Tao of the Farm – Principle number 19 – “The Corona Virus will come and turn everything on its head.”

13 April 2020

If there is one thing of which we can be certain, then it is that there is great uncertainty ahead. As I write this we are in lockdown. We have been required to “stay at home” since the 26th of March. I have left the house only twice in the last 18 days. When I have left, I have kept the outing short. I wear my trusted “buff” as a facemask and spray sanitiser on my hands when I enter and when I leave a shop.
A lot has happened at Pebblespring farm since the previous chapter. I came to live full time in “Kok’s Cottage” in April 2017. My marriage of 23 years came to an end with a very messy divorce that dragged out for over two years. My daughter Mandisa came to stay with me at the farm, two weeks on and two weeks off. I am in a new relationship with the beautiful, profound and perplexing Poppina. Together we have, under very difficult circumstances, made Pebblespring Farm a home. We have been joined by two lovely Great Danes: Tank and Nakia and two (mostly irritating) cats: Hamilton and Eliza. (Yes they were both named by Mandisa, a musicals nut!)

corona virus move - april 2020
I managed to move the last of my stuff with only a few hours to spare before the 23:59 commencement of lock down on 26 March 2020

But today, as I write this, we are not at Pebblespring Farm. We are living through the lockdown at my office premises in the leafy suburb of Walmer. I am very fortunate to have a little flatlet on the site that has actually proved to be very comfortable. My thinking is that by making this rushed move, I am most likely to keep my office going through the lockdown. Being an Architect (as opposed perhaps to a waiter or a pilot) is useful I suppose in this time, because I can continue to prepare designs and documentation without having to come into physical contact with anyone. There are only seven of us in our team, so it really is a very small operation and a lot easier to keep going than the massive architectural offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg with maybe 200 or 300 employees or those of US, UK, China and Japan that employ thousands. By being here at the office, I can much more comfortably hold on to the reins at what has become “mission control”. Each of our team members is linked to the office server via VPN and each one, except of course Tafadzwa the general assistant, has moved their workstations with them to what has now become their home offices. I am very happy to say that the last 18 days have been a great success. The output in terms of quantity and quality has been good. We meet every morning at 9am with Zoom and review our progress and plan the work ahead. During the day we share our progress on the office Whatsapp group that we set up some time ago. I would perhaps post a diagram of what I have been designing on the drawing board, my colleague Chris or Siya may post for my comment of for Graham’s comment the latest version of a drawing that has been prepared on Revit (the very powerful design software we use). In this way we continue – “business as usual” I suppose. Except of course it is not business as usual. I have been in business for my own account now for 25 years. What I have seen in this time is that when there is trouble in the economy the first thing to be put on hold is any future construction project developers may have had in mind. A construction project can almost always be delayed so that they can “wait and see”. We can always live a little longer on the same old house. We can always wait a little longer before we build the next hotel in our group We can always squeeze in a little tighter into the existing office space until the crisis passes. So, right now, I am facing a great uncertainty. While I am reasonably certain that I will not die from the Corona virus, I do not have any certainty at all that my business and my means of supporting my loved ones will still be here in a year’s time.
That’s really what I want speak about today. I want to speak about uncertainty and how it is that we can come to make peace with it or even embrace it. I find it difficult because as I write these words, I am still trying to figure out for myself my own way forward. What I do know is that there is only one way to begin to make friends with uncertainty and that is to accept that it exists. Perhaps like the great Buddha tried to teach us: that it can only hurt us if we do not accept it. It seems to me though that in this time, what government and leaders are trying their best to do is to give certainty to the people. To give a guess as to when the “curve” will “peak”. People everywhere want the certainty to know if they will be getting their salaries or if they will be able to return to work or when they will be able to buy booze and cigarettes again. The horrible truth is that no-one can be certain of any of these things. What we are reasonably certain of is that about 115000 people have died of this disease so far. What we are told is that 25 of these are South African deaths. What we can be even more certain of is that we are in lockdown and will be until the end of April and that alone will devastate the economy in ways, in all likelihood, not seen in my lifetime.
Perhaps though what this crisis has brought more clearly into focus than ever before is that the certainty we thought we had was an illusion all along. There has never been certainty. There have only been those that have tried to calm the herd creating for them the illusion that there was certainty. It is very sad, but unfortunately true, that of all the people that I have ever me in my life, I am able to categorize either has having a “herd mentality” or a “herder mentality”. Others, like Fredrick Nietzsche have been perhaps only slightly more blunt when saying we either have the minds of “masters” or of “slaves”. I would guess, like everything else, the truth, as inconvenient as is, is probably a little more nuanced. In the same way maybe that each of us at times display more of our feminine spiritual energy and other times more of our masculine spiritual energy, we lean in some days toward “slave thinking” and in other days toward “master thinking”. Now though, is the time for us to discipline our minds and to discipline our thinking to the thinking of the “master”. To train ourselves to think noble thoughts. The noble soul does not seek certainty because it knows that certainty is an illusion. It knows that just because events have been seemingly predictable looking back, that does not in anyway help to predict the future. No, the noble soul knows that it must embrace the uncertainty, not only today in this crisis, but at all times. It must accept that we are present in a living universe and must be ready to make changes in its life in order to respond to this reality.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know when I will come again to live at Pebblespring Farm. I don’t know if I will come to build my dream house with a deck that looks over the spring. I don’t know if I will come to graze my heard of Nguni Cattle through a beautiful pasture and shaded food forest. I don’t know if I will be able to make the decisions in this time that will see Pebblespring Farm grow in biodiversity and being passed down through the generations of caring and deep-thinking custodians that will follow behind me. I don’t know, because I am not certain. But because of the noble soul inside that is battling and fighting off the slave-minded demons, I will learn to embrace this uncertainty and with practice and discipline come to love it. Yes, to love my fate including all that is uncertain about it.

