Who Am I?

A glimpse into the thoughts I have about my own identity.

 

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How I Faced Fear

Fear can be defined as an unpleasant feeling emotion caused by the conviction that someone or something is going to cause you harm or pain. The following incident took place when I was quite a few years younger but is one that still resonates with me today.

The Palmiet Nature Reserve is located in Westville, Durban.

Bow Down, aKing is Coming to Town

The lone bruised and bloody eye that stares out from the CD cover of aKing’s most recently released album, ‘Morning After’ reflects the haunting and sincere nature of their music. There is something terribly compassionate in the emotion present in that glittering indigo iris.

 

The Cape Town based melodic pop-rock band debuted with their album ‘Dutch Courage’ in February 2008 and have witnessed an ongoing climb since then. The CD received third position for Best Album in the March 2009 issue of FHM. They were only superseded by AC/DC and Metallica who claimed first and second places respectively.

 

Members from the hard rock Afrikaans band Fokofpolisiekar, Hunter Kennedy and Jaco Venter, united with Laudo Liebenberg and Hennie van Halen to deliver a softer and yet more intense music. Although all the members are Afrikaans, every song they have released so far has been in English. After aKing was born, they incurred vast fanbase who regularly worship at the band’s powerful lyrical altar.

 

Their next two albums ‘Against All Odds’ (2009) and ‘The Red-Blooded Years’ (2011) boosted the band’s popularity to even greater heights. Influenced by singer Bruce Springsteen and the American group the Foo Fighters, aKing have lived up to their role-models by producing  music of a similar standard.

 

The first track on ‘Morning After’, Prey to the Birds flows through your veins, the words solidifying through your blood, the music pouring through your ears like liquid sound. “I really want to take you home, keep your head when your eyes roll”, lead singer, Laudo Liebenberg croons in the chorus.

 

The Rhodes University Chamber Choir (RUCC), in an attempt to raise funds for their tour to the USA, have co-ordinated and organised for aKing to perform at the 1820s Settler’s Monument on the 31st of July. Tickets for this event are only R100.

 

The Professional Student

“Why spend the best three years of your life here when you can spend six?” Ben Coetzee* runs a hand through his dishevelled blonde hair. His enigmatic blue eyes stare intently into space as he recalls the negative impact marijuana has had on his academic career. His arms flex, the muscles rippling slightly as he stretches on the couch in his brand new flat. There are intricate scars embedded on the inside of his left arm but it is obvious they are self-created. Everything about him screams “messed up” but his courtesy and intellectual speak contrast this stunningly. The rolling paper, nail scissors, tobacco and other bits of his equipment lie scattered on the battered suitcase that serves as his coffee table.

 

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Ben Coetzee* deftly and skillfully rolls a joint

 

 

The Grahamstown-dweller has a gentle yet simultaneously rough demeanour. Coetzee has lived here for years. “It can get boring. I have to leave at least once a year otherwise it becomes insidious,” he concedes. His pale hands seem red and bruised at the knuckles but as he calmly begins the rolling process, they are steady and sure. His dress oozes casualness. The faded black jeans and beat-up boots are almost emblematic of his rough past. “I was being bullied all the time at school so when someone offered to sell me weed, I bought it. I was having a weird experience with pain and pleasure at the time and the drug seemed to take away that pain, temporarily,” he said.

 

Coetzee recalls how hectic the drug abuse got when he came to Rhodes, how he continuously skipped lectures just to sit alone in his residence room getting high, as an act of escapism. “I wouldn’t accept that I was having an identity crisis,” he said. “The weed became my medicine but I began to get bad grades. I lost a lot of friends and hurt many people. I guess I just got very lazy and stopped working.”

 

The twenty-three year old humanities student has failed at least one subject every year he has been at Rhodes University. Studies have shown that persistent use of the drug cannabis has adverse effects on the brain’s memory, learning and impulse control. Other results include mild euphoria, pain relief and in rare instances, delusions or hallucinations. Coetzee is aware of these consequences but admits he has become reliant on the drug. “If I had worked harder, I’d be out of here by now but then I would have never met the love of my life. I don’t think I was ready to go out into the world,” he said without a trace of regret on his serene face.

 

The “professional student”, as he jokingly refers to himself, confesses that his other extramural activities include hiking, rock climbing, writing and spending time with his friends. Despite his addiction to weed and the surface association this has with raves and clubbing, Coetzee says he doesn’t really go out much. “The partying is a bit much here. I prefer to talk to people, to listen to good music, drink wine and get stoned,” he explains.

