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Photo: Dorothea Oldani via Unsplash.
Divers get to see wonders the rest of us only dream about.

I’m always intrigued by all the different kinds of work that exist. Today we learn about the work of a diver who is also a successful author.

From the environmental radio show Living on Earth: “Underwater explorer Craig Foster dives nearly every day in the near-shore waters of South Africa, and it’s here that he befriended an octopus, a relationship captured in the 2020 Academy Award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher. His 2021 book Underwater Wild: My Octopus Teacher’s Extraordinary World brings the kelp forest to life with stunning photographs and gripping prose. Craig Foster joined Host Steve Curwood for a recent Living on Earth Book Club event to discuss the power of connecting with wild nature. …

“STEVE CURWOOD: Oceans cover about 70 percent of our planet and hold 95 percent of our biosphere, that is, places where life can thrive. … Befriending and learning from creatures with gills and without back bones is an unusual pastime for humans, unless you are Craig Foster. Diving virtually every day for years into the near shore waters of South Africa with just a mask, snorkel and flippers, Craig eventually became friends with an octopus and told the story in his 2020 academy award winning documentary, My Octopus Teacher. …

“With friend and diving partner Ross Frylinck, he wrote the 2021 book, Underwater Wild: My Octopus Teacher’s Extraordinary World. [It] tells the stories of the kelp forest with stunning photographs and gripping prose. Craig joined me from Cape Town for a recent Living on Earth Book Club event. I started by asking him to describe where he dives in this underwater world just offshore.

“CRAIG FOSTER: The Great African Sea Forest stretches from right up Namibia all along the West Coast of South Africa, and then turns around the point and goes a few hundred kilometers up the East Coast. It’s about 1,400 kilometers in length. And the actual kelp itself grows to up to 15 meters, or 45 feet, in length. … There are an enormous number of animals in the kelp [and] a great biodiversity of animals living around the forest itself. …

“CURWOOD: One of the most remarkable moments in [My Octopus Teacher] is when she actually extends her arm, a tentacle, and touches your hand. Why do you suppose a wild animal would make contact with a human in this way? …

“FOSTER: In the case of octopus, or cephalopods, they have a natural curiosity. So their whole lives are balanced between this fear and curiosity. And they’re almost like a cat — you know how curious cats are, they just can’t help themselves. …

“CURWOOD: You introduce us to another cephalopod in the kelp forest there: the cuttlefish. And you were lucky enough to witness an incredible display of how cuttlefish have mastered the art of mimicry. …

“FOSTER: I remember very clearly the first day that I saw a tuberculate cuttlefish. This is a small species of cuttlefish that only occurs in South Africa. And they are such masters of camouflage that [when] I looked at this creature, I had no idea what it was. I thought maybe it’s a strange piece of algae. … And it was mimicking the algae. And this animal then changed into a cuttlefish and jetted off and left a puff of ink in front of my face. [This] animal is even better at camouflage than an octopus, if you can imagine that. It’s very small, very vulnerable, soft bodied. So it’s got this incredible way of pretending to be a hard-shelled whelk.

It changes its whole body shape, and it points its arms, and it changes its color, and even tiny details of these little polychaete worms that grow on the backs of the whelk shells, it even mimics those.

“So it fools predators into thinking it’s a hard shell. It even then sometimes pretends to be a hermit crab living in that hard shell, and drags itself along slowly, when it can actually swim, you know, relatively fast. And then if it has to swim, it can actually mimic a fish called a klipvis that lives in this environment. So this animal is truly the master of mimicry and camouflage, it’s quite incredible. …

“CURWOOD: [Living on Earth listener] Nathalie Arias, who’s in the eighth grade asks, ‘How have you used what you’ve learned from the octopus and the experience in your personal life? …

“FOSTER: When you start having relationships with wild animals, and a lot of wild animals, it takes a lot of pressure, strangely enough, off your human relationships. You know, we rely very heavily on human relationships for our well being. But as you start having the relationships with these wild animals, and spending time with them, and I like sometimes spending time alone with them, you kind of feel that — it’s a wonderful feeling — the pressure off the human relationships. … It’s improved, I think, my human relationships.

“CURWOOD: So to what extent does the ocean heal you? I mean, you and your co-author Ross mention in this volume that you’ve been recovering from emotionally traumatic experiences you, you’ve had; you talk about divorce, Ross mentions a sad, difficult relationship with his father. So how has the ocean healed you?

