The life artistic – Carpe jugulum

Standard

I’ve got to admit that I was slightly apprehensive about travelling to Romania on my own. I blame a combination of studying Gothic literature at A-level and an overactive imagination.  I’ll admit to having compulsively checked the locks on all the windows before going to bed, because everyone knows the window is Dracula’s preferred mode of entry, but I’m pleased to say that apart from that nervous tick I not only survived the trip unscathed, but left with a new found respect for Romania.

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself upon arrival, having travelled with one of the worse colds I’ve ever had, and wanted nothing more than to bury myself in my hotel room and pray that my ears unblocked themselves soon.  I was not, however, prepared for the journey from the airport into the centre of town, where I was to be staying that night.  As the bus negotiated the dense, rush hour traffic, the sheer beauty of the buildings and parklands that were passing by blew me away.  Vague memories of Bucharest being described as the ‘Paris of the East’ came floating back as we crawled past stately mansions decked out with balconies and turrets.  Needless to say, all, well, most feelings of illness and fatigue fell away (it was a nasty cold after all), and I was keen to go exploring.

For a while I just revelled in the wonderfully forgotten freedom of being able to walk the streets alone after dark.  Europe definitely has one up on South Africa in that respect. The old town has a buzz to it at night, with restaurants spilling out onto the streets and late night revellers sipping drinks inside painfully trendy bars.  The streets in this tiny district (it’s less than 1km²) are tangled enough for you to feel delightfully disorientated, without the risk of ever actually being lost. Crumbling buildings rub shoulders with those that have been beautifully restored, and every corner holds a surprise in terms of architecture, whether it be a 4-storey art nouveau apartment block or a 16th Century Orthodox Church, like the Old Court Church of St Anton pictured below.

WP_000586Hanul_lui_Manuc,_1841Of all the beautiful buildings I discovered on my wanderings, my favourite has to be Manuc’s Inn, a 19th Century caravanserai that occupies a whole block on the edge of the old town.  Having been rebuilt several times, it is currently being lovingly restored to it’s former glory, right down to the quirky wooden pavements that apparently used to cover the whole of the city.  I spent a glorious hour cocooned in the coffee shop located in a corner of the building, soaking up the spring sunshine and watching people pass by in the modern city square outside.  People watching here is fun.  I seemed to have stumbled upon one of the trendier locations, and saw a curious mixture of old ladies selling flowers, well-dressed business men, students chatting in groups, and young women dressed up to the nines in killer heels and bright red lipstick.  What I really liked was the idea that just by shifting my seat to the terrace, I could escape the modern world entirely and dream away as I gazed upon the interior of the old courtyard of the inn.

Bucuresti,_Romania,_Hanul_lui_Manuc_(19);_sector_3

If you ever come to Bucharest, I cannot recommend the free walking tours too highly. My guide was studying to be an architect, which was perfect for a city where you find so many different styles nestled together.  Wandering on my own was fun, but getting to hear the history behind my discoveries was even better.  It gave me a deeper understanding of the people I had watched go by, and of the lives they live in the city.

But, as anyone who has ever been to London will know, you can never judge a country based solely on its capital city.  Escaping from the bustle of Bucharest, I ventured into the beautiful countryside of Buzau County.  This is where I expected my rude awakening to occur.  The big city had been a surprise, but surely now I would find the Romania of my foggy childhood memories.  The one full of under-funded orphanages, where we send shoeboxes of toys every Christmas.

Thankfully, I was disappointed in this particular expectation.  I won’t deny that there is poverty there, but it seems far less raging than I had been led to believe.  Either that or I’ve become acclimatised to seeing a certain level of poverty from the last 18 months living in Southern Africa.  The villages were by no means wealthy, but every house had a patch of land that was bursting forth with what would become food for the summer.  It may just be the way I’m wired, but what I see as poverty in the city, in the countryside I see as simplicity.  To my mind, people were living as my grandparents may well have done when they were children.  Life was less complicated, and there were fewer things that they felt the need to acquire, but I’m not sure if they were any less well off because of that.

