I bought a good-looking stranger an ice-cream, here’s how it happened

Beaching: The closest I ever got to being on the same beach as Shawn Mendes.

Beaching: The closest I ever got to being on the same beach as Shawn Mendes.

It’s easy to be who you are when no one knows your name. No, I didn’t make that up – it’s a lyric from a song I heard eight years ago, as a first-year student. This year, I figured out what the band was getting at – what it means to truly be anonymous.

Having moved to a new city a year ago, nowhere near any of my friends and family, I could never have imagined that it would give me the freedom I needed to be who I am.

I think its because when people don’t know you, they don’t place expectations on you and then you don’t feel compelled to behave in a certain way. So I found myself taking more risks this year, or rather, trying things I normally wouldn’t have. Like hiking with strangers as an example. And slowly, I guess my walls came down.

I was talking to one of my friends Mpho about it- who has been living in Cape Town a bit longer than I have and we realised that being in an unfamiliar place allows you that room for self-discovery.

I certainly tried different things this year. In fact, what started as lazy afternoon at the beach one Sunday escalated into a “try-something-courageous” situation.

‘Shawn Mendes’ walks onto a beach

Five of us made our way to one of the Clifton beaches. We laid out our towels, basked in the sun, took a dip in the water, paged through reading material and stared at everyone else at the beach – as one does.

Mpho asked a question, which probably set the course for the remainder of the afternoon: Do you think someone would buy a stranger an ice-cream at the beach, like how someone would buy a stranger a drink at a bar?

“No, but that would be nice,” I responded.

A few more conversations later, some people leave the beach, a couple decides to plant themselves right in front of us and block our view of the ocean (but we get over it, eventually).

And then I spot a Shawn Mendes lookalike, strutting with a book in his hand, his backpack slung over one of his shoulders. His all about sun protection because he’s wearing a cap, a white t-shirt and basketball shorts.

At this point- words come out my mouth which makes everyone curious and they want to know which way to look.

“9 o’clock” I tell them – naturally they all look at once. So its obvious we’re all staring at him and his friends.

Mpho says something along the lines that he’s my type because he’s reading.

We joke about going over there and talking to him. Maxine says I should walk across, drop my cap and pretend the wind did it.

There’s way too much physics involved for that to happen. But I am determined to say something to him before we leave this beach.

Mpho’s face lights up: “This is the best Sunday at the beach this year!”

By the book

We do some walking, on our way back to our spot we have to pass Shawn Mendes. Mpho reckons I should say something about the book. I say there’s no way that’s going to happen because it’s too random. She says we should at least be talking about something smart when we pass by him. I suggest we talk about Michelle Obama’s new book, but she hasn’t started reading it yet. At this point we’re too close to him to decide what we should be discussing, so we walk past him in silence.

James gets in on the coaching. He is actually reading Michelle Obama’s new book.

“This is what you do. You say: ‘Hey what book are you reading?’ and then you sit down next to him and let the conversation flow.”

I tell James it’s not that easy, he insists I practice with him.

But I have to act it out so I walk up to James, and say: “Hey that seems to be a very interesting book you’re rea….” I fumble, because the couple in front of us, just looked up at me and they’re intrigued by this South African remake of My Fair Lady.

James thinks it’s way simpler than I’m making it out to be.  I tell James he needs to go over there for me, because he is actually reading a book. “You got to do this for me – you got to wingman the crap out of this for me!” I plead. But James won’t budge.

So, I settle for buying Shawn Mendes an ice-cream.

When to do it, when not to do it

“So what happens when I buy him an ice-cream?… Like what do you do when a someone buys you a drink, what happens next?” I ask.

It’s Maxine’s turn to educate me: “Well, you can accept it or not. Usually the waiter will say who it’s from. When you see who it is you smile and then that person walks over and talks to you.”

I don’t want that to happen – I just want to buy him the ice cream when he leaves so I don’t actually have to talk to him. But no one sees the point in that.

Shawn Mendes is sitting alone, engrossed in his book. His friends are taking pictures in the water. Maxine thinks this is the right moment to get the ice-cream because his friends aren’t around. But that’s way too confrontational for me.

We’re all still staring at him. He looks up at us.

Mpho states the obvious: “Do you think he can feel our eyes burning on him?”

In unison everyone says yes. But I don’t have shades, and I don’t want to look anywhere else either.

Eventually his friends return and they’re packing up to leave.

This is the moment. I scramble for my purse. “I’m doing it.”

And perfect timing, an ice-cream guy walks by, selling them for R20.

I tell him I need to buy ice-cream but I need him to give the ice cream to someone for me, to which he agrees.

We’re going through the choices, all the while James, Mpho and Maxine are “whisper yelling” that he’s leaving and I need to hurry.