“FOSTER: I think in actually in a number of ways. As I say, the daily immersion, almost anybody can be in a, not a very good mood, or quite tired, lethargic. And I promise you, I’ll take you into that water, 20 minutes later, you’re going to feel completely different. It almost works for everybody. And that’s because there is actually a big brain chemistry shift and a physiological shift, and that can last for many hours of the day. And then of course, having a relationship with wild animals changes one dramatically. You feel connected to your environment, you know their behaviors, you have a sense of place, you don’t feel so separate a lot of the time, you know, so separate; you feel like you are connected to an environment. And that, psychologically, is very empowering.”

Read about Foster encountering a Great White Shark, an amazing clawless otter, and other wonders at Living on Earth, here. Nice pictures. No firewall.

Photo: Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck.
This image of a global bubble-raft shell was taken from below, looking up to the surface. This animal creates a stiff raft out of a stream of bubbles so it can float. They lay their eggs on the raft, too, and that’s what’s visible here: the darker eggs were laid first and have developed more than the newly laid pink ones.

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Photo: Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor.
Juliet Mzibeli (front) is 12 and has been kayaking with the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC) since she was nine.

Every story I share here comes bundled with Covid-era caveats. You know: are the people still doing on Saturday what was reported on Friday? I’m counting on the thought that Omicron having peaked in South Africa, the kids in this article are back to enjoying their sport.

Ryan Lenora Brown reported from Soweto for the Christian Science Monitor, “As a kid growing up in South Africa, Nkosi Mzolo and his friends had a front-row seat each summer to Africa’s largest river kayak race, a 75-mile endurance paddle over bone-rattling rapids.

“But as he sat on the banks of the Msunduzi River near Durban watching the paddlers stream by in a rainbow of bright spandex, he couldn’t imagine being in their shoes. ‘I thought that was a sport for white people,’ he says.

“But Mr. Mzolo happened to grow up straddling a revolution. When he was born, in 1988, Black South Africans like Mr. Mzolo couldn’t vote or live in most parts of the country, let alone play sports with white people. By the time he was 12, though, paddling was changing in post-apartheid South Africa.

“A local Black kayaker invited Mr. Mzolo to learn the sport. … Now Mr. Mzolo runs a canoe club that trains Black paddlers, opening up a world to them, just as it opened to him.

“ ‘Canoeing pulled my life off the course it was on and put me on a different one,’ he says.

“Today, he coaches more than 75 young, Black kayakers in Soweto, near Johannesburg, hoping the sport, known to South Africans as canoeing, might do the same for them. ‘I want to give them something in their lives to look forward to,’ he says.

“In a sports-mad country still wrestling with the legacies of segregation and colonialism, integration in sports is a deeply political issue. During apartheid, South Africa was banned from international competitions like the Olympics for refusing to send racially mixed teams. Today, there are controversial racial quotas for the national teams in most major sports. But Mr. Mzolo’s paddlers are part of a generation that grew up thinking they could play whichever sport they chose.

“The club Mr. Mzolo now leads, the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC), was started in 2003 by Brad Fisher, the advertising executive and paddler who sponsored Mr. Mzolo’s education. He later hired Mr. Mzolo, who was working as a gardener in Johannesburg, as one of the club’s early coaching recruits.

“Since then, the club has trained some of the country’s top Black paddlers. Mr. Mzolo himself has gone on to finish the Dusi Canoe Marathon, the long-haul race he watched as a boy, 17 times. But more importantly for coaches like Mr. Mzolo, the club has given thousands of kids a passion they might never have otherwise found.

“ ‘My talent is in the water,’ says Chwayita Fanteni, who is 16 and has been paddling for three years. ‘I like the energy I get from winning.’ … 

“ ‘My goal is to go to Russia. For the Olympics,’ says Nhlamulo Mahwayi, who is 12 and has been training with SCARC since he was nine. So far, he’s only been as far as Cape Town, which he rates as ‘so fun and so clean. I saw people surfing.’

“Like many of the young paddlers here, when Mr. Mahwayi joined the club in 2018, he didn’t know how to swim.

“ ‘Ninety-five percent of these kids, I would say, they come here not knowing how to swim at all,’ says Mr. Mzolo. That too is a legacy of apartheid, which barred Black South Africans from most pools and beaches. Today, many parents never teach their kids how to swim because they themselves don’t know how to.