How to pump from a marshy boggy spring.

While the water we use in the cottage for household purposes is all rainwater collected of the 160 sq m cottage roof, water for irrigation must come from the sources of standing water we are very fortunate to have here at Pebblespring farm. Not only irrigation actually. One of the big hurdles that we face in expanding our Tilapia tank systems and bringing cattle back to the farm is a reliable source of water for them. So as you can see, my continuous trials (an errors) of how to reliably (and affordably) harvest water are of critical importance to the continued sustainability of our many projects.

Really cool video

We can ensure the best rise to the top

On weekdays I prefer working out at the gym sometime between 11 am and 1 pm. That way I break my day. I can be super productive in the morning, pushing to get things done before I head off and then super productive in the afternoon again after I am back and filled with all the good stuff that flows around in my veins after pumping iron for an hour or so. But yesterday (like too many other days recently) was different. I changed my schedule so that me and my fitness freak daughter, Mandisa, could start our workout at 3pm so as to coincide with my office’s load shedding induced down time. I was not at all happy about this inconvenience. I am not at all happy that Eskom is now causing me daily to lose money in business. But I was happy though that I got slightly more time, between bench press and back squats, to think a little. To ruminate. To ponder on the peculiar situation in which we find ourselves in this beautiful country.

80588451_10159291912078975_7313168396902727680_n.jpgLets start perhaps with what we know. We know that we have all the essential ingredients as a country to deliver world beating performance. We have just this week delivered a South African Miss Universe.  We have just last month delivered South African victors of the Rugby World Cup. We have in recent years effortlessly delivered Elon Musk and Trevor Noah onto the world stage. The evidence is clear, unequivocal and indisputable. We have the right stuff! We are able to dominate the world in a broad range of disciplines. But friends, how then do we explain Eskom, SAA and Mayor Bobani?

It seems perhaps that South Africa exists in two realities. One in which we are the absolute shit and another in which we are just plain shit! How is this even possible? Well I am glad you asked, because this gives me a chance to try out my theory on you.

My suggestion is that where we have succeeded so spectacularly as a country is where we have figured out mechanisms that allow for the best of us to “float to the top” of our chosen field. We have seen this in rugby, we have seen this in the Miss Universe contest and in the worlds of technology and entertainment. But where we have developed institutions that have built “filters” that prohibit the best from rising to leadership and decision-making positions, there we find failures like Eskom, SAA and the NMBM. Perhaps it’s just a simple case of where vicious competition is obvious and clear to us, we rise and where we are blinded to it, we fail. I say this because somewhere in our collective South African consciousness we must know that we have no choice but to put our best foot forward in the Miss Universe competition. If, in that contest, we had used our Eskom mindset, we would have held back Zozibini Tunzi in favour of a lesser competitor whose surname just happened to be Gupta. If we had used our SAA mindset in the Rugby World Cup competition, we would not have even made it to the first game. We would have insisted that a 15 man team is just not big enough and that we refuse to come on the field unless we can meet our job creation goals by having a 40 member squad!

If we were living in Southern Sudan, it would perhaps be understandable that we are experiencing Stage 6 load shedding or that we couldn’t figure out how to run a little airline with 58 planes (for heaven’s sake American Airlines has 1500 planes!). But we are not living in Southern Sudan. We are living in a country with significant human resource. South African has proven in the Miss Universe contest, in World Cup Rugby, in Elon Musk and in Trevor Noah that we can build systems that allow our best to shine and to make the world a better place.

