Author: Clients in Action

Goodbye, Old Girl

Sandy Murray shared this Daily Mail article that has been of comfort to her in the loss of her Golden Retriever, which she describes as traumatic. Writer Bruce Fogle describes how the loss of “man’s best friend effects one dog lover … goodbye old girl”.

At the moment, I am unanchored. Emotionally adrift. Not because my marriage has hit the skids, or because my children are unwell. I haven’t lost my job. I’m not even moving home. My mind’s in a stew for a banal, some might say, trivial, reason: my dog died.

It’s not that my dog was particularly special. She was a family dog, a six-year-old female golden retriever, one of the umpteen dogs you might see every day being exercised by their owners. But she was my dog, a warm, soft, beautiful, loving thing.

Macy was a thoughtful creature, a considerate being, a trusting and worthy part of my family. She was my travelling companion, accompanying me on long travels we took together around North America and Europe.

There are some, and you may be one, who dislike the anthropomorphising of dogs: the humanising of their personalities, their feelings, their emotions. To me, there are shades of this. I hate seeing dogs in party hats or wearing antlers at Christmas. But can you seriously refuse to grant a dog the complexities of emotional feelings?

Many do, but I can’t accept that. I can’t believe that dogs don’t have emotions, and the only words I have to describe those emotions are ones I’d use to describe a fellow human. Macy was “jealous” when another dog took one of her toys, “thoughtful” before trying anything unfamiliar, “joyous” when she met people or other dogs she knew, “contented” to be left alone, “purposeful” when investigating the natural world around her, “circumspect” in her approach to unknown people, “contained” in her display of emotions.

Helen Mirren in The Queen reminded me of Macy – guarded, wary, restrained, but no less “human” for it. But there’s a trickier emotion. Can you describe love? Can you put your own feeling of love for someone into precise words? Can you capture in a sentence or a paragraph that feeling of love so that someone reads and understands what you mean?
I know the look of love in my wife’s eyes, but can I describe in words what that look is? (I know, too, her look of exasperation, or annoyance.) You can’t dispassionately describe love from the outside. You have to feel it from the inside in order to know what it is, so you’ll have to take my word for it. As trite as it may sound, I loved my dog and I know my dog loved me.

Why do we love a species that so depends on us? We guide our children from their early reliance on us to eventual independence, but the dog’s dependence is permanent and we love them deeply for it.
An evolutionary biologist would say that is dogs’ trump card – their ability to convince us that they need us for ever and ever. They thrive on our lifelong need to nurture. Macy did this in a number of ways. First, there was that look in her eyes. It was exactly the same as the look of love in my wife’s eyes. So why is it any different from the love Julia need not put into words?

There’s another look she could get in her eyes – absolute, unmitigated, concentrated interest in me. An uncle of mine had that look and women generations younger than he fell in love with him because of it.

So why can’t I fall in love with that look in my dog’s eyes, a look that told me she thought I was the most interesting person she’d ever met?

Then there’s physical contact. Golden retrievers are particularly adept at this. They press their bodies into you. Each time I returned home, Macy pressed her head against my legs when she greeted me. Sometimes she did this in the park, too. Just because. If I were sitting, on a chair or in the grass, she’d come over and press her chest against me.
It’s as if she were saying: ‘I want to squeeze you I love you so much, and this is the best I can do.’

And silence. Is that not the true glue of love: the ability to be together, to do together, to understand each other without the need for words? The ability to feel love certainly predates language.

Being with a dog, understanding her moods, her wants, her feelings, her emotions, without the need for words, returns you to the core of your being, to a time before words, when body language said everything.

As so many dogs do, Macy bestowed unconditional devotion, an unquestioning reliability, a constancy and an immutability. Her intention was always to be there, to leaven anywhere with the familiarity of her presence. After the thrill of the chase, even when lost in the deepest woods, her purpose was always to return, to find me, to be rejoined once more.
Of course, that’s at the core of the most sentimental stories about dogs. Every culture has them: the dog awaiting his master’s return, even from the dead. That’s unmitigated sentiment, but what’s wrong with that? Can another human ever equal the unqualified, unconditional regard that a dog has for us?

Living with a dog is an ongoing process of interpreting. We intuitively interpret what our dogs, with their bodies, tell us, and when we can’t fully interpret we take them to the vet so that he interprets what’s happening.

As well as her owner, I was also Macy’s vet. I’m used to that triangular relationship – you, your dog and me, all interacting with each other.

I usher dogs through life, from the faltering first steps of puppyhood, through the arc of life to the often pain-riddled last steps of stoic old age. I have a relationship with the dog and with her owner.

To dogs, I provide medical care. To owners, I offer experience and advice.

There are times when I have to cut myself loose from the emotional link I’ve made with my patient and speak dispassionately with her owner. “Are we doing such and such because it’s good for the dog or are we doing it because we can’t bear the emotional torment of the only alternative: to painlessly kill.”

But when it’s my own dog that’s gravely ill, there’s no triad. Whom do I talk to about her?

Walking your dog is life-affirming, and it’s probably what I miss most now that she’s no longer alive. It’s as if you’re plaited together, one extended consciousness, awareness overlapping. I see a squirrel before she does, and then she spies one before I do.

On one of those walks, rather than charging ahead in front, Macy unexpectedly walked beside me. Dogs develop ritual behaviours and, because Macy had deviated from hers, there in the park I examined her and felt a mass the size of a chicken egg, fixed firm in her guts.

