Thursday, August 27, 2009

Which is the best lotto site for overseas purchases?

The US Megamillions jackpot stands at $325 million this Friday.

Given that I will win this, I decided to read some small print.

I normally buy through the network. I understand this is run by some South African ex-pats living in London and has done very well.

However, there are a number of issues to consider:
  1. Is the lottery site legit and if you won would the site pay you or disappear with your winnings?

    1. The PlayUKInternet site has an established reputation and seems high-profile and reliable

  2. What premium does the site charge over the actual ticket costs?

    1. A Megamillions ticket costs $1 if bought at a retailer in the US.

    2. PlayUKInternet and other agency sites charge a premium for their services. Overseas residents cannot buy from in-country retailers, so agencies have people who stand in queues, process winnings, etc. This premium varies.

    3. PlayUKInternet charges £2,40 per ticket for a US Megamillions draw. They do give one voucher for every five tickets bought, effectively dropping the price to £2. That's $3,24, a premium of 224%.

    4. OSA charge a whopping €3,60 per ticket. That's $5,13, a premium of 413%!

    5. charge $2 per ticket, a premium of 100%

  3. Does the agency have any discretion over my winnings payout?

    1. PlayUKInternet take 10% of winnings awarded through them. TEN PERCENT!!!! They also have the discretion as to whether to take the winnings as an annuity or lump sum. This is only evident through reading the fine print in their terms and conditions

    2. takes 1% of winnings. This is also only apparent by reading their FAQ.

Clearly the fine print here is important. Imagine winning the $325 million and being forced to take the lump sum payout of $204 million. I'm not sure how the percentage paid to the agency is determined (this is not clear from their terms and conditions). I would imagine it is based on the net payout. That would be $204 million less US withholding tax of 30% equals $140 million. 10% to PlayUKInternet would then be $14 million. But if calculated on a gross basis, it could be $20 million or $32,5 million. You would have to pay local taxes - let's say 6% if you were a resident of New York - although as an overseas resident it might well be higher. That moves your take home winnings towards $100 million.

Of course $100 million is a huge amount of money, but why would you want to pay the agency anything more than their cost of administration? Why do they deserve any percentage of your winnings?

For this reason, I bought through Overseas Subscribers Agents -, despite their astronomical cost per ticket. That way, when I collect my winnings, I'll not be paying them any more.

Sheeesh. Read the fine print....

Monday, August 24, 2009

How do you treat Koi ulcers?

I prepared the following for a friend recently. The dealer and suburb names relate to Johannesburg South Africa.

This is the list of things I have stocked up on / treatments / methodology:

  1. Oil of Cloves - anaesthetic

    1. Guide and dosage

    2. it has a long shelf life

    3. Make sure you get dosage right – based on the bucket you use

  2. Very clean (new) plastic container for dips / anaesthetic

    1. I have about three of those massive (100l) ones from Pick ‘n Pay

    2. If you use an old one, make sure it has no chance of soap or other residues

    3. You can actually keep a moderately sized fish (30cm or less) in a 100l one with an air stone and water changes through a treatment period of a week or more (must have daily 10% water changes though)

      1. This also substantially reduces the cost of medication (actually quite expensive) as you only dose according to the size of the container

      2. It allows you to accurately size the container and the doses

      3. It also allows you to nuke the pond with Pottassium Permanganate while the fish is in the container for a week

  3. Salt

    1. Guide and dosage

    2. Anti-parasite

    3. Tonic – reduces the load on a sick fish’s organs

    4. Have about 3 bags on standby.

    5. Have an empty bag so you can put a partial bag in the pond with a tied top until the salt dissolves, then you just pull the bag out

    6. Available from pool shops (such as Pool ‘n Pond in Rosebank, also Sandton Aquatics in Fourways)

  4. A salt meter

    1. Good but quite expensive – my digital one cost about R800

    2. I got mine from Happy Koi – I have not seen them too often

  5. A sock net

    1. One of the best things I ever bought

    2. Bought from Happy Koi

    3. Very soft – will not damage the fish

    4. Is basically a tube – you hold the handle and then end of the tube. To release the fish, merely release the end of the tube

