Friday, December 31, 2010

resolutions plesolooshuns from the hill

happy new year y'all. i'm glad i made it. just. you? i've been thinking about the year ahead and i definitely want to dance more. i also want to sing more...and remember the words. which will mean i will never have to wear specs at a gig. they say (you know those expert Thems) that if you learn a poem a day, as in ALL the words, this will keep your brain fit...i used to know ALL the words of ALL the songs on carly simon's LP No Secrets.
"we had no secrets / we tell each other everything / about the lovers in our past / and why they didn't last / we share a cast of characters from A-Z / we know - um - a, um - a - dammit/" you see? gone. i THINK i can still do You're So Vain. but not here. it took me months to learn Blake's Tyger! Tyger! yes. so. learn words and sing. must find this LP again. it is intrinsically part of who i am. it brings back childhood memories. good ones. 1970's lilac suede tassels and singing to the blue distant hills in the lounge in lusaka to carly simon. and nancy sinatra...a very handsome italian tennis player gave my mother the carly simon LP outside OK Bazaars on Cairo Road. i sat in the car waiting for her. all she said to me when she got into the car was, " Don't tell Dad who gave me this record, ok?" i don't think i ever did...and i LOVED the LP. i still do. i kept the secret and the faith.
i intend to spend a lot more time in zanzibar...hangin' outside old doors, taking pictures of scabby old cats in stone town and eating at the market in the evenings on the sea front.

because zanzibar obviously means beach, i intend to look like this (starting from today):

oh. and i shall try and be more patient this year. i am the world's most impatient person...with everything...from queuing to love....i am too immediate sometimes for the world...which, i don't think is a bad thing but i mustn't expect everyone else to be as immediate as me...

and i shall continue to believe in majik, no matter how mad people think i might be...i shall make some wickedly good spells and visit a gypsy lady from time to time...i shall have no shame and believe in my convictions, which admittedly waver a million times a day...and change...well. nothin's permanent is it?

i shall try my hardest to accept myself for who i am...this is a difficult one because half the time (or maybe more than half the time) i don't know who i am. i change with wind and the angle of the light... i shall continue to love people deeply (and sometimes inappropriately) for just who they are...
(above pic by sam walker. it's delightful)

wishing y'all a stupendously wonderful 2011...may it be the best one yet. live it.
bisous X.X.X. deeply inappropriate red plum ones. x j

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

gorillas in the christmas tree.

the tree is finally up and sparkling, all thanks to my ever watchful god.

it's enormous. a refreshing change from the usual stark sisal branch nicked from someone's boundary fence. safari c drove for miles, unwittingly it must be said, up the slopes of mt meru to buy one from the forestry department. he said it looked tiny there. it takes up most of the lounge and almost reaches the roof. in fact, it needs an entire shopping mall of decorations and a work force of about 50 men to fill it. it would be completely suitable for Times Square, i reckon. this dubious, yet joyous task, is taken more seriously by last born, alias clingy beetle who also happens to be my god. ya know, as in, whatareyouwearing?whatdidyousay?don'tsaythat!saythis.whyareyousmiling?stopit. doesthislooknice? iamwatchingyoueveninyoursleep. I WANT THE CHRISTMAS FAIRY AT THE TOP OF THE TREE. NOW! I'LL NOT SETTLE FOR ANYTHING ELSE. safari c swiftly followed orders and found the tall ladder and perched her high in the sky. god was happy with what she saw.

first born decided to take god on with a 3cm high plastic gorilla. as she sat staring up at her twinkling creation ( most of which was taking place in the lower third of the tree), first born slyly added his gorilla to the ensemble. he clung precariously to an old maasai beaded ball.

god was none too pleased with this and showed it by a stream of high pitched yelling, going very red in the face retorting that gorillas had absolutely nothing to do with christmas but the pink beaded pig actually did. it was removed and when god wasn't looking, too busy making light, the little gorilla was once more replaced but this time clinging furiously, god forbid, onto one of her little christmas angels, trying with all his little might to steal her trumpet or whatever. not funny. no not funny At All.
things were not made any better by god's mother rather enjoying the game of Where's Wally or rather Where's Gorilla In The Christmas Tree. and the fact that god was so livid because of a little innocuous quite sweet plastic gorilla. god growled and threatened all manner of wrath upon her older brother, who was now skulking irritatingly around our Times Square tree. it was removed only to reappear two hours later peeking cheekily through an attractive yet cheap turkish styled christmas bally. this time first born and i ended up in a fearsome argument over who was going to take the picture. i think he won. whilst god cried furious tears on the couch.

