Sunday, July 27, 2014

alice herz sommer 108 - words of wisdom.

photo from

"i learnt from the bad but i look at the good things... everything is a present."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

kwacha kwacha! and the cycling story...

Not only is Kwacha the Malawian or Zambian currency but Kwacha is a Bemba word for “dawn”, reflecting the Zambian national motto “ New Dawn of Freedom” . The time has come. Kwacha Kwacha! The sun is rising. Kaunda used the phrase in all his liberation speeches as did Hastings Banda from Malawi, as the colonial Rhodesian Federation began to splinter and sink like the great Titanic itself. Kwacha Kwacha has a revolutionary ring to it and heralds change and movement and great beginnings. One of Zanzibar's revolutionary sons is called Mzee Kwacha. It is also the name of our house in Zanzibar, Kwacha House, which faces due east into spectacular dawns.

I can sit for hours, days in fact, under the whispering palms staring out to sea. The colours change every day…slashed hues of aqua, turquoise, shades of lilac, greens….a great liquid jewel. It seems I persist in my ill disciplined approach, or rather resistance, to writing or achieving anything note worthy, like exercise. Ok. I swim. And I walk. From the sunbed to the water and back. This time of year the sea is glass marble calm before the south wind picks up, ruffling its surface, making the hearts of all kite surfers happy. The weather is halcyon.

These marvelous solo days, when my mood ebbed and flowed like the tide, were interjected with wonderful visits from friends all around the world. You know how it is with old friends, friends from the glory days before children, when we were wild, young, free and in love, when you didn’t worry about tomorrows or money. It was pure unadulterated adventure. Now we’re all fatter (apart from S in Lamu who could still bloody model for Vogue. Bitch. So she doesn’t count here.) older, alcoholics with broken hearts (ok. probably only me and maybe Phoebe.) and our backyards are littered with mistakes  from which we bravely or perhaps naively think we have grown. We’ve certainly changed. Change is inevitable and always a good thing, apparently. Gulp.

There we were, my bestie and I, floating around the ridiculously beautiful Zanzibar sea, unconcerned about our pale cellulite, grey hair and cavernous crows’ feet circling our eyes, recognizing those moments which swing from knowing everything to knowing nothing and we decide we’re surprisingly fine with that. Biscuits and noddy badges all ‘round. Hurrah. We decide we’re fucking grateful that our lives are as they are considering the chaotic nature of the soup of evolution. There really is no order here. And look at us! Christ we are lucky.

We march out the sea, bikinis and flab flagrantly exposed to the Zanzibar sun and the public. We sit on the dazzling white sand to dry off, watching some Maasai warriors swim, white beads glittering on magnificently crafted ebony torsos. My goddaughter brings us our chilled white wine and we talk school to her sons. I tell them how to write a jolly good poetry essay, bish bash bosh.  When we’re left alone, I tell her the gory bits about the crumbling of my marriage as I curl my toes into the sun warmed sand. My words remind me of how stunned I am and that I am doing a fine job at convincing myself that I am actually alright. Secretly I wonder why I don’t sleep at night but blame it on the moon. It’s a super moon, appearing larger in the sky than ever before because it’s closest to the earth. When my goddaughter reappears with another bottle of wine, we change the subject, “pas devant les enfants” and all that.

“ I’m learning to fly!” she tells me and promises that one day she’ll land on this beach, pick me up and then we’ll head on to Lamu to see our dear friend S and show Al Shabab who’s boss.  My 11 year old goddaughter rolls her eyes and swears over her dead body that she’d never ever fly with her mother let alone into a “war zone”. Her words. Not mine. I definitely would because my friends are truly marvelous in every way, R is going to be an excellent pilot and it’s terrifically adventurous.  But I think all these things and pretend to agree with my goddaughter only to win brownie points with her. I’m trying to make impossible in roads here and fast. I really want her to love me.  The third bottle of wine is opened. I’m feeling giddy high, happily tiddly and starting to use the “F” word rather too frequently which, it appears, offends my goddaughter and flushes all hard earned brownie points into the ocean.

We take leave of this blisteringly dreamy scene, to shelter from the now howling wind and stinging sand. My sun glasses have sand dunes in the corners. They’re renting a luxury villa near the kite surfing school. It’s ‘nice’  but too new and spartan for my liking although the groovy plunge pool is rather enticing and resembles a liquid tanzanite when you turn on the underwater lights at night. A waiter brings the children ‘Virgin Mojitos’. We sip to taste and promptly order ‘Whore Mojitos” or whatever they’re called when they have booze in them. While we wait, I unwittingly finish my goddaughter’s drink while she makes whirl pools in the plunge pool. “Mummy! Who finished my drink?” she indignantly asks. “Daddy did.” I make a whispered confession. My friend advises me not to admit it. I don’t.