  6. A large koi net – about 80cm across

    1. To guide the fish into the sock net

    2. Available from almost any Koi shop

  7. Acriflavine – the wonder drug

    1. Guide and dosage

    2. Mostly bottled by Loolilocks on the East Rand (even other dealers sell Loolilocks Acriflavine)

    3. Safe antifungal, anti-parasite and antibiotic

    4. Very good for ulcers

    5. Quite expensive

    6. Difficult to get rid of the colour – only goes after partial water changes

  8. Methylene Blue – the safe backup

    1. Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal

    2. Promotes oxygen in the water

    3. Easy to get – chemists or good koi shops

    4. Don’t get ripped off – very much cheaper in chemists

    5. Difficult to get rid of the colour – only goes after partial water changes

  9. Potassium permanganate - the nuclear option

    1. Guide and dosage

    2. Part 2 – detailed guide

    3. The most effective antibiotic / anti viral / anti-parasite

    4. Easy to get – chemists or good koi shops

    5. Don’t get ripped off – very much cheaper in chemists

    6. Difficult to get dosage precisely right

    7. Overdosing burns gill tissue and therefore the damage is either fatal or permanent

    8. Dosage can be reversed by addition of Hydrogen Peroxide

    9. Sunlight neutralises it over time

  10. Hydrogen Peroxide

    1. Powerful reagent

    2. Turns purple pond crystal clear

    3. Crucial to have to reverse over dosage of potassium permanganate

    4. Easy to get – chemists or good koi shops

    5. Don’t get ripped off – very much cheaper in chemists

  11. Anti-biotic injection

    1. A guide for injection of Baytril – one of the most common antibiotics for koi

    2. More on injecting

    3. Illegal outside vet’s hands

    4. Crucial for severe ulcers

    5. Gets easier to administer when you know how to anaesthetise the fish and where to inject

    6. Easiest spot is into the spot immediately behind the dorsal fin

    7. Second choice is under a scale and into the tail muscle

    8. Avoid belly and organs at all costs

    9. Limited shelf life

    10. Difficult to get

  12. Mercurochrome – surface disinfectant

    1. Easy to get

    2. Difficult to administer – slides off the fish and onto you!

  13. Plastic spray bottle for mercurochrome

  14. Wound gel

    1. Powder for putting onto wound.

    2. Forms gel to keep water off wound

    3. Difficult to get (happy koi, Joshua Koi)

    4. Not foolproof – lasts just over a day in my experience

There are other medications I have not used due to toxicity and the things they specifically target (usually parasites) – notably formalin and Malachite Green.

Tricide Neo is the wonder drug for ulcers in the USA. I’ve tried to get local dealers to import it. See here.

Almost all medications are a form of chemotherapy – you’re only killing the fish slight less than the bugs. So the crucial thing is how far to take it.

  1. Turn off UV lamps – they kill the medication

  2. People say bypass the bio filter – I think this leaves a source of good and bad bacteria. So I leave it active and then reseed the biofilter with good bacteria afterward. This means at least 4 weeks of suboptimal water quality while good bacteria re-establish

  3. Treat the water with first dose of medication, e.g. potassium permanganate

  4. Prepare separate container for anaesthetic – water and correct dosage of clove oil. I have a syringe of oil on standby to add if the fish is taking too long to knock out