I’ve paid the ice-cream guy but now I need to tell him who it is. “You need to gi… you need to… James tell him which guy it is,” I say. I simply can’t find the words and all of a sudden I realise this must be so hard for guys to do – how the heck do they do this?

James says I should give him the ice-cream, but I can’t because I can’t string a sentence together and I’m covered in sand.

“How do I look?” I ask.

James says I look “amazing”.

Mpho who isn’t afraid to hurt my feelings says: “I think you should let down your hair.”

Shawn Mendes is looking at us right now, and so is the couple in front of us.

It’s meant for you

I go and sit down – actually cower behind James.

So we’re all trying to tell the ice cream guy who to give the ice-cream to.

I hear James tell him to go to the guy with the grey towel, and I pipe up – “the guy in the white shirt” (but hear it the way Kate Winslet blew the whistle to get the attention of the rescuers in Titanic – just  after she let Leonardo DiCaprio freeze to death).

The ice-cream guy is off. I can’t look anywhere.

Maxine is giving Mpho a blow-by-blow account of what’s happening because she can’t watch either.

“Oh no he’s giving it to the wrong guy,” says Maxine.

Mpho is canning herself.

I am not.

By the looks of it, they’re saying they didn’t buy the ice-cream.

The ice-cream guy is about to point at us. Shawn Mendes looks at us. I yell in the most croaky voice ever and point at him – “It’s meant for you.”

He is gracious and says: “Thank you so much.”

And that’s how we learn that he is British because he sounded like one of those guys from One Direction.

I give him a thumbs up and nod my head because I’ve never done this before and this is the only way I can respond.

Nothing to lose

He leaves. James is offended because he doesn’t come over and talk to me.

I tell James it’s okay because I had very low expectations in the first place. I am just happy I did it – because it was an exercise to overcome my fears.

The ice-cream guy returns, “Why didn’t you tell him you like him?,” he asks.

I explain that there was just power in the gesture.

James is still deeply offended and upset by this guy. I explain this is something I just had to do. We have now become acquainted with the couple who had been sitting in front of us this whole time , turns out they’re from Chicago. They ask if this is the first stranger I ever bought ice-cream for, and by the way they ask it, makes it sound like this happens all the time.

I’m telling myself I made this guy’s day… or creeped him out so terribly from ever coming back to any of SA’s beaches. I’m choosing to believe the former.

Mpho and Maxine hi-5 me.

“I’m proud of you,” Mpho says.

I am too – “I can’t believe I did it. I had nothing to lose.”

Mpho agrees: “No you didn’t… except R20.”

“Actually, R25. I tipped the ice-cream guy.”

Lose your life

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. – Mark 8:35  (NIV).

I have spent the most recent years of my journey as a Christian trying to figure out what losing my life for the cause of Christ looks like. I have always viewed that verse as a call to martyrdom. So in theory and from a distance, I have imagined myself being willing to be martyred for the sake of the Gospel.

But since moving to Cape Town, I see that “losing my life” is something else. Something which has an immediate bearing on my happiness.

A few weeks ago I wrote to my friends in Johannesburg about my frustrations of essentially starting life over again in Cape Town.

I was upset about Tupperware. Three years ago, when I just started working I bought Tupperware. It was a significant purchase for me. I remember standing in the store ruminating over the pros and cons of the purchase and the impact it would have on my budget. I bought the Tupperware and I was incredibly proud of it too. I used it to store baked goods and package salads at braais.

I had to leave the Tupperware behind in the “big move” to Cape Town. So naturally, I was upset the day I realised I needed Tupperware, but did not have any in my new home. I didn’t want to buy new Tupperware, because I knew I had perfectly good Tupperware stored away in Johannesburg. I still haven’t bought new Tupperware and I am trying to figure out a way to bring the Tupperware down to Cape Town.

The Tupperware situation eventually brought up other issues of the move.

We came to the realisation that sometimes routine is not a bad thing.

This includes having to find a new petrol station with attendants I can trust, or becoming familiar with the malls and where the best parking spots are. These are small things, which can make a big difference in terms of convenience.

During a phone call with one of my friends, we came to the realisation that sometimes routine is not a bad thing.  Having adventures are fun, and there are amazing things to explore out there. But there is also value in being familiar with the quickest routes to work, or knowing where the bread is in a store. This is information that can save you time and effort.

I had despised being too familiar with everything about Johannesburg, but now I find myself being frustrated with the unfamiliarity of Cape Town.

Losing control

Another one of my friends visited me and I told her I missed Sandton traffic. I miss sitting bumper- to-bumper on West street. Her response was that I do not miss Sandton, I just miss being in control.

I have spent the past few days figuring out what that means and more specifically what I am trying to control.

I did not anticipate that moving to a new city would expose my difficulty in accepting change. In theory change sounds great. But when you’re in the middle of it, you see that even the smallest details have to change and that’s not easy to accept.

