Once upon a crime

It was three months ago today that we left Kyiv, shocked and scared. We are now in a holiday resort in South Africa, but we are not on holiday. We are still in a state of shock but we are not scared any more. We are unsure though about the future and for now it feels like we are treading water. And that can be exhausting.

I was born in South Africa and I love it here. But my soul was restless and in Kyiv I had found a magical world that was my happy place. I am very grateful that as I write this we are comfortable and safe. Everyday I count my blessings. But all we want is to return to Kyiv.

Most people I know had very little knowledge of Kyiv, if anything at all, until I told them about it. And those who came with me there, who walked the streets and took in the vibe, always wanted to return. Kyiv is a creative center, a place full of energy and spirit, with a booming IT industry, and incredible eating, culture, beauty, adventure … I could go on and on. And just a short time ago I had never heard of a mugging or anything related to crime in Kyiv, and then, just like that, life changed. War came to town.

Magical Kyiv are two words you often hear when people talk about this ancient city. A place where life is embraced to the fullest and where people laugh with their souls. The sense of humour one experiences in Ukraine is so opposite to the stupid stereotype, which will soon change. Ukraine is finally on the map, and it will stay on the map. Putin will not change the face of Europe. If that were to happen it means that evil has won, and I just cannot believe that is possible.

An interesting thing to observe is the currency in Ukraine which has hardly dropped in value since the start of the war. Ukrainians are not panicking and their confidence is reflected in the value of their currency. Also, cinemas opened again in Ukraine the weekend before last. Some rays of light.

Please God this insane war ends soon.

In paradise, but not happy

Marta and I were standing on the patio admiring the magnificent view on Sunday morning. And the weather was so lovely and you could just stand there and stare. But neither of us looked happy. Yes, we are very grateful to be staying in this peaceful and beautiful place, but we long to get back to Kyiv and the news from this week gone by continues to be very upsetting.

The thing about being on holiday is that you plan a holiday. You pack to go on holiday. The idea is to switch off and relax. But we are the opposite of switched off. This is no holiday. There is constant news from Ukraine and a lot of chats/text with friends and family back in Kyiv, and outside of the country. The ones in Ukraine tell us about the air raid sirens and the military presence in every direction, but they also tell us about the beauty and the vibe. People in Kyiv love their city and you can hear it in their voices every time they speak. Magical Kyiv. These are two words I hear often. And the folk on the outside all have the same question: when are we going back? A question we keep asking just about every day since we left.

The Bunster looks very happy down here in Fancourt. He runs around all the time without a worry in the world, and the other day he made friends with a cat. It was love at first site, for both the Bun and the cat. If it wasn’t for the Bunster we would head back to Kyiv this week.

What planet is this from … ?!

This news headline from about a week ago really stumped me. After reading and staring at it, for quite some time, I just scratched my head and wondered. Does anyone reading this blog understand one word of this Bloomberg headline? My interpretation: this is all just sophisticated gambling and game playing. If anyone tells you they are working hard in crypto, whatever that even means, then they are lying to you and to themself.

My old pal Andrew explained to me, “… these were supposed to be the crypto equivalent of US Treasury bonds, a safe store of value pegged to the US$. Except when $1 becomes worth $0.99, people lose trust in the system and panic, and it may as well be worth zero. Which is what happened.” I kinda understand this, but I still don’t get it.

I believe that crypto currency is here to stay and I also believe it is going to be in all our futures. It should be a good thing. But what is not inspiring is the youth that all too often go on about this stuff like it is the meaning of life. The secret to success is to be keep your promises and to work hard. Trust underpins everything. And this crypto world is currently sounding pretty dodgy.

“The crypto world appears to have become the domain of constant speculation and presents no underlying value. We need engineers to go back to building useful things that actually help the world.”