“New recruits to SCARC, then, often spend months in a nearby public pool before they ever dip a paddle in the water. …

“Mr. Mzolo comes here when he can, when he isn’t working a night shift as a firefighter and paramedic, or sleeping one off. … It’s exhausting, he says, but nowhere near the worry he felt last year when the club was closed for five months during South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown.

“During those months, he spent his days rushing COVID-19 patients to hospitals, and his nights wondering how his athletes were doing, many attempting to do homeschooling with no internet, computers, or even sometimes electricity. Some lived in informal settlements with no reliable water or power. Many of their parents had lost their jobs.

“With public facilities like parks and dams closed, the club couldn’t train. Mr. Mzolo went door to door visiting his athletes and bringing food parcels to their families – just as he often did before the pandemic. … On a recent afternoon, the coaches arrived in a minibus loaded with heavy bags of cornmeal, rice, tinned beans, and oil, enough for every athlete to take home a share.

“ ‘Looking at myself, I started where these kids are,’ he says. ‘Now I’m trying to be part of their journey.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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2048

Photo: Kim Stevens/Cape Town Opera
Vuvu Mpofu in a production of Donizetti’s
Maria Stuarda in Cape Town last year.

Who can say why certain random things draw our lives in one direction or another? Did a Mozart aria and a DVD of La Traviata draw this young opera star into an unfamiliar career because her family loved singing? Because the music was so sad? Whatever the reason, Vuvu Mpofu overcame many obstacles because of that powerful draw.

Dalya Alberge writes at the Guardian, “Vuvu Mpofu had never heard opera until, aged 15, she was overwhelmed by a Mozart aria at a school concert. In her home town of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, there were no opera teachers, the library had only one book on the subject, and her classmates were scornful of her interest. But Mpofu overcame all these hurdles: she taught herself to sing by mimicking the singers on two opera DVDs and, several years later, her talent was spotted by a voice coach.

“Now, at 28, the soprano has mentors in the world’s foremost opera companies. … Stephen Langridge, artistic director of Glyndebourne, said Mpofu had a ‘unique’ talent. … ‘People who sing very high in the soprano range can be very impressive … She keeps a humanity and warmth in the sound.’

“Mpofu has been taken aback by such accolades. It is a long way from the two DVDs – one of La Traviata and the other of The Magic Flute – she watched repeatedly as a teenager. ‘I come from a small town in South Africa,’ she said. ‘I never dreamed of any of this.’ Recalling the first time she watched La Traviata, she said: ‘It was overwhelming. I cried while I was watching it. It took my breathe away … I kept on watching, just mimicking how they sang, how they acted. That’s how I taught myself.’

“Mpofu went on to audition successfully for the South African College of Music at Cape Town University, a remarkable feat for someone with no formal training. A voice coach there spotted her potential and helped her get a student loan – although she has yet to pay it off.

“ ‘We were not rich,’ Mpofu said of her family, who loved singing, whether it was gospel, traditional music or choral. ‘I didn’t have things that other kids did … but my mum made sure that we always ate morning, afternoon and evening. At school, people didn’t bring lunches. You had money … If [mum] didn’t have it, I would just make myself bread. I was OK.’

“As she didn’t have a formal music background, her initial studies were challenging, particularly as her mother died not long after she had started. Nevertheless, she went on to study for four years as an undergraduate and two years as a postgraduate.

“Mpofu overcame other challenges. She was mugged by a man with a knife the day before she entered the International Hans Gabor Belvedere singing competition, opera’s ‘world cup,’ when it was staged in Cape Town.

“This was so traumatic that she nearly dropped out of the competition. But, feeling that music was ‘some sort of remedy,’ she sang an aria from La Traviata that got her into the final. She also came third in the prestigious international Operalia competition. …

“Mpofu said competitions had really helped her career. The Belvedere got her noticed by Diane Zola of the Metropolitan Opera, who became one of her mentors. ‘Entering competitions is a way of getting yourself out there to be seen by important people,’ she said. ‘Also, it builds confidence.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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sa27s_got_talent_logo_2016

Image: South Africa’s Got Talent
What are the chances for a taxi driver with a great voice to move from entertaining his passengers to the opera stage?

I wonder if someone with a tremendous talent who delights himself and a small circle of others with his singing necessarily wants an international audience. That is the question that came to my mind as I read about the fun that a taxi driver in South Africa is having as he sings for passengers.

