Thursday, August 31, 2006

South African music in New York

What do you think of when you think of South African music? Are you a South African in New York, or a New Yorker listening to South African music? Have you heard any live South African music in New York, or do you own any South African music? Or are you a South African musician who has performed or is planning to perform in New York? Why not post about it in the comments below. I would love to read about your experiences, thoughts, ideas and perceptions, and come to your concerts, if you are performing here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Off to New York today! Johannesburg to Zurich tonight, and then on to New York tomorrow afternoon. Wish me luck

Saturday, August 26, 2006


This post, and the ensuing comments, raise some interesting questions. What really is the "line" between appropriate and in- in an academic relationship?
When I first started at varsity, I was utterly in awe of my lecturers. My parents had really built up to us what it took to achieve a PhD, and it made me really excited, and also a little afraid, of the whole process. I called everyone "professor" or "doctor" as appropriate (or sometimes not. I called several doctors "professor". I prefer to err on the side of flattery, I guess), and in most instances, it went down okay. The people who had issues with it, ironically, turned out to be among those for whom my respect has grown, rather than suffered. There are a few who I still call "prof" whom I really feel deserve the title, but those who prefered first names in general, and went for less formal relationships, have turned out to be the most inspiring and influential mentors. And then there were those who I never felt even vaguely at ease with. I have learned the hard way to follow my instincts on those ones.
Earlier this year, one of my undergraduate students called me "professor". I corrected her, explaining that I didn't have a PhD yet, let alone a professorship, and inviting her to call me Nicol. She switched to "Miss Hammond". That was more accurate, but, in light of my discomfort with professional identities and surnames, I wasn't nutty about it. When I tried again, the resultant "aunty Nicol" what a little terrifying! but very amusing. In South Africa, a sign of respect is to call an older woman "tannie" or "aunty". I get the respect thing, and am happy to practice it myself, but I feel so old when someone, expecially a student only a few years younger than me, practices it on me.
On the other hand, when I'm supervising my teaching students and am called into the principal's office to give my age, rank and serial number (or the academic equivalent), I almost wish I looked like an aunty....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fore Play: A Lesson in Jivometric Drummology

This is so clever. I will comment more when I have had time to read it more thoroughly

Sunday, August 20, 2006


About a year ago, my mentor gave me a star made out of beads and wire. I wear it on a lanyard attached to my cell-phone. About a week after she gave it to me, we were on a beach that had been battered by a storm, and there were bits of sea-weed and live sea snails all over. The snails were floundering about, some moving in the wrong direction, all struggling to get back to the sea. There were just so many....
Well the memory of my mentor currying those snails back into the water is so firmly implanted in my memory.
And then I read Leo Buscaglia's "Living, Loving & Learning" (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982):
"The other day I was on a beach with some of my students, and one of them picked up an old, dried-out starfish, and with great care he put it back in the water. He said, "Oh, it's just dried out but when it gets moisture again, it's going to come back to life." And then he thought for a minute, and he turned to me, and he said, "You know, Leo, maybe that's the whole process of becoming, maybe we get to the point where we sort of dry out, and all we need is a little more moisture to get us started again." When I picked myself off the sand, I said, "Wow!" Maybe this is what it's all about." (pg. 52).
I'm going to send a copy of the book to my mentor with a star-shaped bookmark, and a thank-you note.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


I am really loving working with student teachers. It is great to be able to see all this potential from the back of the classroom. One of my students, in particular, is so exciting, because she is just so capable. I know that she is going to do well in her course, and I know that she is going to build a very productive career for herself, because she has the skills, and she makes the effort. And yet something worried me about one of the classes I sat in on last week. She did everything right according to the check list, and she had a good rapport with the kids, and it was very easy to praise, and yet something didn't ring true. She was teaching geography (map reading) to a grade 8 class, and she had these beautiful little diagrams with contour lines, and conventional symbols, and fun exercises with 3D models and coloured pencils and pieces of string, and yet all the children asked were questions like "will this be in the test?" and "could you please explain that again?" I kept waiting for someone to ask "why is it called a trig beacon?" or "why do we have spot heights?" or "why are the contour lines brown?" or anything. And then it occurred to me. The questions I was waiting for were all "why?" and no one was asking them. Kids don't know how to. They know they have to regurgitate this stuff for an exam, and they become excellent at it, but then they forget it and move on to the next exam, and they never know why. On Monday, I am going to talk to my very clever, capable student teacher about "why" questions, and get her to ask some so that the kids ask some, and hopefully in a couple of weeks when she goes back to college, and the kids go back to their former teacher, they will have taken something with them.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the future of SA

