about this blog

This is a blog about running a farm and a creative arts healing centre and raising a family... sometimes at the same time. I do this all with my fabulous husband Iain North (know to most as E) who makes us the team that makes this all possible, and my children Callum (4) and Kyla (2) who keep it real.

Hopefully you will find this blog interesting whoever you are, but I hope that other healing arts professionals will enjoy the conversation

 

 

What I learned from a Cow about being a Dramatherapist

My husband and I moved to our family farm 7 years ago to help my parents with the farming.  We arrived with great intentions and a big vision but with significantly less farming experience.  I had always known I would return to the farm to create a healing arts centre, but I had never actually imagined that I would be doing the farming!  Perhaps I thought that I would come back with a husband that knew more about farming than me.  It turns out my husband knows more about many things than me, just not farming.  We arrived at the bottom of a cliff-shaped learning curve.

A couple of weeks after we first arrived on the farm, fresh from creating theatre at the Grahamstown Festival, there was a cow that was having trouble calving… and we needed to help.

Before we were farmers… touring with a show

After a long and painful process the calf was finally born, but had died in the process.  The cow sat down.  And would not stand up again.  We learned later that this is an actual condition, called down-cow-syndrome.  The cow was depressed… and also had sustained nerve damage.

The traditional approach to this situation is to shoot the cow.  The prognosis is not good.  But we are not traditional and the vet said that recovery is possible.

A cow sitting down… not the actual down-cow… but you get the idea

And so the healing program began.  Physiotherapy massages a few times a day.  Turning the cow so it didn’t get “bedsores” (um that’s a 450kg activity).  Making sure she could reach her food and water.  Sometimes hand feeding her.  And then just for luck some Reiki, Rescue Remedy and telepathy.  It was mid-winter in the Sneeberg mountains.  Cold is an understatement.  We erected all kinds of wind proof shelters, covered the animal in blankets, braved the dark and the snow to check on her.

Colder than cold

And then. After an impossible 5 weeks.  She stood up.  We came to check on her one morning and she was no longer where she had been for the last million years.  She was standing (or wobbling) in the corner of the kraal.  Defying and amazing farmers everywhere, our down-cow was no longer down.

Standing up in the corner

And what was the first thing the cow did once she could stand steadily on her feet?  Not nuzzle us with gratitude. Nor give us a gentle cow lick to acknowledge the hours of selfless care we had offered in the name of her longevity.  No.  She lowered her head, and with a slight reddening of her eye, charged towards us with intent to harm.  The message she communicated via animal telepathy was, “I stood up just so that I could do this!”.  Luckily we stepped out the of the way in time.

She was not grateful to us for restoring her mobility.  She is a cow.  She did not feel she owed us anything.

So what did I learn from this cow.  So much! … about farming and expectations and life and death.  For example, after this experience I read everything there is to know about assisting a cow in labour.

But this blog is about what I learned about being a dramatherapist from cows, so I will stick to that point.

After the cow finally stood up my husband and I wondered whether it was worth it.  We understood a little better the reasons behind the traditional remedy for down-cow-syndrome.   Would I have done all that I did for that cow for 5 weeks if I had known how she would respond?

I am a novice cattle farmer but have been working as a dramatherapist for over 15 years. Answering Yes to that question speaks to me as a healing professional

Here is a short list of “Things  I learned about being a dramatherapist from this cow”.

  • Gratitude and acknowledgement are great gifts but I cannot do healing work for that prize.  Sometimes when a client discovers that their addictions or negative patterns have been protecting them against a much deeper pain, and they realise that to live authentically and fully will also mean dealing with that pain, they are generally not filled with gratitude towards their therapist!
  • I work as a dramatherapist because that’s what makes sense to who and what I am.  I am sustained by the process of facilitating healing.  When working with a client it is sometimes necessary to go through some very dark, cold and uncomfortable places to get through to the other side.  I must say “yes” to this even though I can not know the outcome.
  • I cannot be attached to the outcome of the work, I can only give it my best effort.
  • A dramatherapist has many techniques that are used in the healing process, but its not always possible to tell which was the most effective.  Was it the massage or the Reiki that did the trick for the cow or a fabulous combination of it all.
  • Failure is the most powerful teacher.
  • Learning and healing is not a one way process.
  • Time is the greatest healer (with a dollop of patience and a pinch of faith in the possibility of a good outcome).

P.S.  This is a good time to tell you that I have started a small private dramatherapy practice.  I now offer individual sessions to  adult and adolescent clients. You can see me at the Yoga Studio in Graaff-Reinet and in The Space on The Rest.  Contact me on karoorest@gmail.com to find out more.

P.P.S.  There are lots of other interesting events coming up at The Rest, including a Creativity Workshop in August, a Family Constellations Workshop in October and a Writing workshop in November.  See www.karoorest.com on the workshop page.

P.P.P.S.  Apart from my children, cows are still my greatest teachers.

 

Parenting Lessons from Cows and other Cattle

When a women gets pregnant she becomes public property.  Strangers feel they have permission to touch her belly, declare the sex of the child and give parenting advice.  And that’s just beginning.  From here on out as a parent, you must accept advice and judgement about every choice you make from the way birth your child to how she or he is schooled.  In all this there is a lot of emphasis on what is ‘natural’ as shorthand for correct.

Cows have provided me with ample valuable perspectives on what is ‘natural’ which is a useful guide for what is right for me.


When I went into the hospital to have my daughter I was already in labour and pretty close to giving birth.  I was totally disoriented by the lights and couldn’t understand what people were saying to me.  Eventually my husband got the nurse to turn of the light in the labour room and leave me alone to get on with it.

Cows like to calve on their own, as  far away as possible from other cows and possible interference.  When they join the herd its often because they are in trouble and need help.

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In the lead up to childbirth there can be huge expectations about how the birth will turn out.  Many women feel they have failed when things don’t work out the way they imagined. But even in nature, natural births aren’t always possible.

Assisting at a birth
Not all calves have a natural birth. Some need to be assisted.  And if we do not assist the mother the calf will most likely die, and probably the mother as well.
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In the first few months of my son’s life I felt like celebrating at the end of each day that we had managed to navigate all the fatal hazards crisscrossing his path.  But the truth is that babies are incredibly resilient.

Newborn calves are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.  The other day we had to assist a cow giving birth.  We caught the new calf and put him very close to the cow so she could clean him off and let him suckle.  But she had no interest in this calf and she stalked off ignoring her newborn.  For a couple of hours post birth this new calf stood up on his wobbly legs and followed his mom attempting to find her udder.  She kicked him and shoved him away with her nose.  In spite of his traumatic introduction to the world he clambered over rocks and through thorny bushes in pursuit of his mothers udder.  At just a few minutes old his determination, in the face of the nasty response from his mom, was awesome.  After some time had passed, and I had given up on her maternal instinct surfacing, we shackled the cow so that the calf could drink.  Luckily for him (and for us) she softened her attitude and claimed him as her own.

A newborn follows her mom through the veld

(In the past we had a cow that persisted in rejecting her calf and I spent mealtimes punishing mom with a large stick every time she kicked her calf away.  We called him Baby Jake because he was a fighter and ended up being bigger than most of his peers.)