  5. Create small highly concentrated solution of potassium permanganate and water

  6. Catch the fish, being very careful of pectoral fins (they dislocate, tear or break very easily)

  7. Put into anaesthetic until the fish floats to the surface belly up

  8. Remove and put onto moist towel on grass – fish’s mouth should still be moving but body should be immobile

  9. Dip end of cotton bud in high concentrate PP solution and apply to rotting / dead skin on edge of ulcer

    1. Be careful – will burn away anything it touches including good flesh and skin

    2. Fish may even grunt / cry from pain during this – quite frightening

  10. Wash off with pond water

  11. Blot wound with toilet paper. Would must be dry for mercurochrome to adhere

  12. Spray wound close up with mercurochrome

  13. Blow or use hair dryer to dry wound and mercurochrome

  14. Sprinkle just enough wound gel over wound to absorb remaining moisture

  15. Spray area with pond water to turn remaining powder to gel

  16. Blow /use hair dryer to dry gel

  17. Inject correct dosage of antibiotic for size of fish

    1. Area behind dorsal fin is easiest and least risk of damage to scales – however, avoid bones

    2. Area into flesh in tail is good but needle must go under a scale and above the one underneath

  18. Return fish to pond / treatment tank

    1. Hold fish by head and tail and move backwards and forwards through water to get water through gills until the fish revives

  19. Watch time the fish has without oxygen during anaesthetic

  20. Requires repeat treatments of water, wound and injections (typically three to five water, three to five injections, sometimes every second day cleaning of wound – but only use the PP the first time

If all else fails – euthanasia.

The best site for far far more detail, including more on dosages (very very important). Watch out for American gallons! They’re busy reorganising so a few of the links don’t work:

The forums – excellent to read other’s problems, pictures and advice:

After having gone through the experience and listening to friends, I am now certain that some bitumen pond waterproofing actually slowly poisons or irritate koi. Water tests may be perfect, but due to the toxins, the fish stress and develop ulcers. When I fibre-glassed, my koi's health improved dramatically. I have had only one minor ulcer in the 3 years since.

Simpler and cheaper than fibre-glass is epoxy / rubberised coating over your existing pond. For example, although I have no experience with the following guys:

It would be crucial to ask a few questions about durability and toxicity.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Do you know Zebra & Giraffe?

What an amazing band! I've been following them since seeing them perform live at this year's Coke Fest.

Zebra & Giraffe started out as the solo project of Greg Carlin. In May 2008, Carlin released Z&G debut album "Collected Memories" and then formed a live band with members Alan Shenton, Rob Davidson, Darren Leader & Andrew Maskell.

One of the band's fantastic songs - Arm Yourself:

More at these places:

  1. Facebook page – with clips from each of their tracks you can play

  2. On Myspace

  3. Website – pretty top multimedia site

  4. Buy the album, preview songs, etc here

    1. Klicktrack

    2. iTunes

  5. Zebra & Giraffe on YouTube

  6. Highly recommend getting the actual album here – CD and DVD

This biography was written in May 2008 and tells the amazing story of how Greg Carlin wrote an created the whole album - other than drums - Collected Memories:

Zebra & Giraffe is the name of a new force pressing itself into the hearts and minds of music fans – and even on first listen it's clear that Z&G's debut longplayer, 'Collected Memories', is every bit as unique as the animals that its named after.
In fact, at this stage (autumn 2008), the cleverly named act is actually the 12-lettered pseudonym of Johannesburg music wunderkind, Greg Carlin. Until he (very shortly) assembles a cracking hot live band to assist in showcasing his original songs, Carlin is Zebra & Giraffe and the 10-songs on 'Collected Memories' are an announcement of his own special take on making music to all who hear it.
That Carlin was able to make his debut album virtually unassisted (bar a session drummer) stems from his multiple music talents that see him playing everything from bass, to keyboards, guitar and more. But in crafting 'Collected Memories' he wisely called on the production talent of the sublimely talented Darryl Torr who many music fans in the country may know as the foil to Harris Tweed's Cherilyn MacNeil.
"It was just easier to play everything myself," Johannesburg-based Carlin says, "But Darryl made the difference when it came to shaping the songs into what you hear on the album."
You might be forgiven for thinking that moving from piano to guitar to drums to keyboards and bass may hamper the album's flow, giving it a sameness that renders it impossible to listen to. Not in the case of Zebra & Giraffe. Perhaps it's because of being able to adopt a different name that 'Collected Memories' is a journey of variety; a sonic outing that is, in fact, brilliantly listenable.
The album starts with a song that should not waste time in securing radio time – and indeed has already had a welcoming reception across the board.
'The Knife' takes its cue from the dark side of electronic rock pioneered by the likes of New Order & Joy Division. There are also strains of the latter's ability to turn punk-influenced stylings into atmospheric masterpieces on 'Collected Memories' – specifically the likes of 'Black Crow' with its fiercely played guitar and bass lines and lyrics of abandonment and last chance love.
Discerning these influences when listening to 'Collected Memories' is all the more astonishing because, until recently, Carlin had not heard many of the bands from the era that his music sits closest too. "The first thing I remember listening to is Nirvana and U2, back when I was in primary school, and then it was onto modern rock" he says.
There are strains of other bands that formed part of the soundtrack to someone born in the 80s on the album (The Edge's melodic guitar work can be heard in 'Arm Yourself') but mostly 'Collected Memories' is the sound of an artist pushing ahead with his own sonic exploration in the most beguiling way. As an example listen to "Running Faster" where the keyboard melody runs like the Pied Piper though the song, making sure that your attention never strays for a second from what is certainly another hit for Zebra & Giraffe.
Carlin admits that his own liking is for the harder edge of rock (A Perfect Circle, early Marilyn Manson, NIN, Tool are among his favourites) and although much of 'Collected Memories' is melodic, thrashing guitars do make themselves felt on 'Fight! Fight! Fight!'.
But just as you're certain that you've got the record's sonic ground pinned out comes 'Leaving Again', a tune that throws a rope around rock as much as pop and electronica (that at-the-fore keyboard), the result being one of the album's standouts, a near perfect combination of melodic heft and lyrical prowess. It's the same with 'A Long Way Down', a track defined by an unsettling drum beat and delicate acoustic guitar work that is just about as compelling a song as you'll hear all year. Carlin's tale about losing someone is elegantly supported by the backing vocal of Harris Tweed's MacNeil.
But don't mistake the darkness for a proclivity on Carlin's part for living in emotion's murkier corners. The fact is that Zebra & Giraffe is not against having some fun: "Pariahs' is driven by a swirling keyboard that perfectly supports the song's dreamlike, at times tongue-in-cheek lyrics ("I like the pretty girls/the ones with curls/they make me crazy/they say baby oh you rock my world") and there are other uplifting moments.
Carlin admits that lyrics are one of the aspects of songwriting that he's sometimes less at ease with. "A lot of the songs are about relationships and the rest are about feelings that I get and then I put that into words. It may come out as a specific event or experience but its inspiration comes from a feeling." He readily admits that the album's titled stems from a recent move from the comfort of his childhood home – a place where his own collected memories reside.
It was here that Carlin originally learnt to play drums while at High School, playing rock with a band that went by the name of (yes, it's true) MSG. Carlin studied Fine Art at Tuks and joined his first real band – first as a bassist and then as a singer. White Lie was its name and the band went so far as recording a handful of tracks with Darryl Torr – establishing a relationship between Carlin and the producer that has been lasting and creative. White Lie earned a campus hit with the song "Runaway" and had something of a following but at the end of 2005 several members left to study and Carlin was left to his own devices.
It's just as well because Carlin soon began experimenting in his home studio – exploring sounds and beats, many of which have influenced the sound of 'Collected Memories'.
In a stroke of luck for Carlin, he met Just Music's Karl Anderson through Harris Tweed (a Just Music signing) and struck up a relationship with the label through working on its digital business. Now Zebra & Giraffe have a label deal with the highly regarded independent and Carlin is ready to begin his assault on the charts, live circuit and more.
Diane Coetzer - May 2008

Monday, August 17, 2009

How do you find a missing Rolex?

I've just taken off after my epic holiday to the UK and US. I feel euphoric about the trip, seeing Depeche Mode twice, U2, playing golf at two of the world's top golf courses. Yet I am miserable about losing a watch given to me after my uncle died. It was a tragic death. He committed suicide, and my aunt gave it to me about 15 years ago to remember all the good times from his life. It was a 1978 classic Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT Master. There are two aspects: the sheer financial value - the exact watch just got auctioned on Christies for $7000, and the sentimental value. The Aunt who gave it to me is currently dying from cancer - the watch is a link to my memory of her and my uncle.