I pretended to myself, and later to my wife Julia, that it was an ovarian cyst, but I knew that was unlikely. I took her to the clinic, withdrew a blood sample and found nothing unexpected, but I knew I’d have to operate to see what the mass was.

That night, in obvious distress, Macy came to Julia’s side of our bed and, with anxiety in her eyes, she panted relentlessly. I gave her a painkiller and she relaxed, but it wasn’t until the following morning, when I operated on her, that I knew for certain that she had haemorrhaged in her abdomen.

Once the blood was cleared away, I found the site of her bleeding and removed it. There were other sites too, filled with cheesy material, like pus but not pus, and I removed most of them too. But not all of them. There were simply too many.

My fellow vet Veronica and I operated for three hours, removing large parts of her innards. Veronica worked in emergency and critical care in California before she joined me in London, but neither of us was absolutely certain what we were dealing with.

After we finished surgery and Veronica took off her face mask, I saw in her eyes what her mind was thinking: “Poor Macy. Poor Bruce.” What was in my mind was: “Why have I operated?”

Four days later, we got back the results from the pathologist. A wickedly fast-spreading cancer that had originated somewhere on her skin had invaded all her organs, spreading in sheets around healthy tissue. The cheesy material was nothing more than tissue that had lost its blood supply and died.

When we finished operating, I still didn’t know the exact cause of her condition, but experience told me that whatever it was, her life would be short and probably uncomfortable. I didn’t want to lose my dog, but I didn’t want her to wake up either.

I increased the narcotic painkiller and took her home to Julia. There, I continued to add painkiller to her intravenous drip and, lying by the sofa, conscious but asleep, by the light of the fire, she died that evening, not having had the distress of reawakening.

Just that week, I’d received a book from an American publisher, hoping that I’d write a blurb for the back jacket. It was an intelligent and attractive tale, told by Ted Kerasote, a self-sufficient outdoorsman from Wyoming, of his life with a big yellow dog named Merle. Of course, every book about a dog tells the story of its end.

Of Merle’s end of life, Ted wrote: “Rocking back on my heels, I wondered how this could be – his going off while I was cleaning his butt.” Somehow, it seemed apt. A dog is always more interested in another dog’s rear end than in its eyes.
“Half-laughing, half-crying at this thought, I suddenly felt all my joints lose cohesion, as if what had been holding me together had suddenly dissolved. “My dog,” I said to the empty house. “My dog.””

Ted had only his empty house. I had Julia and, although we didn’t need words, we too dissolved.
When dogs are members of the family, when we know they have feelings and emotions so similar to ours, when we grieve for their passing as we do for any other beings we have formed bonds with, we need rituals to help us cope with the end of a life.

Julia and I stayed with her body for a while, my fingers buried in my dog’s hair – for my comfort now rather than for hers – then I wrapped her in a sheet, put her on her bed in the back of the car and drove down to our place in Sussex.
At dawn the next morning, I started digging under a low, bushy bay tree where on hot days she had silently retreated for shade. The clay was as hard as concrete, but this was a satisfying ritual I’d carried out before.

I’ve got two more dogs, Liberty and Lex, buried in their favourite spots in that garden. It’s a final service, a last “thank you” to an innocent. Rigor mortis had come and gone and as I carried her from the car to the hole I’d dug, her head lolled like a flower on an old stem.

Mock me if you must, but I buried with her all the lost tennis balls that she’d found in the park during the previous month and proudly carried back to the car, 11 of them.

Dogs can’t tell their life stories, but sentimentally, and I dare say tediously, we dog owners tend to narrate our dogs’ lives to others.

To those who have not formed an emotional bond with an individual dog, a description of the quiet intimacies in that relationship can be discomfiting.

To those of you who have, let me say this, both from my own experience and from watching so many others endure the grief of losing a dog.

What differentiates the loss of a dog from the loss of a fellow human is the fact that the core values in our affiliation with dogs can be reformed. The emotional value of living in the company of a dog does not reside solely and uniquely within that one individual. A dog dies and that particular dog is irreplaceable, but the value of “dog” can be filled by others.

Macy was the fourth dog we’ve had during our marriage, and certainly the most travelled. I’ve surprised myself by how cut up I still feel about her premature death. Maybe that’s because she died young, or maybe it’s because I spent so many months on the road, travelling alone with her, sharing experiences with her and no one else.
Or maybe it’s because she was my first “digital dog”. It seems that every time my screensaver comes on, there’s another random picture of Macy, among lingonberries on the Russian border, ploughing through the surf of an empty Oregon beach, at Florian’s cafe in Venice.

The memories remain, but I know too that, inevitably and joyously, she will soon be followed by a fifth.

Bruce Fogle’s A Dog Abroad is published by Ebury Press (£14.99). Ted Kerasote’s Merle’s Door is published by Harcourt (£10.99).

Off the beaten track in Bulgaria

Chartered Wealth Solutions clients, Carl and Santjie Geldenhuys, have unique requirements when travelling. While some prioritise balmy weather and a welcoming beach, others love the thrill of excursions. Some can’t imagine accommodation without heated bathroom rails or an adjoining spa.

For the Geldenhuys couple, a child-friendly location off the beaten track is essential, as they take the whole family with them. Join them as they visit their surprising selection: Bulgaria, and tell their story.

It started with a phone call from our representative at Dream Vacations (our holiday club).