Before we know it, it’s 11:30 at night, we’ve had 428 mojitos between the three of us, forced her husband to play Van Morrison so we can remember the old times which reminds me of the girl in Zambia who hates me. An acquaintance recently told me “You’re still at the top of her Christmas tree of hate, you know.”  Winner. Nice. It’s too late to call a taxi. It’s Ramadan and I’m drunk. The super moon is high, the tide is out leaving a wide berth of hard sand. My friend suggests I cycle home and offers the company of her two boys. An adventure looms! I quickly take up the offer because, right then, it doesn’t seem THAT far back to Jambiani, the night is sweet and filled with stars and silver, I’m feeling invincible and I love waking up in my own bed.

Her sons are gorgeous, good British young gentlemen, brimming with the excitement of the challenge, the moonlit adventure. I’m feeling 28 not 48. The brand new bicycles are proudly wheeled out. The boys politely ignore my dastardly tussle with the cactus garden on the way out to the beach although I can tell they are both acutely embarrassed. The beach lies waiting with wide expanses of moonlit silver sand and a sparkling sea to our left. I perch my spectacles on my head, tie my basket up behind me and vaguely try and remember when I last rode a bicycle. I leap confidently into the saddle, push the pedals into action, take a drunken swerve into the only soft sand around and wipe immediately and spectacularly out, spectacles flying in one direction and the contents of my basket in the other. Oscar Wilde’s words come to mind “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars,” as I lie spread eagled on the beach, my bicycle on its side and Giles staggering after me whimpering on about calling a taxi, perhaps? The boys were silent and open mouthed, swallowing back embarrassment and laughter. Through sheer bloody mindedness and determination, I dusted myself off, snatched back my specs from Giles, re packed my kikapu and wove my way into the magical, silver night with the sound track of Queen’s ‘Bicycle Song’ playing in my imagination.

Jambiani and home were nowhere in sight, only the dark cliffs and black skeletal shapes of rocks in the silver sand. The wind whistled in my ears. It’s no bloody joke riding into the wind. Not even half way there, my thighs burnt with exquisite pain from the unexpectedness of grueling exercise, which I have cunningly avoided for, oh, over a year? The mojitos and crème brulee churned nauseatingly in my stomach and Jambiani seemed a life time away. Yet, the crunching of the tyres over the shells, the far away sea glittering with Peter Pan magic, the dark shadowed palm trees, the sweetly scented night air – all of this, was perfectly exhilarating and I felt very much alive. And in pain…

I awoke the following morning in the same clothes, lying like a star, hypnotized by the fan reminiscent of Apocolypse Now . I blinked, did a mental body check, wriggled my toes, my fingers, moved my legs and yes, yes! Everything miraculously still worked. My brain rattled a little when I moved my head but nothing a 400mg Ibruprofen washed down with half a liter of water couldn’t fix. I ate two bananas, packed my basket and rode straight back up the beach to return my bicycle, this time with the sun in my face and the wind at my back. I felt like a champion. The fact that two days later I suffered from heroic whip lash and felt 68, my face not too different from that of a puffer fish, would not dissuade me to take on another adventure like this again. Maybe next time I’ll give kite surfing a twirl. And why not, eh?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

one little life...

it’s a thin skin holding these bones,
this heart
together –
veins and blood
cellophaned into some incoherent
yet perfectly planned configuration
called Body.

on still nights
the breath is ragged.
sighs rasp.
bones rattle –
not in cupboards -
but in skin.
the heart.
the heart faithfully blinks
like some distant lighthouse
‘cross darkling plains.

it won’t give up,
like a horse’s heart
after the lethal injection.
it won’t.
as long as feet touch earth,
eyes rise to skies,
fingers clutch rain soaked soil
crushing it in determined fists,
grass and glass,
mixing salt into blood and spit,
it shall beat.

sling shoot me again
and again
up and beyond,
numbly amazed,
where i can float
arms spread like wings
dream flying for real.
below, our planet -
a glass blue marble
of infinitesimal fragility,
stars above and below,
turning in the gyre
of space and time.

Part 2: 

would i long to return
to that small dust town
on some forgotten, ragged border
littered with broken hearts
and plastic?
would i?
where the children sleep
lost in dreams?

i see her –
that child angel –
her hair like soft dawn
around her quiet moon cheeks,
half opened rose-bud lips
breathing small clouds
over imaginary lands.

i see him –
my man child sprawled –
like the sun he is,
limbs too long for his bed
and some small trouble
imperceptibly scattered across his brow.

i hover above,
some crazed guardian angel
with beauty on her lips
and wild gardens in her heart,
blowing down
paper thin curled prayers.

in soft, soothing sun-dappled shadows,
laughing children run triumphant,
it seems.
and a plane flies overhead.
here we are
in the world,
which the wind freely shapes
from age to age,
our feet firmly on gravel.

take me.
use me.
love me.
shape me
until the dark quiet hour
of no longer slips through the window.
until it hurts no more.
until the wind has covered
any fragile imprint
of this one interminable life that was,
blown out this one brief breath,
this one little life.
this one little life.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

snippets from a zanizibar journal...