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Breastfeeding can be such a source of such stress and anxiety for moms when it doesn’t go as planned.  Mothers are often shamed by other women who believe that the mother hasn’t done enough to breastfeed her baby.

Some cows struggle to breastfeed too. They have all sorts of problems from too much milk to too little and can develop complications like mastitis (which is not so easy to treat with cabbage leaves due to the placement of the udder!)  So if the iconic producers of milk can have hassles I reckon we need to cut the humans a bit of slack here.

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There are very few women these days who can afford to stay at home and not earn an income.  This can be a source of deep guilt and anxiety and often judgement from their community.

Calf Day Care

Try this argument next time someone suggests you do things differently: Cows send their calves to childcare.  I often see one cow with a group of calves while their mums are off grazing far away.  It seems the most maternal cows are selected for this job.  And maybe those moms that aren’t quite ready to let go of their babies.

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A cow whose calf has died in labour or after birth are much more aggressive and protective with their next calf than other cows are.

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Cows can be bad moms. Even among our bovine counterparts there are those cows who just aren’t that interested in parenting.  They lose their calves, don’t notice when their calves are missing, don’t feed them, abandon them. Sometimes they are even abusive, kicking them when they are trying to feed.  There are often good reasons for this behaviour (as with human moms) but sometimes it just a personality thing.

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I was late to the parenting party and had to sit through countless conversations about nappies and baby food which I endured as a mild form of torture.  However, once I had a child these conversations were a critical resource for my survival.  I even initiated them.

Cows with babies tend to hang out together and those that don’t hang out together.

Mom’s and Tot’s Group
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Women who don’t have children can be treated with an awful combination suspicion, pity and judgement.  They are often treated to the opinion that a women’s ‘natural’ purpose is to have children.

Some cows take longer to conceive than others and some don’t conceive at all. These cows are called Queenies, maintaining a beautiful condition year round and can often be found hanging out with the bull.

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Some offspring have better relationships with their mother than others.  Once the heifer calf is old enough, and if she is selected, she will rejoin the breeding herd (at about 2 years old).  Some of these heifers will tend to hang out with their moms while others won’t acknowledge the relationship at all.

I was pregnant with my second child at 40 sending the medical profession into a spin.  I was called a “geriatric mother” (resulting in a severe beating with my walking stick).  If I hadn’t given birth in a provincial hospital where they have to justify what they spend I would have been forced to have a cesarean whether I liked it or not.

Old cows can give birth and are better at it than the younger ones.  We have never had to assist an old cow in calving.

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“Fat old cow” is the biggest compliment you can give a cow.  They have survived, are fertile and prepared to climb high and walk far for the best grass.  Take that.

P.S.  I acknowledge some poetic anthropomorphisation for the sake of this blog.  However, we humans tend to idealise the animal kingdom as somehow being more uniform when it comes to easy births and natural parenting skills and that somehow we humans (especially women) are somehow “unnatural” when we aren’t able to perfect the conception, childbirth and parenting thing by the book.  It helps us to recognise that there is no perfect model in nature and we are doing the best we can with all our imperfections.

P.P.S. Bulls may provide slightly less valuable a role model for parenting.  Those men who are tempted to follow this example must remember that they are required to sucessfully mate with at least 30 females within a two to three month time period (every year).  Under performance would result in being culled (turned into hamburgers).  When not mating you will be required to fight with other males to show dominance.  You will also forfeit any relationship with your children and spend most of the year only the company of other males. (Also most male calves do not make it to old age and forfeit their manhood early on). I refer you to the prairie vole or the macaroni penguin for a better resource for inspiration.

Come and Reconnect on The Rest.  Get Grounded.  Do a workshop.  Learn from the cows.  Come to RestFest at Easter. See www.karoorest.com on the workshops page.

It Rained!

The rains came. At last. The world is transformed.  From brittle yellow, dusty and dry to soft, squishy, green and luscious.  It was extraordinary to witness how quickly the landscape changed colour, how fast those green shoots pushed up through the soil.  They had been ready and waiting all along.  Just add water.

Our lives too are transformed: From pumping water for the cattle to drink at all times of the day and night to watching the cows slowly get fat.

From the ever present fear that the water will run out…

… to joyful abandon in muddy puddle heaven.

We had become used to the rain clouds building and then getting blown away by the cold south wind.  A few days of anticipation as the clouds piled on each other only to have a few drops fall which dried in a puff of thirsty dust.  We learned to stop waiting and start responding to the reality of the drought.  We needed all our energy to survive this.

But then one day the winds changed.  A steady gentle rain began to fall which allowed the earth a long deep drink.  Suddenly everything felt different.  I could feel the end of the drought on my skin even before the rain gauge filled up.    And since this is the Karoo (the weather drama queen) the drought broke dramatically!

Walking through the veld the next day I discovered this.

And so I took a shower to celebrate. I washed off the gritty stress of the last few months that tightened my neck and knitted my brow.  I cleaned out the crusty “what ifs” and the dusty fear with a powerful stream of pure rain water.  I could feel the relief in every cell and fiber of my being.  My gratitude was boundless.

The drought has taught us many lessons.  As the water dried up were forced to innovate and find clever solutions for getting water to the animals. I now understand where the phrase “n boer maak n plan” comes from: when it is a matter of life and death you find a solution!  I learned to appreciate my husband E as a true farmer.  It was his job to keep the tanks full so the cows always had access to water. During this time 2 of our 3 pumps packed up from age and over-use and he managed to keep the water flowing (sometimes getting up a couple of times in the night to turn pumps on and off).

This was the first real drought we have experienced since moving back to the farm and it revealed to us where the weaknesses in our farming practices are and how to remedy them.

We once again appreciated the wisdom and foresight of our ancestors who planted agave for erosion control and drought fodder.  Chopping and feeding this to the cattle saved us lots of money and kept the cattle in decent condition for longer.

There is also something about the way that veld has recovered which shows that the drought also had a rejuvenating effect on the veld in some way (scientists please explain this?)

The truth is that in the Karoo there is an equal chance of drought or flood in any given year.  So as soon as the rain stops falling we need to prepare for the next drought.

The fact that my life is so deeply tied into the cycles of nature forces me to acknowledge the importance of these cycles even in our own lives.  We cannot exist in an eternal spring.  Each season is critical to the birth and growth, death and regeneration of our being.  Times of sadness, hardship and difficulty are unavoidable and necessary.  We may not understand their value until they are over, but value they have.

And when the rain flowers bloom we know the rain is coming and the time for celebration has arrived.

P.S.  Come to Reconnect: Grounding 24 – 27 March to become more connected to your own natural cycles and draw wisdom from the natural environment.  Look on this website www.karoorest.com on the workshop page.

The Power of Play

This is the speech I was asked to give at the Khanyisa Graduation on Wednesday.  The afternoon was longer than expected (especially after the spontaneous speech by the ward counselor who promised a minute but gave us half an hour).  By the time my slot came around the children were drooping and the audience was distracted.  So I chopped my speech in half and spoke at twice the speed.  But since I put a bit of effort into the writing of it I share it here to give it a bit more of an audience!

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Do you remember a game that you played when you were a child the age of these graduates? Can you remember how you played it and what you did? Can you remember how it felt in your body? Can you remember any other details? I am sure that for some of you this memory is very clear, some might even be able to recall vivid details from the experiences of playing this game.

