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When the Moon Turns Red

Lunar Eclipse 2015 by Kai Staats
Lunar Eclipse 2015 by Kai Staats Lunar Eclipse 2015 by Kai Staats

The photographs were obtained between 3:15 and 4:20 am, in Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa. The cloud cover came and went, at times totally blocking the view. Unfortunately, as the Moon neared totality, the mist was heavy (thus the soft image). The final shot of the Moon resting on the adjacent building was only seconds after the clouds dissipated one last time. Totality was missed from this vantage point, but the total experience was mesmerising.

Canon 60D
Nikor 80-200mm lens (circa 1980) with Nikon/Canon adapter
ISO: 400 – 1000
Exposure: 1/200 – 2 seconds

By |2017-04-10T11:17:32-04:00September 28th, 2015|2015, Looking up!, Out of Africa|Comments Off on When the Moon Turns Red

Clouds over Sutherland

I stand in the cool breath of an amorphous white world.

Unable to see but a few meters to my front, rear, and sides.

The silver, white domes presents themselves as subtle outlines,
shimmering into and out of view.

Yet, sometimes, it seems, they are solid

and it is I who disappears.

By |2015-10-07T12:52:05-04:00August 30th, 2015|2015, Out of Africa, The Written|Comments Off on Clouds over Sutherland

Lost in Time

Interview with a Saan by Kai Staats

I have been in Namibia for the past ten days, working with a small film crew to capture footage for a teaser, which if successful, will raise funds to develop a film about the history of hunting, from the ancient San to modern day game preserves.

We are guests of the Immenhof ranch and game preserve (www.immenhofnamibia.com), four hours north and west of Windhoek.

The owners are four generations here as farmers, hunters, and custodians of the land. Of German heritage, the father and son speak six languages each, including the native languages of the Himba and Herero, with whom they were raised.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon and evening working with a few members of the Saan who participate in an exchange program, of sorts. They live here, away from their home land, for three months at a time, to share their stories and dance, sell handmade goods, and earn money to bring back to their tribe in the north east of Namibia and Botswana (which is unfortunately, spent mostly on alcohol and tobacco).

It was a very strange juxtaposition. The Saan are truly a relic of the past, caught in the crossfire of political struggles and selfish land-grabs. These will likely be the last of their people, tens of thousands of years of tradition lost to a world driven by Google advertising, mineral exploitation, and data mining.

I was a wary time traveler, for those brief hours, confused as to what I was seeing and hearing, and how I should interact. To pay them to assist with re-enactments for our film was a kind of prostitution, yet to sit and engage in deeper conversation was also self-serving. To leave them completely alone is to watch them starve in a place and time no longer able to support their traditional ways.

Werner, grandson of the founder of this ranch, PH, and expert tracker trained by the San, states he can arrange for me to live with them for a few weeks or more. I would be able to capture their stories, both historic and modern.

I stated I would do so only if they saw value in my work with them. He quickly replied, “Then you should not go to them.” According to his experience, the Saan do not see the need for their stories to be captured, but they are too polite to tell the BBC, Nat Geo, or any other camera crew (including our own) they are not interested in what we come to do.

It is, perhaps, our perception of history, some kind of duty to record what we have destroyed, that brings us into their world with anthropologists, cameras, and audio recorders.

My life would be changed if I could have that time with them, yet what would I be giving back to the San?

Outside of the obvious value to airtime and DVD sales, how does Nat Geo embrace these kinds of opportunities? Is there an altruistic motivation, even if those being interviewed do not perceive the same?

Today I worked behind the scenes to support Ron, Betsy, and Rhett (the DP) with their work on a ‘sizzler’ for a film about the history of hunting. Professional hunter, guide, and 3rd generation at the Immenhoff Ranch, Werner took us to a local “exchange” village of Saan, where we conducted brief interviews and shot a segment of the film.

I have deeply mixed feelings about what I experienced today, for it was a crossroads of tens of thousands of years of human history juxtaposed with modern world in a most stark composition.

There is no going back, no return to that time. These people continue to live as they have, to some degree, but with the daily reminder that their world was taken from them. Gone are the game, the unfenced, open land. Yet as Ron stated to clearly, “These people don’t know about ISIS nor do they concern themselves with the crumble of the Greek economy.”

