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."

Saturday, August 24, 2013

you are special

if anyone read the last post in its entirety (and be honest here, people. i'm watching you.) y'all deserve a Noddy Badge or two.

copy, paste, print, cut and then stick onto lapel.

bisous X.X.X. impressive ones. x j

..of stars and polaroids...

we take the back roads to town and back now because of the road works. it seems the ‘flaggers’ have no control. they blissfully wave the red and the green flags, as dexterously as fire dancers, almost flagrantly, it seems, sending buses, fuel tankers and dala dalas careering towards each other on one lane diversions for a happy head on collision. nobody seems afraid of dying here. one little twist of the steering wheel and its over….it's not that we're afraid of dying, i assure you, it's just that, frankly, not right now.thanks. too much to look forward to, ya know?  so, instead, we take the back roads, through the dry, golden maize fields, down bumpy dirt roads and passed little dukkas with sad billiard tables outside. at night it’s best. those roads you thought you knew like the back of your hand morph into roads that seem strangely familiar but cast a sense of unknown. we always hope to spy an aardvark or an owl. or a porcupine. perhaps a duiker or a dik dik or score high with a striped hyaena. mostly, they're seen dead on the tar.

last night the stars were too distracting for night spotting. our eyes were outward and upward, not delving into the dry scrub lining the track. the evening star was as big as an orange, low in the west, guiding us back to our hill. you could tell stellar dimensions…which ones were close and which ones were far, as though each one was dangling on its own invisible fish line. star gazing and driving IS possible, especially on the back roads at night. you might hit a bump too hard, or whack a maize stalk over. 'as all. the wild wind pushes the old Toyota along, dust engulfing the car as you slow down for a karonga,  road ribs or a zig zaggin' hare in the headlights. we don’t care about the dust anymore. it’s pointless. you simply give in to keep the windows down, the wind in and let the dust shape your hair and line your skin. it makes your bogies black. just sayin'. "Louisiana" plays on the cassette, stretched from overplay and we can't even remember what rain feels like.

TANESCO staggers on…and mostly off, as always. it’s spooky getting home to a dark house. moonlight shadows, a crunched footstep in the dark and the ever present menace, a silent, dark house. the dogs dancing around your legs banish the demons.  i was loathe to start the generator but teenagers need light and power it seems. i’d have been happy enough with the old oil lamp and the constellations. 

somehow, after everything,  the stars are still fatter and spikier and the winds stranger here, binding me with invisible ribbons to this dusty, wind blown little round hill. i need to get on the horse and ride out, make a gypsy camp out on the plains, hang little flags from tree to tree and sing next to a fire, listening to wind songs and the sigh of the appaloosa, spy the shy Pleiades and wake early enough to see the morning star and the softest of all horizons before the sun flattens it all into a harsh reality and i’m back at school…which starts on monday. mondays have never seemed so terrible.

i had the best holiday ever. we drove for miles and miles along roads i have never been, around corners where the world fell away into breath taking crinkled mountains, passed farms which sparkled with frost in the early morning, speeding through mists of other countries’ blue twinkling winters.

i saw the morning star above the Indian ocean where the whales will soon start to migrate. i walked under sun warmed lemons and through beatrix potter landscapes, with a pale winter sun glinting through avenues of old oaks. orchards of peach blossoms buzzed with bees – the flowers blooming like idjits who thought summer had arrived and winter was a forgotten thing of the past… stepping out into a cold Nairobi morning, i saw what had happened to winter…it had traffic jammed in east Africa, grey, dirty and solidly unromantic. 

arriving home, ghosts whispered in the corners where the pictures are stacked. i hung the new wind chime which sings different, prettier wind songs, drawing me away from the ones i know so well, the ones which have lost notes because of the wasp nests inside the pipes. i threw the plastic flowers away, the red ones, which have graced the lounge for the last 8 years and replaced them with a live curly wurly fern. long may she live.(remember? i kill plants just by looking at them…except for cactii and jasmine.) the jasmine grows wild and true and prolific outside. it scents the house, riding the little winds which curl through the open windows. it makes me smile. i put some in my little office next to my Buddah and another spray on the fireplace which burns brightly with coffee wood and keeps me warm in these cold, quiet times. 

in the dark fire lit hours, i plan zanzibar safaris and brighter, warmer times. i listen intently to the mountain wind rattling the old tin roof, the moon bright and full through the loft window and sleep, lost in dreams i vaguely remember in the morning. i used to be so good at remembering.

sometimes it’s better to understand the world through music and images. they encapsulate moments, like a floating string of polaroids, blinking in the dark space of the mind, like the very pretty stars in the night sky.
music, poetry, old letters and  photographs are such a consolation.
and stars, oh bloggin' babies, stars.

so i leave y'all with a most beautiful version of Dylan's Buckets Of Rain' by Beth Orton.

toodely toot, y'all and bisous X.X.X.sweet jasmine ones, on yer dust laden lips. x j

