The Fire Breathing Nun Who Stepped In Dog Doodoo

“Learn to
control your feelings or else they will control you. Learn to still your
thoughts or else you will be stilled by your thoughts.”

Imagine the typical imagine of a nun dressed
in the commonly known black and white outfit with a veil. Imagine a nun dressed
in such a way with the most angelic of faces representing everything pure,
devote and serene. Such a nun would be the epitome of discipline, reserve, self
control and worship. Nuns are so respected in many societies, even ones where Christianity
is not popular, simply because they represent something holy whether the
observer identifies with them or not.

Now imagine that same nun having the most
beastly and vivacious desires contained deep within under the holy garments,
behind the mystifying veil, deep within her very being. Imagine the most
intense human feelings, colourful memories and dreams that must be suppressed
deep down inside within her being. There is no human being that escapes these
most basic and subconscious needs otherwise I doubt there would be need for a
person to be born if not to learn how to deal with the challenges presented by the
fulfilment of these needs.

The symbol of a nun can also be a metaphor
for life for life at times seems like a battle between the force of the needs
and the application of discipline. Indeed it seems that when a person finally
decides to do something about the challenges in their life and instil a bit of
discipline to achieve these aims that is exactly when the temptations become more
intense. Think about it. When was the last time you tried to give up anything
whether it was chocolate, coffee, cigarettes, sex with shallow men or loose
women, drinking, gambling, social networking or whatever? Chances are the
second you made that decision to quit and apply discipline there was suddenly
an abundance of opportunities to do the very thing you had decided to give up.

It almost seems like the more serious you are
about your convictions and the more effort you exert in trying to follow your
aims the stronger the temptations and the more ubiquitous the undesirable. It almost
seems like the harder you try the harder the universe tries to teach you a
lesson or at least to prove you wrong. You strive, you give it your all and you
actually do quite well until you make a small mistake and then you come down
hard on yourself, forgetting the effort you have put into getting to where you
are. Then you start again and keep at it and chances are you will fall again
but the challenge is in getting up again and again and again.

At times this cycle can be so infuriating
that it makes you want to scream like a tormented banshee until you burst into
white and crimson flames that burn until there’s nothing left of you except
charred cinders. It leaves you feeling insanely incredulous like when you step
in dog doodoo. Most people know this feeling of being disturbingly wronged, embarrassed
and literally soiled all at once, which comes with stepping in dog doodoo.

It has been many years since I stepped in dog
doodoo and in fact I do not actually remember. What I do remember is how when
it happens it leaves you reeling in disgust and fury that all you want to do is
get a double edged blade, chainsaw or sulphuric acid and use it to cut off the unfortunate
appendage that happened to land in the brown matter. I don’t know if it is
worse to actually see yourself stepping into the dog doodoo or to realise after
a while that there is a putrid smell that has been following you for a while
only to discover the sordid mess under your own shoe.

Either way the smell is acrid enough to bring
horror to your face, contorting your mouth into a miserable ‘U’ shape, violently
flaring your nostrils like excited sea creatures in a coral reef, and bringing
tears to your eyes. I do not believe that people after a certain age have any
business stepping in dog doodoo, it just seems like such a child like thing to
do. There was once a time in my childhood when stepping in dog doodoo seemed as
natural and mandatory as grazed knees and not eating your vegetables. When the
days ended that I played frivolously with silly friends in the grass my dog
doodoo stepping days were officially over.

Maybe the fact that my dog doodoo stepping
days are over is a good portent for my chances in understanding the great
cycles of this life. Maybe I am becoming a great nun – metaphorically speaking
of course. Maybe, just maybe, I am growing and understanding that it is
necessary to feel like exploding when I have made an error or slipped with my
discipline, if only it is to make me more determined the next time I try. The truth
is I will never give up trying…

A Simple Thank You

“Knowing when to keep quiet and when to speak is a valuable gift.”