She: Carl, I think I have what you have been looking for. Off the beaten track and very child-friendly. In Bulgaria.

Me: What is the cost for the seven of us? (oupa, ouma, two kids from London and their three kids, one still a toddler)

She: R1 747, but, unfortunately, you cannot use your club points. It is an RCI special.

Me: That is a bit stiff per day for four adults, two kids and a toddler.vShe: You have it all wrong. R 1 747 for the week’s accommodation in a ski-resort close to Razlog, 80 km south of Sofia, capital of Bulgaria.

Me: Done deal. Where do I sign?

This is the only advantage to having kids and grandkids overseas. Travelling together is a good excuse to discover new places with the Londonites, and the three grandchildren are seasoned travellers.

Autumn scenery from Bulgaria
Room with a view … a Bulgarian Autumn.

Bulgaria is cheap, dirt cheap, even with a weak Rand. A Bulgarian ‘Alps’ ski-resort is not well frequented in October. The Balkan Jewel Resort was just what we were looking for: centrally located to explore the natural parks and villages in southwest Bulgaria, and a kid’s paradise (they provide care for children of all ages during the skiing season when the parents are skiing). The heated indoor swimming pool was a major plus!

We rented a 4×4 Mercedes bus at the Sofia airport for R2 700 for seven days (about what you pay for two days in South Africa).

Family photo at Dancing Bear park in Bulgaria
Dancing Bear park in Bulgaria

We visited Debarsko village, known for its 11th century underground church, the Dancing Bear Park close to Belitsa, Melnik (a village dating back to the times of the Roman empire) and the Seven Rila Lakes.

The Dancing Bear Park was an eye-opener. 25 bears are being rehabilitated, most “rescued” from gypsies, who have in the past “trained” bears to dance by placing them on hot plates, forcing them to “dance”.

Our tour guide, fluent in English, called her restauranteur friend in Belitsa. On arrival, we were treated to an unforgettable lunch of traditional Bulgarian foods and wine: R 600,00 for all seven of us.

The Seven Rila Lakes visit was both the highlight and the ‘lowlight’ of our trip. The lakes are situated in the Rila mountain, one of the highest in the Balkans. The 4×4 bus came in handy, as we traveled for two hours up the mountain just to learn that the ski-lift into the mountain was being serviced. We negotiated with an owner of a monster of a Pajero to take the seven of us up – an absolute nightmare, and undoubtedly Santjie’s “lowlight”. Our son-in-law equated it to his trip up van Zyl’s pass in Namibia. We also had snow en route.

Up and down the moutain to Seven Rika LakesBut it was absolutely memory making!

At the top of the route, the guys still had to hike another two hours to get to the lakes.

After a week in the Balkans, we moved on to Sophia, Bulgaria’s capital. There, we visited the Saint Nicholas Church, the city park and the Alexander Nevsky Patriarchal Church.

The downside of Bulgaria? English is largely non-existent. All signs are in Bulgarian (which looks like Russian to the ill-informed – that’s us) That is where sign-language, now our twelfth official language in South Africa, comes in handy. And it is international.

The kids and grandkids then moved on to London.

Family outside St Nicholas Church in Sofia Santjie and I intended to travel by bus to Bucharest, but departure was changed at short notice from a day trip to a night trip, so we would have seen nothing of the Bulgarian and Romanian countryside. Instead, we took a private shuttle (like our Uber). It was an absolute blessing as we were shuttled by a Romanian fluent in English. Though he had a university degree in Economics, he could not find employment as an Economist. This was surely the most educational five hours I have spent with an absolute stranger. Our guide was well informed regarding South Africa, even about the Guptas!

We detoured to the Church of the Virgin just inside Romania. Cut out of solid rock in a cliff overhanging a river gorge, it had been operational since 1220 but is now a tourist attraction.

Then we explored Bucharest by “hop-off-hop-on” bus and by foot. Memorable was the visit to Cismigui Gardens, the second largest city park in the world after New York’s Central Park.

Pelisor Royal Castle in Pelles
Pelisor Royal Castle in Pelles

Bucharest is an absolute jewel in comparison to Sophia. Modern with skyscrapers all over, it is very cheap, albeit not as cheap as Sofia. The two of us lunched on soup, a choice of three meats, and veggies for the equivalent of R 55,00 for both of us!

The next day was the absolute highlight of our trip: a shuttle trip with our new friend to Transylvania, the Alps of Romania. We visited the Pelisor Royal Castle in Pelles, and made a brief stop in Brasov, a beautiful village in the heart of Transylvania.

Couple outside restaurant in Transylvania
Santjie and our new Romanian friend outside the restaurant in Transylvania

Our shuttle friend took us for a late lunch at a very well-known sky resort in the mountains. We were treated to a starter, entré, main course and dessert, all very Romanian. And, of course, Palinka, the national drink of Romania. Our own mampoer would give it a good go.

We were back at our hotel at 23:00, having originally planned to be there at at 18:00!

Romania, and especially Transylvania, is an absolute must on anybody’s bucket list. Communication is no problem as they are fluent in English and all signs are bilingual.

We left for London the next day with mixed feelings. The trip to Transylvania is surely a highlight of our overseas’ visits.

To Moscow via Mongolia … in the Tsar’s Gold Train

In July last year, Chartered client Darrell Adrain, embarked on her adventure of a lifetime: a Trans-Siberian rail journey from Beijing to Moscow via Mongolia on the Tsar’s Gold Private Train. Here is her account of a trip that she describes as “a real bucket-list trip that I can highly recommend!” Enjoy her adventure along with her.