first born delights in the fact that god is very short, at least much shorter than him, which he pointed out. not funny. no. not funny at all. the little gorilla was whisked away and appeared thirty minutes later hanging happily in a soda green tinsel nest high up in his 'forest', with first born taking pictures of him and god lying prostrate with anger beneath him.

the day has ended up rather badly with second born getting involved. a huge row ensued between first and second born, with first born deciding to leave home, only after wounding his brother by calling him names: faggotgayyoucan'tevenreadi'mleavingbecauseofyou. this of course reduced second born to a heart broken vomiting spurt. (burger lunch on lawn). lovely. i am not sure where the little gorilla is now. i am waiting with baited breath. i sit on the couch and search for him amongst the greenery, drinking my tea, thinking that none of this was really in the spirit of christmas. and i have quietly filled the higher two thirds of the tree with the kind help of my now contented little god..... don'thangittherehangitherewhydidyouputitthere? i made the light you know?

indeed you did. indeed you did.

pfff. . .

Kitchen Board: Ngorobob: 22 December 2010.

god (definitely in control of light switch and who clearly can't spell christmas) contented, almost smug, now that the little gorilla is in his very own miniture, leafless string tree, all by himself (see him at the top?)....i dare say he will find his way back into the big tree.....

merry christmas y'all wherever you are. bisous X.X.X. under the soda green mistletoe ones x j

Sunday, December 19, 2010


the very still early hours of the morning woke me up. they did. too still. too muggy. and the single bark of the old dog in the inky darkness. or perhaps it was the whining drone of the mosquito tangled up with the dreaming - someone, something always just beyond my grasp. flights in twilight and passing just beyond reach. whatever. i woke up and couldn't sleep any longer. no matter how hard i tried.

i lie half in half out of the twisted sheet. my inner mind list starts rolling relentlessly stealing my sleep: christmas bonuses for staff, bank accounts, christmas and who's going to cook the ham? in fact, HOW do you cook ham? anxiety about the horses's eye which was swollen like a balloon yesterday. manyara bush? cobra spit? i need sawdust. what happened to the money i left last week to buy the sawdust? gosh. bank today. queues. flip and a christmas tree! i forgot to buy crackers in nairobi. the horses distracted me. washing dishes on christmas day. i don't want to do that. i don't want a mess. the year ahead slides in front of me. already holiday times are being filled without my wanting them. people coming at easter. my father's 80th in july. august is free. yes august is my slot. august is it. august dreams. i close my eyes tightly trying to dream how august will be. sometimes it scares me. school starts in two weeks. must read hamlet. first born has his checkpoint mock exams as soon as school opens. he's rubbish in maths. i must help him. must get old papers. i don't want to go to town and do the shopping. i want to ride. but someone's got to do the shopping. buy the crackers.

i squeeze my eyes shut. i want to squeeze my mind shut. i want to dream the pictures of my august heart. a mosquito whines silver lines around it and my eyes snap open. my feet are sticky. it's too hot to sleep. it's hopeless. so, oh bestests, here i am.

the cat sits quietly at the window, as still as stone, staring into the inky darkness which is imperceptibly changing into dawn. or is it? i cannot see the outline of the hill yet, or the spiky whistling thorns. not yet. not yet.

A black eyed dog he called at my door
The black eyed dog he called for more
A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog
A black eyed dog.

I'm growing old and I wanna go home
I'm growiing old and I don't wanna know
I'm growing old and I wanna go home.