 

Coetzee is currently making up a few credits and will hopefully complete his undergraduate degree at the end of this year. He used to dream of joining the military or police force but he realised that he would rather become an academic. He has vague plans of travelling to Korea to teach English in the next few years but other than that seems content with the life he leads. “I’m loved and I’m free. Everything has worked out well for me. I feel positive,” he says.

 

The snipping of weed seeds and stalks in a small shot glass echoes loudly in the quiet room. He deftly measures out some of the tobacco onto the pre-prepared rolling paper. His fingers gracefully smooth it out evenly and he carefully rolls it, the art so familiar to him, it has become a ritual. His tongue sweeps across the edge of the joint and seals it as though it were a kiss to a lover. The flicker of the lighter burns hauntingly in the dimly lit space. Coetzee takes a pull like he’s breathing in a breath from depths the sober cannot comprehend and exhales. The pungent smoke curves in curlicues of relief.

 

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Two rolled joints lie waiting to be smoked among the debris of their conception

Under the Skin

Birds, feathers, infinity and yin yang signs, geometric patterns, hash tags, Roman numerals, maps, arrows, quotes and optimistic words like ‘Hope’ and ‘Believe’ are all popular tattoos around the world. For years the art of tattooing has been both controversial and widespread. Like many things, modern tattooing began as a statement, an act of rebellion but this has gradually morphed into something more symbolic – self-expression. Some choose to mark themselves for aesthetic reasons but for others, tattoos aren’t just ink under the skin, but real experiences and life events that have impacted them.

 

The tattoos of Lumumba Mthembu, an English master’s student and tutor, grace the brown of his arms in curious swirls and curves alluding to his troubled past. After nearly dying in a fire, Mthembu turned his life around and was awarded a Mandela Rhodes Scholarship in 2014. He claims this was “his biggest achievement” and subsequently got the words carved onto his inner arm in formal font. The top of his right shoulder is also taken up by the huge letter ‘M’. He explains that while all his tattoos bear import to him, if he had to choose, this one would be the one he valued most. “My mother, Mkhulu and Malume all died within the space of 18 months but it’s also a representation of my surname.”

 

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Size doesn’t matter either, something that wholly transformed your life can be represented by the tiniest of tattoos. Taylia Meese is no exception to this. The second year has a small feather leading into the word ‘fearless’ inked onto her ribcage as a reminder of her decision to permanently leave her mother’s house to live with her father, “My dad told me, Tay, if you’re going to do this, then you can’t be afraid. And I responded by saying, right now, I’m fearless.”

 

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Izzie Van Wyk has four tattoos. None of them are exceptionally big but they all wield a great deal of significance to her, “I love all my tattoos”. Van Wyk explained that the cherry blossoms surrounding the word ‘Hope’ on her wrist were important to her, “I had a friend who was in the US army, stationed in Korea and one day she sent me a card with these flowers on it, they were so stunning that I decided that I wanted them inked as a reminder of all the special times we shared. I was going through quite a tough time and the card came at exactly the right time”. Her last tattoo is poignant too, “Traditionally sailors imprinted them on their chests as guardians of sorts but the swallow is also a symbol of leaving home but staying true to your roots” and for Izzie this is especially applicable since she is a new student at Rhodes.

 

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Second year, English major, Cara Ribeiro said, “I wanted to do something scary, to be forced out of my comfort zone. To make a decision and have to deal with the consequences for the rest of my life”. The intricate tree and delicate birds in flight that decorate her right shoulder are emblematic of her growing up surrounded by nature, “I was raised to always appreciate it. I would be with my father and grandfather, bird watching under the trees. My tattoo reminds me of my family and peace”

 

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The term ‘tattoo’ itself is most likely a derivative of the Polynesian ‘ta’and ‘tatau’, a Tahitian word. The history of tattooing is unclear. Some believe that the origin of modern tattooing lies in the primitive practice of scarification. The Prehistoric man was said to have cut his skin and then applied dirt or ash from the fire into the wound. One of the most amazing discoveries of early tattoos can be viewed on Otzi, the Iceman’s five thousand year old body. He was found in 1991 and bears over 50 tattoos. Tattoos were also used as a means for funereal art, branding (which was mostly for aesthetic purposes), clan markings (used to identify different tribes), rites of passage, love charms, good luck, amulets, status symbols, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even as punishment.

 

Body modification itself has a lot of stigma attached to it. Lumumba Mthembu believes that “the body is a canvas and our soul duty in life is to express ourselves. I love seeing people with piercings and tattoos, it means they’re being true to themselves”. Elizabeth Ross, a Catholic student at Rhodes says, “I have no problem with people having tattoos. It’s a question of personal style. God looks at the heart of a person, not appearance. I do, however, believe that Christians should be thoughtful about tattoos they put on their body. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and your tattoos should reflect positive meaning.”