It is far too easy for a well-to-do to romanticize the simple life, so I will stop here. But even those few hours with them reminded me why I sold everything I own three years ago–to keep things simple, to slow down, to pursue stories, nor ownership of more things.

By |2018-11-24T02:07:04-04:00July 4th, 2015|2015, Film & Video, Out of Africa|Comments Off on Lost in Time

Of Sand and Superglue

Since I was a kid, I have made figurines from found objects: shells, stones, twigs, wire, and wood. A few years ago, while wrapped in a sleeping bag in Geronimo Cave in the Superstition Wilderness near Phoenix, Arizona, I made “Avi” for a dear friend.

Avi by Kai Staats

This evening I hosted a figurine party. We assembled just before sunset to gather shells, stones, and sand from the Muizenberg beach. A few pizzas, bottles of wine, and tubes of superglue.

This is what transpired.

Figurine by Ingrid Figurine making Figurine by Arun Figurine by Nadeem
Jasper Figurine by Diego Figurine by Antoinette Figurines

By |2015-09-23T09:48:08-04:00June 21st, 2015|2015, Out of Africa|Comments Off on Of Sand and Superglue

From Dark Skies to Data Mining: A Passion for Understanding

On Wednesday, June 24 I will address the Astronomical Society of South Africa, at the SAAO auditorium.

The official write-up was presented as follows:

Kai Staats will give a presentation entitled “From Dark Skies to Data Mining: A Propensity for Pattern Recognition”. The talk will address the situation where few people today are able to experience the brilliance of the milky way due to light pollution and yet our window on the universe is expanding enormously through projects such as the SKA and LIGO.

We are faced with the challenges of fighting to preserve dark skies and at the same time enjoying the benefits of the massive quantities of data becoming available. He will then screen his film “LIGO, A Passion for Understanding”. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, a large-scale physics experiment, is aimed at directly detecting gravitational waves. These ripples in the space-time, known as ‘The Big Bang’s Smoking Gun’ were predicted by Einstein in 1916 and will provide detailed information
about black holes as well as the very early universe. Marco Cavaglia, astrophysicist and member of the LIGO Collaboration will be available, via Skype, to answer questions following the film.

Kai Staats is an entrepreneur, writer, film maker and now student once more, earning his MSc in Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town / African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Cosmology Research Group, South Africa.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:34-04:00June 17th, 2015|2015, Out of Africa|Comments Off on From Dark Skies to Data Mining: A Passion for Understanding

When Nature Calls

Adriaan, Holy and I went to Natures Valley with the intent to camp for three nights, kayak, hike, and relax. The kayaking was wonderful, as we engaged in a guided tour of the shallow estuary, its tributaries, and hatcheries. We enjoyd a mid afternoon nap on the first day there followed by a fabulous dinner cooked over two camp stoves and an open fire.

But on the second evening, it began to rain.

That night, I woke to the realisation that the floor of my tent was holding back a substantial amount of water. I looked outside the door to find my shoes floating. By the time I sat up, put on my shorts, and threw the few loose items into my backpack, the water had risen over the waterproof portion of the tent and soaked my sleeping bag.

I yelled, “Adriaan! I think it is time to go!” He yelled back, “Yeah, I agree. Already packing!”

I raced from my tent to the back of his bukkie (truck). Holy was already in the camper shell, having escaped the drips on her face in their large, shared tent two hours prior. The water was up to the wheel wells but the started the engine. Adriaan drove off to make certain he could get the vehicle out.

The entire camp ground came to life. Car engines sputtered and choked. Horns and sirens sounded as electrical systems shorted. People drove and walked to the higher ground just outside the entrance. We were lucky, as our campsite was but 50 meters from the gate. I can’t imagine the effort those further into the camping ground and further downhill must have mustered to escape.

I pulled each corner of my tent from the ground, throwing it over my shoulder. I walked, barefoot, to the top of the road and found Adriaan, Holy, and the bukkie. We went back to get more of our things from their tent and the picnic table. By this time, we waded through water nearly to our waist.

We helped the neighbours escape as they had three children, the youngest of which could not have been a year old. Their car was on higher ground, the water to the undercarriage. They did not seem to recognize what they had to drive through to get out. We walked with their car to make certain they made it, their tent and some belongings left behind.