I am bitter about the way the watch was lost. I was playing golf at one of the world's most exclusive golf courses. I put the watch in a pocket on the side of the hire clubs bag with my camera. After the game I removed everything from the bag, but clearly forgot the watch. Later that afternoon, as my cousins prepared to take me to the station, I realized I did not have my watch with me. I frantically searched, but knew I had left it in the bag. We raced back to the club, but the watch was not there. My cousins clearly believed / hoped I had lost it in my suitcases somewhere. I hoped so too, but knew deep down I had left it in the golf bag. I hoped that an employee who had perhaps left earlier had found it and put it away somewhere.

Later that evening, I spoke to my cousin who was clearly stressed. He went back the next day and searched through all the pockets of all the hire clubs. He left the details of the watch club and hoped it would be handed in. I felt bad that my carelessness had resulted in the stress for my cousin's family.

The watch went missing on Friday. It's now Sunday night and there is no sign of the watch. Things are likely to get more complicated from here. Perhaps, although I think it unlikely, the watch may be covered by travel insurance arising from booking the trip on my credit card. If so, I am sure they will insist I report the missing watch to the UK police. This will I am sure cause embarrassment to my cousin - a member at the exclusive golf club. I would think the police would want to speak to the golf shop employees. Further complicating this, I am sure the UK police would not be happy about me leaving the country before reporting the loss.

A good thing is that Rolexes can only be serviced by authorized dealers. I have had the watch serviced and will be able to get its serial number from the jeweler.

The other part of me is so furious at the likely theft. I want to unleash the fury of hell on the culprit.

Let's hope for a miracle - that the watch gets handed in tomorrow. Otherwise, this is putting a serious damper on what was an amazing holiday.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How do you handle a fundamentalist in the family?

I've just made my first visit to the US west coast. My cousins live just outside LA and it has been ten years since I saw them last.

It was really good to see them, but I left heart sore. R is actually my mom's cousin and a strictly practicing Seventh Day Adventist. Basically that means they follow the bible really strictly including the laws applying to Judaism. They are also vegetarians (an even more strict requirement of Adventism).

R married D, one of the nicest woman you'd ever meet. She has the kindest nature imaginable, and has passed this on to her three beautiful boys.

Heart sore

I was heart sore for a few reasons. R emigrated from South Africa in a hurry. He'd had the most horrific run-ins with crime, culminating in shooting dead an intruder in his bedroom and then having the rest of the gang come back for him and shoot at him a few weeks later. As much as I am optimistic about South Africa's future, I advised him to leave for his own sanity.
But R has just got some weird ideas. He had them before his run instead with crime. He believes in the existence of the New World Order, a powerful controlling group of wealthy who control the world. He is bigoted, including being racist and anti-gay. He is fundamentalist and totally against abortion. And then he has strange views on medicine.

With all of this, the boys have been home schooled and brought up in a manner reminiscent of the Quakers. Although they have technology, they do not have TV and R has some strange views on the media. His kids, M (21) L (17) and J (7) are quiet and less forthright in their views and it is difficult to understand how much of their father's views they share. They have contact with other kids through church and neighbors, and I hope this gives them the perspective they so desperately need.

To make the nightmare worse, the family are still in the immigration process after ten years in the US. The lack of green cards mean they are unable to get drivers licenses, study or do many other things we take for granted. R drives anyway, but the boys lack even this escape.

I sense the boys’ views may be more liberal than their father's, but I have limited means of telling. They're the sweetest kids though and I wish I could offer them a way to see the world and gain perspective.


It is easy to disapprove of R and his views. His brand of Christian fundamentalism that includes believing we are in the final days of the world is easy to rebel against and even hate. But if you met him, you’d find him to be the nicest guy. And the way his kids have turned out speak volumes for the upbringing he and his wife have provided. His life has been complicated by violence no one should endure.