One example is that I have to get clothes appropriate for the weather in Cape Town. I’m not a scarf person, but the wind in the city means I need to stock up on those. I am having to learn to let go of certain things, such as my sense of style – which could be considered an extension of one’s identity, to adjust to my new environment.

Losing pride

One of the things I am confronted with every day is the homeless people in the city. I have told my friends that I never want to get use to seeing homeless people. I have been trying to figure out how I could respond to the needs of people. One of my friends suggested packing extra sandwiches and handing those out to people.

Something God reminded me of was the story of disciples Peter and John at gate Beautiful. They came across a crippled man outside the temple. They did not have “silver or gold” to give the man, but could pray and speak healing over him by the power of Christ, that’s what they did and the man was healed.

I reasoned that I could do the same. But twice, I turned down the opportunity to pray for beggars who had approached me. That is clearly a pride issue I have, something I thought I had dealt with. I had to move to the other side of the country to see that I still struggle with pride.

The condition of my heart is being seen under a different lens. The lens is my new environment and it is exposing things that need to change.

In the meantime, I have friends reminding me that I made the move to fulfill God’s purpose for my life. I still believe that there is a reason I had to move. I believe God will be faithful in revealing that in His good time. And this past week I have seen that losing pieces of myself, however small they may be, is what Mark 8:35 is about.

I am not being martyred for proclaiming my faith. But I am learning to die to my sense of comfort, the way I use to live and my pride.

Life interruptions must happen

Two amazing friends made me this book, the story is written by Maria Pillay and all illustrations by Nikita Coetzee.

I was on holiday with a friend in Cape Town, but completely annoyed at the situation. We had planned to go hiking on Table Mountain, but there had been delays and compromises which meant we were starting our hike late, and I knew that meant we would not summit.

I was ready to pull the hair out of my scalp and my friend could see it. I told her I needed to take a walk.

I found a rock – sat on it and cried. The delay on our hike was a reflection of what was happening in my life. I was so done waiting for something I didn’t even know I was waiting for. Also, the holiday had exposed my restlessness, impatience and a prideful desire to control things I couldn’t.

In my mind’s eye I could see myself standing in front of a wave, like I was presenting myself for it to wipe me out. That’s what I needed, to be humbled again.

After three years of adjusting to life as a young professional in Johannesburg, I felt that I had grown far too competent for my own good. I was bored with the highways, the Park Run routes and the routine I had established.

I needed change, I just didn’t know what it would look like.

Apart from that throughout the year people kept telling me how I should be preparing myself for an adventure. By October I was done waiting for this adventure but at the right time the opportunity came.

I could move to another city to do something different. I didn’t even hesitate about it. But obviously I was concerned about the relationships I had built in Jo’burg.

The Jo’burg skyline became reference point for me, navigating from different ends (North, South, East and West) of the city. No matter where I was travelling from, whether it be Pretoria, Sandton or Soweto, it was always a comfort to know that I was close to home whenever I saw that skyline.

I had met amazing people, who imparted such value to my life. It’s hard to find friends as good as the ones I have. One of my oldest friends had met some of them and told me: “Lameez, you found your people.”

So it was a hard decision I had to make but I knew I had to do it.

Earlier this year, one of my church leaders spoke to me about being obedient to God’s call. He is a children’s pastor but presented a scenario that if God called him to sell ice-cream he would be obedient to do that if it mean that more people will be reached for God’s kingdom.

I felt strongly that this move is a call to walk in my destiny. Sure, I could stay in Jo’burg, still work hard, still be friends with the same people, perhaps even get married and start a family here. It wouldn’t be a bad decision, I could still reach people for God’s kingdom. My choices won’t completely unravel God’s plan, if that were the case then He wouldn’t really be God.

“You found your people”

But by being obedient to God’s call I would be more effective in fulfilling the purpose He had laid out for me before the beginning of time. So even though the vehicle of my move is a job opportunity, I am convinced that there are people I have to reach, things I need to learn.

It’s like choosing to step through a doorway, without seeing the hills and the path that lies beyond it. It’s a leap of faith. I am under no impression that things will be a breeze. In fact I see myself in armour, not just fighting external conflicts, but the ones within myself too.

The other thing is that this change has come at a complicated time, when my family has suffered loss. I will be unbearably far from everyone I care about. I was worried about being lonely, but there were periods this year when I had access to people and was even in the same room as people and still felt alone. So I look forward to the periods of solitude because there’s a purpose in that too.