I had a really interesting morning. I am supervising student teachers on their "school experiences" at the moment, and today, my supervisor/trainer/employer and I attended a grade 11 history class. The topic was 'Bantu Education', and the very confident, capable and innovative student teacher divided the class into blacks and whites, and taught the blacks in Afrikaans, and the whites in English. The result, which could have been explosive, was very successful. The students twigged quite quickly about what the topic of discussion was, and after the requisite teaching, a really interesting and encouraging discussion on black economic empowerment and the effects of Apartheid ensued. Anyone who is not enthusiastic about the future of this country should sit in on a class like that. Children of 17 are so aware of the issues that face this country. They think about the future, theirs, and the country as a whole, and they listen to one another. Sure, there were a diversity of oppinions, but there was also a clearly expressed desire to make things work. I am feeling bouyant!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

a study in colour

My friend Anthony pointed me to two pages, linked to here, and here, that really depressed me. I certainly have my moments when I wish things were different. I hate that I have to take the long way around because I don't feel safe driving through the city center on my own, but I also love that I live in such a beautiful country. I love that I can walk around campus and see a view over a really green suburb, or blossoms on peach trees in the middle of winter, people in colour within the grey walls of the varsity buildings, and people who greet you in an elevator. I love walking out doors in what is technically still winter, with snow falling on the southern Drakensberg, and be approached by a beautiful woman wearing a pink floral dress with short sleeves and a hem-line attractively high above her knees. In winter. I love driving with my windows down through a leafy suburb. I love South African sunsets, and South African diversity. The diversity was what I missed most when I was in Argentina in 2003. I felt a bit afraid, looking so similar to everyone else. I like the contrasts. I like that on a school field, I can hear children singing, and at a political event, I can hear people singing, and when the supercare workers go on strike, you can hear them singing from the computer labs. I once stopped at a traffic light beside a car whose passenger dropped a cigaret packet out of the window. I opened my door, picked it up, and dropped it back in at their window just in time to pull away as the light changed. I couldn't see their reaction. In June, when I was travelling down to my parents house, the driver of the bus I was on opened his window to toss out a polystyrene cup. I took it from him to dispose of appropriately, and my reproach opened a rather interesting, and very friendly conversation. He was a good man. But no one had ever taught him any differently. You need to appreciate a place before you take responsibility for caring for it, and it is only through the upward gazes of others that we learn to look upwards ourselves.

Monday, August 14, 2006


As promised, here is a link to my new roommate's film. Her name is Ceridwen Dovey, and her film is called Aftertaste. I can't wait to see it!

I spent a little time this morning teaching conducting, and I had forgotten untill now how much I really enjoy teaching. There is a real satisfaction in knowing that you can give someone else a useful skill, and when it is in something as fun (and challenging) as conducting, it is really satisfying. The excitement for my career that suffered a bit earlier this year is returning full force. I love what I do, and I can't wait to do more of it.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

High tea

I had a really lovely afternoon today celebrating a friend's 21st birthday. We had high tea a the Westcliff hotel. What an experience! uniformed porters and waiters, silverware, and delicate snacks served on silver trays. It was absolutely beautiful, very romantic, and a really lovely excuse to get dressed up, visit a beautiful place, and feel special. What a life it is!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Back to my life

I am at Wits. Again. You would think that by now it would all be over, wouldn't you. But of course, it is never that simple. I shouldn't really complain, because I am here for two bits of really fun work, and I'm getting paid (on time, so far), for both. But walking on to the campus does feel a bit out of sync with my present state of mind, which is all on New York. I got the name of my room-mate last night. She is a South African visual anthropologist and documentary film maker, and I will link to info about her film once we have made contact, and if she doesn't mind me doing that.
I'm a little nervous about the terrorism on aeroplanes thing, of course, but as my mother says, you can't not live because something may go wrong. We simply take all the precautions we practically can, and then get on with it. I'm sure all the new security measures at the airports are a bit of a pain, and I don't like the idea of potentially being unable to carry books and work on in my hand luggage, but I would rather have that inconvenience than have a plane crash!
Oh, and I got all my innoculations yesterday, so both arms are a little stiff.
Last night we had a visitor to our choir who is potentially a new conductor, and there is another potential coming to the last rehearsal before I leave, so that is one more task out of the way. Making the choice between the two is up to the choir.
And my grandmother is out of the hospital. Yay! She is staying with us at home untill the end of the weekend, when we know she will be able to check her own blood sugar, and follow her new diet, and take her medication herself. She has type 2 diabetes, and probably has had it, though uncontrolled, for many years. On Sunday evening, she should be back at her retirement village with her friends, and the nurse who checks up on them every day, so all is returning to normal. That is a huge relief. I would have hated to leave knowing that she was still ill, and my parents were struggling alone to see to look after her.
And, and, and, and....
I sound like a herald, but there is a lot of news. My best friend's sister, who has been struggling to have children, gave birth to a healthy baby girl the day before my birthday, and another friend who has also been struggling told me last night that she is 5 months pregnant. I love babies, so all of this can only be good luck. I am seeing my best friend tonight after many weeks. And my dear friend Anthony has his birthday tomorrow, and another good friend is having her 21st at a very posh hotel on Sunday. I can't wait to get dressed up again. I love having an excuse.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Well, my visa was granted today, and so this whole experience is feeling more and more real. I am getting so excited! And my grandmother is a little better today, though she is still in hospital, and may be for a while yet. I can't believe how pathetic her medical aid is, though. They only covered her hospital expenses for a few days, and after all the years she and my grandfather paid their fees... Still, she is alright, and that is the most important thing. And my car is still not going, but hopefully will be tomorrow. Hold thumbs...

Monday, August 07, 2006

back from holiday

Well, after a superb holiday, I am right back into the chaos! Our return was delayed due to car trouble, and now that I am finally home, I am without wheels, and my grandmother is in hospital. Tomorrow, somehow, I have to make my way to the American consulate for a visa interview, and then I have to sort out all of my work here. If I can't travel, I really am stuck. Ah well, a fresh start looms. It won't be long till I am in New York! I am looking forward to the break.