Stephen Moss writes at the Guardian, “Are opera singers born or made? Are there wonderful natural operatic voices out there waiting to get a break on Britain’s Got Talent? Or maybe on South Africa’s Got Talent, because the reason to pose the question comes courtesy of an opera-loving South African Uber driver called Menzi Mngoma, whose impromptu performances in the front of his cab in Durban have caused a frisson of excitement among those who want to believe that great voices and instant opera stars are all around us.

“Mngoma is a self-taught tenor who likes to belt out arias for his passengers. One of his customers, Kim Davey, liked his singing so much that she posted a video on Facebook. That, in turn, attracted media attention and the 27-year-old Mngoma’s career was launched. He is said to be auditioning for Cape Town Opera. A stadium tour will no doubt follow.

“It generally pays to be suspicious of such stories. The media want to believe in fairytales because they make good copy. Being an opera singer is about more than giving a passable two-minute rendition of ‘La donna è mobile.’ It is singing and acting a role over three or more hours in an opera house twice a week; having the vocal technique to sustain a 20- or even 30-year career; performing a wide range of parts in up to five languages. It is bloody difficult.

“That said, Mngoma does have the spark of something. I played the clip to the Guardian’s opera critic Tim Ashley, and while Ashley said there was barely enough to make a judgment, he thought Mngoma ‘sang “La donna è mobile” perfectly decently and with no strain at the top [of the voice].’ Ashley says that being self-taught is ‘unusual but not completely unheard of.’ …

” ‘You have to be born with talent – that can’t be taught – but teaching will hone that talent,’ says Martha Hartman, the manager of the vocal studies department at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She says that singers do not have to start studying in their teens: the Guildhall has several students in their late 20s, including one who used to be a builder. But she emphasises that natural talent is not enough. …

“If Mngoma wants to be a professional opera singer, the hard work starts now. ‘If you find a singing teacher and if you hone your skills and if you have some classes in stagecraft and movement and drama and all these things that go into being a singer,’ says Hartman, ‘then you might have some roads open to you. But most opera houses and orchestras will demand knowledge of repertoire, and that’s a very big piece of the puzzle: knowing how to learn music and learn a role.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Ryan Lenora Brown/Christian Science Monitor
Ritesh Patel is the third generation of his family to run Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, one of the first establishments to sell the iconic food of Durban, South Africa — “bunny chow.”

Certain foods carry with them the unique history of a time and place. Such is the case with “bunny chow,” beloved in Durban, South Africa. No actual bunnies died for this vegetarian dish, the name of which is a linguistic misunderstanding. It all started with a lunchbox made of bread.

Ryan Lenora Brown writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “There are a few must-dos for any first-time visitor to Durban, a city of rolling hills in eastern South Africa. Among them: You must be sure to have a bunny.

“Wait, a what?

“Actually, bunny is short for bunny chow – but don’t be fooled. It’s not a rabbit, or a rabbit’s food. The Durban bunny chow is actually a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with spicy curry, and it’s this city’s star culinary attraction.

” ‘A bunny chow is to Durban what a pizza is to New York,’ says Ritesh Patel, part of the third generation at Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, a takeout joint that is one of Durban’s earliest bunny chow peddlers. …

“There are many legends of the bunny chow’s illustrious beginnings, but they all share a few common features. For one thing, it’s undoubtedly the creation of Durban’s Indian community, most of which arrived here as 19th century indentured laborers, shipped in by the British to work the sugar-cane plantations and railroads.

“It also probably owes its name to the banias, the city’s early Indian shopkeepers. By the early 20th century, several were running lunch counters. And then one day, the legend goes, one of them had a novel idea: hollow out a loaf of bread and fill it with beans curry. Voilà: a kind of low-budget, edible lunch pail for workers at the nearby factories and shops. ..

“Some versions of the lore, however, offer a darker reason. In early 20th-century South Africa, people of different skin colors often couldn’t share the same shops, the same neighborhoods, and certainly not the same restaurants. Enter the bania chow, a takeout meal that black customers could eat on the road.

“Whatever its precise origins, bania chow morphed into bunny chow. Joints selling the curry bread bowls proliferated along the length of the Grey Street Casbah, a multiracial stretch of shops, mosques, and apartment blocks through the center of Durban’s downtown. …

“Like many pockets of multiculturalism in South Africa, the Grey Street Casbah was known for its music (jazz), its gangsters (feared), and its politics (anti-establishment). In the earliest years of Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, the restaurant shared a road with the offices of a fiery young Indian lawyer who’d gotten into politics after being kicked off the white section of a local train. His name? Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. …

“Today, Grey Street is Dr. Yusuf Dadoo Street, renamed for an Indian titan of the anti-apartheid movement. Zulu gospel music jostles for space with calls to prayer from the gold-domed Juma Mosque down the road. Hawkers sell fat green avocados, roasted corn on the cob, and 25 kinds of knockoff brand name shoes, while prospective customers stream by chatting in Zulu, Shona, and Lingala.” Food can surmount cultural differences.