I call this: Lameez doesn’t live here anymore. This tiny little cottage was home for two years. I am grateful for every warm meal, every spider/gecko that kept me company, all the times I had to squeeze my connect group onto two couches, waking up to the sound of school kids saying goodbye to their parents, learning how to screw on a light bulb/ unclog a drain and how not to trim a tree and grow parsley, being three minutes away from work so I could get in that extra hour of sleep, being close to everything actually, the laughs, tears and frustrations in between, the dreams I had, the conversations with God and the day He revealed it was the end. So glad it all happened here.

There is also the argument that Jo’burg is probably a better city to forge one’s career path. I am grateful to this city She had completely obliterated me with anxiety, but her hustle and bustle really helped shape my character. I think anyone could take on any other city after conquering Jo’burg.

And finally as a tribute to the people who made this experience as precious and valuable as it is, thank you. Thank you for walking with me, listening to my complaints, reminding me to push through and for being so welcoming and supportive. As you can tell, life interruptions must happen.

To new adventures, in Kaapstad.

Favourite things to do while running: Worry about the car that’s stalking me

On a visit to my parents, who still live in my hometown, I decided to go for a run. My mother was a bit wary when she saw me tie up my shoe laces. “You must be careful,” she said.

In another world, perhaps you would interpret that as her being concerned that I don’t trip and hurt myself. But I don’t live in another world, and what she really meant was, don’t get attacked.

Honestly, I was unsure about running, also weighing out whether it would be safe or not. So my mother’s comment didn’t do much to put me at ease. I decided to “run forth” when I remembered  that two days before, I was in the busy Jo’burg CBD waiting for an Uber. An act which is probably the most dangerous thing I’ve done this year. So nothing else could be worse.

I did a safety-check before stepping outside the perimeter of my parents’ yard. Up straight, shoulders back, look purposeful and not like I’m lost in the neighbourhood I spent 18 years of my life.

It had been 10 years since I first started running outside the sports ground. I was still in high school and I ran with my friends. A decade on and the same fears I had back then, remain. Permanently resting inside of me, like I was carrying a load in my belly which ironically was not the previous night’s dinner. I could feel the tension in my chest whenever I passed by someone.

I swung my arms widely along my sides as I walked, like I was on a mission and too busy to greet a stranger.

I set my watched, looked at the passing cars and started off. At this point if you think running comes naturally to me, it doesn’t. I’m always overwhelmed by the rush of oxygenated blood to my brain. And the Sun, it’s like I always choose to run at the worst time of the day because I’m always looking for trees to shadow me. Then there’s my speed, I’m always trying to regulate it.

So you see with all these other things I’m trying to figure out while running, a potential offender is really just the last thing I need.

I had finished my first lap, congratulated myself for firstly making it without stopping and secondly for dodging any dangerous people, like these two things are comparable. I was doing my second lap when I passed a group of women and instantly felt safer. I was approaching one guy and automatically felt threatened.

I realize how conceited I am to think that everyone on the street was obsessed with my running.

When I eventually passed him, he didn’t say anything. He looked at me in the same way the women and the drivers did. So I concluded he was not a threat. As I continued a man and his wife set up chairs outside their yard, ready to read newspapers. It made me feel safer because I thought if anything went wrong I could always scream for help and they would hear me. In retrospect I realize how conceited I am to think that everyone on the street was obsessed with my running.

I was on my third round when I saw a silver Toyota ride past me, nothing strange, just people going about their business. I passed the lonesome guy again, this time he said I should keep going. Further proof that he is not a creep that’s going to pull out a knife on me, I suppose.

I passed the women again and then the silver Toyota. In the next three seconds that passed I rationalized that I was being followed by this Toyota. I told myself it wasn’t the same one but then I also told myself there can’t be two different silver Toyotas circling the same track in such a short space of time. I comforted myself with the knowledge that there is always an option to pray.

I continued running to the couple reading their papers.

And then as I approached a junction, I saw my mother’s SUV pull up. I waved hysterically at her, thinking she was going to the shops to get something for lunch. Her windows automatically lowered down in the most suburban way which is confusing because we live in a township. As I approached the vehicle the first thing she said was: “Is it safe?”

Yes. Not, “Hey I see you too,” or “Do you need water?” Even though she could see that I was perfectly fine she asked if it was still safe to run in the neighbourhood. This is probably the worst 21st Century problem of all time.

I assured her that I was fine and that I was finishing soon. The silver Toyota freaked me out a bit and I didn’t want to pass the couple reading the newspapers again.

I walked off my final lap and finished the rest of my workout in my parents’ yard.

A few years back I tried running in the neighbourhood I now live in, but was accosted by a man who uttered some really threatening comments. I have not run alone again since. Instead I opt to run in a park with a friend. It’s usually a controlled environment, on a particular day of the week at a certain time, and we’re normally surrounded by other runners.

I had asked my friend, who is also a woman, if she considered running in the park by herself at some other time and she was highly against it. She even found an app which generates routes to run in our area, but chose not to run this particular route because it went through a “dangerous” part of the neighbourhood.

