Thursday, 31 October 2013

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is here and it is the first time I get to celebrate the Samhain knowing I am now a full time resident in the United Kingdom, after leaving the beautiful Cape of South Africa for good in mid-July, 2013.

The origins of this fete lies in the ancient Celtic festival of the end of harvest in the Gaelic culture where they took stock of supplies and prepare for winter. The Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops. The festival would frequently involve bonfires. It is believed that the fires attracted insects to the area which attracted bats to the area. These are additional attributes of the history of Halloween. Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.
Where and when did Halloween customs originate? The many customs we have today in relation to Halloween have their origins in the religious practices of the Romans and the Druids, therefore dating back many centuries. The Romans worshiped various gods and on October 31, a special feast was held in honour of Pomona, goddess of the fruit trees. Later, the Druids, an ancient order of Celtic priests in Britain, made this feast an even more extensive celebration by also honoring Samhain, lord of the dead. This was normally done on November 1 and it was therefore decided to conveniently honor both Pomona and Samhain on October 31 and November 1.
These Druids believed that on the night before November 1 (October 31) Samhain called together wicked souls or spirits which had been condemned to live in the bodies of animals during the year which had just transpired. Since they were afraid of these spirits, they chose October 31 as a day to sacrifice to their gods, hoping they would protect them. They really believed that on this day they were surrounded by strange spirits, ghosts, witches, fairies, and elves, who came out to hurt them. In addition to this, they also believed that cats were holy animals, as they considered them to represent people who lived formerly, and as punishment for evil deeds were reincarnated as a cat. All this explains why witches, ghosts, and cats are a part of Halloween today.
The custom of trick-or-treating and the use of "jack-o'-lanterns" comes from Ireland. Hundreds of years ago, Irish farmers went from house to house, begging for food, in the name of their ancient gods, to be used at the village Halloween celebration. They would promise good luck to those who gave them good, and made threats to those who refused to give. They simply told the people, "You treat me, or else I will trick you!"
The apparently harmless lightened pumpkin face or "jack-o'-lantern" actually is an old Irish symbol of damned soul. A man named Jack was supposed to be able unable to enter heaven due to his miserliness, and unable to enter hell because he had played practice jokes on the devil. As a result, he was condemned to wander over the earth with his lantern until judgment day (i.e., the end of the world). The Irish were so afraid that they would receive an identical plight, that they began to hollow out pumpkins and place lighted candles inside to scare away evil spirits from their home.
When did the modern Halloween celebration begin?

During the Middle Ages (about 600 years ago), the Roman Catholic Church at that time, decided to make the change-over from pagan religion to Christianity a bit easier, and therefore allowed the new converts to maintain some of their pagan feasts. It was agreed, however, that from now on they would be celebrated as "Christian" feats. So instead of praying to thwir heathen gods, they would now pray to, and remember the deaths of saints. For this reason the church decided to call November 1 the "Day of All Saints," and the mass to be celebrated on that day "Alhallowmass." In consequence of this, the evening prior to this day was named, "All Hallowed Evening" which subsequently was abbreviated as "Halloween." In spite of this effort to make October 31 a "holy evening," all the old customs continued to be practiced, and made this evening anything BUT a holy evening!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bucket List Transport to Kruger National Park


You are looking at your “Bucket List” of things to do before you die and one sentence in particular is highlighted in fluorescent yellow: “Travel to South Africa to take a safari in the Kruger National Park.”
Actually, your dreams are only a flight away to South Africa on a reliable airline to Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo International Airport and if you are a wily traveller, booking a sturdy 4x4 vehicle in advance off the Internet will give you the advantage of getting great savings on cheap car hire, where you can find the perfect vehicle to safely get you to and around the Kruger Park.

Once through airport customs and immigration, a friendly Rental Agent will be there to meet and greet you, making your arrival to South Africa a welcome one.

After sleeping over in Johannesburg you will set off on the first stage of your safari to Kruger, world-famous for its abundantly diverse wildlife. The Park’s magnificent scenery and unique wilderness with the “Big Five”; Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard and Rhino and array of other animals, makes it one of the few remaining areas where one feels as if they are in the true Africa of old, away from the noise of smoggy cities and the endless hum of traffic. Instead there is the peace of the bush, the sound of the African fish-eagle’s lament echoing out across the Olifants River and the rat-tap-tap of the tok-tok beetle as it trundles through the fallen leaves of the mopane trees.