A black eyed dog he called at my door
A black eyed dog he called for more. - nick drake

kitchen board: sometime in december: ngorobob hill:

this board is rubbish. i shall immediately add:
1 truckload of sawdust.
2 tubes of terramycin.
fix cushions (this is still on list from last year if you recall)
2 boxes of crackers.
1 pocket baby potatoes
a large bunch of mint.
1 jar cranberry sauce
countless christmas pies.
1 quiet mind.
oh god.

toodely y'all. bisous X.X.X. crumpled sleepy ones. x j

Friday, December 10, 2010

as i was sayin'...

i used to be here a lot a long long time ago.
i really won't be cross if everyone's gone away, having given up on the old woman who lives in a little weather beaten pink house on the top of a tanzanian hill called ngorobob.
she made the mistake of becoming an English teacher. this has sapped away all her time and energy but she is now on holiday and has returned, gingerly it must be said, to blog land.
so. lots to catch up on, eh, oh bestest blogging beloveds.

the goat, called albino (remember the one a chief from lake natron bestowed upon safari craig many moons ago? who was destined for the pot?) is still alive. he managed to make best friends with everyone in one day so no one can ever eat him, no matter how annoying he has become. he has discovered his reflection in the mirror and has been found ON the dining table, daintily tip toeing amongst the glasses, to collect his friend from the mirror. he has shown an unswerving determination to enter the house at any given chance. one is reduced to sprinting, as fast as hussein bolt i imagine, to beat him to the front door and close him out. but no, we can't kill him.

instead, i managed to kill tigger, our beloved dog who has been with us forever. i ran her over by mistake after which the vet advised it would be kinder to put her down. this of course was devastating and reduced me to a mass of snot and tears and sent me on a downward spiral of depression. i know she was only a dog, but what a hole she has left. she is buried next to toffee the pony and tintin the jack russel at the bottom of the hill.

and of course, school is to blame. it was hideously busy, culminating in a production of Arthur Miller's dire Death Of A Salesman. i sold my soul to the devil and to god (a little competition never did anyone any harm) for a storm on the opening night (we have an open air ampitheater at school) - not just any old storm, i specified, but a definitely time to build an ark type of storm. it didn't work. i even cajoled someones spinster, christian sister to pray for this monumental storm of all storms. it didn't work. needless to say, the students were fantastic and pulled it off with great aplomb, making me quite emotional and teary with admiration and gratitude. the headmistress of course now thinks i'm brilliant which is a bad thing. it only adds pressure to keep up the lie. i am not brilliant. well. i'm not going to actually admit this. who would? but its exhausting maintaining this facade of faultless brilliance so thank baby jesus christ it's holidays!
things were rather tetchy these last two weeks. it shows.
toodely toot, y'all, and bisous X.X.X. deeply blasphemous ones, yeah x j

Monday, November 8, 2010

no rain.

(the bleak road to school)
it's that time of year, oh bestests, when the rain is supposed to arrive and doesn't.
it's baking hot. white relentless heat. the earth is cracked and brown and the grazing is finished. the horses wander far from the little pink house in search of sweeter grasses and return listless and thirsty for water, which we are now trucking in. the tanks are empty like the skies. the nights are laced with an eery chill which is always a latent sign of no rain. i hate it. i am so scared of droughts. they make me think of those zululand days, when my father tried his hand at sugar farming and all my friends thought he was an onion farmer.

our farm was in the rain shadow of the ngoya hills. the storms would come but with no water - only lightening - which would make fires all across the vallies. we would sit on top of the hill and gloomily wait for the fires, my father all edgy with the binoculars and the tractor pulling the water cart at the ready. cane fires are terrifying. i remember after the first year of no rain. i was swimming with my father in the pool - all green and warm from the heat - hiding water scorpions and giant frogs. i made the mistake of pointing at a single giant cumulus cloud in the north and said "look dad! a rain cloud!" only to make him happier. he became quite agitated, nearly angry, retorting, "never never EVER point at the rain. you'll chase it away!" i wilted. we had a seven year drought after that. every time the bank manager popped around we hid the silver tea set and the range rover. i think my dad was trying for another land bank loan. . .

i am trying to ignore the pathetic wispy build ups which spurt weeny sprinklings of snow on top of mt meru and then dissolve into white heat. everyone is unconsciously tense and snappy and the maasai cows are skinny and the goats are sucking stones. there are mutterings that the rain will come after the next full moon, at least that is what our askari nyamuhanga says. he should know. he reads the wind and the skies....hurry up moon will ya?

