Greed Will be the Death of Us

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Picture courtesy of http://www.drawntonature.co.uk submitted by kjhayler

I am lucky enough to have grown up in a place where I was able to be close to nature and bare witness to some of the most remarkable animals on our planet.

I consider myself honoured to have been close to elephants, been charged by a rhino, stood eye to eye with a water buffalo, watched a pride of lions devour its kill. I’ve stroked a cheetah, albeit a baby one. I have listened to the hyena giggling outside our tent in the dead of night.

I’ve taken pictures of the cutest jackal (i never knew they were so small) and been scared witless by a puff adder crawling in our garden. One of the joys of living in Africa is being on the doorstep of some of the most spectacular game and natural beauty on the globe. Anyone that lives there knows it, anyone who visits it, knows it, and anyone that’s seen pictures of it knows it.

But this is the scary thing to me. The idea and thought that one day soon, all I will be able to look at to recall the magnificent creatures that I was once able to stand and watch roaming free, alive and wild is a picture like the one above, scares the hell out of me.

12 animals, slaughtered for nothing more than an ivory tusk by a gang of professional poachers???

When the hell did poaching become a professional occupation? In Africa poaching has always been a serious issue. Mainly due to its vast size and poverty stricken people. Give a man an opportunity to feed his family for a year without hassle and you have a powerful motivator in your hands to inspire anyone to commit the most heinous of crimes against our natural world.

The latest outrage to have made the press in a big way over here is an attack in Tsavo National Park in Kenya. A place where once over 30,000 elephants roamed free and wild, a place where now concern is so critical that a government is considering the formation of a national army to fight against poaching gangs. So is this the launch of an International war on Poaching?

The crazy thing is that we living in the Western world get outraged as we see these things happening around the world, yet 50 years ago, it was us doing similar things in the pursuit of an ivory trinket to adorn our mantle or line our necks. Furs, skins, heads, teeth, body parts. You name it, we’ve wanted it, pursued it, taken as we please. Even I am guilty of this. Leather jackets hanging in my cupboard. An ivory handled letter opener on my desk. Think about it, nearly everyone of us are in some way guilty of it.

Now as another part of our world comes into its time of wealth and prosperity, all those things that we enjoyed at the height of our time at the top, is now being craved by a whole new generation of people willing to pay the price to have the status symbols of success and power. And only now are we outraged by the senseless killing! Cites? An international treaty on the trade of endangered species? Hell it is a treaty without muscle and one that fails to go far enough to secure and ensure the safety of what little natural beauty this world of ours has left.

It is the incessant greed of mankind that will be the ultimate downfall of this planet. We won’t stop wanting what others around us have, until there is nothing left to want, and then even more. If is not the tusk of a Rhino to enhance our sexual performance then it will be the hide of some poor beast to line our boots and make our hand bags look pretty.

Of all the things that I miss from Africa, the outdoor beauty of the natural world is the biggest on my mind. I cherish the moments I’ve spent on safari, camping, exploring the vast open savannah plains. My heart cries out at the senseless killing of such a treasure trove of beauty, yet I know deep down it will not stop. One day, very possibly even in my lifetime, I will not be able to dream of returning to see and explore the beauty I remember from my childhood, and that my friends is criminal. If anyone has the right to expect to be left in peace and allowed to prosper and multiply it is the animals that do nothing other than to enhance and give great wealth to our natural world.

Woe are we, for we all have blood on our hands.

Thought for today – “Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.” – Socrates

Song for today – Caribbean Blue by Enya

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Thought For You

For me personally, the last two weeks have been a quietly controlled spell of manic activity in the bigger scheme of things. For a while, I have been locked down in a world of woe, wondering what tomorrow will hold and when the inevitable is going to happen.

It is never a pleasant feeling, knowing that you are headed for a world of pain, and there is nothing that you can do to avoid it, side step it, or even really prepare yourself for it. These are facts of life, nature in all of its cruel splendour, the things we have no control over, pain, sadness and sorrow that there is no words for, no proper way to describe, no real effective means of communication.

What is lovely about being busy is the fact that my mind has little time to ponder these circumstances. I have thrived over the last two weeks, not only from the personal fulfilment of a long time desire, but also from the satisfaction of feeling productive, needed, back in control of something. It may sound stupid, but being able to make decisions, being allowed to make a contribution, being involved as a working part of the dynamic is a strangely rewarding and liberating feeling.