Read more about the history of this signature dish — and its future — at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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dsc0221-2_wide-3fcfb07127773efdd138130d9f2491856f240005-s700-c85

Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR
Susan van Rooyen and Moe Kekana of communications firm King James Group were behind the 2-Minute Shower Song project the helped rescue Cape Town, South Africa, from a severe water crisis.

When it’s a matter of life and death, people can cooperate. That’s what we saw in Cape Town, South Africa, this year, when residents threatened with the very real possibility of running out of water were able to cut down enough on consumption to save the day.

And one way they cut down on consumption was by singing in the shower.

In this January report from National Public Radio (NPR), Ari Shapiro explains. “When the drought in Cape Town, South Africa, was worsening in late 2017, one of the country’s leading insurance companies, Sanlam, wanted to help get the word out that people needed to save water. Sanlam’s idea was to make a billboard telling people to cut down on water use.

“But that seemed boring to copywriter Susan van Rooyen and art director Moe Kekana. They’re with the King James Group, the communications firm that Sanlam pitched.

“So van Rooyen and Kekana started brainstorming. Cape Town’s government was asking people to save water by taking showers that lasted two minutes or less. Inspiration struck soon enough.

” ‘What do people do in the shower?’ says 30-year-old van Rooyen. ‘They sing.’

“She and Kekana, 28, came up with something of a musical challenge: the 2-Minute Shower Songs campaign. The team asked South Africa’s biggest pop stars to record new, shortened versions of their most famous songs.

” ‘I remember sending an email where somebody said, “How many do you want?” And I said, “I could live with four or five, but 10 would be the dream,” ‘ Kekana says. ‘And we got 10.’ …

“The idea of 2-Minute Shower Songs is fairly simple: You hit play as you jump in the shower, sing along and finish by the time the song ends. …

“In June — after the city cut down on water usage by more than half — Cape Town officials proclaimed that ‘Day Zero’ had been averted. The term refers to the day it was predicted the city would have had to turn off its taps and distribute rationed water. …

“During this water crisis, everyone had a role to play.

” ‘Sometimes you don’t know what you can do to help within a crisis,’ van Rooyen says, ‘and [the pop stars] were doing what they do best.’ ” More at NPR, here.

I take away the encouraging message that if you contribute whatever you’re good at to save your place, you can be successful.

Image: Gifer

2idr

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
People come with plastic bottles and jugs to collect free water in Cape Town, South Africa, where a dire shortage spurred residents to cut water usage in half.

You may have read about the dire water scarcity in Cape Town, South Africa, a situation resulting from lack of public funds to do the work that would have protected the supply.

But this story shows how much people can accomplish when faced with a life or death challenge.

Ryan Lenora Brown reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “A year ago, [Musa] Baba and [Helen] Moffett had almost nothing in common, and in many ways, they still live in two different universes. Moffett lives in a manicured gated community flanked by mountains. Baba’s house is two tin rooms she built herself that grip the side of a hill cluttered with other small shacks.

“But these days, the two women, along with millions of others here, share a common preoccupation: how to save water. For Baba and many others, that’s been a lifelong project of necessity. But for another population of Cape Town residents, including Moffett, it’s part of a massive lifestyle pivot that has helped bring the city on the southwestern tip of South Africa back from the brink of the unthinkable.

“As recently as March, Cape Town’s government was instructing residents to prepare for an imminent ‘Day Zero,’ when taps across most of the city would be shut off indefinitely. …

“Newspaper headlines across the world blared [Cape Town] was about to become the first developed city in the world to completely run out of water.

“But behind the scenes, a tectonic shift was under way. As the city bartered for water with local farmers and hustled to build desalination plants, its residents simply started using less water. A lot less.

“And it has worked – at least for now. … Using a combination of sticks and carrots to coax residents on board, the city has cut its water use by half. Its biggest customers now use 80 percent less. Today, every Capetonian is allowed just 13 gallons of municipal water per day – a little less than the amount it takes to flush a toilet four times. Use more, and the city reduces your pressure to a trickle, and your water bill can turn into a mortgage payment. …

“Here in Cape Town, suburban residents have become connoisseurs of taking 90-second showers and then flushing their toilets with the water they collected while doing it.