But don’t get me wrong. I am not talking to you about politics (or the delusion that causes people to think that they can make any real change by queuing up once every four years at the ballot box). No. That’s not what I am after. What I want to see in each and every one of us is that we make sure, that within our own sphere of influence and control, we insist that the best of the best be allowed to float to the top. The best people, the best ideas, the best products and the best technology. And yes, you do have power and sway. It may be in your kid’s hockey club where you insist that the best kids make the first team. It may be in your office, where you make a scene where you encounter nepotism. It may just be you, on Instagram, promoting what you know to be the best sirloin steak in town or making a fuss about sub-standard service at the bank or being ripped off with data prices by your cellular company. It’s our duty every single day to reject bad design, bad coffee and bad attitudes. Each and every one of us must demand the best and we must insist that all that is not up to the task is sent back to try again.

 

Believe me. Our country depends on it! Our country depends on you!

 

Unboxing the Davey (DC10M-2) Sump Pump

I have no “Town Water” at Pebblespring Farm – I rely entirely on natural sources, either collected off my roof, or from the spring. Submersible pumps are therefore quite important to me for three reasons:

1 – to draw water out of the spring into the aquaponics system.
2 – to circulate water in my aquaponics system
3 – to irrigate (fertilized water) from the aquaponics system to my garden and orchard.

The Davey Sump pump (DC10M-2) and the Resun King 3 are roughly the same price in South Africa (Around ZAR 1000 or USD68 ) – my feeling though is that the Davey Sump pump gives much more pump for your money!!

Watch the cool video that Tim made for you!

Dynamite the only option for Red Location Museum

There was beautiful rain on the farm on Saturday night. It’s been very dry here, so the sound of rain on the tin roof as we huddled in front of Netflix was even more pleasant, even more comforting than it would usually be. Except of course that the tiny cottage we live in is located in a little patch of third world where, for some reason, the internet goes down every time there is the smallest drop of rain.

red-700x400-09
Photo courtesy of Wolff Architects

With no connectivity, activity in the cottage quickly gravitates to reading, playing chess or trying to teach our enormous great dane “Tank” to add “lie down” to his small repertoire of tricks. My grown son Litha, was slouched behind the Weekend Post. “Dad…What can we do to get it opened?” He asked, referring to the headlines talking about the “Disgrace” that the beautiful Red Location museum remains closed to the public for six years now. “It’s not that simple” I mutter vaguely as I try for the third time to reset the WIFI router. His question interests me though and we end up debating the issue well into the rainy night. The exchange got me thinking about the issue and wondering if this whole matter has been thought through properly.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that the buildings that make of the Red Location Museum precinct are the best collection of contemporary buildings in the province. The buildings were lovingly designed by Jo Noero, an architect deserving of the highest levels of respect. I suppose, though, the question still remains “Why does the museum remain closed?”

Perhaps there’s more to it this than the lawlessness of the local neighbourhood? Perhaps there is more to this than the fumbling incompetence of the three spheres of government that have power and sway here.  I’m beginning to think that the real problem is that Red Location Museum was way ahead of its time. But not in a good way.

I have visited Berlin. There is a Holocaust museum there (as there are in many other parts of the world) While these museums are all different, they have one thing in common. They were built after the holocaust was over. Just like the Vietnam War memorial was built after the Americans lost the Vietnam war. Just like the little memorial I visited in Buenos Aires was built after the Falklands war. I suppose it’s a matter of timing.

Mayor Nceba Faku was the best Mayor PE has ever had, but perhaps he got this wrong. Perhaps he declared victory in the struggle for liberation against apartheid too soon. Perhaps the people struggling in desperate poverty to this day in Red Location and hundreds of other places like it, may say that it is even now, 25 years after 1994, still too soon to celebrate or to memorialise victory.

After all, our World War 2 hero, Winston Churchill did not declare victory on “D-Day” when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy. No. They pushed on, did the dirty work and cleared Europe of every last Nazi Pantzer, released every last Jew, Gypsy, Gay and Slav from the concentration camps and then, and only then, declared victory on Armistice day.

I guess that the city’s great thinkers, like the erudite and well-spoken Rory Riordan, who worked tireless to ensure the Red Location museum received funding, got built and became more than a mayor’s pipe dream, will argue that I am misguided. He will point to the projected economic impact and how the tourists could flock there, spend their Euros and Pounds and Zim Dollars and thereby stimulate the economy and create a better future for the poor and destitute of Blawa, Ndokwenza and Katanga. Well friends, I am afraid the jury is out on this one. In the thirteen years since the museum was opened in 2006, it could not even generate enough tourist spend to keep its own little museum restaurant running let alone stimulate the rest of the region’s tourist economy!