Family

There have been some silver linings to this nightmare war. The most important one for me is the re-connection with family. I have had an unusual journey in my adult life with my brother Alon, for example, and this leaving Kyiv abruptly and coming to SA has done a lot of good in terms of my relationship with my brother. The love and support from him and his family has been so beautiful and we are very blessed. I may not have understood my brother for a long time, and there is lots I still don’t get, and may never understand, but I have been reminded of his many good qualities and will be forever grateful that in this time of trouble that old cliche rings true. Family is the most important thing.

I have had many kind friends also reach out to us and there have been many offers of support. But nothing compares to the love of family. I am not sure why it has to take trauma to open one’s eyes, and heart, but this is often the case in life. When this war is over this will be a positive, lasting aspect of this mad year.

The war has caused all kinds of problems and challenges for everyone in Ukraine. Work projects cancelled or postponed, unplanned costs, money going to help others in need, and so on. Luckily my family and I are still ok, but we have had a few folk reach out to us and offer us financial help. I am very grateful to these kind friends. The thing my brother and his family gave us, which is way beyond money, is laughter, warmth, support, their loving home, care, time, patience, and much more. When we arrived in JHB we were in such a state of shock that to go to Alon’s home and everyone there just look after us was a gift from God. It is hard to describe what we are going through, and I hope no one ever has to deal with something like this, but the trauma is non-stop and this war is still going on and not letting up. All we want to to is return to Kyiv soon and help rebuild. There is going to be a lot of pain and a lot to do.

Alon, if you ever read this, thank you for everything. And thank you for this gift. I have made many mistakes in life, and I am trying harder and harder to be a better person. I love you with all my heart.

Less thinking, more living

Since the war started, over 2 months ago, it has been a struggle to sleep at night. And this is coming from an insomniac who is hyperactive. So take it with a pinch of salt. But I am sure you understand what I am trying to say. The nights are not easy. Too much time online reading news, and just staring at stories and images on the Net, trying to comprehend how this can be happening. Aren’t we meant to living in civilized times where things like invading other countries doesn’t happen any more? Who sends in tanks to terrorize innocent people and destroy their homes? Who does this, in this day and age? Russians do this. And their leader is an evil, small, coward of a man.

I love writing, and have been involved in many story telling projects in the indie film world over the past two decades. And some book adventures, newspaper columns, blogs, public speaking, and more. I started writing a lot at the start of the war, and I keep making notes all the times of everything that we are experiencing. I don’t consider myself a good writer but I am confident and I love new ideas. I enjoy writing.

I have many friends in Ukraine and we all text/chat often. Sometimes I am inspired, frequently amazed, and constantly sad. The more I write the less time I have and I am starting to think I need to spend less hours in front of my laptop, and put more emphasis into living life. Not that life is so much fun right now, but there is a ton to be thankful for and a lot to embrace. The Bunster and Marta need more of my time. And I need to take way better care of my physical health.

I have a long list of ideas to explore and write about. But none of this is urgent. I thought it was, for some reason, but it is not that important to me now. I will write up some of the ideas as the weeks go by, but I better start getting my shit together.

Where there’s mystery there’s margin

There is a lot of media attention of late around Elon Musk buying Twitter. And of course, crypto stuff is in the headlines a lot as always, with the ups and downs. I see the value of Twitter was not as high as I would have thought, considering all the hype. And then, out of curiosity I looked on Google a bit more and the value of all the Bitcoins out there was also not as high as I had imagined. Considering the move Elon just made, a few eccentric billionaires could pool together and buy all the Bitcoins. Makes no sense to do that though, but it is possible, in theory.

The thing about buying up all the shares in a company is that there is an underlying value in a profitable business. But Bitcoin is not a business. It is a virtual currency. So buying it all up makes no sense. But I just had this mad thought that it could be possible. Does make for an interesting debate. The reason I compare Bitcoin to shares in a company is that people talk about Bitcoin like it is equity in the stock market. It is traded like a public company share. And yet, there is no company. There is no governance. There is no rule of law. There is just this faith, and of course hype, and a massive bunch of electricity consuming computers.