A game I remember playing as a child was called elastics (I think kids still play it today). A long elastic stretched around two bodies to make a box and someone jumping over the elastics in various ways as they get higher and higher.   Thinking about this game now I can see how much I was learning in this game: physical co-ordination, working as a team, confidence and social skills.

Can anyone describe a game they played to us? Can you think of what you might have been learning from this game?

The game I described was a competitive group game. Can any of you remember games you played by yourself or with one other? Maybe playing with dolls or building things out of stones or mud? Maybe creating fantasy worlds and interacting with this fantasy. Can anyone think what you might have been learning from these games?

This type of play, sometimes called fantasy play, is a rich learning space for a child. They are learning about themselves, what they like and don’t like. They are making sense of their world, figuring out scary and confusing experiences. They are developing communications skills, strategic thinking and social skills. They are integrating what they are in the process of learning. They are problem solving skills and employing flexible thinking. They are using abstract thinking and symbolic thinking.  This even helps with reading (you need to be able to understand that the those black marks on the page can turn into a story).

All this leads to psychological health and importantly to the development of creativity.

Amanda Morgan says “By promoting creative play we are not just validating the work of childhood, but we are promoting thought, language, and psycho-social health.  Add to that the fact that this type of play is self-motivated, natural, and enjoyable, and you have the recipe for a fabulous learning opportunity!” ( http://notjustcute.com/2010/07/06/enchanted-learning-the-benefits-of-fantasy-play-for-children/)

The great pediatrician and child psychologist Donald Winnicott was one of the first theorists to write extensively on the value of play (Although Peter Slade was writing about it in the 50’s). In his book “Playing and Reality” published in 1971 he wrote “Play is universal and it belongs to health.” He spoke of how playing facilitates growth and therefore psychological health.

If I asked you what you remembered about sitting at your desk in your classroom before the age of 7, I am guessing that you would not be able to describe as much in as vivid detail as your stories about the games you played.

The funny thing is that children are learning all these critically important things – from physical co-ordination to social and language skills through play but then we stop them from playing and put them behind a desk where learning is so much more difficult!

Khanyisa understands this and has invested time and energy in developing the playful and creative capacitity of its educators to enable integrating play into the classroom. It has been my privilege to work with Khanyisa staff in my workshops in the last two years.

Winnicott goes on to say that children play more easily when those they are playing with are able to be free and playful. And so we see that it’s not enough for children to play freely but for the adults that are caring for them to be able to play as well. This will further enhance the quality of the learning environment.

For many adults this is a challenge as they have been told that playing is wasted time and that they must be serious and responsible. Some adults may not even have been given a chance to play as children and so may not feel comfortable with playing.

So we turn our attention to the educator and the importance of developing the playful capacity in the adult as well. Those of you that have been in my workshops have discovered that it’s not enough to focus on the child but also on yourself as person.

The truth is it that it is only through play that we can be free to be creative. Winnicott says that when we are creative we are able to use our whole personality and this way we discover who we are. When we are able to live in a way that is creative it makes life worth living.

Put up your hand if you think you are artistic. …

If you did not put up your hand perhaps you think that you can’t draw, dance, sing like a professional. Because you can’t make a living from what you create you think you aren’t artistic and for some of you that might make you think you aren’t creative. If you think you aren’t creative then you shut down that part of yourself because you are so critical of what you produce that it is no fun. Taking the fun out of creating can mean that you loose confidence in yourself and further reduce your creative capacity. It can also mean that you become critical of others that are trying out their creativity and are not producing something perfect. It can mean that we shut down children that are creating for the pure pleasure of creating but not working towards the perfect product.

Thus we see why developing a respect for creativity in ourselves as well as our children becomes crucial for a healthy and well resourced school environment.

Pablo Picasso said “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up”.

So if creativity is not about making a perfect product then what is it? It is actually about a process, an attitude and a way of being in the world. It is the use of imagination, finding new ideas, transcending traditional patterns.   It’s about being present and aware, being prepared to take a risk, make a mistake and learn from it. In my workshops on creativity the focus is on allowing the participants to find the creativity within themselves and the joy that that evokes. Creativity is a muscle that must be exercised. Sometimes we need a bit of kickstart to get reconnected to our creativity.   Once connected you will infect everyone around you: Creativity is contagious!

Adults that work with children (and other adults) who are able to be creative in their lives are at a huge advantage. They are better problem solvers, are less stressed, more positive, better communicators, less addictive, more spontaneous, easier to be around, healthier and much better at being around children. It makes sense then to nurture this capacity in our educators.

The greatest gift you can give your child and yourself this Christmas is giving your time and full attention to playing together.

I would like to congratualate Khanyisa for recognising the importance of this and making it a priority.

20161123_143244P.S.  The Headmistress of the school, Bukelwa Booysen, is an extremely competent woman with high standards.  The school also supports adults with special needs.  If you need a worth cause to donate to this would be a good one.

P.P.S.  I was really amazed by the children’s various performances, especially as they did almost everything (counting, colours, alphabet etc) in three languages: English, Afrikaans and Xhosa!

P.P.S. My next Reconnect to your Creativity workshop is from the 17th till the 19th of February 2017.  Contact me on karoorest@gmail.com for more info or see this website (www.karoorest.com) on the workshops page.

Still Waiting for Rain

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It’s been a month since my last blog about waiting for rain. And it still hasn’t. When I wrote my last blog I felt like I was grappling with the theory of what it’s like to face a drought.

Reality has hit.  Now the yellow grass crumbles as I walk.  Between the bushes are only stones.  The sky is an insulting blue.  Getting enough food and water to the cows is a full time occupation. (And the awareness of the limited nature of this resource grows).

Something has changed in me too: I have stopped waiting for the rain.   I am no longer checking www.yr.no obsessively to see if rain is forecast.  It happened the moment I saw a tortoise drinking out of a puddle in the dam.  Instead of thinking, maybe this is her last drink before she goes up the mountain to get out of the flood, I thought this tortoise is in the dam because there is absolutely no chance that it’s about to rain.  It felt like a proper grown up moment.

The adult me is needs to respond to this drought. I have to face the reality of what is true in this moment and make some difficult decisions.   If it doesn’t rain there will not be enough food and water for the cows. In that case I must sell some cows immediately to make space. If it does rain in a week’s time the cows will get fat and I will get more money for them. If it doesn’t rain they will get much thinner and I will get much less money for them or they may even die.

heifers-2

Sometimes I laugh at the way that city folk talk: they just want to get a piece of land where they can grow a few veggies, have a cow and not deal with the stress of modern living. Right now I wouldn’t mind the security of a salary, give the responsibility of solving the water problem to the municipality and take a trip to the shops to buy my supper (even if I have to get stuck in traffic and deal with painted zebra crossings and not actual zebras). Today farming feels like the most stressful life choice to make.  It feels like living on the edge, gambling with everything we’ve got and giving up all control.