It is obvious R has suspicions I might be gay. 35, eligible and single is almost a diagnosis these days. He joked about me headed towards San Francisco. And while he likes Palm Springs, he is unhappy it is full of gays flaunting their lifestyle... (I saw from the corner of my eye that he glanced at me as he said this and as I drove through the town). To his credit, he did say it was up to them but he didn’t like the way they foisted their lifestyle on other people. His kids also played me a song by D’s step-brother. Ray remarked that he had been on “Elton John’s ticket but had a conversion experience.”

I’m one who believes you state your views but you don’t have to attack the other person’s. This applies more so when the other person is family. In many senses, I believe the best way to state your views is to live them and thus make them known to others around you. R is well aware of my “liberal” views on politics. He has asked my thoughts, particularly with respect to South Africa. I have told him about my world where I am friends with (black) politicians’ family members, that I think it a person’s choice whether they wish to tattoo and pierce their bodies, that despite my concerns about Zuma, his choices have been largely positive thus far in his short presidency. We joke with one another. But one day I will have time alone with him and challenge his views. Of course, if I end up with another guy there will be the coming out discussion too.

I am not religious. I was brought up in a practicing Christian family, and now describe myself as spiritual. The God I grew up with is different to R’s. Jesus went out of his way to be with the outcasts and socially undesirables. Not because they were less worthy or more special – because they were also God’s children. Jesus spared judgment, warning that it was dangerous to judge others with a log in your own eye, i.e. that it is impossible to judge fairly and without imposing our own perceptions and experience. I cannot understand how fundamentalists miss this: that bigotry and judgment is in itself a sin. I vividly remember being in New York on my first visit to the US. I woke up and turned on the hotel room TV to watch CNN news. Matt Shepard, a beautiful gay kid had been murdered in Laramie. As the story became clear, it emerged he had accepted a lift with two guys from a pub in the small town. They had taken him to a remote farm fence, tied him up and beaten him to a pulp. He had spent his dying hours naked, in pain and utterly alone in the freezing night air. I cried tears of horror and compassion as I listened to the emerging facts. I felt cold and estranged from the US. Later I would see the reaction as Matt’s killers went to trial. Christian fundamentalist protesters standing outside the court bearing signs saying, “God hates fags.” I watched the debates on Larry King Live, with fundamentalists spewing hatred and nonsense about the health and other dangers gay people posed to society. I later watched Matt’s story in “The Laramie Project,” a movie about Matt’s life and death. Not only had he been beaten to death for being gay, he'd previously been raped and beaten on a trip to Morocco because of his sexuality. As a closeted, confused bi guy, I could relate to Matt. I can imagine how black people must feel about the countless stories of racist abuse of their Matts. See Matthew's place - dedicated to Matt's memory.

Matt Shepard

I can understand how fundamentalists might oppose abortion. Frankly, I oppose abortion, although I can only imagine how torn I might feel in a situation where I faced my child being born into a hostile environment such as poverty, a hateful relationship, a disabling condition or worse.
I don’t for a minute think R would be holding up a sign outside a courthouse. He did tell me about how US hospital’s were aborting full-term babies and an incident involving the death of an investor’s children (divine retribution?) But one morning, he asked me how I felt about the political situation of the world. I responded that I worked really hard and was probably unqualified to offer an opinion on some of the things he had told me (including an apparent example of Obama’s racism). Perhaps it was a cop out. Sometimes I believe you need to step away to get someone to come towards you. R responded, “No, I think we just have different experiences.” I nodded and said sadly, “Exactly. I believe we are fundamentally products of our experiences.” We agreed on that.