Words buzz furiously in my head – like bees swarming….I do other things to distract myself, until they quieten down. I colour in. I read childrens’ story books, lying in the sun in front of the house. When the tide comes in, full and inky and gentle, usually in the early morning, I swim. I swim as far as I can go, until things feel better and the salt is from the sea and not tears.

It’s December. Everything has changed since last year. A house holds memories and the beach is savage. When we arrived, the kusi kusi (the cool south wind) still prevailed. The sea was crystal calm, like glass marble. Sometime last week, things changed, as they are wont to do. The kazi kazi blew in, the great north wind, hot, furious, urgent, pulling deserts behind it, stirring up the sea to hot broiling tea, snapping masts, twisting sea weed around your ankles and knotting stinging blue bottles around your wrists, tangled in bangles. Small jagged waves, full of impertinence, slap your face. The blasting heat drives us into the sea, regardless. We swim out to the last boat. The sea is so ragged, that sometimes you disappear completely. I have strong strokes, pulling myself further and further away from shore, closer to the moored dhow, bobbing crazily about like a cork. We hold onto it, hair slicked back, adorned with sea weed, victorious.

“It feels like the boat is pulling us out,” I yell above the wind and waves, sun in our eyes, hanging from the side like a survivor.

“This sea is warm as wee,” you shout, “I’m swimming back.”

I follow, sometimes on my back. It reminds me of sleeping on deck on that yacht off Pemba, when the boys were little and couldn’t swim yet. At night I’d lie on deck, the stars sliding silently above me. It felt like I was sailing through the stars, air born. Stars everywhere, above and below in the sea, the gentle rocking of the boat, the creak of the ropes, distant drums in a dark forest on the island, beating out demons, sailing into my dreams, Peter Pan style, stars tattooed into my sleeping lids and wakeful mind.

The little deaf boy, Mustafa, comes every day to the house. I give him coloured pencils and paper. He draws strange mermaid pictures of me. 

He is deaf but, I think, brilliant. I think he sees more than someone with all their senses. Perhaps the round thing in my tummy is my womb. Who is the little creature inside me?  He draws strange wings flaming from my head. I like to think he sees auras. He looks at me and draws and cannot tell me. Are those hands or wings? Are those feet or fins? I wish he could tell me.

 Twilight falls and he draws and draws, until his older brother comes to call him, reprimanding him for being late. Mustafa cannot hear the mosque call. He smiles, shakes my hand and scampers off up the beach, until tomorrow.

One afternoon, we stroll down the beach to watch a village boat race. 

The sailors are dancers, elegant, masters of the wind. Great ivory sails billow and twist. I can’t imagine how they shall be controlled…but they are, masterfully. 

The boats shoot out towards the reef, a sight not to be forgotten, like white butterflies skimming across the moon. 

At night, the wind batters the towers. I wake thinking the sea is in the house, the waves tearing at the sea wall, gnawing and thundering, roaring. But morning arrives, gently, sun sliced through the shutters, like lemon. Sipping coffee, the light so gentle, I know, that in the end, perhaps not everything will be ok, but some things will and there is a new day awaiting.

 toodely toot y'all. we're nearly all caught up. it'll be back to kitchen boards and stories from the lush green hill of the ngorobobs. bisous X.X.X. zanzibari ones on yer nose. x j

Sunday, March 23, 2014

'lengijabe' of winds.

there’s this place, on the outskirts of town, perched on the edge of the world as i know it, where the wind and its mother live.  down below, the plains stretch away, crinkling themselves up into volcanoes and soft dust laden hills….after the rain, which swoops down in great rolling clouds below you, it’s as though god has thrown a great green velvet carpet over the world. gazing down on this dreamscape, you imagine you could fly. 

on gentler days, silence has its own music. goat bells tinkle like chimes from far away and the wind whispers songs through the acacia. birds of prey hang still. the light is crystal and time slows down.  I day dream about riding down and away, past the volcano, past the horizon and settin up a gypsy camp on some forgotten sand river. sometimes we’d walk along the ridge, and admire all of northern maasailand from one spot, like a giant pop up map: monduli, ngorongoro, galai, ol donyo lengai, kitumbeni, longido, meru…names like poetry, mountains like infallible gods, carelessly powerful.