I know it will rain.  At some stage. But as I get to grips with this drought thing I discover an important lesson for me about hope and responsibility. Hope keeps me going but its not enough. The child can live on hope.  The adult must respond to what is real right now.

wedding-venue

This is the time to be grown up and responsible. Stepping into the role of the adult can feel overwhelming because there is the fear that its permanent. That there is no going back, from here on out its just serious business and no magic. But the thing no one told us about adulthood is that we are granted the freedom to move between adult and child roles. The child doesn’t have that freedom, becoming an adult too soon is damaging, children should only do things that are appropriate for children. But us adults still have the option to be childlike, to be cared for, to ask for help and advice, to play and be spontaneous. In fact it is a requirement for being happy and whole. This is true even in our relationships. Both partners must be allowed the opportunity to be strong and to be supported. If we become stuck in one role or the other then we stop growing The challenge is to recognise an adult moment and step into it with courage and confidence.

This drought is a good opportunity to practise that.

I am running my Reconnect: Essence workshop this weekend. The drought has also taught me something about essence of things. Everything is stripped down to its very basic survival mode. It is about a deep conservation of energy which results in stillness. As farmers we are forced to focus on the essentials and cut away all the other drama that clutters our life. I feel very prepared to step into this workshop. See you on the other side.

P.S. The Reconnect series starts again next year with Reconnect: Grounding 24 – 27 March. Come and see if its rained!

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Making The Space (written in collaboration with Iain North)

This is the story of The Space: The beautiful natural earth building that we built on The Rest.  The building of The Space is a huge step towards realising our dream of creating a space for healing on The Rest.

It all started in September 2014.  Originally we (Iain and I) had thought we would need to get the core business of the cattle well established before we started any new projects.  However, 4 years into our farming journey we understood that diversifying is the key to survival when farming in the Karoo. So instead of reintroducing sheep (which is common practice here) we decided to start to build our healing centre.  As a qualified and experienced dramatherapist it seemed to make more sense to do what I can already do and what I am passionate about instead of introducing a new agribusiness that we would have to learn from scratch.

At the outset I knew the following: The space had to be round, it had to have a lot of windows and a skylight, it needed a sprung floor for dancing,  it needed to be built from natural materials and it had to have easy access to a kitchen and bathroom which were not actually attached to the space.

Iain is a fabulously talented and experienced maker of things.  However, he did not feel confident that he would be able to build the space on his own so we invited Neil Smith, who specialises natural building, to get us started.  Lisa Foale did the architectural design and Gavin Lutge gave input on the structural engineering side.

The Bricks

After our first meeting in September Neil began experimenting with the soils to find the perfect combination that would make the most solid adobe brick.

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He took samples of mud from various locations and combined it with gravel, sand, straw and the magic ingredient: cow poo.  In November he returned and dropped these samples from a height to discover which stood the test and did not crack.

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Once the perfect combination was identified, the recipe was set and it was time to start making bricks.  This job would continue for the next 9 months to produce the thousands of bricks that were needed for the three buildings.

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Here is our recipe for making bricks:

    1.  Turn on the music (reggae seems particularily well suited).
    2.  Put on your gumboots.
    3. Lay out a plastic groundsheet.
    4. Collect 2 buckets of twice sifted gravel, 2 of earth,  1 of river sand and a bucket cow manure and get the hose ready.
    5. Find a friend.
    6. Start by mixing with a spade as if you are making a cake while adding water.

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7. Lets dance! Mix it up with your gumboots and work those thigh muscles!

8. Add straw.

9. Using the groundsheet roll into into a long cigar.

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10. Stomp and roll. Stomp and roll. Stomp and roll. Repeat.

11. Get your brick mold and pack it in.

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Cedric and Robert

12.  Now for perfect timing: bend your knees, make eye contact and slide the brick mold up so there are no cracks or strange shapes.

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13.Let the sun do the rest.

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The result are bricks filled with music, dance, team work and sunshine!

Foundations

By November it was the moment for making a commitment for life (a bit like deciding to get pregnant!)… It was time to dig the foundations.

The three circles had to be perfectly measured as they would guide us into the final structure. The large circle is for The Space, behind and to the right the Kitchen and to the left the Bathroom.

The foundations were filled with small rocks gathered from the farm and then a cement and mud mix  for permanence.

The Wooden Skeleton

The next step was to plant the wooden poles around which the stones and mud bricks would form the building.

The upright poles are the only treated poles in the building because they are inside the wall and we cannot replace them (due to rot or insects).  The poles are for holding up the ring beam for the roof and they provide structure for the walls.

With the space marked out and the poles planted the ghost of the building began to emerge.

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Zia and Mica Kingwill Cloete giving us a taste of things to come

Rock Walls

Three months from the start date it was time to start building the actual structure.

Our vision was to utilize as much local material as possible in the building.  The first 600 mm of the walls would be made from stone and the rest from mud brick.  The stones would keep the building safe in the event of flood (a surprisingly common occurrence in our Karoo) and add a sense of permanence to the building.    Many hours were spent by staff and volunteers in the hot summer sun lifting the ancient (heavy) rocks that are scattered over the veld.  By the time we had collected all we needed it came to 40 Tractor loads!  As each load arrives they were carefully selected for shape and size to fit together to make the stone walls.

 

Adobe brick building

After the slow start of experimenting and laying the ground work, collecting rocks and carefully building the stone structure, the adobe brick laying is satisfyingly fast.

Thanks to help from volunteers from around the world and a fabulous team of guys from Nieu Bethesda the walls rose steadily higher and higher.  The kitchen first and then the main space.  The large heavy bricks are laid in a similar way to regular bricks.  Instead of cement we used the same ingredients as the adobe bricks before they set.  So lots of mud dancing for this as well!

The shower

The shower wall is made from rock and is entirely Iain’s creation.  With little windows and ledges to rest your soap and shampoo its a sight to behold and took a significant amount of sweat, a little blood and even a few tears!  We used recycled glass in the windows found on the farm dating back a good few decades.

 

Doors and Windows

Every door and window frame needed to be pounded full of thousands of nails so that they would hold into the adobe brick.

All the windows in The Space were made by Iain out of old meranti, that he found in an abandoned shed in Graaff-Reinet. After much detective work, he found the owner and bought them for incredibly good price.

The window sills are from yellow wood beams discovered in the old barn at Highlands. Bent and more than 100 years old, they were murder to plank and finish.

For the front and back doors of the space, Iain used the yellow wood beams. Using just a skill saw, a drill and a grinder, he planked, sanded and constructed the doors. They are inlaid with oregon pine that we salvaged from a burnt out ruin at highlands.

The Reciprocal Roof

Lisa Foal discovered the reciprocal roof which we loved first for its beauty and second for the principle that it demonstrates: the strength that results from reciprocal support.  However, no one we knew had ever built one.  And so we asked the internet (as one does).  We found a 15 minute video (link) and figured out the rest from there (by the time we had put up the actual roof we learned that the video is in fact a promotional video for a workshop where you get to learn how to put the actual roofs up so some key elements are left out!!).

The Model

First we practised on match sticks.  Iain, Jarid, Sean Wilson and Bood Carver spent a number of hours (and bottles of beer) getting it right.  Then on to the model made from fence droppers.  This held the weight of a full grown man jumping on it like a trampoline.  It would have to work.

Sourcing the poles from the poplar forest

Iain tells the story of making the roof and ceiling…

The bluegums for the exterior and poplars for the interior were all harvested and de-barked with sharpened spades at full moon/low tide (when the sap is at its lowest).