I am afraid colleagues this project is a failure. It is a failure despite the good work of Noero, Faku and Riordan. It is a failure by the ancient measure of that most famous of roman Architects, Vitruvius. Even before the time of Jesus, Vitruvius helped us understand that in order to for Architecture to be enduring and cared for, it must prove itself against the age-old tests of “Firmness, Commodity and Delight”. Yes, Red location Museum is “Firm” (It hasn’t fallen down). Yes, it is delightful. But no, it does not offer “Commodity”. It is not used. It has no function in this particular time, in this particular economy and under these particular social conditions. By the measure of the great Vitruvius therefor, The Red Location Museum is failed architecture.

Of course, we are concerned as tax payers that we have spent so much money on these buildings. We feel therefore that something productive must be forced upon them. This mistaken thinking, friends, is the “sunken cost fallacy” AKA “throwing good money after bad”. Even the Berlin Wall and the Sardinia Bay Life Savers Club were demolished when we reached consensus that building them was a mistake.

Perhaps then, if anyone ever resuscitates Mayor Faku’s great plan to demolish the freeways that devastated the once bustling and thriving Strand street, they may also be so wise as to add the Red Location Museum onto the list structures to be dynamited!

Night Patrol 27 October 2018

I hate it when my night Patrol duty falls on a Saturday night. That means I must leave Poppina in the cottage alone with Tank. And another thing – this was the third Saturday Patrol I’ve had been allocated this year. It doesn’t sound fair. In fact I had almost forgotten about the patrol and just remembered 30 minutes before I was due to report at 19:00.

 

The way it works here, it that the patrol vehicle is parked at the Service Station just up the road from me at Cow’s Corner. So I drove up, bought some snacks for the road and signed for the keys with the lady in the shop. My co-driver didn’t pitch. I contacted him, but his was pissed off because he didn’t receive the email roster that sets out the dates for all the night patrollers. I am perhaps more forgiving. I admire the volunteer energy that the people heading up “Farmcomm” put in, including the people that assemble and send out the night patrol roster.

 

Normally, not much happens on my night patrol shift, but last night was different. About an hour in to the three hour shift there was a call in the two way radio. Neil and his wife, from just over the road from us had been attacked. 4 men in balaclavas beat the two pensioners and took a shot gun, a 9 mm hand gun and cell phones. Very quickly the radio control guys stepped into place and coordinated the activities of the many “responders” who arrived at very short notice in their private vehicles. You see, each Farmcomm member has a two way radio. Many keep it on their person at all times. So if there is an emergency the response can be quite rapid. Some responders were directed to form cordons along certain roads, others were directed to launch the drone which is now fitted with a Fleur night vision camera of sorts. I was tasked to park at the corner of Kragga Kamma and Louisa roads, to direct police and other emergency personnel who were beginning to arrive on the scene. While this was going on the attackers were being pursued. The place where they cut the fence into Flanagan’s farm was found and as the police dog unit arrived they tried to find a spoor. The pursuit of these attackers went on until early hours of the morning. We come very close to apprehending the suspects as they took refuge in thick bush between Doorly and Destades road.

For much of the time from when the attack happened at 8ish until we received the order to stand down at 2:30, I was part of a vehicle cordon. Basically a row of cars parked along a road with lights shining so as to back it impossible for the attackers to pass. So I had a bit of time to think. At first my mind moved to how sad it is that we have this crime situation that requires all of us in this neighbourhood to lock ourselves in hour houses as soon as the sun goes down and to live behind high fences protected by viscous dogs, alarm systems and armed response companies. No it’s not nice. But I think what is good is that the community has organised itself and is taking responsibly for its own security. (Collaborating with the police of course.)

My mind also wandered to how futile it is to feel sad about this situation (or any other I suppose). The situation “just is” and I am faced with the option to deal with it or to move somewhere else where I may not have to deal with it. I have chosen to be here at Pebblespring farm. For better or worse, this is the decision I have taken. And with that mind-set, my only choice is to find joy in making every effort I can to protect my family and prepare myself as best I can to be able to deter and resist intruders. It feels better to have this mindset. It in fact feels better actively pursuing attackers at 2 in the morning. Just knowing that I am doing something perhaps. Not waiting for them to take the initiative and spoil my day.

I have a lot of work to do to be fully prepared. But that’s what I have decided to do.

 

By the way we never caught the guys, but we learned a lot and we are getting better with each of these “operations”