Lump me in with the French aristocracy of the 18th Century, who used to enjoy playing at being peasants, if you like, but I found the simplicity and beauty of the countryside refreshing.  Everywhere I looked the trees were in blossom, the sun was warming, and gentle hills rolled out, blending into the horizon, green and inviting.  Just being there you could feel the weariness dropping away.  All I wanted to do was go and get lost in one of the many patches of woodland that surrounded me.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay there forever and had to head back to Bucharest to continue my journeying.  My abiding memories of Romania will be of the wonderful warmth and hospitality I received from the locals, and of the slightly shabby beauty that I encountered everywhere I went.  It was a great reminder that something doesn’t have to be new and perfect in order to be beautiful; the beauty of character creates a striking impression that stays with you far longer than anything something clinically beautiful could produce.

The life theologic – A radical solution

Standard

Working with an NGO that mainly deals with those most at risk for human trafficking, I’ve come to realise just how great the gender imbalance is when you look at the world.  Globally, a greater proportion of women and girls are trafficked than men or boys (70% as opposed to 30% according to the latest UN report on Trafficking in Persons).  This is a huge difference, considering there are slightly more men than women alive in the world today.  Looking deeper, you realise how bad the situation is.  Females are more likely to be aborted, killed as infants, refused treatment when sick, raped, beaten by their partners, and paid less for equal work, while being less likely to be educated or well fed, as well as being scarred by FGM in certain parts of the world!  That’s a horrifying list to look at, and it made me wonder why this is happening?  What is it about women that makes them deserving of this treatment?  Why is there so little love for women in the world? DTS Five (25) I count myself lucky to have grown up in a family and nation where women have equal rights to men.  I was never held back or marginalised because of my gender, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I was told I couldn’t do something because I was female.  Because of the encouraging environment, access to healthcare and education, and most importantly of all, love that I received at home, I was free to grow into the giftings God has given me and to achieve things considered impossible or at least pointless for a woman by much of the worlds population.  Because of the education I received, I know that biologically, there is no reason why women cannot obtain the same level of understanding of the world around them as men.  When given the same level of education, they are not deceived more easily than men.  So why are they treated in this way by so much of the world?  Why is a correct attitude seen as one in which it is considered pointless to educate a woman?  Was it just luck that determined that I should be allowed freedoms and rights that are denied to so many? I don’t believe so.  In Western countries, those founded on Christian principles anyway, the lot of women tends to be better, but there is still not true equality.  In the church we are guilty of preventing women from reaching their true potential by holding back those that would minister or teach others.  I don’t believe that this is Biblical, or that it reflects the true character or image of God.  Men and women were created from the same source, both in the image of God.  They were given the task of ruling the earth together. They were both present at the fall.  Don’t be fooled, Adam was there too when Eve took the fruit, and did nothing to stop her.  He then took it from her, having witnessed the previous exchange with the serpent.  They were both equally deceived.  And they have both been equally redeemed by Christ.  The early church, based on the example Christ set in His interactions with women, was hugely counter-cultural, with women leading churches and teaching.  Paul taught men to love their wives as themselves, something they had never had to do before, wives being considered property, rather than partners.  He also frequently gave direction and correction about women teaching, prophesying and leading, something that blatantly suggests that women were fulfilling these roles.  We were always intended to work together in fulfilling the Great Commission, but at the moment at least half of the work force is being held back!  Think how much more we would be able to do if more women were helped to grow in their talents and giftings? DTS Outreach  (82) If so much could be done within the church by a shift in the value we place on women, just how much could be done in other areas of life?  In so many cultures, women are raped and abused because they are not considered to be worth as much as a man.  Female babies are aborted or neglected because they are considered a liability and an expense.  We need to change the way the world perceives women.  We need to realise that, in God’s eyes, women and men are of equal value.  That we have been charged to look after this earth together.  Of course things are going to go wrong if you oppress half of the workforce!  We need to work together to build a future.  Globally, if we educated women to the same level as men, and gave them the same rights and access to services, we would have a much larger potential workforce.  More minds able to ponder the difficult questions in life.  More inventors coming up with solutions to alleviate poverty.  More researchers discovering cures for diseases.  Elevating the value of women to its rightful place could be an amazing solution to poverty, if we could just see past the blinkers of the past. In the end though, it doesn’t matter what we choose to do with our lives or with any new-found freedoms that we may gain.  It matters more that we are able to grow in the giftings we are given, whatever they may be, so that we can each do the thing we do best, to the benefit of all.  It doesn’t matter if we are led by a man or a woman, as long as they are living out their gifting.  We should all have the opportunity to excel in something, and to be proud of what we do.