08:17

I cannot
remember when the last time I said thank you to another person was. Yes of
course every day I say “I’m fine thank you, how are you?” But that hardly
counts as pure and sincere gratitude as it has become an automatic response to
the simplest of questions, which is often asked as an ice breaker or means of
dealing with somebody you do not really feel like conversing long with. I often spend
time alone thinking about the things that I am grateful for but that doesn’t
count either in the context of this discussion as that involves me and my
Creator. I think it is very important to say thank you to people for the simple
things they bring into your life because one really doesn’t know when it might
all go away. This life is so fickle and dynamic that one cannot afford to take
things for granted. So for today I will make every effort to say thank you to
as many people as possible…

16: 01

As it
turns out, saying thank you to people isn’t quite as simple as it seems when
you deliberately try thanking people for things that they are doing. For most
of today I have been trying to show great appreciation for those I have come in
contact with by thanking them for the things that they have done. Even when it
has seemed like they haven’t really done much I have thanked them just to show
them that I appreciate them and help their self esteem. As it turns out people
are not really used to being thanked for doing absolutely nothing and therein
lay the challenge in what I was trying to achieve today.

Firstly I found it
quite difficult to find something random to thank the person for. I found
myself racking my brain for recent things each person had done that would make
them feel a sense of pride for being acknowledged for. This in itself was quite
a mission for how the heck do you thank somebody for something you cannot
figure out yourself?

Secondly,
I realised that the people that I thanked today didn’t really take me seriously
as if they thought that I was just making conversation or being polite. Has the
phrase “thank you” really lost its power? I hardly think so but I do believe
that it is used so often in normal conversation that it is quite easily taken
for granted. And yet at the same time a perfectly weighted and timed thank you
can really make all the difference. Some people do jobs or favours without
needing a thank you simply because they know it is within their nature to be
helpful and they get a sense of satisfaction from helping others. I know this
because I am one of these types. However, every nice person knows that even
though you do not do the kind things that you do for acknowledgement, it makes
a world of difference when somebody actually says thank you and actually means
it.

In the
same way that the old saying goes that charity begins at home, I think saying
thank you, or being grateful, also begins at home. Too many people in this
world have forgotten how to simply be grateful for what they have. I bet if
more people took the time out to be grateful for what they have rather than
what they do not have the world would be filled with happier people. Possibly
the greatest thank you a person can ever say is to themselves just for being
who they are and continuing to be as beautiful as they are. Just imagine how
healthy and loving we would all be if we learnt to acknowledge ourselves
without bothering about what is happening outside of us? I believe gratitude is
a sacred part of being a human being and that sense of gratitude begins within
and then radiates to the outer world, making the world a brighter place…

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

“Grudges are the mudslides of the emotional world. They are
nothing but filth not taken care of and allowed to gather momentum under the
necessary conditions.”

Shutting off the taps after a perfect shower
has the same effect as bringing a perfect dream to an end, and even though
there is a measure of control in turning off the shower, there is still a
jarring feeling that one gets as the mind travels from the comfort of the warm
wet world to the dry misty one. And as one’s mind slowly registers that the
warmth created by the water has stopped, one is often surrounded by a cloud of
steam that adds to that dreamy effect, that between worlds feeling that one has
to deal with. There is something special about showers that allows one’s mind
to wonder far off or even switch off and think of absolutely nothing while the
entire body receives a gratifyingly numbing message that further puts one
beyond this world.

The steamy mist created by the shower settles
on everything in the room and when the water suddenly goes off it is as if one
registers this for the first time in the same way that one registers the world
after coming up from under water. Everything that is normally taken for granted
suddenly takes on an exaggerated quality as if one is seeing it for the first
time –  in the same way that strangers’
faces always seem bigger than they really are at first meetings. For me one of the
most disturbing things that always manages to jar me whenever I step out of the
fantasy of the shower is looking into a mirror that is still covered in steamy
mist. The mist is often so thick that it has condensed on the mirror’s surface
causing it to perspire and yet at the same time the mist seems to be reflected
in the mirror. This creates an effect of movement and for a while I will always
be stuck staring into the mirror trying to decide what I am looking at.