I’ve wondered if guys worry about their safety this much whenever they have to do something as simple as running. I know my brother doesn’t. He has been running the same route I took in my hometown for years and my parents are totally okay with it. I think only once I heard them tell him not to run, because it was getting dark and they were worried that the cars would not see him. Nice life problems.

In another world, I probably wouldn’t have a whole debate in my head every time I went out. I probably wouldn’t have to check my pepper spray either or remind myself which pressure points to strike if I ended up in an undesirable situation.

In another world, I probably wouldn’t stop running.

Take me back to June 2006

June 2006 – I was in grade nine, highly annoyed to be spending a Friday afternoon studying for my mid-year exams. In fact I spent most of my weekends during high school studying, but I was just frustrated on this particular weekend, June 15, the second week into the Fifa World Cup.

A lot had to do with the fact that I was just going through one of my teenage moods that day. I was upset that my peers probably weren’t studying, and normally I would dismiss that but I felt it was really unfair and that the universe sucks because you know- teenager. Plus I was disappointed that despite my best efforts, I didn’t feel better after eating an ice-cream. (That Smarties one in a cone which they don’t make anymore. Why did they discontinue it?)

It’s not that I would rather be spending my team watching soccer. I was not a big fan of soccer- still not. But I watched the major tournaments because my dad watched them. More accurately, the games were on in the background while I studied. They were not distracting- I was not interested in them, remember.

Until, one evening after youth group, I came home to find my dad watching a match between Italy and a team I forget. Italy went on to win the world cup that year. But that evening I sat and watched with my dad. He explained the game. He always explains the game.

But I paid attention this time because my dad was describing the strategy the Italians were using. And I could see it unfolding before my very eyes, and as cheesy as this sounds, it was beautiful.

We ended up having a conversation about the teams my dad was rooting for. He liked the Brazillians, because they play with rhythm. I have seen it, they do. He lauded the Germans too, who were hosting the tournament and ultimately finished third. Naturally, as the patriotic South Africans we are, we had a laugh about Bafana Bafana.

When one of my uncles or my male cousins came over, we would rag on each other about whose team just got knocked out from the tournament. It felt nice to finally be part of their conversations and “get” them.

Eventually the games became a break from the studies. I would reward myself with a game every time I met my targets for the subject I was studying.

One Saturday, my dad was working in the yard. He would come in to get updates of the score, which I had kept tabs on. I would add details about how the players scored the goals, if there was a disagreement with the referee, who was diving into the lawn too much, whatever squabbles there may have been with the players. Like a blow-by-blow on the cool parts my dad was missing.

I watched the final with my dad, a Sunday night after church – I remember because I had a debate with my friends about who would win. Phrases like “France sucks,” and “Italy iYa sucka.”

There are two distinct things I remember from that game. The French supporter in the stadium, holding a chicken. And Zidane head-butting that Italian player. My dad and I gasped in disbelief at the head-butt and we both asked each other if there was really a chicken in the stadium. (Rewind wasn’t available back then so everything we saw remained in question until there was a replay, or whenever the camera panned past the guy with the chicken again.)

That world cup laid the ground work for the 2009 confederations cup and 2010 world cup. I watched two games at the stadium near my home town during the 2009 confederations cup. I watched one with friends, between New Zealand and Spain, the Spaniards floored the All Whites. I watched the other match with my family, it was the losers final between South Africa and Spain, which coincidentally fell on my 18th birthday.

By the time 2010 came around, schools and varsities closed for that entire month. I made an effort to watch nearly every game, once we listened to the game between South Africa and Uruguay on the radio because we were traveling.

On my grandmother’s 80th birthday, we caught the highlights of the game between Spain and Switzerland and used unmentionable words after finding out Spain lost 0-1. Argentinians who were probably in the country for the games, gave my grandmother a replica of Tevez’ soccer jersey, it made us feel better but that’s probably not why they gave it to her.

It’s not that I had grown to love the game in four years, it was just that I was watching it with my dad. Like it was a chance to bond with him and do something he likes. (It’s also why I keep track of Formula 1, some rugby games and dare I say – Noot vir Noot.)

He used a phrase to describe a game which was really good. He called it “kook water”. I roughly translated it and curiously asked him what he meant by saying the game is hot water? He explained that the game was on fire. I have since adopted that phrase to describe anything that warranted enthusiastic praise. I have described movies, music, even Parliament as being “kook water”.

Fast forward to 2014, I was still a student and caught a few games at home. My dad had grown older so we would start off watching the first match in the early evening, but my dad wouldn’t finish the second match with me. He was too tired but he told me that it was too cold to continue sitting in front of the television.