Elderly Caucasian female on trainIt took some courage to embark on this journey on my own since being widowed. I joined a group of 15 people, of similar age and with the same love of travelling. The tour was organised from beginning to end by a travel agency in Simon’s Town, which specialises in journeys to unusual destinations.

Departing on 4 July, we flew to Beijing where we spent three days visiting highlights: the iconic Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall of China, the Sacred Way, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City – all sights I had never seen before.

Scenes from Beijing
Scenes from Beijing

Our exciting train journey began with a crossing over the Gobi Desert at night in a clean and comfortable Chinese train that glided over the rails. The Desert – which is only two percent desert – comprises mainly dry gravel planes and sandstone cliffs. There are great reserves of coal, copper, gold uranium and other minerals; it is estimated that up to 10bn tons of coal exist beneath the golden sands of the Gobi Desert.

Having crossed the border into Mongolia, we were welcomed onto the Tsar’s Gold Train: 21 carriages, three dining cars. The train was designed and built in St Petersburg as the Tsar and his staff’s mobile office while they travelled across Russia in the early 20th century. The team of dedicated staff included an onboard doctor (carrying a huge emergency medical backpack) and a tour director.

On the Tsar’s Gold Train_ Travelling in retirementOn the Tsar’s Gold Train In addition to our group, there were 120 other tourists on the train, representing 16 different nationalities. Each group had it own leader, with Russian guides travelling with us all the way to Moscow.

How luxurious were our compartments! Red velvet curtains and carpets, two single beds with a table between, vodka and fruit, re-charging plugs under the table, wood panelling with ornate gold designs, a newly renovated shower room, and two new toilet and basin rooms at each end of the carriage. Our conductors (a married Russian couple) looked after us day and night, ensuring clean ablutions, hot water for tea and coffee, and neat beds with turned-down covers.

Our dining car was sumptuous: beautifully laid tables for four; varied four-course menus for lunches and dinners; breakfasts were English and Continental (fruit, yoghurts, cereals, nuts, eggs to order). The Russian-styled meals always comprised a salad starter, a bowl of delicious soup, a main course of fish, meat, chicken, pasta and desserts of different kinds, followed by tea and coffee. We ordered drinks which we paid for at the end of the trip in either Euros or USD.

Our first stop, on 10 July, across the rolling grasslands was Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, an unbelievably bustling city! The country’s total population is three million and one million live in the capital city. There were traffic jams and no shortage of latest cars: Lexus, Merc, and the newest SUV! The economy is booming owing to huge mineral and mining deposits, and livestock farming. The country’s GDP grew 10-fold between 2000 and 2012.

Map of the Across the Gobi Desert to modern and ancient Mongolia
Across the Gobi Desert to modern and ancient Mongolia

It was the Nadaam Summer Festival. Everyone wears splendid cultural clothing and comes to town to celebrate and to see traditional wrestling, archery and horse-riding events.

We explored Mongolian temples and Buddhist monasteries. We visited the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park situated in the Mongolian Alps, where locals displayed their competitive talents in horse-riding, archery and wrestling. The largest equestrian statue (40m high) in the world is made of 90 tons of steel: Ghengis Khan on his horse holding his famed golden whip. What a spectacle! We climbed up through the statue to see the view of the undulating countryside.

Ghengis Khan statue and Gorkhi-Tereli National Park
Ghengis Khan statue and Gorkhi-Tereli National Park

Mongolia is a beautiful country and it was a surprise for all of us. Friendly people invited us into their home, a yurt (comfortable round canvas tent-like structures, heated by coal fires, hence Ulaanbaatar has the worst pollution in the world). Ulaanbaatar is also the coldest capital in the world, with minus 41degrees C in January.

To Russia, with love and lots of friends

Across the border into Russia, we travelled through the valley of Mongolia’s largest river, the Selenga, to Ulan-Ude, capital of the republic of Buryatia. It is a fascinating city, with a strong Buddhist culture and the largest sculpture of the head of Lenin. We walked around parks with beautiful flower beds, saw many high-rise buildings and old-style wooden buildings with ornamental trimmings. We watched Cossack dancing and attended a local concert … then back on the train.

The next highlight was a day around the beautiful 640km long Lake Baikal – the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1700m) fresh-water lake in the world. It has its own microclimate around its shores! There are 39 train tunnels spanning 200 kms alongside the lake! Amazing railroad construction started as early as the turn of the 19th century.

Images from Lake Baikal
In and around Lake Baikal

On a clear day you can see 40 meters into the lake, home to numerous species of animals and plants, and the only fresh water seals, Nerpas. The omul – the most popular fish in the lake – is the main food source for the locals. Highlights were Port Baikal and a ferry trip across to the village with a huge food and cultural market. Some brave tourists swam in the icy waters, and we were treated to an evening BBQ and picnic on its shores, while being entertained by local musicians.

ln lrkutsk, the ‘Paris of Siberia’, with its many neo-classical and wooden buildings decorated with ornate fretwork, we visited the Memorial Decembrist Museum, in a house set up by the wives of noblemen who had been sent to Siberian prisons. These nine wives brought culture, music and books to lrkutsk.