toodely toot oh bestests. bisous X.X.X. burnt orange ones. x j

Thursday, October 28, 2010


zanzibar has sunk beautifully into my bleached bones.
being at the sea, the zanzibari sea, makes me travel far from myself.
as far as the moon,
which rose every night,
fortunately fat and full;
of histories and futures and majiks.
we were transfixed.
this moon led me to thinking about how people blink in life.
like little lights.
like stars.
sometimes they blink louder
sometimes fainter.
sometimes smudgy.
but blinking.
it led me to thinking, with certainty, about babies being born.
new little blinking lights.
blinking fast like foetal hearts.
it led me to thinking, with dead certainty, about people dying.
little lights going out.
like dead stars.
you see them but they aren't there.
lover's lights being marginally fatter and brighter
-(than everyone else's)-
moving unknowingly,
across great continents of darkness,
this way and that.
souls moving closer to their cluster.
the lights grow brighter
blink faster.
this zanzibar moon confirmed everything.
i have to be there.
toodely toot, y'all. do not adjust your sets. yet. bisous X.X.X. mercurial ones x j

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

zanzibar yearnings..

hurrah hurrah!
i've finished my work
and i'm off to zanzibar!

where i'm going to lie like this.

and watch the children in the blue.

and eat coconuts in a hammock and dream things...
i'll listen to the wind in the palms at night and ghost whisperings. and pretend everything is real.
i'll draw hearts in the white sand.

we'll find treasures on the beach and build fairy castles for the tide to feast on..

and i shall make up tales to scare and "delight" the children again. (and worry the father.)
yes. i shall. when we sit in the zanzibar twilight, facing into a frisky wind smelling of cloves and jasmine, a cheeky little wind which tears at our hair, when we stare silently at an early baleful moon rising over the sea, with apple calm minds, i shall regale them with the tale of the ghost man from paje. who cycles by after midnight. all you see is a pale figure, almost like a host of fireflies, as you hear his bicycle tyres crunch over the shells at low tide. he only rides by when the moon is high, looking for his lost love, calling calling calling, "fatima, fatima, fatima". sometimes, if you listen hard enough, you can hear it above the wind.... and if you're brave enough to peek out onto the pearly white beach, barred with the moon shadows of the coconut palms, you might just spy the glint of his silver bicycle flittering through the shadows....i think i saw him once, last time i was here. i did. i did. i did......well, of course i did, why would i lie? and sometimes, even, he will come knocking on your door...(okokok only if the first part does not have desired effects....)

i shall make time to wander through stone town, stopping in dark dukkas which smell musty and hide treasures from old india; old sabres from oman and giant keys for giant hearts; finding treasures and twinkling twirling skirts and beaded slippers.

and my heart shall feel so full with love, again and again and again. and again.

toodely toot, y'all, i'll be seein' ya. bisous X.X.X. spicy ones from zanzibar x j