The life artistic – When in Rome …

Standard

A major part of settling in to any new place is working out what the locals like to do, and joining in.  Here in Muizenberg, the thing to do on a Friday night seems to be to go to the Friday Market at the Bluebird Garage.

South Africa 2015 (1)

Set in an old light-aircraft hangar at the edge of the town centre, the market acts as a meeting and eating place for what seems like the entire town.  It’s a wonderful mix of stalls selling fresh fruit and veg, bread and locally made treats, hot food, local craft beers and wines, and clothes and jewellery made by local craftsmen and women.  The vibe is great, and the friendly atmosphere is exemplified by the long tables that fill the hangar, crammed with people from all walks of life, happily squashing up to make room for each other.  Everyone here seems to live by the motto written on the table tops …

SA 2014 (16)

I couldn’t agree more.  And with an ever changing line up of food stalls to choose from, the big problem is going to be tasting them all before they’re gone!  I’ve decided, in the true spirit of exploration, to make it my mission to try them all before I leave, and then to tell you all about them here.  These past two weeks, I’m afraid to say, I was drawn back to the same stall, Grub, but their menu looked so good that you can’t really blame me.  Last week I tried the slow roasted pork belly with mushroom spaetzle.  I couldn’t resist.  After living in Switzerland, any mention of spaetzle, golden little squiggles of noodley goodness, and I’m sold.  These were excellent.  They perfectly complemented the mushrooms and soaked up the juices from the moist, tender, crispy on the outside, pork belly.  I really wish I had a picture to show you, but suffice it to say that I had a moment with this particular plate of food, and it will remain a fond memory.

South Africa 2015 (4) BW

OK, so it was quite an effort to resist buying it again this week, but I was determined to try something new.  Admittedly I didn’t get too far with that, returning to Grub once more with my eyes fixed firmly on their fried chicken, but the delay to my exploration was so worth it.

South Africa 2015 (3)

The chicken was moist and juicy, the coating was crisp, and the combination of rich blue cheese and spiky Sriracha hot sauce was a revelation.  I have never thought to mix blue cheese and chilli, which is probably a huge flaw on my own part, but it was great.  I’m not sure every type of chilli would work, but the vinegary tang of the Thai Sriracha sauce worked so well to cut through the creamy richness of the blue cheese.  All in all it got 2 very enthusiastic thumbs up.

I’m going to have to try very hard next week to choose something from a different stall.  Or possibly just come back to Grub for, er, savoury dessert, afterwards.  I haven’t tried their BBQ ribs yet …

 

The life theologic – Growing pains

Standard

It’s now been 4 weeks since I moved to Muizenberg and started my adventure with Justice ACTS International, and the time has just flown by.  The atmosphere within the organization is wonderful.  I’ve never met people that are willing to invest so much into those that they work with to help them grow.  I am already learning so much about myself and how I fit in with the rest of the team.  We are currently working on profiles of different countries that we hope to visit in the near future, which is keeping the researcher inside of me very happy, as well as running local outreaches and planning events to raise awareness of human trafficking.  The amazingly hectic international schedule that the team keeps means that my plans for the next few months are constantly changing, but I am loving the challenge that it presents.  At the moment, I’m not too worried about what is coming up.  God knows exactly where He wants me, and that’s good enough for me, whether it be in France, America, England, or right here in Cape Town.