We enjoyed a concert, featuring grand piano music and singing in a gracious dining area furnished in the style of those times (1850s). Many religions are practised there, and Russian orthodox and Roman Catholic churches abound. We were treated to a fabulous lunch by a Russian family in their dacha (summer home) in the Taiga forests next to a beautiful lake: salads, soup, breads, a chicken dish with broccoli, desserts, vodka and coffee!

lrkutsk, the 'Paris of Siberia'
lrkutsk, the ‘Paris of Siberia’

Situated on the Ob river, Novosibirsk (the largest city in Siberia) was a great place to stroll around and explore Siberian wooden architecture, monuments, the Opera House and a lively music and art scene. lt’s a well-known scientific and education hub. Novosibirsk is the richest part of Russia, with reserves of oil, gold, nickel and coal, transported via the rivers South to North, and via trains from East to West.

Novosibirsk, the richest part of Russia, with reserves of oil, gold, nickel, coal
Novosibirsk, the richest part of Russia, with reserves of oil, gold, nickel, coal

From the train, we viewed the diverse landscape of eastern Siberia and enjoyed talks on board about the region: the Gulags, 1905 Revolution, and prisoners sent to labour camps (by mid-60s 20 million had passed through the Gulag system of camps).

We had vodka-tasting with typical Russian snacks and red caviar, experiencing first-hand the Russian festive customs of hospitality and toasts! We were treated to a typical Russian tea ceremony, a popular cultural activity with the samovar, biscuits, cakes, chocolate, cranberry juice and sherry. Russians are the biggest tea consumers in the world!

Experiencing first-hand Russian festive customs of hospitality and toasts

Yekaterinburg, the capital of Ural Federal District (33 hours east of Moscow by train), is located on the cusp of Europe and Asia. Here Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered in 1918. On this spot, a gorgeous Byzantine-style ‘Church Upon the Blood’ was built in 2003 to commemorate that tragic historic event. The city has a Soviet look about the buildings, opera theatre, railway yards, and is a University and education hub.

Yekaterinburg is located on the cusp of Europe and Asia
Yekaterinburg is located on the cusp of Europe and Asia

Our day in Kazan was extremely busy – it is the Tatar capital on the banks of the Volga. We visited the only surviving Tatar fortress in Russia, and the huge Kremlin, now a World Heritage Site on account of the many historic buildings. There are 140 different temples and mosques in Kazan, and everyone lives in peace.

On 19 July, we arrived in at the Moscow station, 850 years old. This city has a population of 12 million, but, include daily commuters and it rises to 15 million. 10% are Muslims, labour migrants from the republics. Our guide said there is no unemployment in Moscow, no ghettos and many people have dachas (cottages) in the country used in September.

The city had been beautified over the last few years for the Soccer World Cup, completed just before our arrival: floral displays, hanging flower baskets adorning the streets, abundant trees and flowers in pavement gardens and through Red Square towards the Kremlin. Fairy lights light up the buildings of the GUM shopping centre in the evening, and Lenin’s Mausoleum can be seen across the Square. St Basil’s Cathedral is an amazing sight day and night!

The World Cup – an opportunity to beautify Russian cities
The World Cup – an opportunity to beautify Russian cities

Our visit to the Kremlin was incredible; there was so much to see: 800 years of Russian history and artistry in one place.

Going down into the Metro is an amazing experience: the longest escalators ever, filled with people going up and down at 9pm! The trains travel at 40kms an hour, stopping at beautifully decorated stations underground, tiled to perfection, with artwork on ceilings and bronze statues – a free history lesson and art exhibition all in one!

Sadly, our time in Moscow came to an end as we departed on Friday evening to return to Johannesburg via Dubai.

So ended an epic and legendary rail tour, a total of 7858 kms. lt was a most remarkable journey for me, especially seeing such a vastly different part of the world and the pleasure of making new friends with similar interests.

Heartfelt food matters

On the last day of an energetic and happy holiday, I suffered a heart attack. Although I had ignored slight twinges in my heart for a few months, it was a shock. Fortunately, I knew what was happening, having lost a partner like this 10 years ago, and, aware of the symptoms, I received timely and good care.

Caucasian female standing on boat with ocean in the back ground
Jeunesse, the picture of health on her epic trip last year

What attacked my heart I asked? Genetic high cholesterol, I am told, exacerbated by an often-careless lifestyle and diet. Though mostly vegetarian, fit and active, and has alleviated the stress of a hard-working life in recent years, I have not paid due attention to diet. The medics casually told me to follow a Mediterranean diet, though the first meal the hospital offered was a lump of minced meat on white bread topped by a hard-boiled egg!

In an attempt to recover as quickly and sustainably as possible, and though I have known about good food all my life, and even worked at the first raw, vegetarian, health food restaurant in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, I have again been researching current trends in healthy nutrition.

The clear message about our diet and our health

There is a lot of conflicting information to wade through, but the trend towards veganism and cutting out sugars is resounding. Since so many of our illnesses, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers, are linked to inflammation, caused by ingesting animal fat and sugar, this makes a lot of sense.

Increasing numbers are also becoming aware of the severe impacts of animal products on the planet and climate change because as meat and dairy are ingrained into our diets, they are also rooted in our environment. To produce one kilo of meat requires 25 kilos of grain and 15 000 litres of water. If all that grain was fed to humans, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people. Livestock farming uses 30% of the earth’s surface, in a world where water, land and food are becoming scarcer, massively inefficient and inequitable!

Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and when livestock byproducts are added this accounts for 51% of emissions! This industry is further a major cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction, including rainforests.