Saturday, October 16, 2010

dead lines

(little sukari (3 and a bit years) in school last week)
its a bruised and hot saturday afternoon and i'm listening to a little song called "charmed life" which i love . once more, i have dead lines. i am the only person who hasn't done their homework. it's half term so i am the only kippie working like a mad thing when i could be:
1. sleeping
2. reading
3. riding (which i am still managing to do. nothing can keep me off my hosses, no sirree)
4. getting drunk
5. staring at the sky and thinking nothin' in particular.
6. making music.
7. making all manners of things, come to think of it.
8. um, Blogging....yesssss.
but no, i am effing working (until i decided to have a break and blog) because i have left everything to the frigging last minute.
when will i ever learn? i hate myself for it.
i hate using the blog as a dumping ground. so i won't.
i hate using the blog as a diary too.
but i must use's been a while. again.
so i thought i'd share something i wrote in a dead boring meeting at school yesterday. which culminated in dead lines.
i began an ink marathon.
i wrote what i heard:
" it doesn't make any sense that sentence"
"again. it's a bit of a repeat of that other one."
"it doesn't make any sense"
"children with learning difficulties...?"
"let's just leave it at that, then."
"i just don't know how much they have?"
(why can't anyone say anything? which made me think of a line i love which my students wrote for me once: we might have accents but we speak your language which made me think i'd like to make a poster with this scrawled across it.)
then someone started speaking about The Roses which are now seen in the front office. my ink marathon continued.
she thinks that having bunches of roses in the office is ' professional'.
"it's professional," she said, "it's professional."
i don't think so. i love the scent and how they look so charming in their little cheap plastic bucket vases - so surprisingly charming. and pleasant. but no - not 'professional'. actually.
good morning. we're professional. see. we have bunches of roses in our office, yes. and then we spend bright summer days - which were made for holidays, made for watching emerald sunbirds flitter amongst the lilac flowers and red hot pokers and aloes, made for contemplating worker bees collecting pollen from the big, old tree at the swimming pool - inside stark, dark, stuffy classrooms talking about health policies and protocols and whether 'key words' should be on a lesson plan or not. we're professional. we talk about things that will kill an inherent curiosity about life. things that are duller than last night's dish water with cold old rice and greasy chicken bones floating around in it. we're going to bend and change everything that's african, original and fresh and MAKE RULES and FILES so we can fit into some foreign ideal of what an acceptable CIS school is.
what does it matter?
i hate it.
so that's why all i can do is sit and write things in splodgy blue ink and sketch stars and flowers and planets.
it looks like i will be reading jane austen's Mansfield Park on the zanzibar beach, when i finally make it out of here. ordinarily, i would've sighed but now i admire her language. it's beautifully constructed, perfectly punctuated and strangely delicate. although fanny's passivity is already annoying me. odd that i write about jane austen when before i could only write about hibiscuses in the rain, fish markets in mozambique, gypsy camps and the fact that he has birds in his eyes. . .
cathie interrupts my dreamy thoughts in this dead dull meeting. every time she says "don't you agree janelle?" i nod prettily and cleverly and say, "why, yes yes yes!" convincingly to what i don't know but it must be good because she is. and then i return to my ink marathon.
i am full of vegetable samoosa - i ate them from sheer boredom - pasty, tasteless - like chewing cardboard.
i remember telling you i ate to stop sadness and you felt sorry for me. i felt embarrassed.

back to work, oh best beloveds. if i don't finish this i won't be able to go to zanzibar and i ain't missin' that for nothin' - dead lines schmead lines.


toodely old toot, y'all and bisous X.X.X. hot storm scented ones x j

Monday, September 27, 2010

another roadside attraction...

(pic taken at lively lady liza's violin, my guitar and bag che bag from zanzibar 0810)

life is speeding ahead....i don't think i have quite caught up with my body. i have this sort of astonished look on my face most of the time. well. an expression ranging from astonishment to a brazened stunned to misdirected mental grinning to point blank. my mind is presently preoccupied with growing a tangled jungle of twisting vines, pushing their way to the sun dappled above in the canopy. roots slowly but purposefully delving their way through my throat towards my heart. ja nee, things are not plain sailing but marvelously hectic and extraordinary. yes. i am definitely on the edge. but isn't that where we're meant to be? isn't that when you feel most alive because you feel close to dying? in the best possible way, naturally?


i feel just fine though. so i mean it when people say (and i close my eyes in my mind because i know what's coming) "so. how ARE you? the kids?" and with great courage i say "oh i'm fiiiiiiiine, yes, we're all fiiiiiiiiiiiiine. you?" it's exhausting because they don't know that fine means jungle vines growing out of my ears. vines intermittently bursting with great waxy deep purple sweet scented flowers.

i have been playing music again. like, you know, real gigs. like in The World. like at Lively Lady, like at the Hotel, like at the petrol station. like at the airport at sunset on friday. and i can still manage to read my words sans lunettes, thank god. that just wouldn't be ok, ya know? singing with my specs on? through sheer and extreme luck, i am managing to squeeze the music in between 3 kids, 6 horses, 3 dogs, 1 cat, 1 goat and a full time teaching post. something's got to give, i tell ya....and sadly it's been the old blog and my back car window.