“On popular water-saving Facebook groups, city residents debate the best way to wash their dog ‘off the grid’ (bottled water, one woman suggests. Scrub him down with used bath water, offers another.) They swap the names of local companies that will sink a personal well in your backyard. Local police, meanwhile, receive a steady stream of tips from concerned residents who’ve seen their neighbors committing the ultimate middle-class drought crime: watering their lawns. …

“Says Kirsty Carden, an engineer at the University of Cape Town’s Urban Water Management Research Unit, ‘Yes, it’s been a crisis, but it’s also good to learn these lessons now. Cape Town isn’t the only city in the world that’s going to need them for the future.’ …

“Water restrictions have had another, less obvious effect: They have given the rich a small but rare experience of how the poor have always gotten by.

“ ‘It’s humbling, learning to think about water the way most South Africans have been doing for a long time,’ Moffett says, arranging two gallon jugs of water from another local spring in the trunk of her car. ‘Every household chore takes three times as much thought, and three times as long.’ …

” ‘We have always lived like this – nothing has changed because of the drought,’ says Baba, sloshing a T-shirt in a sudsy bucket outside her house. ‘If now rich people can understand better what that’s like, I think that’s a good thing.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Destiny Connect
More than 50% of the honey sold in South Africa is imported. Mokgadi Mabela, a beekeeper and founder of the Native Nosi, is striving to change the business landscape.

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour …”

Yesterday I paid a visit to friends who recently moved to Massachusetts from Minnesota. The wife is a textile and quilt artist. The husband is a woodworker and beekeeper. Before moving, he sold his 2,000 pounds of honey and all his beekeeping equipment. But the new home came with a beehive in the backyard, and he can’t resist setting up on a smaller scale.

I think these two, retired from careers that have nothing to do with bees or art, may be the most industrious people I have ever met.

Speaking of busy bees, I just happen to have a post today on beekeeping. Hope you like it. Nazley Omar wrote the story for Destiny Connect.

“More than 50% of the honey sold in South Africa is imported. Mokgadi Mabela, a beekeeper and founder of the Native Nosi, is striving to change the business landscape [and] keeping the legacy of beekeeping in her family alive.

“She is a third-generation beekeeper who specialises in organic honey production. Mabela launched the Native Nosi in 2015 with the aim of producing local, quality pure honey, alleviating poverty through job creation and providing rural beekeepers with access to urban markets.

“ ‘In South Africa, beekeeping was historically never part of the basic academic curricula in agriculture,’ she says. ‘Therefore, your average South African knows very little about bees and their role in the ecosystem value chain.’ …

“Several bee species across the globe are heading towards extinction, which would have a huge impact on agriculture and food production. Mabela says we need more beekeepers to help preserve bees and produce honey.

“ ‘Ordinary citizens who have no interest in beekeeping can help by planting more trees and plants that are bee-friendly, as habitat loss is one of the factors contributing to the global bee population decline.’ …

“It’s important for South Africans to consume honey, wax and by-products that are produced organically and locally. Imported honey products have to be irradiated in order to limit South Africans to the exposure of impurities and diseases.

“ ‘Although this process is done with good intent, it destroys all the nutrients and delicate properties for which honey is known. When you buy local, you consume natural, quality honey that has not been subjected to any processing,’ explains Mabela.

“When Mabela first launched her company, she encountered many challenges. The startup capital required to buy beehives and processing equipment was high. She tackled this by buying honey from her father and other beekeepers and selling it to raise enough money to buy beehives, increasing her production and securing her own supply.

“I also won [an award] through a pitch competition sponsored by SAB, Standard Bank and The Hook Up Dinner, which I used to buy the equipment. …

“ ‘We are here to change the game and smash stereotypes about young, black, females in business and agriculture. … Starting is often the most difficult step. Once you start, you are able to get a lot of the fear out the way and get on with the real business.’ ”

More at Destiny Connect, here.

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Photo: Good News Network
Philani Dladla, once homeless, now serves others with the money he gets selling used books he reviews.

Terry Turner reported recently on a South African man who went through a period of homelessness and, while relying on the kindness of strangers, gave a lot of thought to how he might give back. He started providing book reviews for used books he sold and using the proceeds to help others.