The water went down nearly as quickly as it had risen. We removed Adriaan’s tent and by 2 am were on the road again, soaked, chilled, and overwhelmed by all that had happened.

Adriaan drove all night. I slept in back, wrapped in a damp sleeping bag, Holy in front with the heater on high. The day went well, with a visit to the southern tip of Africa and then a national park just outside of Hermanus. There we dried our gear and enjoyed a four hours hike.

The next week, I was discussing the adventure with one of the astronomers at SAAO. He was there also, but arrived the next morning. When he and his family arrived, it appeared to be a war zone, downed trees piled across the bridge and riddled across the campground. Gear, tables, chairs, and toys scattered everywhere, soaked, snapped, or destroyed.

The sad truth, Petri explained, is that this happens every couple of years, yet there is not a single sign warning patrons of the possibility of flash flood.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:34-04:00April 7th, 2015|2015, Out of Africa|Comments Off on When Nature Calls

Homeless in Cape Town, part VI

My friend Eurica, the car-park lady whom attended our Christmas dinner last year has had a very difficult few months. More accurately, a difficult decade.

Both her brothers are now dead due to gang shootings (the youngest killed two months ago). The Muizenberg Law Enforcement repeatedly take all the belongings of the homeless population, a weekly punishment rather than proactive law enforcement. (Last year I confronted a managing officer and he openly admitted to their thieving.)

What little money she earns, what clothing she has is frequently stolen while sleeping in upper Muizenberg park.

Her husband was killed twelve years ago, leaving her a single mother to a now 12 year old girl and 16 year old boy. They live a few hours from here by bus, with Eurica’s mother-in-law.

Today, I was walking back from the train station and saw Eurica sitting by the beach, clearly shaken. She said two police officers and her mother-in-law showed up today, unannounced. She had burst into tears, fearing that one of her children was now dead too. But they came to force her to make child support payments. Now, she fears she will be thrown into jail for inability to pay.

I went up to my AIMS office at 9:30 pm and spent an hour doing research. I printed three websites about child support law in South Africa, and hi-lighted the sections that pertained to her. In particular, the formula they use to calculate the payment amount, as there is no fixed amount.

I found a SA government subsidy program for single mothers which pays 350R per month per child, or $32 USD. Incredible that anyone can live on that. I have heard that families in the Townships, just down the street, live on $50 a month. Rice and water.

I then wrote a letter addressed to the magistrate which provided a positive disposition, stating that Eurica loved her children, wanted the best for them, and appreciate the past twelve years of care her mother-in-law has given. I detailed the challenges of her life and closed with an offer of 150R per month (at Eurica’s suggestion) and then gave her 300R as pre-payment for the months of October and November.

I gave her a strict set of rules for how to manage the meeting, making certain to bring all legal documents back for my review before signing. I want to make certain she does not sign away her kids nor commit to some amount she cannot afford.

She is suppose to have a government social worker, but none has been provided. I will fill that role until we can figure out what is going on. Plenty of experience in these matters between my parents’ life work and my time playing attorney for Terra Soft.

The hardest part of the evening was when she broke down and sobbed, saying, “This is not the life I imagined. I don’t understand why this is me. I stopped prostitution. I stopped taking drugs. I don’t drink. I pray to God but he never answers. My brothers are both dead. My mother has gone crazy. And I barely live day to day. I don’t believe there is a God any more … or he has abandoned me.”

Earlier today she took a handful of tablets in an attempted suicide. A friend rushed to the store and made her drink 2 litres of milk, which caused her to vomit, and she survived.

When we were talking, the stress in her body was so evident one of her eyes vibrated while the other was shut; her hands opened and closed uncontrollably, her face listless and speech slurred. She can’t take any more stress. She is on the edge.

Last year I had promised to help her with a proper CV and training to get a job. I have not done this, despite the fact I see her a few times a week. I know I have failed her in that respect. I don’t believe she will stop fighting and making bad decisions, therefore I don’t believe the CV will make a difference. But I know I should try. I need to follow-through, as I did tonight.

Two of the car park attendants are walking her to the next town where she has a place to stay until the meeting at the court, in the morning.