There are so many places where you can stay in the Kruger Park and surrounding areas, with a range of accommodation from low budget to luxury game lodges. These can be booked through the South African Department of Tourism at the same time that you book your cheap car hire.

It is said that the Kruger National Park was the prototype of wildlife sanctuaries in Africa, offering a wildlife experience that ranks as one of the best in the entire continent. Established in 1898 to protect the animals in the Lowveld of South Africa, the park comprises nearly two million hectares and is unrivalled in its vast diversity of flora and fauna, with an estimate of some 336 trees, 114 reptiles, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 507 birds and 147 mammals.

It is also interesting to note that man has been part of the environment for centuries, from the bushman’s paintings that are still visible in rocky outcrops and caves to the fascinating archaeological sites of Masorini and Thulamela. Giving evidence of cultures before ours that lived and hunted in the vast tracts of land, and part of the proud conservation of the Kruger National Park.

Africa’s mysterious magic has always been its unique wildlife and the habitats in which they can be found. For you as the visitor, the African bush provides remarkably stirring experiences with only a few other African Game Parks as diverse as that of the Kruger National Park.

Reluctantly you will leave the Park on your homeward journey, dropping your 4x4 vehicle back at the airport where you will promise yourself a return to Africa where the old saying goes “the dust of Africa never leaves the soles of your feet.”
Susan Cook-Jahme©

Sunday, 12 May 2013

For Mothers on Mother’s Day


Upon waking this morning my friend Doug sent me a text message on his cell phone:
“Good Morning Sue – and what you think about joining us, - Me ‘n Shaz at Seagulls restaurant for a Mother’s Day lunch? Cath is treating Shaz, so I’ll treat you, seeing as your children aren’t here?”
To fill you in, Cath is Doug and Shaz’ daughter, and Seagulls is a restaurant situated in the tiny holiday village, L’Agulhas which is the last inhabited place at the southernmost tip of Africa.
I do not think my friends know how much it means to me to have received that message today - it brought a lump to my throat and made me feel terribly emotional. You see, I am here on my own trying to wrap up the sale of our home in Cape Agulhas, Graham, (my hubby) is working under gruelling conditions in Uganda on an agricultural project and my daughters, son-in-law and grandsons are all in England. My Mom is eight hours drive from me up the east coast of South Africa. As I’ve visited her recently, I cannot afford to visit her again until our house transaction is through.
With my friend’s kind gesture, it brought me to think of the many mother’s, (including my beloved mother) step-mothers and adoptive mothers who are spending this day on their own.
It’s for them that I write this Blog today:
We, as mothers, have all had mothers and grandmothers, an aunt or god-mother who has been an important part of our life. Someone who kissed a grazed knee or stroked a fevered brow, made us packed lunches and drove us back-wards and forwards on school runs.
A woman who cheered us on at school sport’s day and ran in the mother’s race, and even if she came in last, she was our heroine.
A woman who told us it didn’t matter that our report card was not brilliant, Einstein was dyslexic and look how he turned out!
A woman who kept all our drawings and little notes from when we first knew how to put pencil to paper.
A woman who taught us that fairies and angels really did exist and that the world was full of beautiful things.
A woman who cried with us over our first heartbreak and wrapped us in her arms and made everything feel OK.
A woman who saw us out into the big wide world and kept a lighted candle burning in the window if we ever needed to return.
A woman who saw the wonderment when we ourselves became a mother and we could only understand the burning protectiveness and unconditional love a mother has over her own child.
I think of all the mothers who have to face the death of their own mothers, or the loss of a beloved child. The empty feeling they must have to face each year when Mother’s Day is celebrated. They cannot make a phone call to say “I love you dearly”, but what I do know is Mother’s Day is for remembering our mothers because their spirit remains within us and our children and our children’s children.
The whole world’s most celebrated day of the year is Mother’s Day as everyone has a mother. It does not matter what religion, creed or colour you are, Mother’s Day is important to all of us.
Happy Mother’s Day, - especially to Mothers who are on their own and feel sadness at loved ones who are not with them.
Love and Light to: My Mom, Debi, Kerry, Taryn, Johnno, Lochlan & Mason.
©Susan Cook-Jahme, Freelance Writer

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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Beautiful Island of Mauritius, Part 5