Turner’s Good News Network piece begins, “Called the ‘Pavement Bookworm,’ he may look like a roadside panhandler, but this once homeless man is actually running a reading foundation. …

“Philani Dladla credits his love of books, specifically motivational ones, with breaking his drug habit. Now that he’s clean, he has dedicated his life to being of service to others.

“Today, he can be found selling used books to passing motorists — but only after he’s read them first. That way, he can give passersby a book review and set the price accordingly; from a dollar for books he doesn’t like, to six dollars for real page-turners.

“While still homeless himself, Dladla began using the money to buy other homeless people soup and bread every day.

“ ‘Seeing their smiles motivated me to keep using the little I had to spread happiness,’ Dladla said. …

“No longer homeless, he still feeds those on the streets, and even started a ‘Pavement Bookworm’ Book Readers’ Club in a local park where kids can hang out and read until their parents come home from work.

“He has also set up a website where people in Johannesburg, South Africa, can donate books or support a child in the reading club.”

Read more at Good News Network, here.

I’m pretty clueless about how to interact with someone who is homeless, although I’ve learned to smile since Suzanne told me that smiling was Mother Teresa’s advice.

And I’m getting to know the woman who spends the winter in one of the two ladies room cubicles at the Porter Square T station. She tends to rant, but her rants sometimes make sense. I think it’s a kindness that the T lets her stay on cold nights. She doesn’t seem to be doing any harm. Of course, it’s an outrage that anyone is without a home in this country.

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Photo: BBC
BBC
Africa’s Sophie Ikenye visits a fish farm in Kenya.

The BBC recently called my attention to a surprising new trend in Africa: Young people, who used to flock to urban office jobs and spurn farming, are beginning to see the attractive side of a return to the land.

Sophie Ikenye writes, “Six years ago Emmanuel Koranteng, 33, gave up his job as an accountant in the US and bought a one-way ticket to Ghana. He now has a successful business growing pineapples in a village one-and-a-half hours away from the capital, Accra. He says that even when he was far away from the farm, it was always in his thoughts.

“Across the continent, Dimakatso Nono, 34, also left her job in finance … and moved from Johannesburg to manage her father’s 2,000 acre farm three hours away in Free State Province. She says she wanted to make an impact. …

” ‘At the beginning, we were not sure about what the animals were doing and where they were in the fields, so for me it was important to ensure that every single day, every activity that we do is recorded.’

“Life on the farm has not been easy. … Both young farmers have found it difficult to get funding for equipment. For this reason, Mr Koranteng has decided to stay small.

” ‘If you are small and you don’t have funding, don’t try to do anything big. It’s all about being able to manage and produce quality because if you produce quality, it sells itself,’ he says.

“But there is to be made money in farming. A World Bank report from 2013 estimates that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they were able to access to more capital, electricity and better technology.

” ‘Agriculture has a bright future in Africa,’ says Harvard University technology expert Calestous Juma. And it also means making the finished product, rather than just growing crops and selling them. ‘The focus should be … from farm to fork, not just production,’ he says.”

Check out one farming entrepreneur’s approach here.

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Don’t you love it when something that is extinct turns out not to be extinct at all? Like coelacanths, which, according to Wikipedia, “were thought to have become extinct in the Late Cretaceous, around 66 million years ago, but were rediscovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa.”

While I’m waiting for someone to prove unequivocally the existence of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, I will regale myself with Lazarus-like sea snakes in Australia.

I saw this Australian Associated Press story at the Guardian: “A species of sea snake thought to be extinct has been rediscovered off the Western Australian coast. A wildlife officer spotted two courting short-nosed sea snakes while patrolling in Ningaloo marine park on the state’s mid-north coast. …

“The Western Australian environment minister, Albert Jacob, said the discovery was especially important because they had never been seen at Ningaloo reef.

“A Department of Parks and Wildlife officer photographed the snakes on Ningaloo Reef and James Cook university scientists identified them.”

Maybe marine creatures such as sea snakes and coelacanths are more likely to be preserved than woodpeckers — hidden away in the ocean’s unexplored depths. Still, as a movie I reviewed, Revolution, made clear, the seas are threatened, too.

More on courting sea snakes at the Guardian.

Photo: Grant Giffen/AFP/Getty Images
The discovery of the short-nosed sea snake, previously thought to have been extinct, is significant because the species had never been seen in the Ningaloo marine park in Western Australia before.

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Here’s a use for drones that pretty much everyone but a poacher could celebrate. I got the story from Living on Earth.