The mirror itself seems alive like a wild
predator of the botanical type, like a Venus Fly Trap, waiting, calculating and
glaring through eyes that one cannot see. The cool perspiration gives it that
quality that says I am not what I appear to be and the closer you get to me the
more likely you will lose something you are not ready to lose. The more I look
the more I feel stripped of something, something that would be some sort of
protection against what, I really don’t know. My mind is temporarily confused
by the fact that I am looking into a mirror with a certain expectation and yet
I see nothing, nothing that I expect to see anyway. When I look into a mirror I
expect to see a reflection of myself but when I look into a mirror after a hot
shower I do not see myself, I see white shadows dancing in the way only
phantoms dance and I see impossibility.

For a split second this effect makes me
wonder if I am alive if I am not in fact a phantom myself that has moved on to
another realm. Perhaps the I have fallen prey to the mirror itself and it has
struck before I have even had the chance to realise that I am the hunted, that
I am vulnerable too to something much higher on the food chain. I look but I
see nothing except my own ideas that try explain what is happening and still I
am not comforted. It is my vanity or perhaps terror – if the two were ever
separate – that makes me swipe at the mirror with my towel in order to restore
the world to some sort of normality, some sort of comprehension. My panic is
almost increased when the  mirror isn’t
wiped clean by my first swipe. So I strike out again this time with more
vehemence like the kicks of a whipped dying horse. Then I see it.

My reflection appears from far away through a
haziness but there is no denying that it is there. It is as if I am cutting
through a thicket of white shadows to come to my own rescue while at the same
time fighting hard for survival, and the fighter rescuer in me meets the
fearful victim at the lips of the mirror, where the two worlds collide in
nonsensical certainty. I wipe the mirror clean to convince myself that I am
really in the room and it is strange that I need to look deep into the mirror,
to a world that is reflected and grossly contrasted, to convince myself that I
am alive, I am here and I am together. I have to stare a little longer and I
wonder now is I am satisfying my vanity or my fear when I look for this long. I
do not think it has much to do with vanity but more with making sure that I am
there that I am in one piece, like I was before I went into the underworld of
the shower state, that dream land, that place where it was safe to wander from
the grasps of reality…

Street Kid Love

“There are
different kinds of love, not only between family, friends and lovers but also
between different lovers as well. Love should never be compared but the glaring
truth is that it often is, unfortunately and unnecessarily. Just because one
great love is different from another, it doesn’t mean it is any greater or any
less than the other.”

This past weekend was one that I spent mostly
alone with my thoughts and feelings confronting, facing and even dodging some
of the things of my turbulent inner world. One of the things I found myself rather
reluctantly delving into was the subject of love, I mean how could I not, when
love seems to be the all encompassing theme of all things. I tend to find
myself thinking about love when I am alone but not in the way I used to as a
lonely teenage boy wondering when the Fairy Godmother would appear to give me a
dress of crystals and diamonds and high-heeled glass slippers – although in my
case the Fairy Godmother would bring me a slim fitting white Hugo Boss suit
with matching shoes. These days when I am alone and thinking about love it is
with much realised maturity, instead of longing, and I am able to pick prudently
through my experiences, memories and unfulfilled desires.

One of the things I found myself touching on
this past weekend was the subject of what I refer to as “street kid love”,
which is all the love that, due to circumstances, can never be fulfilled and
therefore lingers undefined, not too different from the existence of a street
child. In all our lives there are great loves that have never quite been
allowed to develop either because we were never able to get an opportunity to
start the relationship or because we were not able to admit the feelings to the
other person for various reasons. Everybody knows that love usually doesn’t
wait for you to be in a perfect place in your life before it consumes you and
therefore great relationships tend to overlap with one another, beginning
before another has actually ended. Sometimes one realises how in love they are
with another but to admit it and follow it like a bee to a flower bud would
have devastating consequences for others around, most specifically the current
lover and the current lover of the new enticing love prospect.

The plight of street kids cuts through the
self righteous socially created veneer of most people to the tender heart,
tugging on the humane strings until one is forced to do something or at least
feel something. When humans see children there is something inside that is
touched and makes us sense our nurturing instincts, whether we have or want
children of our own or not. It is just how we are and it would take the most
hardened of humans to not feel this natural feeling. That is why when we see a
street child we are stabbed not only in the heart but also in the collective
subconscious that binds us all since the problem of street children is a
problem of humanity and it is all of our responsibility.