The food of Mauritius is varied, as there are so many different people of ethnic decadency from varied places around the world, with several distinctive styles of cooking. Most typically Mauritian is Creole cuisine. Boiled rice forms the basis of most Creole dishes, to this is added curry; meat or fish cooked with turmeric, aniseed, hot spices, onions and oil, and served with finely chopped tomatoes, hot chillies, and green mango. Another traditional savoury dish is a tasty green vegetable soup called bredes. Vegetables that are usually served with savoury dishes are patisson, or squash, boiled watercress and chou-chou, (a type of marrow.) Several restaurants on the island serve Creole food on their menu, so do give it a try.
Naturally, seafood is the speciality of Mauritian dishes; lobsters and shrimps top most of the menus, but also delicious is the local freshwater prawn, the camaron. I enjoy it in “sauce rouge”, which I recommend every person dining out when on the island, should eat at least once. Then there is a variety of Indian Ocean fish which are served, capitaine, gueule pave, damenerry, sacre chien, squid, urchins and tasty little oysters. From June to September venison are a speciality and some restaurants offer hare and wild boar. A delicious salad is Coeur de palmiste, (the heart of a seven-year old palm tree.) Try the beef that is brought into the island from the large island of Madagascar, the fillet in particular is tender and full of flavour. There is an abundant supply of exotic fruit, small, sweet pineapples, lychees, paw-paws, Chinese guavas, wild raspberries, mangoes, water-melons, custard-apples, bananas, and coconuts are some of the fresh fruit on offer. The bakeries sell French baguettes and brightly iced patisseries for the person with a sweet tooth. Wine from France, South Africa and many other countries can be found in a corner store, as well as the local rum. Of course there is always on offer the good old British cup of tea and delicious local coffee that is roasted in the way of the French.
The main recreational sport on the island is deep-sea fishing, with the main season falling in from October to March, but there is no closed season and a good catch can be had throughout the year. Fish caught are marlin, barracuda, tuna, wahoo, yellow fin and jack fish. Big game-fishing can be organised on line or at any large hotel group on the island. Full fishing gear is provided, along with an experienced crew. You can also find fishermen who helm their own pirogues, (the local fishing boats) who will take you out fishing for the day, which is what I prefer to do when visiting. For those of you who prefer not to fish, there are other things to do such as, golf, sailing, bowling, surfing, water skiing, swimming and sunbathing, and  one of the island’s other most important sports, skin diving. Skin diving was first started by the Sino-Mauritians in the 1940’s and now there is a very popular scuba-club which was founded by Australian, English and Mauritian divers. Some of the best underwater areas are Morne Brabant Reef, Black River, Whale Rock and Horseshoe Spit. As there are dozens of known wrecks around the coast dating back to 1615, it is a “must do” for anyone who enjoys this sport.
Don’t miss out on horse-racing at the Champ de Mars. The season is from May to October with the main meets being held at the end of May and August. Mauritius “Derby Day” is the Maiden Plate which is run in late August. Other popular sports are soccer, lawn tennis, sailing with regattas from July through to October, basketball, volleyball and athletics.
Nightclubs are situated all over the island, but the best are in the big-resort hotels, with cabaret, local d-j’s, dinner dancing and so forth. Unique to the Indian Ocean Island, is the sega, a dance accompanied by calypso-style singing, the musicians using drums, maracas and triangles, to accompany the dance. The sega first evolved by African slaves and is now part of Creole folk law. Performances are often organised and held at the big hotels, as is gambling which is also a huge attraction on the island. Casinos are situated in most of the large hotel groups.
For the shop-a-holics, the best places for souvenirs are the handicraft shops in Port Louis, but you can find them in the hotel shops at higher prices, which I try to avoid. Hire a small car or a taxi for the day and visit Rose Hill, Curepipe and the covered market in Port Louis. For a true Mauritian souvenir, consider a beautifully woven basket, applique pictures made from sugar cane leaves, woodcarvings of the do-do, finely embroidered tablecloths and napkins and an assortment of wall hangings and tapestries. Chinese tailors can be found in Port Louis and they run up beautiful shirts and suits in no time at all. Clothing shops stock a range of beach wear and chic French fashions which are reasonable in price.
The currency unit used on the island is the Mauritian Rupee, divided into 100 cents and most international banks can be found on the island.
Plaisance Airport is 27 miles from Port Louis. If staying at a hotel, they provide shuttles.
Hiring of vehicles can be done online or through various touring companies who have representatives on call at the airport and resorts. The roads are tarmac and good. Signs are in English.
Entry requirements are the usual passport and visas, (check if you need a visa online.) Visitors travelling through or from a yellow fever/cholera infected area must produce a yellow fever inoculation certificate.

©Susan Cook-Jahme, Freelance Writer

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