on a bad day, the wind screams and races down from the mountains, howling, slamming doors, shaping  giant whirling dust devils into the sky, scrambling dreams and waking ghosts.

for some reason, i feel closer to the stars here, turning and humming on ancient axis, closer to the things that aren’t.  sometimes, on those sweet quiet nights, i'd lie in bed, my window ajar, gazing at the stars crowding the glass and breathing fresh jasmine and dust as they curl, with the ghosts, into my dreams… some nights, mountain winds wrap pashmina mists around the house, closing you off from the world. on blanket silent nights like these,  the old house speaks; the ghosts walk the wooden floors and the attic and knock on the window. they won’t be ignored…the man in the kitchen standing by the stove, the child with the dark eyes in the old bedroom, the askari in the attic… footsteps and  flying candles.

at night there isn’t a light to be seen as far as you can see. it’s like staring into a dark, silent ocean.

we’d go there wide eyed, expecting magic…the children would delve into the old dressing up boxes, faded veils twinkling with sequins, gloves, sailor coats, dark blue silk dresses…appearing at the window as fairies, queens, princes, bearded ladies and kangaroos. 

we’d sit late into the night in the kitchen, drinking whisky, listening to old songs and talking of old times and absent friends. flying ants whirr drunken circles around the lamp, silver.  we weren’t afraid of the Things That Aren’t but i didn’t like walking down the passage on my own…there was always someone behind me… and those great silent planes below…

those great silent plains…

we don’t go there anymore. perhaps we’ll take a picnic  one day and visit babu and morani. there is always a time and a place for most things.

 i like to think that in chaos lies a secret, unfathomable order. so be it.

toodely toot y'all and bisous. X.X.X. windblown ones x j

Sunday, March 16, 2014

...from outta space....

oh beautiful besties! (if anyone's still around....?)  here i am. back...making a tentative re entry into the blogosphere. the thing is, actually, i HAVE been here...reading all your wonderful words, loving your lives, your images...and i've said to myself, "must try harder. must blog." i almost deleted the entire story. i almost started another one. the format of this might change, so be patient. or leave. i'll totally understand. believe me.

thank christ last year is over. 2013 wasn't one of the best. in fact, it could almost equate to the year my mother died but not quite. no one died. and anyway, it has a '13' in it. the hippies were right when they said there was transition at the end of 2012. holy cow, were they right or what?  on the edge is a pretty cool place to be, apparently. keeps one tight and watchful and at one's best, no?

but, happily - the worm is turning, i think, for the best - and things are far brighter and i have learned and loved, oh besties, more than you could imagine. i wouldn't say i am any the wiser for it, probably a little smaller, in fact. a little more frail perhaps, which isn't always a bad thing. i feel mostly alive and wide-eyed aware of the great and small blessings around me. and deeply grateful. 

the horse remains legendary.  just sayin'...


what i plan to do, until we're all caught up on this life from the little pink house on the hill , since 25th November last year, is extract some little notes from my journal on what's been happening. and see if that find the fluency again. or not.

3rd December 2013 

on the 3rd of december it is evident i am clearly failing at most things - apart from eating and planting baby cactii, which is my new passion, by the way. (planting things, not eating. although if you actually saw me, you would definitely question this). more on this later...

there. sigh. it's quite nice to have landed back here from outta space...i'll be taking small steps here. one letter at a time. 

i'll be seein' ya. i'm back. until then, bisous x.x.x. those old chestnut ones x j

Monday, November 25, 2013


the flamboyant flaming red, leaned up against the old red tin roof at school.
day in.
day out.
'heavy clouds but no rain'.
no electricity either.
that old chestnut, i swear.
day after blazing day.

we lit sparklers.
to cheer ourselves up.
lightening flickers somewhere far in the east.
somewhere over the tanzanite mines near the airport, perhaps.
but there is not the faintest smell of rain.
the lightening must be very far away.

my son says i am ruining his social life.

but the summer twilight is smug. we lounge on the veranda and cicadas screech in the mountain olives.
we light the sparklers in the courtyard - a giant gold one which daniel held, a red one, a blue one, a green one, a silver one. we twirled them under the quiet stars. rubin tells me that the sparks can't hurt you.
daniel spells his name.
"look ma!" as if he was still 5, my tall gangly golden 17 year old boy.
it was splendid.
we tried to light a rocket too. but the wind was too strong and the wick rubbish - that's what you said - and that it could blow your face off.
we looked at Venus, low and fat in the west and the small late moon rise over kilimanjaro, all set about with lacy clouds. theatrical.

we were there, all of us, present, bound by love, hand in hand.
and i thought "This matters."