision that I can live with. But I just don’t know. This is not about being homesick and just wanting to see my mom, I have to go back home at some point and I can’t imagine it’s going to get easier to try and do that. It’s an impossible choice and I’m going to get judged for it but it’s a choice I’m going to have to make.

Walking in the footsteps of JK Rowling

Literally. I went to Edinburgh, Scotland over the winter/Christmas break and the one and the only thing I wanted to do when I got there, was see where the magic happened. The locations, monuments and scenery that were the backdrop that provided J.K Rowling with the inspiration to finish writing the Harry Potter series.

So the first order of business when I arrived was finding a walking tour that would show us all these places. I booked a two hour guided tour with GetYourGuide and let me tell you it was the best 12 pounds I have ever spent.

z+Uhjut4RWurP3KAFX%SewAs you can tell, I am a Potterhead – a big one. So much so that when the little walking group I joined was sorted into our wizarding classes I was classified as a Death Eater because I answered yes when asked if I believe only people who had read (and reread) the books and watched (and rewatched) the movies was a true fan – I mean duh. But shortly before that, we had been sorted into houses and the “sorting hat” placed me in Gryffindor– so a bit of a tricky one but we move. 

The tour started off in a place that needed very little explaining to the group – Greyfrair’s Kirkyard – the actual graveyard that inspired the (traumatic) scenes from the Little Hangleton Graveyard in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where we last saw Cedrick Diggory alive (sniffle). Apparently, a mixture of those grey turned black headstones, the names on those headstones and a deep depression inspired Rowling to write some of the most iconic characters and scenes for the series.

She spent days looking into the graveyard from a window at a nearby cafe, the Elephant Cafe and walking in it to keep building on the story she had started writing on a train years earlier about the boy wizard we all came to love. Some of the engraved names I spotted on the day included one Thomas Riddell (Tom Marvolo Riddle/He Who Must Not Be Named/The Dark Lord to us), an unofficial Sirius Black one scrawled on the wall with spraypaint on an unmarked grave and even a little statue that looked exactly like Nearly Headless Nick. Just next to us was a very Hogwarts looking school, George Heriot’s School (circle on left), this building and the Edinburgh Castle (circle on right) a short walk away were reimagined to become the school of witchcraft and wizardry we all wanted to go to.

 

What struck me most in that graveyard (and along the rest of the route really) is the sheer will to press on, in the face of loss and failure, she just kept writing, making space for the process in every free minute of every single day. Picking up the pieces of a broken and grieving heart, raising a baby, studying and trying to survive didn’t get in the way of writing a chapter or two when she could find a quiet enough spot to do so. And to do that and manage to write one of the best book series of all time feels surreal, but one thing it also left me with is the fact that it is possible if you show up for yourself and believe in the things you are actively pursuing. And I believe it is that quality that allowed her to see and harness everything around her so beautifully and craft it into the story of Harry Potter. There are pieces and places that seemed so familiar to me all around Edinburgh because of the way she managed to weave the places and names into her work. I know it will sound cliche, especially in this context, but it was a true and simple lesson of the magic of commitment and determination. I hope to one day harness and live out this lesson.

A whole new world…

Highway window “… a new fantastic point of view,” and what a view it is. It may not look it really, but the journey that has led me to this big big window on the left, in a smallish seaside town in England has not been without great difficulty, doubt and sacrifice – enough to make me grateful enough to have a multipurpose window which serves as my nifty side table and a perfect place to people-watch while seated in my not so comfy single bed.

Last year around this time, I was desperately unhappy and trying to leave my job as a reporter which was, for the most part, a great instigator of that unhappiness. I couldn’t see beyond the black fog that I had to fight my way through just to get to work and perform on any given day. At the same time, I had also just received my letter from Chevening, inviting me to attend an interview at the British Consulate General in Cape Town. I had applied for the scholarship four months prior and had already been accepted at two of the three universities I had applied to. In retrospect, things were going as they should, but I just couldn’t see it that way at the time.