70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide and 6 million are killed for food every hour. Most of these animals, sentient beings, are reared in terrible conditions causing them to suffer.

This morning I sip my tea with almond milk, grateful to be alive as I contemplate the good news that food marketers have realised the potential and now offer a wide range of delicious plant-based foods and alternatives to every kind of animal protein that helps me to feel better about my body and the planet.

Resources for healthy eating from Jeunesse (online, deliveries and some Cape Town restaurants and caterers):

Spar offers over 100 options for plant-based meals, and there are more on Woolworths shelves daily. Unilever has just bought the Dutch based Vegetarian Butcher.

Here are some plant-based food deliveries and restaurants:

http://www.puregood.co.za/ a corporate catering business that dishes up super affordable, deliciously wholesome and ethically produced meals to working professionals in Cape Town

https://www.wellnesswarehouse.com/shop/foodmarket/ order healthy ingredients online, including dairy alternatives and snacks

http://www.vegansa.com/foodstuffs-ready-made-meals.php a directory of food for vegans in South Africa: what’s available and where to buy it

https://www.faithful-to-nature.co.za/food/food-types/vegan a great variety of organic vegan foods to help you enjoy a balanced and wholesome plant-based diet

http://justvegan.co.za/ deliveries of vegan meals in the Johannesburg area

http://www.plantcafe.co.za/ Cape Town restaurant where vegans and people with food allergies can find amazing food without sacrificing taste

https://orders.fitchef.co.za/ online food without preservatives, no man-made chemicals and no added or artificial sugars – delivered to you

https://www.facebook.com/TheYummyVegan/ Vegan comfort food filled with all the necessary nutritional value, from frozen meals to cater for small functions to large Conferences, Weddings and Parties

https://www.facebook.com/rawandroxy/ Cape Town raw vegan gourmet restaurant. Winner of the Condé Nast Gourmet award, best Wellness and Vitality restaurant in South Africa.

The value you bring to the marketplace

You are worth more than you think

When entrepreneur, Laura Gassner, was offered generous remuneration for a 40-minute speech, she was astounded … until her husband reminded her, “No, you are getting paid for 25 years and 40 minutes of work.”

That is when this truth came home to her: “We are not just the person we appear to be in the moment; we are the sum total of all that has come before us.”

Laura says, “For those of us later in our careers, it is the compounded wisdom of decades of experience, of successes and, yes, failures, too. At any place along our personal and professional evolution, it is never the momentary glimpse of genius but the hard yards that came before it.”

My favourite take-away from Laura’s article is this: “We have to think in terms of value and not just price.”

Value what you bring to the marketplace – stay open to learning and growing, but know that you have a valuable contribution to make.

When it’s time to make lemonade

When Olga Flanders life took an unexpected turn when her husband developed early onset dementia, she was tempted to feel sorry for herself. This was not the life she had planned for them in their second chapter. Also, she needed to generate additional money, and to combat her own loneliness.

Here is Olga’s own account of how she gathered her courage and created a fulfilled life … making lemonade when life gives you lemons!

Jeff, my husband, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his early 50s. I was still working in a corporate job and needed to balance that with taking care of him. I knew I would need to generate more money, especially when the time came for him to be admitted to a care facility.

I considered what I loved doing out of which to create a parallel career. I love animals, and am not afraid to try something new. I started to work for a small house- and pet-sitting company, but was soon put off by the fact that the company manager did not check on the quality of care being given. I resigned after an assignment that required me to care for 12 dogs at once. After my one-year restraint of trade expired, I started my own house- and pet-sitting service.

Getting going

There was no need for me to advertise. I was still working in my corporate job, so that’s where I got the word out. I currently have 18 clients on my books, and my business is small and contained. My corporate managers don’t mind my ‘side hustle’, if I am getting my day-job work done.

In peak seasons, the demand grew so much that I decided to employ my sister, Suzy. We work so well in tandem: Suzy prefers smaller dogs, and is more a people person. On the rare occasion where there is, for example, an older person living on the premises while we are house-sitting, Suzy happily chats with them and is more nurturing; I, on the other hand, am happiest among animals. I am happy with my own company. Suzy is not comfortable with the bigger dogs, while I have no problem managing them.

The software company I work for is based in Melville, but I can work remotely, so seldom leave the pets in my care alone for longer than a few hours per day.

I still enjoy my day job. I am appreciated and do whatever is required. My primary role is to monitor tasks and ensure they are delivered on time, while managing any customer feedback; however, I take on admin tasks, tidy the kitchen, check the food for the former feral feline, Sabre (now our company mascot). The owner of the company has an additional business in medical supplies, and I assist with administration there also, and will grow with that company. So, you can see that I am adaptable and willing to set myself to work. This flexibility is partly why I have been able to create my own successful business.

I wouldn’t do anything that violates my principles and values; I don’t accept assignments, for instance, where the pets are left alone, and I only need to pop in to feed them daily.

Setting up for success

Two elderly females in rose garden
Olga and her sister, Suzy, complement each other’s strengths in a successful business

I bring my administrative strength to my business. When a client is referred to me, I obtain their full contact details – email address and phone number. I then send an information document that includes tariffs and exclusions. Clients also are required to fill in a form listing emergency contacts, their vet details (including if there is a client account there), and other information. I have to ensure that I can fulfil their requirements before I undertake the assignment (for example, I am reluctant to care for expensive and exotic creatures. I once had to feed owls frozen rats and chicks! I have taken care of turtles, tortoises and geese in the past. I declined one assignment where I did not feel secure on the property.