DTS One  (25)

Despite all of the busyness, I am currently experiencing the strange sensation of having to rediscover myself and my place within a city that I have already lived in for a year, due to the amazingly alienating force known as the absence of a car.  I have good friends in this city, people that have become brothers and sisters to me over the last year, but suddenly a 40 minute drive has separated us as effectively as oceans and continents.

In a way, this is good.  For a start, it is forcing me to engage with those around me and settle properly into life in Muizenberg, rather than just running away to the familiar surroundings of the Northern Suburbs all the time.  Settling in is not all that easy to do at the moment, as I’m living in temporary accommodation, but I’m hoping to be able to get my life properly sorted out as of next week.  I am also learning just how wonderful and indispensable an invention Skype is.  Being able to talk with my family and actually see their faces is an enormous blessing.  I don’t think I would have made it through the last few weeks without it, or them.

At least the scenery here is good for the soul, even if you are spending more time alone than is usual.  It really is stunningly beautiful here.

SSDP Week 11 (32)

The natural beauty and lure of this seaside town, with it’s quirky coffee shops and rank upon rank of surfboards lining the seafront is now contrasted so starkly in my mind with the abject poverty that I have experienced in the townships on the other side of the road.  Geographically, one main road separates 2 townships from the beautiful and peaceful suburbs of Muizenberg, yet in people’s minds it may as well be a huge gulf.  I have been told by so many people to be careful after dark, to not walk the main road on my own and to not stop at the lights if I’m driving after dark.  There is a great sense of fear when people think of the townships, a sense of inevitability and not being able to change things, and of not being welcome there.

I am glad to say that this has not been my experience at all.  Yes, the local townships are in the middle of an age old form of gang warfare.  Yes, the houses are, at best cinder block structures that barely have running water and electricity.  And yes, there are huge problems with violence, poverty and prostitution, most of which are linked to high rates of Tik addiction (a local variant of crystal meth).  But there is hope too.  My experience of the townships will probably not be the norm, as I went with people that have taken the time to form relationships with people that live there, and to maintain them.  We were greeted with shouts of joy, welcomed into peoples homes and treated like old friends, even though some of us were new faces.  We spoke with people who have experienced more pain than I can ever know, yet were happy to spend time with us, and told us that things were well with them.  I cannot honestly say that if I was in the same situation as them, I would be able to say that things were well with me.

I have a lot to learn from them.

I can’t wait to go back and start working more closely with the people there, teaching them how to be followers of Jesus, and that they have a value far above anything on this earth.  To show them that following Jesus is about more than just saving souls, and that God loves them just as they are, whether they be gangsters, pimps, prostitutes or drug dealers.  We have all been made in the image and likeness of God, and have all been redeemed by the same Saviour.  We are all worth more than we can ever realise, and nothing we can do can change that.  A diamond is still a diamond, even if it’s buried deep in the ground.

The life theologic – When life gives you lemonade …

Standard

As my friend, Lauren, would say ‘When life gives you lemonade, make lemons, and life will be all like, WHAT???!!!!’

I’m not sure that I’m going to exchanging the sweetness I’ve been given for something sour anytime soon, and I have been blessed abundantly in the sweetness department lately.  I’m about to embark on a new 6 month adventure in Cape Town, working with a charity called Justice Acts International.  They do amazing work trying to combat human trafficking by researching and deploying tailor made educational programmes to communities at high risk.  I’m so excited to join them in their fight to bring the injustice of human trafficking to an end.  I will hopefully be able to write about some of the work that the charity is getting up to over the next few months, but if you’d like to know more about them in the mean time, check out their website here.