That is why I refer to unrealised love as “street
kid love” because I truly believe that love is the most natural thing, there to
be nurtured without hesitation and it is a collective shame when it is
unrealised, like a stab to the collective heart. It almost seems blasphemous
for one to deny true love because of life’s circumstances, and yet it is the
way that it has to be because love involves more than just two people, more
than individual desires and more than just the redefinition of lives. Anybody
who has ever been in love will know just how powerful it is and anybody who has
ever been in love more than once will know just how unique each love is. And
yet most of us spend most of our lives searching for a one true love and trying
to forget past loves because circumstance dictates it. And at the same time
when we are in relationships we deny the possibilities of further meeting and falling
in love with other partners.

What if we all decided to never let go of the
loves we have experienced and held onto the new ones too so that each of our
lives became a web of love tendrils cast out into the fateful universe
reaching, touching and sharing the most simple and yet powerful feeling? Wouldn’t
it be absolutely freeing to know that one never needed to forget an ex or purge
themselves of the intense feelings they had for somebody who decided to walk out
on them? Wouldn’t it be just divine to know that it is socially accepted to be
in love with more than one person and to acknowledge and live out all those loves?
Wouldn’t we be stronger from sheer complexity if things were this way?  I certainly do not know but I do certainly
wonder in the bizarrely comforting space of solitude about this interesting
aspect of the human condition…

I wish I was a monkey like Michael Jackson

“Your spirit lives in everything you love, everything you give
your time to and everything else that attaches itself to you as a result.”

I
sometimes find myself wishing I was more like the former King of Pop Michael
Jackson, God bless his soul. Yes I know this is not something novel to hear
someone say, as every little boy at some stage wanted to be just like him
during his prime, when he was still more black than white. There can be no
doubt that the poor man lived a tortured existence which scarily played itself
out right in front of our eyes as we watched his face transform over the years
until he was hardly recognisable as the icon we all fell in love with during the
seventies, eighties and nineties. Almost all of my favourite African American comedians
including Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, Kat Williams, Steve Harvey and Earthquake
have had scathing words to say about Michael Jackson’s cheerless conversion
from beautiful talented superstar to a deranged emotionally troubled phantom of
the opera-ish freak of nature alleged to be in love with little boys. His decline
was as unbelievably hilarious as it was sadly disturbing.

Almost
all children, adolescents and adults that wanted to emulate him admired his
unique dance moves which were awe inspiring, transcendental and just plain
cool. Some even loved his unique dress sense with the tight pants that ended
just above the ankles exposing white socks, to the white glove, the sparkling
outfits, army style jackets and loud leather outfits (or was it pleather?). I on
the other hand was never really too amused by any of these, not that they weren’t
out of this world, but because there was another aspect of him that I was quite
fond of. Michael Jackson was the proud owner of a pet monkey that he named
Bubbles and for me that was the most amazingly radical thing about him – only
just edging out my admiration of the moon walk. I mean come on! What kid in
their right mind never wanted to own a pet monkey? I know I did and that is why
I found this so intriguing.

According
to Wikipedia, Michael adopted Bubbles from a Texas research facility in the
eighties and developed a really close bond with the animal that led to much
media mockery and a public perception of Michael as an eccentric. Michael indulged
the ape to all sorts of privileges such as sleeping in a crib in the singer’s
bedroom, using the singer’s toilet, eating candy in the Neverland theatre,
attending tea with a Japanese mayor and attending many other public functions
with the singer. Now as the story is told the poor ape seemed to develop just
as many emotional problems as its owner, as Bubbles was reported as having developed
into an aggressive adult chimpanzee unsuitable as an animal companion and was
taken away to a California animal sanctuary where he apparently attempted suicide.
From then on up until this day, after the singer’s death, he has been moved
around to many different sanctuaries apparently for his own sake and to somehow
try contain is uncontainable behaviour.