Money is a religion to so many people and the goal of the greedy is to hoard as much of it as possible. So in US Dollar terms the aim is to get all the dollars, or as much as they can. Shouldn’t this be the same then with a virtual currency. People who have a lot of Bitcoins seem to enjoy having others know this, like they are in some very proud club. So then surely, with the same logic, the aim is to have as many Bitcoins as possible. But not all the Bitcoins, right? Because if you managed to buy up all the Bitcoins then would they have any value at all. I mean, if you were the only person that had them then doesn’t it mean that they become useless. This is confusing me. But there is something to this.

I am just having some fun here, thinking out loud. Yes, I know that no one would buy up all the Bitcoins, even though again it is theoretically possible. But if there are no Bitcoins being utilized, because only one person has them all, then don’t they becoming meaningless? So this is a very strange scenario. Get as many as you can, but not all of them.

Here is something else to think about: Let’s say you buy a home, say, 20 years ago, for a million dollars. And today the house is valued at 2 million dollars. So you get a mortgage on the house for a million dollars and you spend it on cars, travel, etc. You don’t pay tax on the million the bank gives you, at almost no interest, because, well you are privileged or rich or whatever the word is.

So the rich lending money, at almost no interest, rarely sell assets or equities, and keep on living large, and pay the minimum of tax. This is all legal and the way the system works. But the poor have no assets, no collateral and so pay a risk premium every time. And they often borrow from micro lenders and pay HUGE interest, simply to get groceries each month.

Something has to give.

Jane

We are in Fancourt and it is raining and raining. The busy Bunster wants to run outside on the never-ending manicured golf lawns but everything is wet and we got our hands full for sure. Jane had to leave us yesterday late afternoon to return to Johannesburg. We met Jane about 6 weeks ago through our friend David. Jane had worked with David’s family for 4 years as a night nurse and came highly recommended. When it was suggested that we try find a night nurse, when we arrived in Johannesburg, we weren’t sure how long it would take us to find someone we liked. But we got lucky – Jane was available pretty much right away, as she had just finished with David’s family, and we met her and voila.

Jane is very good at what she does and the Bunster took a big liking to her. We had a nanny in Kyiv called Tanya, and when the war started Tanya went to Western Ukraine, and we came to SA. Bunster liked Tanya too. She is also a very cool person, like Jane. Bunster has had quite a few people come and go in a short space of time and he does act a bit confused, but he is good. So when Jane left us yesterday we were all pretty sad.

Jane has been living in SA for over 23 years. She is from Malawi. She is married and she lives in Bryanston with her husband. When I met Jane I asked her for her bank details so I could pay her each month and she told me she did not have a bank account. She asked me if I can pay her part in cash and the rest to pay into her husband’s account. I was curious as to why she did not have a bank account and she told me it is impossible to open an account as a non-South African.

One day in JHB, Jane asked if I could get her an Uber early the next morning after a night with the Bunster, so she could go to Kempton Park to get her visa sorted out. Again, I was curious. I guessed Jane did this every 5 or 10 years or something like that. I was wrong. She has to go there every 30 days. WTF ?!

I have a very close friend Akin, a humble, high energy artist, who has been in SA for 30 years, and he sometimes shares his frustration about the nonsense that is taking place in SA. Akin pays taxes and is a wholesome member of the land, so what is the problem. Xenophobia is a real issue and listening to Jane’s stories since we met her has been very disturbing.

I paid Jane well, and we are kind and warm people. I could see Jane was very happy helping us with Bunster and we were all getting to know each other. She met a few of my friends when they came to visit us in JHB, at Alon’s house, when we first got settled in after arriving from Kyiv. And now she is gone. We are not sure what the challenge is exactly that she had to go back to JHB to deal with. We are concerned now and hope that she is going to be ok, and we wonder if she will be able to fly back to George soon to come be with the Bunster again. He already looked a bit confused this morning.

