Conversations on Leap Year

29 February seems such an auspicious day. Yet is simply exists because when we developed our calendars in the civilised world we wanted to dice the years into equal parts except every fourth year when we add a day to the year to make up for accumulated time revolving around the sun that was  not included in the calendar.

Much as New Year’s Day holds promise of resolutions, as does each month, each new moon, so then 29 February holds promise. It should be easy to remember back in four year cycles what memorable thing has happened, if not on that day, then that year.

2008 was the year my father died. 2004 passed in a blur. 2000 was the new Millennium. It was a good year for my father to warn us against relying on computers too much, as when the calendar change would crash the world the literate pen pusher who could do arithmetic in his brain would rule. 1996 featured only as the year after the Springboks won the Rugby World cup and when I qualified as a specialist. The legal system of Apartheid was repealed in 1992, the year I left Pietermaritzburg for Durban, to formalise my specialisation in orthopaedics.  I graduated from WITS as a doctor in 1988.My father gave me an American Gold Dollar to remember it by and one of the few notes he ever wrote to me. 1984 came and went, yet continues forever as George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I matriculated in 1980. My father kept quiet when the principal was upset with my closing valedictory speech in which I compared school to a stone in my shoe: irritating! The ex- principal, Rod Conacher, who was at that stage a senior inspector in the Transvaal Education Department was there as well, and commended me on my insight. He could read between the lines, and was a wise man.

I remember that day Hector Petersen was shot in 1976. That year was my initiation into the reality of life in South Africa, of forced life in the townships that was erupting violently in search of freedom and self determination. In 1972 my father made a speech at the unveiling of the foundation stone for SAHETI.  In the audience was the Minister of Education, Jack van der Spuy, of the National Party government. In the audience also was George Bizos, advocate for freedom and defender of Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial. The first year I went to Greece was 1968. What a privilege. We missed two weeks of school in August but in those days we did not miss much and I had to do a show and tell as not many children had travelled overseas that year. The teachers were also thrilled with their gifts of Greek ornaments.

In 1964 I was two years old and do not remember much. The year South Africa became a Republic was the year my brother was born: 1960.

I will remember 29 February from now through for my writing.

Extract of my father's speech at the unveiling of the foundation stone at SAHETI

Conversations about Recognition

We were out to dinner with some friends last night and the chef was one of Ines’ patients from about two years back. Ines had never been to Vintage India but knew she worked there and looked for her to say hello. They both recognised each other. But that’s not the kind of recognition I am talking about.

I’m talking about the kind where you are acknowledged as a human being for all that you are, by another human being.

My father attained recognition in many ways. He was acknowledged leader in many circumstances, both officially and unofficially. He was acknowledged by the Greek communities in South Africa, by the Greek Church, by his children’s schools and by SAHETI. He remained Honorary Life President of the Federation of Hellenic Communities of South Africa and Honorary Vice-Life President with George Bizos at Honorary Life President of SAHETI.

At my humble high school his name is immortalised on the main sports field stadium. The Peter Stathoulis Stadium has quite a story to it. He was driving past the old Ellis Park Rugby Stadium in Johannesburg as they were demolishing it in 1979 to make way for the new one that eventually hosted the Rugby World Cup Final in 1995, which we both attended.  At that time the sports fields at my six year old high school had just attained the status of non gravel with some grass and were a poor sight for visiting school. There were a few simple scaffolds that made up the grandstands, all of 6 rows, with a sand slope down to the main rugby and athletics field.

My father had the vision to buy the steel structure of the main stadium of the old Ellis Park as scrap (remember, these were the days before Chinese consumption) and stored it until he could organise engineers and contractors to erect the stadium at the high school. When I as a school athlete I ran at many schools. I always noted the names of the stadiums, if any. Some seemed political appointments, most I had no idea. But I bet you none of those stadiums have a history like the one at my school. It is wonderful that his name is emblazoned on the corrugated iron cladding that rises up on the back, on a metal framework that witnessed great matches at the home of Transvaal Rugby.

We had a really good dinner and were brought complimentary sweets in recognition of Ines’ professionalism and caring. Then when we called for the bill there was a slight delay and the manager came out and said “there’s no charge for tonight. Thank you for coming, and it’s our thanks to the doctor here for caring for our aunty”.

That is true recognition.

Vintage India, Durban Sunset