Now
whether Michael Jackson really was “a bizarre eccentric, obsessed with
recapturing his childhood” is not for me to judge, as far as I am concerned, to
each his own. What fascinates me about this story is the bond between man and
animal and how their lives became paralleled in the things that happened to
them. I bet that in the ape world Bubbles was just as much of a pariah condemned
to a life of ridicule because the means to a privileged and vastly different life
created a chasm that could never be bridged with his fellow apes. So just as
Michael came tumbling from a dizzy height so too did his pet ape that rather unfortunately
did not have much of a say in the whole process – just as a prepubescent
Michael could claim if you have ever heard or read anything about his father Jo
Jackson. But that is a discussion for another day.

I
am a firm believer that people are what they eat, what they think about and
what they ultimately attach themselves too. Whatever you spend large chunks of
your life doing or in contact with will inevitably become that which you are,
and this goes as far as owning and loving pets. That is why I believe that
people are very much like the very animals they choose to keep as pets. You often
hear of people being referred to as dog people or dog lovers and these are the
type of excitable people who seem constantly happy as if they themselves had
wagging tales no different from the canines they love. Then you hear of cat
people or cat lovers who are almost the opposite in their stylish, reserved
nature who may not have nine lives like the felines they so love but do have at
least nine personality disorders throbbing just below the veneer of coolness.

Now
in my life I have been exposed to many different kinds of pets from dogs, cats,
canaries, goldfish, rabbits, spiders and even scorpions. I often wonder what characteristics
I might share with these vastly different creatures. If I was Onke the Dog,
people might incorrectly assume I am a chauvinistic playboy with a dark past
filled with broken hearts. Or what about Onke the Cat, which might make people
think I am a rotund cross dressing gay lord of an underground sex club for men
(not too unlike the highly unlikeable Perez Hilton). Onke the Canary sounds
almost correct considering that as the last born in my family I used to always
tattle tales on my two older siblings at any opportunity that I got. Onke the
Goldfish is also one I quite like even though it makes me sound like a Jew
bookie with a strong Liverpool accent from a Guy Ritchie movie, while Onke the
Spider makes me sound like a dodgy one eyed pilferer from a Ken Follet novel.

Onke
the Scorpion has a nice ring to it, almost at once placing me in an epic
adventure movie like Lord of the Rings. However, being South African every time
I hear scorpion I cannot help but thing of Bulelani Ngcuka and the disbanded
former police investigative unit of the same name or even the security company
of the same name. This then leads to me thinking about how Trevor Noah the
comedian would ridicule me as Onke the Scorpion speaking English in a heavily African
accented voice and mispronouncing words and constantly saying “Ja, ja” and “heh,
heh?” Oh the joys of being proudly South African.

Onke
the Monkey would have to be the title I most desire even though I have never
owned a monkey and therefore never been afforded the opportunity to see what
characteristics we could share. I have always been fascinated by the word
monkey since my name is in the middle of it (m-ONKE-y), and it is the main
reason I used APE as my graffiti name (monkey was just too long to spray paint
on walls in the dark urban city centre without being spotted by a passing car
before finishing). Of course my name also lies in the middle of donkey
(d-ONKE-y) and I just as easily could have used the graffiti name ASS, but
fortunately good reason prevailed. So this is the closest I have come to
expressing my wish of being a monkey like Michael Jackson. Maybe it isn’t too
late for me and I will yet own a monkey or feel like an absolute ass when I don’t
get the opportunity. Either way I would have expressed the human condition
through a unique experience and that would have been worth it…

Maggie

 “Life stares back at you through agony and rejoices with you through the strife.”

Her name was Maggie, a tiny frail woman of an
indistinguishable age, from the small wine making town of De Doorns. She had
light brown skin the colour of wet two day old saw dust covered in dull red and
pale yellow patches which told a sad story about how she lived her life. Her diminutive
frame also screamed of her impecunious circumstances; the evidence of abject
poverty, subsequent hunger and desperation mockingly flaunted in her badly
sagging shoulders, protruding joints and withered backside. Her bean shaped
head sat precariously on her slim neck, exaggerated by the wasted down facing
shoulders, as if at any moment without warning it would roll off her body and
shatter on the ground like many of her hopes and dreams that had undoubtedly
gone the same way over the demanding indeterminable years of her life.