In some ways I am ashamed to admit these words. Regret that I feel this way. Feel bad that I like to feel alive and part of something that I can influence, control and manage. The feelings of uselessness are abated  the frustration of having to sit and watch, unable to change the course of nature is soul destroying and only depresses the mind, body and spirit. There is only so much that one person can handle, and when we are faced with things we cannot affect, we are not only completely out of control of destiny, but also out of control of our feelings and abilities to deal with what is happening around us, this is when we find ourselves at our lowest. This is when we are vulnerable, exposed, out of our comfort zone, alone!

I know what tomorrow holds for me. Maybe not in the physical sense of tomorrow, the day after today, but I know what is coming in my near future, and as I struggle to prepare myself for this eventuality  I have begun to realise that I am totally incapable of preparing myself. I do not have the skills or the experience to know how I am going to handle the things I will have to face. I know not, where I will find the strength to do the things I will have to do. I cannot begin to plan for it, do not want to face it, cannot accept that it is necessary.

Yet, this is my lot. This is the reality of my situation, and so be it. I begin to understand too, that while I am not in a place or frame of mind to really be able to cope with these things, I am in some ways starting to plan for these times. While focusing my mind on things to keep my busy right now is in keeping with my trend of burying my head in the sand and pretending I do not have to deal with these things, in so many ways the things I am engaging in right now are the foundations of my preparation for life beyond my current situation in life.

Networks and friendships I am forging with people who understand, care, love without condition and share without expectation are the corner blocks of setting up a life line, a safety cord that I can reach out and hold in the dark times ahead. There is a sense of relief in knowing that someone, anyone will be there. Loneliness is a curse that no one wishes to meet. It is one that far too many of us live with, accept and embrace. It is a bitter pill that swallows us! I don’t want to feel alone, and I know that you don’t want to feel its embrace either, so when a simple post card drops through my letter box, the person that took the time to write it can never know how special the words scrawled across the white surface mean to me.

When a short and simple message pops up in my message box saying here is a random hug for you, on a day I was just thinking about you, the writer of that message can never truly know how much the words enclosed in that missive sent through the marvel of the internet really means to me.

The cheerful banter in a chat room, the laughs we share on skype… The stories that I manage to get lost in, the encouragement through comments, feedback, conversation….. It all adds up. And I don’t think we really give full credit to the power of these simple actions we undertake on a day to day basis. You are reading this thinking, “heck, maybe he is right,” or maybe you are not, but did you stop and realise while you are reading this, just how special YOU really are?

No? Well take it from me, in my eyes each one of you that make the effort to be a friend are so much more than you allow yourself credit for. It is people like you that make the world spin. You give life meaning, bring a sense of purpose to survival, and without realising it give value to the things, relationships, actions we each undertake, that we become a part of, that we live for daily.

Those things that have kept me busy for the last two weeks, gave me cause to sit and think to myself today while I was working. Yes they kept me active, they thrilled me and involved me and made me feel productive and useful. However, they also gave me a reason to reflect on how much I value the contact that I have with people. People like you reading. Many of you will interact with me in some way, simple and brief as it is, it is appreciated  You may be reading and have never spoken with me before, yet what I say rings true in your own mind, and mirrors itself on your own experiences. Who knows, maybe in reading this blog you will for the first time reach out and say hello, to me or someone else important.

Whatever it is that prompts us to take an action, make an effort, touch a life, it is our humanity and our need to be seen and to feel needed and wanted and accepted that allows each and every one of us to add value to each others lives. I am much like you, much like the person next to you, much others dotted in over 7 billion places across this globe of ours. We are all essentially the same, thoughtful, vulnerable, curious, mysterious, unique, interesting, judgemental….

I could carry on using words into eternity  but at the bottom line of things, we all have to accept that we are no better than the richest or the poorest, the most arrogant or most humble, most knowledgeable or most severely disabled among us. I am NO better than you because of what I do or who I am, and the same goes for you. When we overcome this perception of ourselves and our fellow man, maybe we can begin to understand how special we are, and what level of potential each of us holds. We can change the world by touching people, we can reach out and fill that void of loneliness, fear and pending hurt. We can all make a difference to someone’s life, circumstances and sense of self worth, and is that not something worth trying to do?

For today, I am grateful that I have reached out here, and made friends. Friendships that I treasure, relationships that grow with every day. I say this kind of thing often, and will continue to do so, as I really do believe the things I have said before, right now, and will say in my future are true, important and real. You are Special, today, tomorrow, forever.

Thought for today – “Butterflies do not know the colour of their wings, but human eyes marvel at their beauty. Likewise you cannot see how good you are, but others see and know that you are special.” Author Unknown

Song for today – Feeling the Moment by Feeder

Africa leads the way in Funeral Bling!