The Stihl chainsaw decided that it was not up to the task, so all of the woodwork was completed with a 1979 homelite chainsaw with a 30cm blade.

The poles were air dried in the forest for the next 4 months, then selected for least cracking and beauty.

The Kitchen

The kitchen, with only 9 poles of 3 meter, this was much easier to practice on. And light enough to lift with the hand.

To make the reciprocal roof, the first pole is supported by a long forked tree trunk. pole 2 rests on pole 1, and each pole is notched to ensure that they don’t slip too far out of line. This carries on, and then the final pole is slipped under pole 1. All the poles are loosely bound with parachute cord.

The fun part was taking a 20 pound hammer and bashing the support pole out. The whole structure then dropped and fell into position, each pole resting on another. A thing of beauty.

The Main Space

And finally using all that we had learned to build the roof on the main space.

The same principle was used, but now with 19 x 6-7m poles.,each taking 4-5 men to move into position. The scaffolding was at 5.2meters. Again, we were so lucky to have our helpers from Nieu Bethesda, as well as some very strong and keen German volunteers.

Knocking out the support pole (or charlie stick as it is called), was a lot more nerve-racking. On the first fall we landed with an egg shaped centre hole. But using 2 hydraulic jacks and other charlie stick (re-named The Martin Stick after one of our more committed volunteers), we were able to do some reshuffling, and get the round opening for the skylight.

The Ceiling

A round building with a roof made from organically shaped poles takes making a ceiling to a whole new level.  The combination of patience and skill were critical for completing this project (safely).

Each piece had to measured and cut to fit the organic shape. There were no set squares and no levels and no pattern.

Once the timber was in, we had the brain-teazer of how to fit the skylight. After having re-made the top half of the roof in the kitchen, we were better equipped. But many hours were spent trying different options, that would be strong, and pretty.

The final result was worth all the trouble (for Paula!)

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Plastering

This proved to be a source of much frustration as the plaster constantly cracked no matter what we tried.  After beating the entire walls with hammers to create an uneven surface, we tried mix after mix after mix. Eventually we found the recipe that worked.  We were lucky to have Justin Malgas – the grandson of Koos Malgas from the owl house, who took time off from making owls to help shape our windows and alcoves.

Here we said good bye to Neil Smith, and many thanks for helping us get this far.

Ventilation and drainage

Under floor airvents had been planned and built into the original foundations. As well as moisture drainage furrows under the wooden floor, that exited and the water is taken to a pit 20 meters away. Instead of having windows that open we have vent holes in the walls that have beautiful yellow wood covers that can manage temperature and air flow.

Sprung Floor

 

Iain tells about the floor:

After sinking and concreting in the support poles, we used treated timber for the joists. We then laid high density rubber and overlaid that with Saligna tongue and groove planks. Saligna is a type of Eucalyptus, with a beautiful pink shade,  that ate drill bits and circular saw blades – very very hard.

Once the floor was laid, we sanded it and then I applied 4 coats of the best sealer we could find. For the skirting, we used off-cuts from the floor planks to seal the edges. 147 small pieces in total. All cut to fit with the organic curve of the circular wall.

(Iain and Richard Harrington spent many hours on this floor solving the problem of straight planks and round spaces.  Thanks Richard!!)

The veranda

Once again we needed some foundations for the outer wall. Into this we planted bluegum poles to support the roof of the veranda. (For your interest, to drill 1 hole in one of these poles, would take 9-14 minutes per hole. This dry bluegum is the hardest.) All of these had to cross braced until the foundation set, and then we could start building up.

Rocks, rocks and more rocks. We did daily trips into the veld to collect more. Not just for the floor of the veranda, but also for the 18m long wall around the veranda. Here our khaki (almost green) cement and mud mix was used again.

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Glass and Hinges

We opted to have the glass delivered to us, at no extra cost (gotta love small towns) A very wide eyed Buks from Glassfit in Graaff Reinet arrived 3 hours late, pale and shaking. He didn’t realized that our roads were not designed for glass transport. He delivered the glass and ran for civilization. Nervously we installed the 6 windows in the Space, and the 6 in the kitchen, ourselves, with no mishap.

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What we didn’t realize was that our space had been a stopover for glossy starlings. On the first night a starling dive bombed a window reminding us about those nasty masking tape window crosses.

The hinges for the front door were a trade with a brilliant traditional blacksmith, Paul Mikula from Haartebeespoort.  The hinges are hand forged on his fires from the only solar powered forge in the southern hemisphere ( www.mikulaforge.co.za). They are truly beautiful. When the space has eroded and decomposed and returned to dust, these hinges will still be around to tell the tale.

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The hinges arrived at 7pm on the evening of the first workshop, in the boot of a car belonging to co-facilitator.  The doors were hanging by 9am the following morning for the start of the workshop!

The finished product

The first workshop, Reconnect Purpose, took place on the 15th of September 2015.  The work continued until minutes before the participants walked into the space.

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The scaffolding packed away, the left over bricks and rocks carefully stacked, the mud washed off my hands, I was ready to step into my other role: dramatherapist. Facilitating a dramatherapy workshop in a custom built space is one of my most cherished experiences.  Everything about the space from the light to the floors to the curved walls supported the participants and I on our journey through dark and light and into a new commitment to live fully as ourselves.

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P.S.  The building of The Space was possible because of the involvement of many hands, many love and much connection.

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Here are a few of the people that made it possible

P.P.S.  You could experience a workshop in this space.  Check our calendar to find a date that suits you( (http://www.karoorest.com/index.php#workshop).

P.P.S.  If you email me after reading this blog you could qualify for a 50% reduction on the fee for my next workshop Reconnect: Essence 1 -4 December.  Email karoorest@gmail.com

 

The Food Revolution Starts with YOU

paula-cows

Since I became a full time farmer I have developed a much deepened understanding of what it means (as my oupa said) to provide food for the nation.  As I become more connected to what it means to produce food so I become more frustrated with the growing disconnection that we as consumers have from the source of our food. (The other day I realised when I got home that my tomatoes were from Argentina!).

This can be seen in our terror of dirt and the subsequent obsession with cellophane plus cling wrap plus polystyrene packaging (individually wrapped tea bags being my personal worst) which then produce mountains of plastic waste which take up valuable food production space.  Also with the need for identical, unblemished tomatoes,perfectly uniform apples, for this perfect product that mirrors its plastic, factory produced counterpart.  (Did you know that dairies must remove all the fat from the milk and then put it back so that you have exactly 2% for low fat and 3.25% for full cream?).  We expect farms to be equivalent to factories producing identical goods.  The way that consumer demand is met has all the hectic ramifications of massive pollution and harm through corporate owned factory farming, mono cropping, feedlots,

As a cattle farmer my interest is in beef production which leads me to thinking about the implications of the dissociated consumer for what we farm.  Meat, all filled with blood and the unavoidable association with death runs counter to the modern consumers fear of messiness and unhappy endings.  However, it tastes good, is an excellent form of protein and its quite an easy way of efficiently getting your family fed.  In order to tolerate the fact of where the meat comes from, many consumers prefer to disconnect completely and are thus prepared to eat meat that is produced in factory farms and feedlots, pumped with antibiotics, fed maize instead of grass, slaughtered in herculean meat factories processing thousands of carcasses a day and generally treated with great disrespect (see more about this in my sister’s blog PEACE MEAT https://helenakingwill.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/peace-meat/).