I love South Africa, and it has been good to me, and my family. But I am embarrassed about many things that go on. What is with the xenophobia. Why did Jane have such a struggle on her hands. She looked so stressed this week. While Bunster napped in the afternoons, she was on the phone, and she seemed so anxious all the time. She is smart, she has money, she had good people around her to to try and help. So what then is the problem. Why can’t she even open a bank account in SA, for example? And that is just the start of the rant …

Navalny

A must see documentary film – masterful storytelling !!!

This film was brilliant – I was blown away. It also illustrates the mafia state that is Russia. Ukraine is under threat because it has grown up and wants out, and the mafia boss Godfather says “no”.

The entire business and political system in Russia is criminal. And the greedy West just saw the money and ignored that they where dealing with criminals from politics to business. Now we face the consequences. It will take Russia decades to untangle a criminal system this is present at every level of society.

Stuff

There are are so many expressions and playful phrases using the word “stuff”. Get stuffed. Stuff it. I am stuffed. Stuffing. There is even a magazine with this word in the title. Jerry Seinfeld did a comedy bit once about collecting stuff. This is what many of us do with our lives. We are always looking for stuff, buying stuff, storing stuff.

I am sentimental person. I have been collecting stuff ever since I was a kid. I think I am a still a kid. An overgrown kid. And now I have a kid. I have been called a hoarder. I think that is fair. Most of the stuff I have has no material value, but to me, it makes sense. There is paraphernalia from IS, movie things (from our indie film projects), Canary swag, magic stuff, quirky gadgets, high tech toys, stand-up comedy DVDs, rare funny books, gizmos, pranks, Atari t-shirts (a small but cool collection), and the list goes on. A lot of it is geeky stuff. Yes, I am a bit of a nerd. My home office in the The Nest is overflowing with stuff, and now, I am not sure when will ever see this stuff again. The vast majority of my favourite stuff is in The Nest.

The pandemic showed the world that you don’t need a lot to live. Yes, to live, and to live well, does not require a dozen holiday homes and a fleet of luxury cars. We can only sleep in one bed, and as long as that bed is comfortable, and the house is clean and warm, and the fridge full of food, you are living pretty well. And we certainly don’t need all that stuff to live comfortable lives. I may never be able to see this stuff again and I will survive. But it does upset me. For some reason that stuff was dear to me. That stuff made me feel peaceful. I know it may sound a bit odd, as it is to most people, just worthless stuff, but to me it meant something.

The rockets striking Kyiv on Thursday made everyone more anxious. We have friends in Kyiv. The Nest is in Kyiv. All that stuff is in Kyiv. And this morning, the Bunster made a mess with a yogurt drink and got us both covered in stuff. Yes, stuff is everywhere. And from my perspective, the world is looking pretty stuffed. Ok ok, I was trying to play with words there. But you know what I mean.

The other thing about stuff is that we not only collect it, but then sometimes we put stuff in storage. I have never done that, but I know that self-storage facilities are a big industry. When we die what happens to all this stuff? And if you go away for the weekend and come back to discover your house burned down, then all your stuff is gone. Talk about a stuffing reset.

The thing about collecting is that a lot of people, I think the vast majority, collect things that have a perceived value, like art. Some just collect rent. A lot try and hoard cash. Money collecting is a popular past time. Everyone is collecting something. Most collect something that has a monetary value. Asset management could be referred to as asset collecting. And then you get those people who collect stories. The bible is the ultimate collection of stories. I love a good story. I am always writing down and capturing stories.

I should start thinking about collecting things that have value. Perhaps the war has made me aware of financial vulnerability. The stuff I collect is mostly stuff that makes people smile. Seeing people smile makes me happy.

This spider in a box prank is one of my favourites. The Bunster likes it too. I can’t wait to show it to him one day when we are back in The Nest. By then he will be a bit older and will find it even funnier.