My parents, bless them, journeyed to Cape Town to try to talk me off the crazy resignation ledge I was obsessed with at that point, trying to talk me into sticking out for a few more months. They used a week in February, the week of my 28th birthday to convince me to wait for my final scholarship results before blowing my life up and deciding to be unemployed on their couch  – again.

We spent that week crisscrossing this little part of the Western Cape to get to Cape Agulhas, the Winelands and the city bowl – I had just a week to show them all my favourite things from this place I had called home for three years at that point.

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Three amigos – Mama, Papa and I.

While I didn’t quite agree with them on the waiting it out bit at work, as luck would have it forced to see out my lease at the apartment I was renting before calling it a day – it’s just four months I told myself, June is just here, it will go by like a breeze. Ha!

The months that followed felt like an agonizing crawl with no end in sight. Luckily for me at that point, I had been interviewed and shortlisted for my scholarship which gave me something to hold on to. When the time came I finally quit my job with no assurances about my schooling yet, but with the biggest hunger for space to breath and think without a story being the point of it. So I moved back to Pretoria with my half baked hopes and the promise of peace. It ended up being three full months of realignment, restoration and complete rest. It was just what I needed before the long-awaited email came in July that siad I was going to move to the UK in just a month to pursue my master’s degree. I chose MA in Digital Documentary programme at the University of Sussex in southern England.

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I AM CHEVENING

Meeting some of the other Chevening scholars at a briefing event at the British High Commisioner’s residence just before we left South Africa, was the official start of this electrifying journey I have now been on for the last six months. I was clearly in very good company and have gone on to make some really good friends with some of the talented bunch.

Now, I have already conquered the first semester and passed all my subjects; refamiliarised myself with editing software and video equipment and last but not least been on a few little trips in the UK. At this point, I have even lost count of the number of trains I have taken from Brighton to London, as without fail there is some or other event there with my name on it at least once a month. Whether be it personal or professional each seminar, show or party have been some of the highlights of my time here so far. I have now spent a Rugby World Cup, a Christmas, a New Years Eve and as of this week a birthday here. I am grateful for the things that have aligned to make this journey possible and making sure I am making the most of my time here, soaking up all there is to learn and living as intentionally as possible. And that’s what this post is all about – I’m realising now how quickly this experience is going by and want to write about it on a more regular basis so I can remember it in more vivid detail than and not have to depend on scrolling back on my phone’s camera roll in future.

 

Children removed from facility

Cape Town, June 16, 2019 – The Western Cape Social Development Department has had to remove a group of children from a care facility in Cape Town. This follows a number of reports that the children, aged between 11 and 17, were being abused. Courtesy #DStv403

On a wing and a prayer

Cape Town, June 15, 2019 – Twenty ambitious teenagers are finally seeing their hard work take to the skies. The group built a Sling-4 aircraft themselves and now are flying it across the continent. They took off from Cape Town International this morning and their five-week journey will end in Cairo. eNCA’s Pheladi Sethusa caught up with the young pilots before they left.

Good coffee gives good hope

Cape Town, June 2, 2019 – Cape Town’s coffee culture is being showcased at a weekend festival at the Castle of Good Hope. The international festival is taking place on the African continent for the very first time this year. Over 4,000 people are expected to roam the festival grounds with cups of free coffee.

Blood in the sky

Cape Town, May 31, 2019 – Medical technology is taking blood delivery to the skies. The South African National and Western Cape Blood Services are joining forces in this pilot project. The aim is for much-needed blood to speedily reach even the furthest corners of the country.

The cost of burnout

Cape Town, May 30, 2019 – Feeling stressed and burned out? Well, it will soon be considered a diagnosable chronic medical condition. The World Health Organisation this week announced persistent work-related stress is a serious problem across the world.  It’s now altered its definition of burnout, to legitimise the experiences of those seeking help. Full story from 02:25

15,000 domestic worker jobs lost in 2019 first quarter

Cape Town, May 20, 2019 – Fifteen-thousand domestic workers have lost their jobs in the first quarter of this year. Widespread economic insecurity is a key reason, as households scramble to cut costs. Industry players are encouraging creative solutions like cutting back hours or work days instead of completely letting workers go.