Working with a charity as a volunteer, as I will be, for any length of time is difficult to do, and there was a point during the process when I wasn’t sure that I would be able to.  I had met with the staff that ran the charity, and was convinced that working with them for the next 6 months was right for me, but I only had enough money left to pay for my flight back to South Africa.  I would have nothing to live on once I got there.  So, we took it to God.  We basically said that if this was right, and He wanted me there, working with this charity, then He was going to have to provide a way for me to do it.  2 weeks later I got the biggest shock of my life when I received an email saying that there had been a mistake with one of my student stipends from several years ago, and that I was due 4 years worth of back pay!  God came through in a way I had never expected, and have never experienced before.  Suddenly, my next 6 months were sorted, and now I can go and throw myself into this new adventure without having to worry, because I know He’s got everything under control.

I set off for South Africa once more today, leaving behind the wonderful warmth of my family here in England.  It has been a much needed and very restful break, and I’m going to miss them all, whether they be church family, actual family or friends.  I am definitely going to miss the beautiful English countryside too.  Hopefully one day I can bring some of my new African family of friends to experience it for themselves, but until then they’ll have to make do with this …

IMG_0762

The life artistic – Chocolate & Ginger Slump Cake

Standard

So, admittedly this isn’t the best timed post in the world, what with the seemingly universal post-Christmas desire to imbibe huge quantities of fruit and never again touch another slice of anything baked.  However, for those, like me, that are blessed with a birthday in the middle of national diet month, something is needed to make our special day a little extra sparkly, without being forced to eat an entire cake on our own because no one else can face it.

IMG_0732

This little number is rich (so you only need the teeniest of slices), decadently chocolatey, gluten-free (so you can feel a little bit self-righteous), and has a lovely zingy kick from the ginger.  The brandy can be quite easily left out too, if you’re going for the full January dryathlon effect.  Just to be extra virtuous, I also used a rather wonderful bar of chocolate that I brought back from Cape Town.  It’s from a local company called Honest Chocolate, who specialise in handmade chocolate created from raw, organic cacao, with no added dairy or sugar.  For something that is supposed to be healthy, it really packs a punch, and you find yourself feeling like you’ve just had a double espresso after a couple of pieces.  You can find out more about Honest Chocolate and the brilliant collaboration they have with local artists for their wrappers, here.

IMG_0727

OK, so this cake may not be the prettiest in the world, but to me it is a thing of beauty.  The idea is that the cake rises in the oven, and then collapses back in on itself as it cools, putting the slump into slump cake.  This process creates a dense yet slightly marshmallowy centre, surrounded by a crisp outer shell.  It is reminiscent of a brownie, but lighter somehow.

IMG_0731

I first came across this recipe in a magazine at my friends house, and diligently copied it over.  Unfortunately, when I came to make it this time round I discovered that I had left my recipe book on another continent, so I had to go rummaging around online.  I found it here, but was once again frustrated when only half of the recipe appeared unless I subscribed to The Sunday Times.  I decided instead to turn the experience into my own version of a GBBO technical challenge, and went with the ‘lets make it up as we go along’ spirit that has made this country great.  It seemed to work pretty well, so for all of you that would like to make this wonderful cake, originally by Lucas Hollweg, here is my version of the recipe.

Chocolate & Ginger Slump Cake

Rich, dense gluten-free chocolate cake, spiked with stem ginger and brandy

For the Cake:

80g stem ginger (approx. 4 balls)

2tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar

3tbsp brandy

200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

100g unsalted butter

4 eggs, separated

125g caster sugar

1tbsp cornflour

pinch of salt

icing sugar for dusting

Method:

  1. Chop the stem ginger into small-ish pieces, then, using a blender or food processor, blitz it with the syrup and brandy to make a sort of slush.
  2. Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and melt together, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  4. While the chocolate is melting and cooling, whisk the egg yolks together with 100g of the sugar until the mixture pales and thickens slightly.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form (this will work better if you wipe the bowl and whisk over with lemon juice before starting).
  6. Add the remaining 25g of sugar to the egg whites and whisk for another minute.
  7. Add the cornflour and salt to the egg whites and whisk again until you have shiny peaks (approx. another minute).
  8. Add the ginger slush to the chocolate mixture and fold in until mixed.
  9. Carefully fold the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture.
  10. Add one spoonful of the egg white mixture to the chocolate mixture and fold in to slacken it off, then pour the chocolate mixture into the egg white mixture and fold in carefully.
  11. When evenly mixed, pour into a bottom lined and greased 23cm springform cake tin and bake at 180°C for 30 minutes.
  12. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before carefully removing and allowing to cool completely (it will sink – don’t worry, it’s supposed to).
  13. When cool, dust with icing sugar and serve.  It’s really good with some clotted cream if you’re feeling naughty.