If the assignment is further than 25kms from my home, I charge a surcharge; if it is more than 40kms from my home, I do not accept it. Our services span from East to West Rand, and most of our assignments are in the Northern suburbs, with Bryanston being my favourite – there are gated areas to safely run the dogs.

Our minimum rate R170 per night for two pets, and we charge an extra R20 per pet per night. If there are special needs for the pet, such as administering medication, the client and I agree on an added fee. I like clients to be clear – the best clients are the ones who know what they want. The most difficult assignment is a single dog, who is big and spoiled. I prefer to bring my own food, and don’t mind shopping for the dog food.

House- and pet-sitting is easy work. I have done so many assignments this year that I have hardly been home (I spent seven weeks of the year at home); others might find themselves getting tired of living out of a suitcase and in other people’s bedrooms. Opportunities come with your assignments – one client, for example, wants me to help wrap up his admin affairs before he emigrates.

A family vacation gives birth to a passion for conservation

When Louise and Roger Ketley returned from a series of family scuba diving and snorkelling holidays at Rocktail Bay in northern Maputaland (KZN), it was with more than fond memories!

Having witnessed turtle nesting and hatchings, these Chartered clients set the goal of volunteering with a project to fulfil their hope of witnessing baby turtles’ frantic race to the sea. This objective recently found its fulfilment in a conservation programme in Greece – a volunteering project that suited both of the Ketleys, as a ‘senior’ married couple.

Louise and Roger signed up for the final two weeks of a programme run by GVI (Global Vision International), a UK-based volunteer organisation focusing on wildlife conservation and community-based projects around the world. Here is their experience in their own words.

Duties and discoveries

Man in camp kitchen
Preparing meals in the camp kitchen

Based in Giannitsochori, a small, traditional Greek village, we were housed in a modest and comfortable bungalow with proper bedding, a private toilet, hot shower, air-conditioner and bar fridge.  We met the other volunteers and staff members at dinner in the campsite taverna (it became a welcome oasis with superb local cold beer, metaxa, and first-class coffee!).

We were seven volunteers (the average age of which shot up to about 35 once we joined!) and three GVI staff members: two Spaniards, two Columbians, two English, and one American and Hungarian, plus us two South Africans … 10 in all, and only two men.  Being somewhat older than the others, we did not know quite what to expect or how we might fit in, but the GVI staff made us feel welcome and we enjoyed mixing with the youngsters – I couldn’t help wishing that I was 40 years younger!

The project coincides with the loggerhead turtle nesting and hatching season (June to September) during the hot summer months.  Although we had the weekend off, we three new volunteers received a briefing on that first Sunday, and then duties for the week were allocated to the teams.  Volunteers participate in different roles depending on the time in the season, including daily beach surveys to record nesting activity and to protect turtle nests against predation by mammals and inundation by sea water, measuring the turtles and recording data, excavating nests, stacking protective nest grids, and camp duties when not on surveys. Volunteers also provide important conservation information to overseas visitors and the local community.

In the stretch of beach monitored by both GVI and ARCHELON (the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece) were over 3,000 turtle nests: the beach was segmented – both north and south of the camp site – and in the GVI areas alone, spanning roughly 10 kms of beach, there were over 800 nests. September being the end of the season, many had already hatched, but we still expected to see some hatchlings. Nest excavations would be our main task, though, as it is important to determine how successful nests had been.

Group of volunteers on the beach
Morning beach survey team with enthusiastic local tourist: Roger and Louise on the left

Camp duties included cleaning and cooking, and stacking protective grids once returned from an excavated nest. Provisioning and cooking were interesting challenges given special dietary requirements, from vegans, vegetarians and low carb diets to straight-forward carnivores! The local water is drinkable, but we bought bottles of spring water just in case.

Female volunteers on beach excavating
Eunice (GVI leader) and Louise’s early morning excavation

Each beach survey team comprised the GVI leader for the day plus two or three volunteers; the camp duty team consisted of the two remaining volunteers, while the third member of staff would have a day off, or would shop for supplies or collect the two survey teams from the beach. The plan was to be back at the camp site for lunch. On occasion, after dinner, we would enjoy a spectacular sunset swim together.

www.archelon.gr

www.gvi.co.uk (there are projects in South Africa – wildlife conservation, including Elephant research in Limpopo.)

Hooked on the Ketley’s account of their volunteering adventure?  Don’t miss the last instalment by clicking on the article below:

 

And for Roger’s Record of Turtle facts, click on the article below:



Giving back on a Greek beach

Giving back on a Greek beach

The Ketleys continue to recount their adventure as volunteers for turtle conservation in Greece – proving that giving back can be both fun and rewarding.

Each nest is carefully identified with a beach sector code, a unique number and date of discovery, or laying if an earlier team had observed a laying turtle (she would be tagged and measured). Sometimes a nest is discovered by predation (by stray dogs or foxes), but in every case the nest is protected with a metal grid and anchored by bamboo stakes or flat stones. A “do not disturb” warning sign in three languages is placed at the nest, with the necessary identification information.