Her face was gentle and innocuous displaying
a passive kindness, the type that says I am pleasant and will not harm you but I
do not have the energy to give anything to you – perhaps a kind of surrender. Her
face also had a puffiness to it especially in her rosy cheeks, chin, dry lips
and eye lids, no doubt from excessive consummation of cheap wine, the smell of
which somewhat betrayed the innocence of her face as it wafted in my direction.
Her round sad eyes had an incredible depth created by large pupils, which
almost completely covered the whites of her eyes, and looked permanently
dilated as if absorbing everything the world had to offer or maybe releasing what
was left of her spirit like vapours escaping from an opened bottle of strong
liquor.

On top of her bean shaped head was a shock of
messy brown hair that looked like careless art, which went perfectly with the
shoddy clothing that she had on, completing the scare crow look. This is how
she appeared to me on a late De Doorns afternoon just before the sun set behind
the distinctive snow capped mountains that surround the town. She approached me
rather quickly for somebody who looked so desiccated, begging me in a painful
crying voice to give her something to eat. I was taken aback not only by her appearance
but mostly by her insistent raving request since it was late in the day and all
other patients had gone home for the day as our clinics onboard the health train
where I work were closed, and most staff had retreated to the quietude of their
rooms.

There were still a few patients and community
members making their way home not far from where Maggie and I stood, as well as
staff making their way towards the living quarters of the train. As manager of
the train my first instinct was to refuse the woman as this kind of thing
happened all the time in our working environment and experience had taught me
that if you help one you have to help them all and there was never a shortage of
people needing help and that left one extending themselves beyond their
capabilities. I was also instantly hit by guilt at the fact that here was a
simple woman asking for simple help and I was being technical, even though
justifiably so.

Maggie, as you would imagine, did not respond
well to my gentle refusal of her request. She continued to plead that she
couldn’t go home without at least a loaf of bread as she had promised her three
children that she would bring them something to eat. She burst into tears,
those round cavernous eyes spurting tears like drainpipes leading to the sea,
begging me to understand her situation. Then when she saw that I was unmoved
she started telling me about her mean husband who beat her and whom made her
fear going home. She even rolled up her sleeves showing me dark purple and red
bruises on her arms from the last thrashing she had received at the hands of
her loving husband. When she did this she stopped pleading completely and broke
into a serious fit of crying as the shame of revealing to me the traumatic reality
of her world.

At this point I realised that enough was
enough and manager or not I had to do something as a human being. I quickly
arranged a loaf of bread for her from our kitchen and brought it to her. Her gratitude
was like nothing I have ever seen before. She started to cry even more and
asked if she could hug me and when I agreed she sobbed on my shoulder and held
onto to me as if I had changed her life circumstances. She then proceeded to
thank me and tell me what a wonderful person I am and how she wished there were
more men like me in this town of hers. I stayed with her a little while longer
asking her about her family and getting to understand her better. She even
asked me to come with her to her home to meet her family and I kindly declined
the offer. This time she understood and started to leave. As she left across
the railway bridge she kept stopping and waving and calling to me and thanking
me to no end.

Maggie, the woman with an indeterminable age
from De Doorns, touched my soul that day. Not only that but she made me look at
my own humanity and grapple with questions of giving and receiving. Often it is
said people should give till it hurts since love has no limits, but often when one
thinks they are giving to no end with, no complaints, something will happen
that will make them feel the tiresomeness of constantly giving. Surely in order
to give one must take time to create that which they will give, which in a way implies
being selfish to some extent? To give until it hurts is a contradiction in a sense,
as Rick Beneteau writes in his article entitled “When The Giving Hurts.” Check
it out at: http://www.achieveezine.com/stories/Giving.shtml
and feel the human condition…

Asshole

Early yesterday morning I was walking through the cold slightly wet
streets of Cape Town, supposedly one of Africa’s greatest and modern cities,
minding my own business when a complete stranger called me an asshole. I was on
my way to the British Embassy to apply for my UK visa so I was lost in thought
and mangled by my own nerves out of fear that it might get rejected on the
grounds that I might be found to be a terrorist – which of course would be a
complete surprise considering what I know of myself but perhaps not so
surprising considering how malleable the definition of a terrorist is.