We’re products of our experiences

I contrast our lives. I live a wonderful life. I work hard but enjoy what I do. I am phenomenally privileged – something I contemplate almost every day. I recently took my parents to one of the most exclusive game lodges in South Africa. Yesterday I played Pebble Beach – the number one public golf course in the USA and one of the top in the world. My father worked as hard as he knew how to provide for us. We could not afford a game of golf, let alone a trip to California to play Pebble Beach. Sure I work harder than almost anybody. But I was put in a position to go to university, think independently, make my own choices. I could more easily have been born into a shack in a township and though my father might have worked his heart out, never made it to university, never been impressed with the values to contemplate self improvement. As I have I have travelled through the richest neighbourhoods in the world over the past weeks, spent more money on holidaying in a short time than I have ever contemplated before, wondered at the scale of US infrastructure and wealth, I have thought that no matter the scale of this wealth, it represents no more than a few percent of the billions of people around the world who live hoping just to put food on the table. I am loved by my family and have a huge network of friends. I am truly blessed.

R grew up in a very strict, Seventh Day Adventist family. He was sent to a Seventh Day Adventist College. He did national service in the airforce during South Africa’s bush war. Shortly after leaving the airforce, his elder brother was killed in a car accident, leaving a widow and two young boys. He left South Africa scarred by his experience with crime, his family jittery wrecks. He left a brother behind with his aging parents. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, his passport, driver’s licence, et al were stolen out of his supermarket trolley. Without paperwork and fraud on his bank cards, his immigration process and credit record was seriously damaged. He is bitter about his experience and conflicted by his beliefs and God’s reasons for the difficulties he faces. His brother also left South Africa for Australia, leaving his parents behind. He is wracked with guilt for this. He believes he made the wrong choice about moving to the US – Australia would have been better - and that it is a country in moral danger. He believes we are in the final days.

In all of this, R’s children are the most vulnerable. Of course all children must survive their parent’s experiences, views and their upbringing. Equally, I am sure R worries about me and the lack of religion in my life.

I think the difference in my life is that my parents imbued me with a set of values and gave me choices. I was never forced to go to Sunday school or church. I was set free in a world where my parents worried about drugs, sex and rock and roll. But although they vociferously made their concerns (particularly regarding my varsity drinking), they let me make my own mistakes.

Impact on the boys

M, L and J are all home schooled. They do not have TV. They do not listen to modern music. They cannot take drivers’ tests due to their immigration status. They have grown up as their father’s friends. They can complete his stories. They all want to be doctors, but cannot study until their immigration status is sorted out. M is 21, and despite stellar SATs is unable to study. He is serious beyond his years and has begun work on a family business upon which their hopes rest. He seems haunted by memories of the first half of his life in South Africa.

When I remarked on L’s serving efforts, he remarked that his brothers called him “mommy” when his mom’s away. I’ve loved this kid since he was an angelic 4 year old. He is still angelic. He recently carved a boat from a Christmas tree and sent it to his grandparents in South Africa. It is a work of art with turning ship’s wheel, sails, the works. He made the county softball team before the county canned that due to the legal risk. He is considered and polite. He should be exploring the world and himself. He should be on the sports fields with friends.

J is a typical seven year old. He wants to be friends with the new neighbourhood kids who have a motorised go-kart. He was so happy to have family stay and remarked that instead of returning a borrowed item via mail, I should bring it back personally. He never knew his family’s past and suffers less from its memory.

I've been wracked with thoughts since leaving the kids. I wish I could offer them an escape, an alternative view of the world. Imagine if one of them turned out gay? It would be the end of the world.

I've encouraged M to study through UNISA. All the boys want to be doctors, and M has delayed studies for 3 years due to visa restrictions. He would be able to study via UNISA and correspondence though. It would also be an additional way out.

I worry that a 21 year old boy now has the weight of his family's expectations on him. He should be well advanced in his studies by now.

But mostly I worry about L. I've never met anyone quite like him. I arrived in Johannesburg when he was a little boy. He bonded with me instantly. As we drove from the airport in his father's car, he sat next to me and played gently with the hairs on my leg. He radiates love and kindness to this day. But as 17 year old he should be exploring life. Instead, he shares a room with his 7 year old brother and studies at home. And yet, he's grown up so early he's hardly had a childhood.

The family is a world away. Hopefully the boys will feel they can reach out across Facebook and continue to explore the world through Youtube and the Internet more broadly. Hopefully they have church friends more moderate in their views.