I would finish the game, and before going to bed I would update him on the score, which player made it and the exact minute, how effortless it was, who cried, whether the referee was unfair, if the game was a bust (rarely) and what the commentators said.

When the 2017 confederations cup came by, I only realised within its second week that the tournament was underway. I caught up with the points and I managed to watch one semi-final between Mexico and Germany.

Again, not because I love the game, or was rooting for any of the teams. I watched it because I thought perhaps my dad, 160km away was probably watching it too. So if we were both watching it in real time, we’d somehow be connected even though we weren’t in the same room. (Yes I’m trying to work in some universal physics to justify my reasoning.)

When Germany scored two goals in the first 10 minutes I texted my dad to find out if he saw it too.

He wasn’t watching- but we fell into our old habit again, where I updated him of the goings-on, Mexican player Fabian’s fiery goal and the final score where Germany beat Mexico 4-1.

As I type this, the final between Chile and Germany is on in the background. I am simultaneously chatting with my dad. Checking if he saw how close that goal by the Chileans was and commenting on the counter-attack by Germany.

My dad informs me that he’s been watching a movie with my mother. He switches to the soccer. My brother joins the group chat and asks for the score. “The Chileans are good… but they are the weaker team,” my dad says. I tell him that I hope they don’t give the game away.

He says that the best teams are playing the final. What he really means is: This game is kook water.

How I felt after reading the Hunger Games

During the month of March, as part of a reading challenge this year, I manage to devour the Hunger Games trilogy.

I am not familiar with Suzanne Collins’ work, but her writing was so captivating, for lack of a better adjective.

I had never watched the movies. I made a deal with myself to read the books first, and I was not disappointed! I can’t remember the last book that made me obsess so much. I was really pulled into a different world and I finally get what everyone else was raving about it, even though it’s almost 10 years later.

I loved the way Suzanne Collins used practical descriptions in her book to create the images of the districts I saw in my head. She really made it relatable.

She wrote from Katniss’ perspective, and I really felt like I was in Katniss’ head. Taking things in as she was. So I think it’s fair to say Suzanne Collins is one of my new favorite writers, up there next to John Green and J.K Rowling.

It’s so great that she had a female protagonist in this story- especially because our world is still unlearning to put women in boxes. In a way, I think Katniss was still battling to believe she was a hero. People placed high expectations on her, and I don’t think she realised what she was capable of until the very end.

In many ways, I think a lot of women are like Katniss. We don’t realise our potential and it take something great to call that out of us.

So there was a lot of moments of personal reflection I had throughout reading this series, and writing this post counts as one of them.

I realised that the Hunger Games was ironically a book about food.

After reading book one, I realised that the Hunger Games was ironically a book about food. Man, I got really hungry every time Katniss described the food she was eating, even the lamb stew with the prunes, and I’m a vegetarian!

It also made Katniss seem like a real girl who gets hungry, like me. Again, that’s another example of how Suzanne Collins just shattered the limiting perceptions we have of women. Yey for women who get hungry and then eat with their hands!

Of the characters I will say that I was #TeamPeeta after the story about the bread. (See, they mention food a lot in this book). I always liked Gale. I thought he was great a friend to Katniss, but I knew there would have to be a twist in the story so I was vying for Peeta.

I will admit the love triangle situation was probably unnecessary, and it reminded me briefly about Twilight. But this book’s saving grace is that the love triangle was only a subplot and there’s a bigger story about a revolution going on here.

Haymitch was one of my favourites, I didn’t like him in the beginning but he really did that thing where he grows on you. Also, I think Suzanne Collins just gave him great lines. His like that family screw up, who’s not afraid to drop the truth even when it hurts. We need more people like Haymitch, except the part where he’s an alcoholic; no one should suffer like that.

I never had strong feelings about Effie Trinkett. I can’t say I liked her nor that I disliked her.

I liked who Prim becomes. So in the beginning, all we know is that she’s Katniss’ younger sister and that Katniss would give her life for her. But she’s not as helpless as Katniss makes her seem. I was disappointed at the end when Suzanne Collins killed her off anyway. I was like: “Whaaaaaaat?! Isn’t the point of Katniss volunteering to go into the arena to save Prim’s life the whole point of this story?” Anyway, so that sucked. Especially when Katniss had to return home, with no one. It’s like when the thing you try your best to stop from happening, actually happens.

So I guess that was an unexpected twist. At that point I thought Prim was safe, so well done to Suzanne Collins for making that happen. Honestly I was expecting her to kill off Gale. I was preparing myself for that.

So when Prim died, I was gutted. I’m still replaying exploding parachutes in my head.

Finnick – I like Finnick, because of his story. At first he seems really hardcore and like those annoying goodlooking people who have it easy. But he’s suffered and I kind of respect him for all his endured. It gives him some sort of humanity.