“Poaching is a threat to the survival of rhinos worldwide, and anti-poaching efforts have always been one step behind. Now, park rangers in South Africa have a leg up. John Petersen from the Air Shepherd program tells host Steve Curwood how the power of predictive analytics combined with drone technology could help to rescue the rhinos. …

“Curwood: The Air Shepherd uses military-style computer analytics to identify poaching hot spots, and then sends silent drones equipped with night vision to track down poachers, who like to work after dark, when people can’t see them. …

“Petersen: Some of these game parks are the size of Connecticut. And if you’ve got a little model airplane and you’re trying to figure out where to fly that airplane in that size of a piece of land, and you don’t have any idea about particularly where to fly, then you’re wasting your time. That’s where the experience of the University of Maryland comes into play, because they have developed a predictive analytic tool to tell us on a daily basis where the animals are likely to be and where the poachers are likely to be. …

“You build databases that have all of the topography of the land that you’re looking at. It has all the historical information about where poaching has happened in the past, so that you get patterns on where they happened. You figure out the time of the day and the time of the year, and whether it was wet and what the weather was like, and whether there were waterholes close by, and whether there was a full moon, and how close to roads they were, and other such things. And the combination of all of this allows you to say with a high degree of confidence that, tonight, you should fly your aircraft over the top — you’re going to know that this is where the poachers will come if they come tonight. …

“You can alert the rangers, because they’re positioned close by. They can get there in a hurry and they can capture the person and arrest them before they have a chance to kill the animal.”

More at Living on Earth.

This is clearly a tool in the tool box. But attacking the demand is going to be just as important. Especially since, according to Curwood,  “traditional Asian doctors believe that rhino horns have curative power, and market demand has driven some rhino species to the edge of extinction.”

Photo: Michael Romondo
Staff members of South Africa-based UAV & Drone Solutions hold one of their drones. UAV supplies the drones and the ground crew for Air Shepherd.

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When we were little, my brother had a turntable in a brightly colored “juke box” that lit up and flashed. All the kids came to hear his records. If only he had known he could become a child DJ!

Lynsey Chutel has a story about one in South Africa.

“At first it seems like a fluke – a two-year-old playing with the knobs and buttons of a sophisticated music system. Yet the pint size boy is in control of the beat of the bass-heavy house music. He is South Africa’s youngest disc jokey, DJ AJ. …

“Orarilwe Hlongwane is still learning to put together words but the toddler is already able to select and play music from a laptop and has become a viral phenomenon on South Africa’s social media. …

“His mother, Refiloe Marumo, credits his father’s decision to buy an iPad for his unborn son. Glen Hlongwane planned to download educational apps.”

Read what happened instead.

Photo: Associated Press

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Manolo, head of audio at SoundCloud, explained to a few of us in the office last week how SoundCloud works.

The way I understand it, SoundCloud is sort of like a YouTube for audio except that you may have to pay. A lot of musicians use it. It’s good for social-networking purposes because it’s fast. You don’t need to download a separate player to hear the audio. It starts playing automatically, as you can see below.

Manolo said something about “two weeks free,” but I’m not sure I understand that part yet. The clip below, from a South African nonprofit is one track that seems to be free at any time. There are other tracks from magazines like the Economist, which I assume the owners want you to use and won’t charge.

But if you want to upload your music, bird calls, or soundbites, I guess that’s where you have only two free weeks.

If anyone understands this better, please let me know. I want to experiment.

Hear kids at the Children’s Radio Foundation in South Africa wish a happy 94th Birthday to Nelson Mandela.

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Living on Earth, a radio show based in Somerville, Massachusetts, and distributed by Public Radio International, recently did a story on East Africa and the worst drought in 60 years. Bobby Bascomb interviewed musicians who decided to do something about it, letting their voices be heard in the way they know best.

They call themselves the Caravan of Hope, says Bascomb. “More than 25 bands from 11 different African nations are traveling across the continent to raise awareness about climate change … as international climate talks begin in Durban, South Africa.”

Singer Angella Katatumba of Uganda explains, “We use our voices to get people fired up and educate people about climate change in Africa. Uganda usually has an amazing climate. It’s usually warm and just perfect. These days, when it’s hot it’s way too hot. When it’s cold it’s way too cold. When it’s wet, it’s storming. We’re seeing things like landslides, which we’ve never had before.” So she’s taking her concern on the road. Read more here.

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