For those who are not able to disconnect from the source of their meat there is another (sometimes equally destructive) response and that is to anthropomorphise the animal and project all sorts of human ideas, needs and experiences onto the animals.  We see images of cows enjoying being cuddled and dancing with joy when they discover fresh green grass.  Because these animals experience joy and enjoy nurturing it means they can no longer be eaten and must be “freed”.   Once freed where should they graze? Who will care for them?  Perhaps the state should start a program to rehabilitate cows back into the wild.  Except there is no wild for cows.  They are domestic animals.  Freedom would mean a slow death of starvation.  Their life depends on us farming them.  It is our responsibility to do so ethically with the deepest respect for their quality of life.  (Plants are also shown to respond to music and also seem to feel pain.  This is not evidence that we cannot eat them it simply means that humans are not as unique as we thought.)

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It seems as if the energy some people put into saving other species is actually a displacement from the real issue: human suffering.  If feels as though caring for our own species is just too overwhelming and complex to undertake and so we shift our shame and compassion to animals who cannot speak back to at us about our privilege and our complicity in their oppression.

When humans built our first house and stopped being hunter gatherers we needed to farm to feed ourselves.  At that point we interfered with the natural movement of wild animals and prioritised our own nutrition over theirs. The good life made us very good at reproduction and keeping our babies alive and so further reduced the areas to which wild animals can range and forced humans to get involved in their management. (e.g. Springbuck can no longer stampede in their thousands across the veld; we can’t live side by side with lions as they may eat our children, so we must take on the role of keeping their prey under control).

But we are hypocritical and inconsistent in our protection of the animals.  We had hysterics about Cecil the lion – because he had a name (imagine if that level of outrage was leveled at the deaths from violence and poverty that are perpetrated daily in our own neighbourhoods to humans with names).  We are incredibly sentimental about elephants because so much about them resonates with humans from the intelligence in their eyes to their relationship with their children.  Yet when an elephant population gets out of control the damage that is caused will destroy the habitat and food source for many other less human-like animals.(Our preferential conservation of animals that are more like us further proves my theory that this impulse to protect and care for has been misdirected from the human suffering project).

I used to be very anti-hunting.  I couldn’t understand the desire to take another life for the simple thrill of it.  I still don’t.  What I found even more disgusting was when a hunter wanted to kill an animal and not even take the meat, only the trophy so that he could show off his manliness to his friends.  I still find this deeply disturbing.  However, I have encountered another perspective which is more in line with my ethics of an unsentimental respect for all life, human and animal.  That is that professional hunting is the biggest contributor wildlife conservation.  This links into the cow story.  When an animal contributes to the economy of a system it is protected and cared for.  There is a direct correlation between countries in which hunting is supported and regulated and the health and biodiversity of the wildlife.  When it is up to the state to care for the animals for their own sake this can never be as efficient because the first priority of the state must be the humans – and its rare that there is anything left over from this.   Those weird guys with questionable egos who just want to shoot the animal without the meat end up contributing twice – the meat can then be eaten or sold within the local community on top of the large price paid for hunting the animal.  This could of course mean one rich white farmer (but also all the staff s/he employs which is a significant number from the hunt itself, through the processing of the meat to the trophy making) or it could be a large local community.

Cecil was actually part of such an economy which suffers radically when the hunters pull out.  This leads to massive poaching which is not regulated and ultimately leads to many more animal deaths and poverty for the local community.  Hunters want to shoot animals that will look impressive on their walls.  Half starved, inbred animals don’t make the grade.  So its in the interests of game farmers to ensure excellent genetics, nutrition and breeding of their game. This conservation needs to be broader than their individual farms so they can have access to new genes.  This means they must contribute to national wildlife conservation if their business is to succeed.  Of course in any scenario where money is to be made there are those that exploit and harm and have no vision for sustainability.  If there is a fight to pick its with those people not with the industry as a whole.

If we are honestly concerned with the ethical treatment of animals (and humans) then as consumers we must be informed about where our food comes from and what it takes to produce it.  Then we can make decisions based on that knowledge and pay the price.  If we don’t like pesticides poisoning the fish then we also need to accept fruit and veg that is not perfectly formed and coloured.  Our squeamishness and avoidance of the subject of death makes us perfect victims of inaccurate advertising and perpetuation of harmful practises.

To cut out eating meat to save the animals is misguided because many animals are harmed through the farming of vegetables (forests cut down to plant soy, rivers polluted through fertilizer) and through overpopulation of the planet (tell that to the wealthy who have upped the average age a good few decades due to access to healthcare).

There are areas (like the Karoo) in which vegetable farming is not an option (there are still scars on the landscape from failed attempts at growing crops in the semi desert) and where the most efficient way to turn the veld into food is via an animal. The life of a grassfed cow in the Karoo is pretty amazing.

calves-in-the-grass

Grassfed beef costs more to produce.  It takes a lot longer to make a cow fat on grass and that adds the costs to management and care for that animal before it pays the rent. A feedlot animal is ready to be slaughtered at around 15 months while our cattle are ready for the butcher only at around age 3 depending on the season (throw in a drought or a long winter and you get nice lean meat!). It is more than worth paying more for the taste and healthy side effects (http://bodyecology.com/articles/the-health-benefits-of-grass-fed-beef gives some of this info). The reality is that most farmers are not able to get a premium for our grassfed beef and so we cannot afford to produce it and so have to depend on feedlots to provide our the income we need to sustain our operation.  Retailers that are selling grassfed beef are often asking a premium but not paying that to the farmer.  This makes raising grassfed beef unsustainable.  The consumer must challenge the retailer about what s/he is paying the farmer.

compasberg-and-cattle

It is true that we need to reduce our meat consumption because the grassfed industry cannot produce enough meat to feed everyone meat every day.  So here is my new slogan:  EAT MEAT ONCE A WEEK AND MAKE SURE ITS GRASSFED.  Consider the whole animal.  I have recently discovered that there is a movement that is dedicated to this idea (saying many of the things I have said above it turns out!) called the Nose to Tail movement (https://www.yuppiechef.com/spatula/nose-to-tail-need-to-knows-for-meat-lovers/).  If farmers don’t have to produce fillet steak for the whole country to eat daily then we don’t have to resort to the ridiculous factory farming methods.

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If we want to find an authentic solution to the destruction of our natural resources we have to let go of the over-simplifed polarities like: Eating meat is bad for the planet but eating vegetables is good for the planet or all hunting is bad.  We need to educate ourselves properly about where our food comes from, question your grocers and butchers about their supply, make it worth their while to provide ethically produced food.  I know this takes more time than most people have, but trust me when I say that eating this kind of food makes you feel better inside and out.

(And before we talk about freeing the cows we need to be sure that our fellow humans are free).

P.S.  You can buy grassfed beef directly from the farmer by emailing us on karoochoice@gmail.com.  You can come and visit, see how we raise the cattle and ask us questions about how we farm.  See this website www.karoorest.com on the Other Offerings tab.

P.S.  Here are some ways to tell if your meat is grassfed: the fat is yellow and not white.  It will probably be slightly tougher than feedlot meat because they actually have to walk for food and water.  Your butcher may not be able to source fat grassfed cows all year round (if he can I would question how authentic his sources are).