Saturday, June 29, 2013

bee karma

 i found myself heading out for an actual walk last wednesday afternoon, deciding to take warmth and solace from the last of the syrup golden sun and extract my mind from silly, temporary sadnesses.  look.
 i took a photograph of some boda boda riders heading home down the hill.

how sweetly the acacia stretch, almost making an arch over the dusty tracks which smell of smoke and winter.

i stopped in to say hi to c, d’s mother, who hales from kenya. she is an absolute tonic and inspiration and has lead a life more colourful than most. she raised all her children in zanzibar, living through the revolution of the early '60's. she sheltered 6 other children (of Indian and arab extraction) as the revolution swept the island, slaying arabs and indians.  the revolutionaries came to the house, banging and shouting at the door. she opened it,  so petite and elegant, very calm, very beautiful, still is. the young, fiery armed revolutionaries looked inside and counted 9 children, all of vaguely similar age and height, but clearly of different families, race and cultures. they barked at C, “are these ALL your children?” “Yes they are. All of them,” staring cool as a cat calmly and elegantly back at them. “ALL of these?” they disbelievingly insisted. “Yes. Every. Single. One of them. They’re all mine,” she unblinkingly replied, standing her ground.   they left, obviously convinced. i definitely wouldn't have bought it.

this, oh besties, in my book, is heroic stuff.

 she learned to ride on giant English race horses as a child and, consequently, has never climbed back on one since. not even a shetland. she is the only person i know who has drunken liquidized quat, a somalian speed weed which all the truckers CHEW to keep them awake and driving all night. (or google for a better descripton) in fact, i don’t think anyone else in the world has ever thought of making a juice out of it before. the thing is, you’re supposed to chew quat. C wanted the full monty, I guess. she said it made her feel quite ill for a couple of days and has never tried it again, like horses.

we sat drinking some berry juice. she said I could smoke inside because she’s terrifically cool. i adore making her laugh, and I can, about the most serious of matters. she throws her head back and howls with laughter at what should be, at best, tragic stories of broken hearts, espionage, broken up families, allusions to intellectual midgets until we both quickly remind ourselves of our inherently Buddhist natures and say nice things about everyone and the world and feel terribly good inside.


so there i was, jabbering incessantly, trying my best to make her laugh, and succeeding, when I felt insecty tickles on my neck. i unthinkingly, midsentence,  put my hand up and WACK, was karmically stung by a bloody bee. on my thumb. “Oh, it’s just a bee,” i hear you say. as i say to my children…”At least it wasn’t a scorpion. Or a wasp. Or CHILDBIRTH. Now that’s sore. So come on. Chin chin.  It’s nothing. It’s just a bee sting. Pah. Etc etc” but FMS, it was sore. my hand is still swollen two days later. the children think it’s vile and disgusting and won’t touch it or let me touch them. if i hold it under first born’s nose, he shudders.  my friend and colleague at school, Charles Charlie Charles (the art teacher) said “Oh pole sana! But it just looks like you have a fat baby’s hand.”  charming. today it’s so itchy I could chain saw it to pieces because no one will tickle the itchies to death. and to think of how many  bees i’ve saved from swimming pools….hive loads, i tell ya.

at least it didn’t sting me on my neck. i might be looking like ET today. or a giant baby. (Confession: i’ve always thought ET was disgusting. i thought it was a horror film when i watched it. that child needed guidance. couldn’t they have made ET a little more attractive? or at least furry - ish? he was like a giant frog, for kerrist’s sake….ew)

and another thing…(oh. don’t go away….!) … for the record, i just can’t get into boy bands….i really would like to love Rose (as in Rohzeh the wine. i don’t know how to do French accents on the keyboard) by The Feelings, a beautifully filmed music vid in Abbey Road for Burberry (a string of super nostalgic, classy associations right there, I think)….annoyingly, i  couldn’t get over the Rose wine metaphor….i couldn’t take it seriously. (going to have another listen and peek before I press ‘publish’ on this…) ok. done.  they will never ever be The Beatles, no matter how  hard they try, how many videos they make at abbey road, or of being mini people in acquariums, with oversized lizards, snakes (and lapels) and, god forbid, FROGS lurking horribly close to the mini people and stuff (look here. just do it.). oh but the strings and transitions in ‘Rose’ are quite beautiful… have a look  (that IS a link so click away, babies) and let me know if I am missing something and if, in fact, they are what one would call a Boy Band? or (be kind now) am i just getting old?

the singer just seems, well,  a little too earnest in his love and, frankly, damn those lyrics.  and the Rose with an accent. give me a Jamesons, and say, jake bugg or the the tallest man on earth (they ARE modern),  any day. (loving the linking, by the way. so you'd better watch or i'll hunt you down. i will, you know. )

chin chin y’all and bisous.X.X.X. honeyed ones on yer bee stung lips. X j