He’s also an example of many of the other loveable characters that died in this book. So after food, this book has a lot of death in it.

I was particularly fond of Cinna, Katniss’ stylist. I liked that they kept his presence in the book, even after his death.

I cried reading about Rue’s death. It was a strange experience for me. I’m used to books making me laugh out loud, so this was a different.

GOODBYE RUE: I finally get what everyone else was on about, and I am disappointed that I had to figure it out 10 years later.

I liked Pollux, even though he didn’t talk. I like that he plays a really important role in the end and that he gets along with Katniss. He even gets her to sing the Hanging Tree.

The Hanging Tree

I love this song. I found an hour-long version of it on YouTube and kept listening to it. I had first heard it a few years ago when Mockingjay part one came out. I liked the tune of the song then, but remember I hadn’t watched the movies. So when I actually read the words in the book, I was like: “Woah! This is a really dark song. But I love it!”

I think the part on the book where Katniss explains how she felt about the song, was funny. Even though it was probably a serious point in the book, but she was really just unpacking her thoughts as a teenager. Still a beautiful song. I kept singing it myself.

I wrote out the lyrics on a notepad just so I could stop thinking about it! I know, it’s kind of strange to get excited about a song about death.

If I have a choice, I don’t usually do war stories. It takes a lot of convincing for me to watch a movie about a war, usually because they’re so long. The Hunger Games, although it culminates in a war at the end, didn’t feel laborious to read, I didn’t zone out in the action scenes, either. Again, that’s a testament to Suzanne Collins’ great writing.

It felt like a journey. This was a journey of Katniss’ transformation from the girl who hunted in the meadow at District 12 to a soldier.

Who is Katniss?

I like that Katniss changes. Who she changes into isn’t really great. She loses a lot of herself because of the terror she’s faced. Then again, she was always a bit depressed. I imagined the beating her body took and I don’t think mentally you’re alright after that. I liked the reality of that. Suzanne Collins didn’t try to brush over that with a happy ending.

At the same time, Katniss discovers she’s a survivalist. She’s a strong woman, looked death in the face a number of times. Killed a few people too. So yes, I’m okay with her brokenness. She has good reason to be.

She never really listens to orders but in the end there’s more conviction to her actions. So she’s always been a rebel. She’s definitely not presidential material.

Surprisingly she is someone who loves. Although she has a very strange way of showing that love. Near the end I thought she would end up alone and I was willing to accept that given everything else that happened. I was sketching out a future for her where she ends up like Haymitch, I know not the best but definitely plausible.

But I guess Suzanne Collins probably rescued that train of thought and brings us back to the beginning.

Katniss always loved the boy who threw her that bread, even if she didn’t recognise it in the beginning. I guess she’s the kind of person who had to go through this very treacherous journey which practically tore her soul apart to realise that she needs someone like Peeta to make her feel whole again.

Barf! I know that’s so cheesy, but that’s what happens, he’s the hope she needs to carry on living. If he had died, she surely would have died. Think about it, he was in the arena with her, he understood everything she had been through and somehow he still came out of it with a shred of hope. He’s Katniss’ sliver of light.

Besides, if she ended up with Gale, I think they would have killed each other, or they would have lived miserably, never getting past the war.

Where is Gale?

I know Gale gets a fancy job in District two. But seriously were is Gale? What is this fancy job? Is he still constructing bombs or was he so eaten with the guilt of building the bomb that killed Prim that he stopped doing it altogether?

Also he really loved Katniss. So does he fall in love again? Does he meet someone who loves him back. I thought his other option would be Madge, the mayor’s daughter, but that whole family died.

Then I remember, Suzanne Collins doesn’t have to tell us what happens to Gale. The story is not about Gale. The story is about Katniss. She is the hero. Again, as a reader I am being challenged to accept the completion of a story about a woman.

Also – I’m totally having a Hunger Games movie marathon before the year is over. #Mockingjay

And just because these words are equivalent to a Shakespearean soliloquy:

 

What I learnt from writing a novel

I recently finished writing a 50 000 word novel, in less than 28 days. Why would I do such a crazy thing? That’s simple, as a member of the human race I have come to believe that we are all inherently crazy. Politics is enough proof of that.

Me, after writing a 50k word novel in less than a month.

Me, after writing a 50k word novel in less than a month.

But seriously, working as a journalist I felt that I had hit a wall in terms of my creative writing. I have been trained to write as a reporter. That means I need to restrain my flair, keep my writing concise and lose the parts that don’t add value to a hard hitting news story.

Also, it’s been a few years since I have written simply for the pleasure of writing. There was a time, when I used to write poetry, plays, songs and short stories that were never published. As a teenager writing helped me express what I was feeling. I kept some of these written pieces in a note book, no one else has read them.

As a journalist I got used to my work being published, all the time. Essentially, I haven’t written work that is not meant to be read by anyone else in four years!