P.P.S.  Organic meat is not the same as Grassfed.  It may just mean they your cows are eating organic mielies.  So while they may have an improved taste experience they are still standing in their own poo eating mielies from the trough suffering and from a bad case of acidophilus. Find out the story before you buy.

P.P.S.  We are all about reducing the suffering of the animals.  But we do need to be realistic about what is possible. We can’t go from feedlots where cows are force-fed a diet their bodies can’t digest and being slaughtered daily in their thousands to insisting on only eating meat which has not been transported to an abattoir.  Firstly this cuts out the small farmer who cannot afford to build a registered abattoir on his/her farm or opens the farmer up to all sorts of legislative risks if we slaughter without that facility.

P.P.P.S If you want meat that hasn’t suffered then you can only eat venison that has been professionally hunted (I’m all for you maning up and killing your own meat but not if you’re a bad shot because then you send the suffering quotient through the roof).

Looking forward to your comments!!

living here: My reflections on #FMF

I propose we rename June 16 We Shall Not Forget Day or Never Again Day. Youth Day sounds too much like Fathers Day, which suggests that breakfast in bed is a sufficient way to commemorate it.

In fact June 16 marks the day, 40 years ago, when school kids said to their parents: “We see your suffering.  We understand that just putting food on our table is taking all the energy you have got.  We see you are tired and your responsibilities are too great.  But we know you have suffered long enough.  Its time for change.  We are young and so feel we don’t have anything to lose so we will take this fight on for you.  We will face the bullets for you because we understand you cannot risk any more.”  And so they fought and died for their parents and changed the course of our history.

Once freedom had been won, we decided that we must look forward and forget our ugly past in the building of our new nation.

My recent training in Family Constellations Therapy has given me a new view on remembering and forgetting (see www.africanconstellations.co.za for more about Family Constellations).  This theory explains that things that have been excluded from our families/systems will exert an enormous influence on the system until they are acknowledged.  The people within the system will unconsciously try to compensate for that exclusion.  Often acting out in all sorts of destructive ways in an attempt to bring the system back into alignment.  “What we reject we become”.  But only acknowledging and including that which has been excluded will in fact restore balance and peace.

Family Constellations also talks about the loyalty of children to their parents and how often they will unconsciously (or consciously) take on the unfinished business of their parents.

And so we see that the children of the school children of the ’76 Soweto uprising are saying: “Parents, we honour your struggle.  We acknowledge the sacrifice you made for our freedom.  We will continue your fight for equality.  We recognise that equal access to equal education is the only way for this to be realised.  Your fight was not for nothing.  You are tired and have too much to lose.  We will take the fight on for you.” The students are reminding us of the unfinished business that is making a lived reality the values fought for by their parents.

For a white South African farmer its very uncomfortable to talk about apartheid, even more awkward to considering the fact that as a white person I am are still receiving preferential treatment because of the colour of my skin.

As a child growing up on a farm I had the experience (typical of most farm kids but exceptional in apartheid South Africa) where my main playmates and friends were children of the farm workers who were black.  We explored, played and grew together.  Until we got to school going age.  And then we went to separate schools and began to travel on distinctly different paths.  I remember back to 1986 where my political awakening was taking place at 13. I watched the townships burn and knew that my childhood friend boycotting school, fighting for equality, while I studied on undisturbed.  In the process she missed two critical years of school, separating us even further as we travelled towards adulthood.

20 years later the fact of our vastly different schooling experience plays a very significant role in the opportunities available to her and subsequently for her children.

As we watch (from the safety of our homes) the Universities in turmoil I feel an urgent need to ask white South Africans to take this opportunity to take a pause in our smug tut tutting about unruly students and consider our positions. We need to recognise our own role and consider the connection between relentless racism and the powerful rage being acted out by the students.

The idea that we need stop talking about Apartheid and move on is quite bizarre, considering that the Boer War still has relevance in our relationships and memories. I would think that the influence of Apartheid will continue for a good few more generations.

Often when we talk about race it obscures all other issues because it is so difficult to engage around racism without defensiveness or aggression.  But then someone uses racist language or actions and justifies all that is being said about whites being racist and we are unable to move on from these polarities.

It is critical right now for white people to acknowledge their privilege and its origins.  What you do with that is up to you -hold onto it tightly and guard it with your gun; give it all away or actively work towards a society where race is really no longer relevant.  When white people are honest about where our privilege originates a constructive conversation can begin but until then we can’t get anywhere.

Racism rests comfortably in the space of denial because when we deny the roots of our privilege we are under the illusion that we are in positions of power and wealth because of our own superior capacity.  We speak about “them” and entrench our special place.

(It is also interesting how in trying to forget and move on from apartheid the current government employs exactly the same tactics as its former oppressors… what we reject we become).

We are all called to see things as they are.  When we do this then we can be released from this stuck position we find ourselves in and new possibilities can be realised. We cannot change the past but face it with our eyes open.

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P.S. This is the first in a series of attempts to engage constructively in the conversation that South Africans are needing to have at this moment in our history. As a South African, a farmer, a mother, a dramatherapist, these issues have deep relevance to me.  Looking forward to your comments.

P.P.S.  If you are interested in learning more about Family Constellations come to the workshop next year with Tanja Meyburgh on The Rest (20 – 22nd October 2017).  If you can’t wait that long come to Essence 1 -4 December to reflect on the powerful shifts that this year has thrown at us. Get in touch for more information on karoorest@gmail.com

Waiting for Rain

The Rest - beefmaster-angus herd enjoys the dip 2009

Its that time of year again when the need for rain begins to dominate conversations between farmers.  Spring has sprung and we need water to turn the mountains green, top up the ground water and fatten them cows.  If the cows don’t start picking up weight, they won’t get pregnant in time, they won’t calve in time and we won’t be able to pay our bills in time!

How do you make it rain?  Pray hard. Do a rain dance.  Shake a rain stick.  Shoot the clouds.  Pray hard. Beg the clouds to release their bounty above your head.  We have been devising rituals for millennia to make it rain and it remains beyond our control.

Nowadays talking about the weather is no longer idle chit chat to fill an awkward pause in the conversation.  It has become central and critical to our existence. Its the first thing we talk about with our neighbours and subject we return to most reguarily.

We scan the environment hopefully for signs of coming rain.  We exclaim with joy when we see a tortoise walking uphill, this must mean that she is heading away from the lowlands where she will be washed away in heavy rains.   Our hearts sink when she walks down the other side of the hill towards the river.   Leguaans, busy ants, flocks of birds sitting on the telephone wires keep us hopeful for another day.

When it does rain the farmers stand around comparing how many millimeters fell.  Those that got the most rain get to feel a bit smug (that same feeling you got as a kid when you were given the most pudding for being good).

On the other hand when we get less rain than everyone else it feels horribly unfair.  Like the other day, I drove back from town through our neighbours farm. We splashed through delicious puddles of rain, and as we slipped and swerved through the rich mud we took guesses about how much rain had fallen.  But then just as we reached our boundary gate the puddles disappeared and the road was suddenly dry.  They got 30 mms and we a mere 5!  (But maybe its because we got more rain than everyone else in January and now its payback time.)