 

The life theologic – Let dreams be dreams

Standard

Have you ever experienced a moment in your life when you suddenly realise that your dreams will never ever come true? In your forties, it’s known as a mid-life crisis.  I went through it at 16, so I’m not really sure what you would call it, but it’s just as disorienting, no matter what your age.

Between finishing my GCSEs and starting my A-levels, I came to the realisation that living in a small village in the middle of the English countryside was going to seriously hamper my goal of working with costume and special effects make-up in the film industry. Up until that point, I had been convinced that I was going to happily live out my days on film sets turning humans into Hobbits, because, even though The Lord of the Rings had been finished, they were bound to make The Hobbit some day, right?

It could be seen as fortunate that I came to my senses right as I was choosing my A-level subjects, rather than later on. At least this way I was able to follow the advice of my elders and do a ‘real’ subject at University, something that required brain power and wasn’t a waste of my potential, in an area in which I could really do something useful for society.

Well, as far as the whole ‘doing what society expects of you’ thing goes, I think I can honestly say I’ve been there, done that, and got the silly robes and mediaeval hat.

Graduation (5)

Unfortunately, 3 years of undergraduate study and 4 years of PhD later, I realised how little impact one person can make in the field of medical science and how long it takes to make anything useful and worthwhile out of the breakthroughs that do happen. Don’t get me wrong, researching incurable diseases is a noble cause and very much worth the efforts of the best minds we can throw at it, but it wasn’t right for me.

In this day and age, it turns out the best way to impact the world is through those subjects that are most sneered at as you grow up; media, art, photography and film.  The current generation is so visual that they simply will not take the time to stop and read to the end of an article unless there are pictures or, even better, video clips.  The influence that the media has over the minds of the public cannot be underestimated.  One thing I’m learning from studying photography is that even when documenting events as they happen, the camera is only telling part of the truth.  The lens you choose, the angle you shoot at, the split second at which you press the shutter; all of these combine to create your own version of the event and show the world life as you see it.

For me, being given the opportunity to study video production and photography has been a real blessing. Learning new and different ways to communicate, especially ways that are relevant to the preferences of the current generation, is something that I value highly.  How and where I use it once this school has finished is currently a mystery to me, but I do know that I have learned skills that have the power to influence others, and that I want to use them for something worthwhile.

One bonus of being part of a media school has been the unexpected opportunity to realise my teenage dreams. The film school here recently took part in a competition, in which you have to write, shoot and edit a short film in the space of 48 hours.  I was asked to help out with set design, wardrobe and props, which was utterly exhausting and entirely brilliant.  What made the whole experience even better for me was the fact that we were filming a thriller.  Thriller = murders, and murders = lots and lots of fake blood.  Luckily, 4 years of working with blood on a daily basis in the lab has given me a pretty good idea of what it looks like and how it behaves.  I’m not sure how well this translated into reality with the limited time and resources at my disposal, but I did have an enormous amount of fun trying to formulate a recipe for blood that would include realistic clots.

From Niki (1 of 3)

This may all seem a little over the top and geeky, but I see it as evidence of God’s goodness. He knew my dreams when I was 16.  He put them in my heart for a reason, and now He’s surprising me with them when I thought they were lost forever.  It’s a reminder for me that He can work wonders in areas of my life that I’ve given up on, and I think that’s something that is true for everyone.  Nothing is too big or too difficult for God to bring about, if you’ll let Him do it in His own time and way, so I’m going to keep trusting Him for even more extraordinary things.