I gave her a clipboard, pen, the cash, and my card if she needs help during the meeting. I hope they don’t coerce her into something illegal. The legal system is bad enough in the States, I can only imagine what is attempted in South Africa.

This entire experience is a bold reminder of all the years my father worked as a social worker, the stories of the challenges of life brought home to the dinner table each night.

I find myself scared, sometimes not wanting to be around Eurica for long periods for more than a quick chat. Her stories are dismal and the look of her weathered, worn face, ten years my junior, a reminder of what living without shelter means. Her hands are those of an elderly woman as her body is fighting HIV.

Sometimes I just want to walk away and not look back because it is so fucking hard to realise how much people suffer. I know I could not survive a day without hope, the way she has for more than a decade.

By |2018-11-24T01:48:41-04:00March 24th, 2015|2015, Out of Africa|Comments Off on Homeless in Cape Town, part VI

Loggerhead Saved!

Kai Staats: turtle rescue This past Friday I walked to the beach for a short run and yoga session when a surfer walked up and handed me a Loggerhead hatchling, an incredibly small turtle.

I took him back to my apartment complex and knocked on my neighbour Hannah’s door. The look on her face was priceless when she said good morning, but then saw the turtle cupped in my hands.

It was 7:30 am. Hannah called the Two Oceans Aquarium which instructed us how to care for him (her?) until we could make it to town. We placed her on a dry towel inside a small tupperware container and drove to Town. The turtle become more and more listless, eventually not moving unless I touched his shell or front flippers. Even then, almost no reaction. I was afraid she was not going to make it.

Kevin, a marine biologist greeted me at the front counter. I was given a behind-the-scenes tour as we worked our way up a few flights of stairs to a room full of noisy compressors, filtration systems, and glass aquariums which contained a variety of rescued sea animals. One was a very large turtle which was blind in both eyes, but is apparently recovering.

Kai Staats: turtle rescue

Kevin washed the hatchling in fresh water, removed a barnacle, and then placed her in a deep plastic tray at the bottom of what will be his new home for the coming year. He filled up the tank with room temperature water which in turn heated his container.

Kevin explained that Loggerheads do not nest on this side of the continent, so far south for the water is far too cold. He was likely caught in the Indian ocean current that periodically warms False Bay (and Muizenberg beach). He was adrift for no less than two weeks. Only one in a thousand reach sexual maturity (17-33 years), and even then, they have very low reproductive rates.

Within just a few minutes, the turtle came back to life. I had forgotten how much reptiles are affected by the temperature of their surroundings. The cold Atlantic water and then dry, cool air in the car had slowed her down considerably.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:34-04:00March 22nd, 2015|2015, Out of Africa|Comments Off on Loggerhead Saved!

Only a surfer knows the feeling

The sun rises over the back-line, black silhouettes against the shimmering horizon. Sometimes, only shoulders or a head show, the full upper body of the surfers adjacent to me temporarily hidden in the rise and fall of the swell.

But this morning, the sea is nearly perfectly flat. Trapezoids suspended in a web of reflections are bound by shifting edges. They break and rebuild, again and again, each a fragmented mirror for the sparse clouds overhead.

Some days the water is turquoise blue. Others, a dark, river bottom red which gives the false appearance of a far thicker substance. The spring tide brings high water followed by broken shells, sea life, and the occasional body of an adult seal or lost, barking pup.

My legs below the knee are wrapped beneath my surfboard while my upper body constantly adjusts to the undulating water, stomach muscles tensing and relaxing to counter the shifting centre of gravity. Even after months of surfing, I yet find it difficult to bring my arms across my chest or to my front when sitting on a shorter board. Instead, my arms are at my sides, touching the surface of the water to maintain balance, a fluid equilibrium.

I look around me am reminded how new I am to this sport. The more adept sit upon far smaller boards, sometimes lying back as though in a reclining chair. Relaxed, they seem far more at ease. I keep reminding myself how far I have come since mid December, from total frustration to riding every wave I catch.

A poster in the window of a local surf shop caught my attention. A determined man, tangled hair high above his head, turns one hundred eighty degrees far above the crest of a wave. As I walked past I noticed the caption, white on blue, “Only a surfer knows the feeling.”