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But, of course, the truth is that the rain is impartial to our behaviour and actions. We cannot take credit or blame for the rain that fell on our veld.

Being a farmer has brought out both the religious and superstitious impulses in me.  However, there are those rare and beautiful moments when I experience a powerful and liberating surrender and acceptance of what actually is true: I have no control over the weather (or injuries and illness to our animals, or the multitude other potential problems the future may bring).  In these moments there is a freedom from trying to control the future and instead a deep recognition that the only thing that I do have any control over is my own self: I can choose how I prepare for and respond to whatever life throws at me.

They say a good farmer always expects and prepares for the worst.  If taken literally this becomes overwhelmingly difficult.  The number of things that can go wrong is limitless.  The resulting fear and anxiety becomes debilitating.  However, the truth of this statement it is that we need to farm for the existing state of affairs, knowing that we have no control of what will come next.  This means that when it rains we need to make the most of every single drop and make sure that we maximise the use of the water that falls because we don’t know when it will rain again.  This means farming in the most environmentally responsible way.

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As a human beings these farming truths are powerfully useful.  We do only have control over our own behavior and the way we respond to what life throws at us.  That means we don’t have the power to change other people’s behaviour or what the future will bring. We cannot take the hardships life throws at us personally.  Nor should we waste our precious energy on trying to change what is beyond our control.  That energy is best used on responding to what is right here and now.

Living this is a life’s work.  However, those moments of living with what is actually really present in the here and now are so fabulously liberating that its worth practicing.

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P.S.  Because we have grassfed beef we are more reliant on the rains to make good grass for our production.  If you want to sample our delicious meat send us an email on karoochoice@gmail.com.  If you live in Cape Town we are doing a delivery around the 18th of October.

P.P.S. On all the Reconnect on The Rest workshops we observe the natural environment so that we can benefit from the wisdom that is present in all things.  Nature is the perfect teacher for responding to what is real and present right now.  This presence allows the tortoise and the ants to anticipate the rain long before it arrives so that they survive and benefit from its arrival.  They also have knowledge of the drought and able to prepare in advance of this.  They do not spend energy worrying about what will happen rather they listen deeply and respond to what they hear.   See the workshops page to find a workshop you can join (Reconnect: Essence 1 -4 December has a focus on this practice.)

P.P.S.  Saw a tortoise walking uphill yesterday… holding thumbs 😉

Lettuce for Mojo

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When I was 8 months pregnant I was charged by a bull.  Mojo was new on the farm, full of testosterone and showing off to his new harem.  I was checking on the pregnant cows to see all was well.  I had never felt any fear before and so when the bull started to paw at the dirt and move threateningly towards me I shouted back at him slightly annoyed at his foolishness.  When he continued to move towards me I shouted again but this time, a little unsettled, I started moving backwards, putting a thorn bush between us.  When this made no difference to his show of strength, fear counseled me to end the standoff and get myself and my large belly as speedily as possible to the other side of the barbed wire fence.

For a few years following this experience, every time I was in the kraal with Mojo, I would feel him watching me and was convinced that he was going to charge me again.  (FYI: Mojo’s breeder, Chris Hobson, had originally named him Lettuce after Chris’ 3 year old fed him the salad out of his hand!  Amazing the change in a male when trying to impress a group of females…).

mojoWhile I was nervous around Mojo I felt fine around other cattle… Until late last year. I was herding a group of cows to another camp when a cow with a small calf mock charged me.  I assumed it was the dog that was threatening her and so I put the dog in the bakkie.  A few kms down the road she did it again and then again.  By the time we reached the camp we were headed for she had charged me 7 or 8 times, this in spite of me trying to put as many cows between her and me as possible.  I could barely walk my legs were shaking so hard.

The fear that I had reserved for Mojo now became generalised to all cows with small calves.  As a result of this incident, being around cows with small calves became extremely uncomfortable to me.  I am a cattle farmer.  This is a problem.

So I tried to talk myself out of it.  While many cows have mock charged, none have ever made contact. (Except for that one time a young heifer took the gap that was actually our new French volunteer.  Her 250 kg weight sent Tudal flying into the air.  Luckily he is a rugby player and is used to this sort of behaviour.  The fact that he was still wearing his tourist backpack saved his back and our legal fees. Susie was immediately put on the cull list).

Being a dramatherapist I know that using my head (rationalising) is not going to resolve an experience lodged in the body.  (For some theoretical backup for this statement read Peter Levine: In an Unspoken Voice, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.)

My first step is to make friends with this fear and honour the wisdom it brings me.  Some behaviour change is necessary:  I make sure that I am not around cows and small calves with a dog (cow charges dog, dog hides behind human, cow charges human).

Considering that I am past 40 with two small children I don’t actually have to be the last line of defense between protective mother and calf being tagged. (My job is usually to wave a stick in the face of the mom trying to get to her calf.  This is because I am not so good at wrestling said calf to the ground as the other staff).

On the other hand, the daily checking on pregnant cows is something I love to do.  Its an important way to keep an eye on the health of the cattle and the state of the veld and water supply.  Its also an excellent excuse to get some peace and quiet!  This is not something I am prepared to give up.

After the incident with Susie I was looking for reasons to delegate the task of checking the cattle, and when I did go I would give lots of extra personal space to cows that looked at me funny.  (Since her eyes are so widely spaced, she watches you with her whole head, all 500 kgs of her.) A cows face is the perfect place onto which to project feelings.  You try.  Are these cows cross or not?

I was allowing the fear to take away something that I love and need to do. The fear also radiated off me and made me much more likely to be charged by a panicky cow … thus constantly reinforcing the fear.

It was time to practice on myself what I do with others: work with the fear in my body.  Tracking and releasing it.  I have to give it time… patience and kindness (to myself) are really critical.  I have to trust that if I am gentle and honest with myself the transformation will take place in the time it takes.  I will never return to my original relationship with cows.

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But I will find a new way of being that is wise and conscious.

Mojo is getting old now.  Perhaps its time to feed him his favourite snack!

P.S In my work as a dramatherapist I am very familiar with how fear can impact on a person’s quality of life.  In fact, a large majority of suffering of us humans is caused by fear (fear of judgement, fear of failure, fear of being hurt, fear of people that are different, fear of being different, fear of abandonment) based in a real experience that may be lodged so far back in our past that we no longer remember it.

Most people that live in this country can relate a traumatic incident (or few) that they experienced.  Many have changed their lives as a result of this incident. Working through the fear can feel too challenging to take on and it seems simpler just to stop doing the things that trigger the fear – even if they are things we love.   I know that if you don’t work with the fear it will never go away.  Mojo and Susie have taught me compassion and patience when working with others who are held back by their fears.

Come to Reconnect: Essence 1 -4 December 2016 to find out more.

Glossary of terms for Townies

Cow: a mother that has been pregnant (even if she didn’t carry the calf to full term).

Heifer: virgin or first time pregnant female

Bull: un-castrated male (by the way, there is no connection between horns and gender).

Steers (we call them by the Afrikaans name Tollies): castrated bull.  We castrate all our male calves so they don’t mate with their moms and sisters.  We buy our bulls from other breeders.

Tagging: We put an ear tag on new calves so that we know who their mother is.  At the same time we also do castration if necessary and clip the ear with a year specific clip.  This usually takes place a few weeks after birth.