In many countries in Africa, death has become a very lucrative business. Surprising as it may seem, it is rapidly becoming a status symbol among some African communities, as bling is the name of the day, and lavish expense marks the importance of the day.

In South Africa, the whole affair of death can set families spiralling into debt as they struggle to finance a lavish send off to their loved one. Is it wrong to want to send the dead of well you ask? I think that there is a difference between a good send off, and going over the top.

A survey in 2004 conducted throughout South Africa found that people spent more time at funerals than at weddings or even in the hair salon. Conspicuous consumption is very defiantly the order of service at an African funeral these days.

The BBC interviewed Molefi Kupane, who runs one of the biggest funeral parlours in Johannesburg recently and he told of the flamboyant funerals that people organise through his company. Indicating that he does as many as 40 funerals every Saturday, he told the BBC that he regularly see’s people spending far beyond their means on expensive caskets, colourful services, extravagant parties and days of catering for mourners as they come to pay their respects.

It would seem that when it comes to a funeral in Joburg, it’s all systems go. The modern trend is to arrive in the most expensive cars, wear designer clothing, the coolest jewellery, the brightest colours. Gone are the days of quiet, sombre affairs where everyone is dressed in black, and all the mourners maintain a silent respect. In the 21st Century, it’s all about the image. As long as you are turned out in the height of fashion, and the funeral meets with the high standard of expectations, then vogue has been fulfilled at the grave side.

As the posing finishes at the cemetery, expect a massive meal served with desert and a plentiful supply of drink, and then get ready for the ‘After Tears’ party to swing into action as the pouting and swagger moves onto the dance floor, and the hangover is topped up with yet more copious amounts of alcohol.

But South Africa is not the only African nation cashing in on this quickly developing new trend. Business Daily Africa reports that in Kenya the same trend is making entrepreneurs a small fortune. Speaking with Eunice Kitata of Euphrace Events and Catering in Nyanza, the Business Daily reports that Ms Kitata saw an opportunity in the market as she was tasked to help organise a funeral for a member of their church. A lack of professional event managers and decent catering firms left an opportunity for her to move into what has become a very lucrative business for her and her young family.

Now employing 15 people, and earning in excess of half a million Shillings a month, Ms Kitata has built a successful venture bringing calm order and efficient management of an emotionally charged and often confusing time for the families of the deceased, and has also successfully forged a niche with the Kenyan diaspora on the repatriation of Kenyans who die abroad. But even Ms Kitata admits that funerals have become a complex and expensive thing for African people. From the time the bull must be slaughtered to who should be served in which order, the challenges of making the funeral day perfect are as important today as the role played by a traditional wedding planner.

Opportunity lies at the door of whomever is brave enough to open it and take a chance. Africa proves that even in death there is an opportunity to make it big, even if it is just you making sure that you attend in the finest suite or the most expensive frock. Yogi Berra, a former American baseball player once said: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” Wise words to the venture capitalists in Africa’s newest growth industry.

The Curse of Old Age

Ok, so its pretty obvious to all of us that there are certain things that are definite in life. Death and taxes are usually the most common two that spring into peoples minds, in fact there is a common saying that these are the only two things that are for certain in life. I guess that is supposed to be a snipe at the tax man, comparing him with the ultimate fear that mankind faces when we contemplate life. No body wants to die. But yes its a fact of life so I guess the fact of the matter is learn to accept that some time, somewhere along that weird and wonderful road of our life, it is going to end. In my case I really hope that it comes early and quickly, and I know that if your reading this, you must think I sound pretty selfish and lame.

Well everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and having watched my father die of cancer, a disease i accept kills people of any age daily, it was extremely painful to watch him suffer so in the end. I can’t begin to tell you of the experience and emotions that you begin to feel as someone so dear to you waists away. In my fathers case, my memories of dad before that time were of a powerful, strong and very determined man. Stubborn yes, selfish…yes. He was a typical man in so very many ways, but he was my father, and he worked his whole life to give me every chance to be all I could be. To me, dad had always been there. Rarely did he stay home in bed on the sick. Never did he miss work with a hangover, nor did he ever let me down by failing to be there, running away when the going got tough or failing to provide for me. Admittedly I didn’t have everything I ever wanted, but I never went hungry, nor did I never feel unloved.

It is the most difficult thing in the world to watch someone of that status become totally incapable of doing anything by themselves. You watch the movies, shed the tears, and learn from others around you how dastardly death is to a patient with cancer, but until you live it yourself, nothing can prepare you for it. I was lucky in that my mother provided most of the close quater care, while I just managed the affairs and difficult things. I recall how towards the end just being in the same room as dad hurt, as I couldn’t stand to see him in such a way, and this in turn caused a different type of hurt, as I felt so guilty at shutting him out so. It still haunts me today that I found it so difficult to sit there and talk with him.