In a way the act of writing became a machine that fed my ego. As the late writer Sylvia Plath once said: “I think writers are the most narcissistic people. Well, I mustn’t say this, I like many of them, a great many of my friends are writers.” Those words could not be more true (I’m referring to the part where she calls writers narcissists). One of the guest lecturers in journalism school said something similar, alluding to the idea that the only reason we write is so others can read our work.

Before this exercise turns into another measure of my self-importance let me explain why I took on this personal challenge. I borrowed the idea from National Novel Writing Month which takes place in November. I started writing my novel in December in a bid to do something “proactive” before the end of the year.

The plan was to write up 1667 words per chapter. I had written out a blueprint for the story, complete with characters. It was meant to be complete in 30 chapters, one for each day.

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Blueprint, well half of it.

Over time my story evolved. I didn’t stick to the plan. I changed the word count to 2000 words, I introduced a completely new character and changed other details. The story was completed in 27 chapters.

There were no restrictions on the way the novel would be written. I write mostly in the first person. There are some aspects of time travel and differing perspectives for the same event.

This experience has been like opening the sluices of a dam and then watching endless water run through. I say that because I have an idea for another novel that I want to write. The challenge this time was the volume of words and the time limit. I hope the next novel will create room to explore each character in more detail and more plot development.

I recommend the challenge to anyone, even if you don’t write. It’s an awesome opportunity for introspection.

There are four main lessons I take away from this experience:

1. Writing is pain

Throughout this process I have come face to face with my poor vocabulary, countless grammar mistakes and the general butchering of the English language. One of the things that helped me continue writing was the idea that no one would read this material. As writers we already put pressure on ourselves through the way we scrutinize our own work. Not having to worry about the judgement by readers helped keep the writing going.

It also came with a lot of sacrifice, which mainly cut into my hours of sleep. I would only really get a chance to write in the evenings. I would start after 8 pm and finish around 12 pm every night. I think it took me that long because the process involved a lot of pacing, drinking of Rooibos tea and the rehashing of conversations, out loud.

But after every chapter there was just so much relief! It really is like eating an entire elephant, one bite at a time.

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#Mood, after finishing each chapter.

2. Life happens when you’re writing

During this process, I still had other commitments which I had to fulfill, such as work for example. People don’t care that you’re writing a novel. When your friends come over, they come over. When you tell them you’re writing a novel they say: “Great, I want to read it.” And then they proceed to talk about their lives.

Once I even chose between washing my hair and writing another chapter. I did both and just slept five hours that night (I don’t recommend that). When Rogue One was showing in theatres, I had to complete two chapters in one day because I knew I would be too tired to type out another chapter after going to see the movie. I had to compensate like that a few more times for the “writing days” I missed.

It’s not just the “tiny” day to day events to consider either, there was a death in the family, something serious. I had to write through all of that too.

3. Writer’s read

The thing is, 50 000 words is a lot and I really did not think I would be able to colour those blank pages. I think that I drew influences from novels I had read throughout the year, especially in terms of writing styles.

In one example, I used the method to move between scenes from the current novel I am reading. I also used similar methods when dealing with dialogue between characters, which becomes really tricky in the first person. I took a conversational approach because I found that was easier to read.

In a way reading gave me confidence to sit down and write my own story. It’s kind of a – if they can do it, so can I – conclusion.

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Author Zadie Smith, reading.

4. Writing is intimate

Readers don’t realise that writing is an intimate experience. Apart from the personal reflection, it’s an invitation to the reader to step into the world the writer has created. The writer puts herself or himself in a vulnerable position by exposing their inner most thoughts, on record. No one writes without leaving a piece of themselves in their writing.

I found that even though this was a work of fiction, I wove in truths from my reality into the story. It also exposed some of my own thoughts and feelings on certain topics.

I have also created an ideal world where every character in my novel is completely honest. That’s probably unrealistic, but I have seen that it’s a reflection of the world I want to live in. So I’ve learnt a lot about myself in that regard.

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Final word count

Some of my friends have asked to read the novel, but I believe it defeats the purpose of this project. This was a chance for me to get back onto the horse, as a creative writer.

At the same time, having others read it will open my work to criticism, and I need to hear that if I’m going to improve my writing.

I found that, when you make promises to people, you have to keep them. However, it’s much easier to default on promises you make to yourself.  I once started writing a novel in high school and I never completed that novel. It’s haunted me ever since, especially whenever I think about writing long pieces. It’s probably why I have stuck to shorter pieces. Writing this novel has been daunting, finishing it meant that I kept a promise to myself.

What I do envision for this novel is to turn it into an audio project. I don’t know where I will find the time, but I have some idea of how. I think it will provide the perfect platform for my next creative endeavour.