Guide and voluntree excavating a turtle nest on the beach
Eunice ( GVI leader) and Roger excavate a nest

On our first day on the beach, we immediately saw a number of nests … and, with dismay, the many (illegal) summer beach bars (one named Caribbean Bar!) right on the beach with semi-permanent grass umbrellas and sun beds – right amongst the turtle nests, competing for beach space. The fear is that these bars contribute to light pollution and so prevent turtles from laying or lead to the disorientation of the hatchlings. Beach goers had also constructed less permanent bamboo dwellings of their own, and there was evidence too of beach fires – all potentially obstructing a hatchling’s dash for the sea! Our task was to photograph (surreptitiously) all these obstructions and count the umbrellas and sun beds for reporting to the authorities. In addition, we would come across vehicular tracks on the beach, again with the potential to carelessly destroy established nests. We were warned not to antagonise beach-bar owners or their patrons in fear of deliberate destruction of nets or nesting sites in retaliation – a delicate balancing act, complicated somewhat by the language barrier.

Safeguarding survival of a species

If we came across hatchling tracks, we recorded this, and then swept the tracks away in case there was a further hatching the next night to be added to the tally. Sometimes we came across a “mass hatching” – a nest’s first hatching of 20 or more babies – and, if even luckier, we would witness a hatching and then ensure that the baby turtles made it safely to the water’s edge. It was important not to handle the hatchlings – they had to exercise their flippers and have time for their in-built GPS systems to register their whereabouts. If a hatchling showed signs of disorientation, we could dig a shallow trench to the sea for it to follow … a necessary human intervention. Hatchlings showing signs of stress or fatigue were reburied, and the place marked with a bamboo stake.

It being the end of the season, our main task was excavating “expired” nests: carefully

Turtle hatchling making tracks to the sea
Hatchling making tracks to the sea

Locating the nest’s egg chamber by removing the protective grid and scraping away the surface sand, then digging down into the nest proper to remove all the eggs. On occasion we found live hatchlings, later to be “escorted” to the sea. All hatched eggs are counted and recorded, and unhatched eggs broken open and examined to see if embryos existed, or if there was no evidence of fertilisation, and then total clutch size recorded.

My most successful nest was 125 hatched eggs, but the record (held for two successive weeks) was held by the American volunteer: 133 hatched eggs – a remarkable outcome.  Initially, our tasks were quite gruelling, not the 5km walk, but more the regular getting down and up off the soft sand while excavating nests. I developed a “prayer mat” to protect my knees from the rough sand paper! It got better as the days progressed, and I’m proud to say that we never slowed any of the teams down, and completed the tasks assigned to us … perhaps to the surprise of our much younger colleagues! While on beach surveys we engaged with local and foreign visitors (mainly from Germany, Austria and France), many very interested in what we were doing – in some cases, they gladly offered to assist with shepherding hatchlings to the water’s edge.

Turtle hatchlings emerging from the nest
Hatchlings emerging from the nest

Such were our tasks for the two weeks – with a visit over the intervening weekend to the local historic town of Kyparissia. We had great fun with literally hands-on work with one of the most endangered species in the Mediterranean, living in a quiet area near a traditional fishing town. With the thrill of watching the hatchlings head for the sea, we knew that, if we were not able to make a difference in the two weeks, we certainly made a lasting one-off contribution to the preservation of endangered turtles and the wonder of God’s creation!

ARCHELON website – www.archelon.gr

GVI – from which can be found projects in South Africa – wildlife conservation, including Elephant research in Limpopo.

If you missed the beginning of this account of the Ketley’s Greek adventure, click on the article below:



And for Roger’s Record of Turtle facts, click on the article below:



Roger Ketley’s Record of Turtle facts

Here are some fascinating facts about these endangered creatures.

If you have missed Louise and Roger Ketley’s account of their amazing adventure in Greece as part of a team of volunteers for turtle conservative, then click here: 



Here are some fascinating facts about these endangered creatures.

  • There are seven species of sea turtle worldwide, all descended from the Archelon, a now extinct prehistoric reptile (100 to 66 million years old); this late Cretaceous turtle grew to 4m in length, twice the size of any present-day turtle. The largest Archelon fossil, found in the Pierre Shale of South Dakota in the 1970s, measures more than 4m long, and about 5m wide from flipper to flipper.
  • Sea turtle populations are under threat worldwide – a direct result of the degradation of the nesting beaches, accidental capture by fishing vessels, commercial use and pollution.
  • Greece hosts about 60% of the total number of nests of the loggerhead turtle (Carreta carreta) laid in the Mediterranean. Every summer, from May to end August, hundreds of female turtles come out at night to the nesting areas of Peloponnesus – by instinct they return to the beaches of their birth, using their internal magnetic compass. There are few places in the world where this occurs and fewer in the Mediterranean. They dig an egg chamber in the sand to deposit about 120 fragile eggs the size of golf balls (about 4cm in diameter). The eggs must remain undisturbed in the warm sand for about 60 days to incubate. The temperature of the sand seems to determine the hatchlings’ sex – warmer sand makes female hatchlings more likely. From mid-July to end October, the hatchlings emerge from their nests, usually at night, and race towards the sea. It can take up to three days for the full clutch of eggs to hatch and hatchlings to exit the nest.
  • A female loggerhead turtle can lay up to seven times per season, every two to three years. Sadly, even under natural conditions, an estimated one in 1,000 hatchlings reaches sexual maturity, and, for loggerhead turtles, this can take 12 to 15 years.

ARCHELON 

GVI  from which can be found projects in South Africa – wildlife conservation, including Elephant research in Limpopo.