If to be a surfer is to know the feeling, then I will claim, even with such limited experience on board at sea, to be a surfer. As my instructor and friend William has said more elegantly, it is not just riding the waves that makes surfing so compelling, but the time spent between the runs, sitting on the board at the backline, watching the sun rise or clouds roll in

Some days, hours after I have come in from the water, showered, and transitioned to the confines of brick, mortar, and office walls, my chair feels as though it is in motion, rising, falling, and rising again. Inside my body, I undulate with the same rhythm. I nearly grasp the edge of my desk before I am returned to the reality of the moment, and look out the window to determine if the waves provide the ideal medium for my return.

I am learning to read the water in a way that I have not since I kayaked in Glacier Bay, Alaska for ten days, or when I spent a summer running rivers in Utah and Colorado. There is a subtlety to the sea’s motion that tells you the direction of the wind, if the tide is rising or falling, and sometimes its temperature too.

On the water, body prone, head lifted to see just inches above the tip of the board, the smallest of eddies toss and turn the prone, paddling surfer. One meter, two meter, three meter swells remind you how small, how incredibly minimal the mass of your body is against the tireless force.

Looking to the South, toward the backline, surfers seek breaks in the wave, places to pass such that less energy and time are wasted to gain the ideal position. For every wave, full or broken, you must choose a course of action. Dive beneath by shifting your body to the front of the board; lift your chest high to force the water to channel between you and the board; or flip upside-down, the board remaining on the surface, you beneath, only to right yourself again on the other side.

Long board, mini-Malibu, or fish–you must find the best spot to launch your campaign. Depending upon your board, fitness, and experience, you catch what is right for you.

I find my way to the back line, sometime with ease and grace, sometimes with an exhausting, twenty minute struggle, … sometimes not at all no matter how hard I paddle.

Last week, just before 7 am, the water was incredibly smooth, the swells minimal. As I paddled out to where a dozen surfers had already arrived, I noted the fins and bodies of dolphins rising and falling all around the boards. Everyone was talking in hushed tones, pointing. For more than fifteen minutes these sleek creatures moved in and around our human figures. Two women were furthest out, having tried to catch-up with the dolphins given their relatively slow pace.

The dolphins did not seem to mind, for they circled one or twice and surfaced right along side, less than two meters from the women on their boards. One surfer slipped off his board and dove as far as his leash would allow to get an underwater view of the pod.

It was, as I have heard people report, an emotionally charged encounter. I don’t believe they are healing nor necessarily incredibly intelligent as we have heralded without evidence for so long, but there is something beautiful about sharing the water with another mammal. It just feels … familiar.

The wind picked up, driving the small swells into proper wave faces, cresting and breaking in a nearly straight line. Muizenberg is ideal for learning in many ways, for you can walk out and ride in on most days. The only frustration is that the waves do not maintain a proper, clean face for long. You must get on fast, choose your direction, and allow the wave to pass beneath you when it collapses to foam.

I face out, looking beyond the backline where I rest. The swells grow over the course of a half hour. They begin to break close to the beach, the cheers of surfers catching the first waves of the morning carry to us and onto shore. It’s motivating, to witness the success of your companions.

Finally, one I believe I can ride. Sitting on the back third of my board, I spin to face the shore again, lying down quickly. I tap my toes against the very tail of the board to confirm my position given what I judge to be the vertical angle of the on-coming wave, adjust for balance, and paddle.

The sea rises slightly and with it, I rise too. I look to my right and see two meters of water behind and above me. I paddle three, for times more and then as my board tilts forward, throw my arms over my head at the same time for a few power strokes. To my right another, more experienced surfer catches the wave and is carried away as though some mighty creature chose him to carry to shore.

I, however, did not time my approach and missed the opportunity. Frustrated, I am reminded how much I have to learn. Unlike climbing or running which seem to dictate a fairly similar body type for success, surfers come in all shapes and sizes. Guys with bellies bigger than a pregnant woman do flips and turns while a white haired, arched-backed man clearly in his seventies catches every wave he intends. He is a regular, one I watch intently each morning we share.