Anyways, so there I was walking through these streets, a stranger
amongst even stranger strangers, when a man just decided that I was an asshole.
Of course there would have to be a good reason you would wonder, since people
really have to earn the miserable honour of being called an asshole, otherwise
people wouldn’t bother calling complete bastards assholes. The word would cease
to have an effect and maybe it would be better to call somebody who has done
something unsporting and completely underhanded a complete and utter loaf. But I
digress.

The reason the man called me that unfortunate word was because while I
was walking he had shuffled up next to me in a hurried pace and in practiced
mumbles asked me if I could spare exactly ninety cents so that he could buy
himself some bread. I with very little regard barely gave him a look and just
mumbled an equally practiced response back and that was when he decided to call
me an asshole. The exchange went something like this:

Strange man: “Sorry brother can you spare ninety cents I just want to
buy some bread to eat?”

Me: “No sorry, I’m okay.”

Strange Man: “Listen to this asshole, I tell him I am hungry for
bread and he tells me HE is okay. Bloody asshole!”

Now reading my response you might agree with this charming stranger
that perhaps my response was not the correct one and deserved a somewhat crass
response, perhaps dumbass. There is a significant difference between a dumbass
and an asshole, for one a dumbass can be forgiven for doing things unknowingly
while an asshole may never be forgiven whether they do things knowingly or
unknowingly. The reason I said something so lame are actually quite simple and
are the result of not thinking too much and giving an automatic response to
something that has become so commonplace that one doesn’t even give it much
thought any longer.

If you have been through the streets of Cape Town lately on foot you
will know that at every street corner there are people standing there handing
out flyers advertising everything from love potions, instant “pain free”
abortions, penis enlargements to well paying jobs that require no education or
actual work to be done, amazing study opportunities at unheard of institutions
or ways of having all you debt taken away to some black hole in a far off
galaxy beyond even your imagination.

These people have little regard for whether you are interested or not
and even putting your hands deep in your pockets and stiffing your neck to
avoid eye contact cannot save you from having at least three flyers stuck in
your face at every corner. It gets a bit much to say the least. Many years ago I
used to take every single flyer handed to me because I thought it rude not to,
even though I always ended up throwing them away in the nearest bin. However, I
no longer have such scruples and feel the people handing out the flyers should
know when a person is not interested and leave them alone.

Anyways, so this is the reason I unfortunately told the begging man
that I am okay when he was asking me for money. I had been ignoring people with
flyers all morning that I automatically responded to the beggar as if he was
one of these people. It was with a sense of irritation and pure frustration at
being bombarded with the same thing constantly in one morning at almost every
turn I made that led to me being so dismissive with the man.

However, as I think about this I realise that there was more to this.
Another thing one sees plenty of on the cold wet streets of Cape Town is people
begging for loose change and they seem to have increased since the last time I was
in the city some three months ago. Beggars of every race, gender, shape and
size coming towards you with cupped hands and pleading faces. What is most
unfortunate is that many of them – such as the one I encountered – are aggressive
about it and do it with little piety, humility or even genuine pleading. It is
almost as if they are angry at you for having to beg you and now you must give
or else you are justifying their anger.

I cannot say if there is an agreed upon standard of begging or a
guide of do’s and do not’s, but I do know that there are certain things that
are unacceptable. Many of the beggars one sees on the streets seem to do it
half heartedly and curse you for not helping. Others do not even open their
mouths and just look at you with that blankness that I am sure to them is
pleading but to you it is distancing you even further. The more one sees this
the more one feels frustrated and irritated and then one starts trying to block
it out of their reality.

I often give money to beggars, tip waiters, car guards and petrol
attendants generously and not make much of a deal it. I am therefore left
feeling incredulous when I am faced with many beggars all in one morning all
with the same line and when one eventually calls me an asshole for ignoring his
plight. The question that comes springing to mind is, will it ever be enough? Even
if one tries to do good one is left feeling like a selfish plonker because it
isn’t everyday that one can be so giving, especially when the misfortunes of
others can make you feel selfish. All one can think is that it is just the
human condition…