Truth be told, I was kind of relieved when he died, because it was such a strain to see him like that, and to feel so helpless. But I can honestly say, as I live the experience of Alzheimers today with my mother, that what my father suffered was little compared to the legend of dementia. Now that might sound completely wrong, and in many ways I can see the different points of view, but believe you me, when it comes to trying to live in a world that has no concept of dementia, no tolerance of people living with it, and a society all too willing to take advantage of and rogue people suffering with this illness, it makes life impossible for those of us in society that are honest, decent people.

My mother is the kindest, nicest, most gentle person in the world. We all love our mothers. They have a special bond with us, from the time they carry us in their womb till that day we spread our wings and leave the nest, we are their babies. For most of us, we share a strong personal relationship on some level with our mothers. Men are tough and can take the things that life throws at us, or so our mentality seems to lead us to believe, and so when like in my fathers case, cancer got him in the end, I guess in my own weird way of thinking, it was ok, because he was strong enough to deal with that. However, in the case of my mother, you have no idea how much it kills me to watch her daily unable to function as her memory slips away from her.

Today we went into Lloyds TSB. Now fair enough I understand that banks have procedures in place to protect their customers, but I can honestly say I left that building wanting to jump off a bridge today. There is nothing worse that sitting across the desk from a cold hearted woman who has no concept or idea of the frustration, pain and complete hopelessness of the situation when all you are asking is that they update your mothers address, and when she looks at your mother and asks her, “So what is it that you want to do today Mrs Strobel?” and your mother can only stare back at her with a blank expression, unable to exactly remember what it is she’s meant to be saying. As I sat in that room I just wanted to scream. I wanted to smash the table, rip the computer of the desk, and shake the woman who sat there telling me she was restricting my mothers account until we obtained an Enduring Power of Attorney to take over my mothers affairs. I mean who the hell is she to tell me that I must now manage my mothers affairs?

Granted its not her fault, its a system that is inflexible, uncomprehending and completely lacking understanding of what it feels like to be in these shoes. You can’t get angry at mom, as she cannot help being forgetful under pressure. You can’t really get angry at the individual for doing her job in accordance with the rules of the bank. It’s a horrible situation, as you can’t get anywhere with anyone. Every place that you speak to has a different set of rules. Every person that you deal with has a different level of compassion and understanding. You deal with one who’ll bend over backwards to help, shows empathy and real understanding for the predicament that you find yourself in. On the other hand, most people don’t give a shit. They have no time for your frustrations, no desire to want to get involved or offer support or understanding and only end up causing yet more distress and confusion.

I sat there this afternoon, cold, distressed and bursting from inside while a total stranger told me in front of my mother that my mother was now deemed incapable of managing her own affairs and it would be my duty as her carer to step up to the mark and take over from her. Do people not realise that just because someone suffers from dementia that they still have feelings? Do people not realise that their words are a two edged sword and cut deep into peoples emotional state? I left the building with tears streaming down my face, much the same as they are now. Not because I don’t know what she is saying is true. Not because I feel sorry for having to step up to the plate to fill these shoes. But distressed that my mother had to sit there and go through that. Its hard enough for her to deal with not being able to remember the stuff she so desperately wants and needs to remember. I felt so belittled and humiliated, not for me, but for my mother, and it is a whole new world of pain that I never knew could exist!

And so we plod along the road of forgetfulness, each day bringing with it a new crisis, each moment a new concern to have to try to deal with. In many ways you have to put your own life on hold, and that is not the easiest thing to do, especially in this day and age. Each day presents new challenges as slowly you try to cater for the new things that come along with the illnesses that mom faces, and lets be honest, at her age, there are a few, but before god, I swear, its the Alziemers that is the wort of the lot. The rest I could live with and work around, but memory is a precious thing and to loose it must be the most distressing thing in the world. On a calm day mom is still much her beautiful self, but on a bad day, shes a nervous wreck, frustrated, hurt, depressed and alone. No one really realises that for those people that are going through this whole nightmare, they are in essence alone. You can’t understand what they are going through. They have few people to talk to, and the grim reality is that it is much the same for those around the person who is ill.

So maybe this is why I have a jaded outlook on old age. I’d rather live wild and leave this world at 50, before it all goes south and I find myself going through the things I’ve watched the two most dear people in the world have to endure gracefully.