My third try I am on the cusp, my board balanced just over the edge of the face of the wave. I look down into a well two, maybe two and a half meters deep. I throw my arms over and over, kicking my legs in the air to break the inertia and finally, I drop down the face at a tremendous speed. Quickly, I find my hands on the edges of the board, prop my chest high, confirm I am not about to run over anyone, and then spring onto my feet.

Leaning back, I allow the wave to catch-up (for many times, I am not yet quick enough to catch the wave properly), and then adjust my hips and shoulders and stance to ride what remains until it crumbles to foam.

On a good day, with long runs, I enjoy the simple accelleration, fine tuning my ability to gage the direction of the break and to stay on the face. For others, I am up for only ten, maybe fifteen seconds. On those short runs, I work on quicker turns and walking to the front of the board as the waves presses down on the back end.

As the poster says, “Only a surfer knows the feeling.” Falling, falling, falling–as long as the wave is moving forward, you are granted a liquid, perpetual motion machine.

Time just sitting at the backline. The potential sighting of a seal, dolphin, or shark. The sweet taste of the sea. The smell of atomised salt water in the gusts of wind. Even the hard pounding one can take in the face of large waves is part of my life now. I find it difficult to imagine moving back to the desert or high mountains where the ocean has not provided this kind of engagement for tens of millions of years.

Until the next opportunity, my body longs for the motion of the waves.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:35-04:00February 21st, 2015|2015, Out of Africa|Comments Off on Only a surfer knows the feeling

St. James Tide Pool

Kai Staats: St. James Tide Pool A day of good intentions started at 7 AM. After five days of editing the LIGO film, hour after hour sitting on my back side, it seems a day of simply re-organising, of catching up was in order. I sorted hundreds of photos and some documents, conducted a full computer backup (minor backups conducted every Friday evening), and then ventured to the St. James Bay tide pool.

One of the perks of living here is a two minutes walk to the waves, surf board under arm. But on those days which are overcome by wind (November through January), the St. James Bay tide pool offers a respit, warm(er) water, and the company of hundreds of families from across this part of Cape Town.

After lunch, I walked the fifteen minutes to the tide pool for a swim. I asked a local stranger to watch my bag which contained only my shoes, towel, and shirt. It is simply too easy for things to be stolen here.

I swam across the pool and pulled myself up onto the wall. I sat next to a man who introduced himself, our backs to the ocean and feet dangling in the protected water. At just one and a half meters deep, I was astounded by the dives the local kids were performing. I would have cracked my head open if I were to have attempted these–but they have a trick, a kind of ‘spring’ in their upper body which releases when they hit the water. No matter how high they jump or how far they twist, roll, and dive, they enter the water nearly flat, compressed, and then open on impact. This keeps them from hitting bottom. The guy who was watching my bag promised to teach me when I returned.

One of my classmates from Madagascar swam up while we were talking. I had seen her coming, but did not recognise her with only her backside to the sky. I joked, “Not to hard to find the white guy in this crowd, huh?” She laughed. The man to my right noted, “It’s funny, eh, how each beach, each place has a majority. This is where the coloured and some blacks go. But just over there, at the next bay, the beach is almost all white. And back at Muizenberg, you have your white tourists and a mixture of locals. But it is a good mix, there.”

He was right. It’s strange how that happens. Comfort in the familiar.

We discussed comfort zones, independent of colour. I commented on how much personal space I grew up with, never in a crowd but for certain occassions. He laughed, “In Africa, you are always near someone. You are always in a crowd. If you leave, you miss the energy and want to come back.” The same could be said for all big cities, for Africa has many small towns and villages with open space. Yet here, people are more … visible, not indoors nearly as much. I told him about the fist time I returned from Kenya to Colorado. I felt I had come upon the scene of a nuclear holocaust sci-fi, everyone hiding or obliterated.

Indeed, there were hundreds of individuals, yet there were maybe a handful of whites, only two of us in the water. It’s part of what I love about living here. My comforts have changed considerably, what I find normal was, perhaps, even uncomfortable at one time.

Yet yesterday was the opposite, for among the thousands who attended the “Hot Water” concert (which was astounding), the number of black people could be counted on two hands.

Time to edit, edit, edit … LIGO awaits.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:35-04:00December 29th, 2014|2014, Out of Africa|Comments Off on St. James Tide Pool