i was bumping up the ngorobob hill, which is notorious for damian's sleeping policemen bumps. they're essential to save the track in the rains. but they are, well, bone breakingly annoying, if you're not resigned to them. they work a treat in all ways. they make you slow down. they make you think when you're late because you have to turn around at the bottom and go all the way to the top again because someone left their PE kit. they make you think, "oh well. what is time to a pig?" you see spiderwebs and the tiniest white flowers growing on the bank next to the road. you see the horses far away on the other hill. you see the buzzards hanging motionless in the wind above the house. and slyly notice the clouds changing shape over the mountain, in the north toward kenya which you pretend not to. you certainly don't say anything to anyone. so you don't chase the rain away.

and before you know it, you're at the top. so there i was, doing exactly that, bumping home from one of the aforementioned gigs. all the bastard heavy kit was bouncing noisily around in the back, particularly the speakers, jostling around with the spare wheel over Damian's Bumps. i was looking at the dreamy moon and stars, lost with music in my ears and vines in my mind when SMASH! the speaker broke through the back window. i really was going slowly.

my favourite place to play is at mohammed's petrol station, fondly known as Space Oil. it's just around the corner. my dear friend k has opened a funky little arty etsy shop (aptly named Exhibit) next to the store and petrol station. it has little pink lanterns hanging outside a wall painted with giant bright red hibiscus looking flowers, with shiny little jewels stuck on them to make them twinkly in the twilight. inside is a treasure trove of paintings, vintage clothes, jewels, one hell's angels jacket from chicago, teas, wild honey and chandeliers made out of recycled plastic and and and and...everything magical is in there. all of this is very close to the local mosque, which is jade green and shaded by gnarly old fig trees. space oil is slap bang on the main road, just outside of arusha, amongst the laki laki coffee plantation en route to the serengeti and ngorongoro. read busy road. buses, daladalas and an endless stream of safari vehicles. it's a teeny weeny little venue. when the muezzin starts calling i give it a break but am now musing on a tinkly little tune to accompany the call to prayer. the maasai askaris dance slow motion around the petrol pumps. mama mohammed pulls up a plastic chair outside her shop and sits heavily and silent in the dark. but i know she's enjoying everything. i know everyone in the little crowd. a little crowd of magnificent friends. people trip over the music "stand" (an easel) and tom and i tangle ourselves up in the wires. it's so real. and i get paid with a bottle of tequila, which i must sip from a beautiful yellow and red tea cup, because it's near the mosque. (i think?)

so yes, oh bestests, that's where i've bin. i ain't makin' any promises of writin' more regular here but ya never know, ya just never know and ain't that somethin'?

toodle ole toot then y'all, bisous X.X.X. deeply musical ones, with due respect x j

Friday, September 10, 2010


today is a good day. today 14 years ago, first born arrived...after a long and incredibly hard birth ....which i would never write about here....(how do people share their giving birth photographs? eeeeeuw) he was born in a little clinic in marondera in zimbabwe. i remember flying from luangwa valley in a little cessna 206, over mozambique, just me and the pilot and a very very heavy belly. i remember looking down and not seeing any sign of life, just miles and miles of bloody africa and thinking ooooh noooo we don't want to crash here....we didn't.

i spent those last days with micky and myrtle (sister's parents in law) on their farm outside marondera. i spent pastel days picking mulberries, walking the dogs to the dam and reading stories of victorian women explorers late at night in the bath with a candle while i waited and waited for the arrival of baby number 1. in the early hours of the morning, en route for the umpteenth toilet run, i would stop and marvel at the fat zimbabwean stars and listen to the gentle tinkling of the chimes in myrtle's courtyard, head cocked, where the jasmine grew profusely. strangely, i was overwhelmed with something so sad yet universal in those moments. this memory has stayed with me ever since....the smell of the jasmine and the tinkling chimes and the stars and that particular strain of sadness.

micky would weigh me on his maize scales once a week, after bets had been made at the breakfast table. honest. he did. he also made us all take bets on whether it was a boy or a girl. the little chits would be kept in a box in the dining room for future payments. in the evenings i would help myrtle with the dinner trolley, which would be wheeled into the lounge where micky sat in his kikoi, surrounded by farting dogs next to the fire, watching mugabe rant on the telly and bark out suitably abusive expletives at the screen. i would loll quietly in the corner playing an extremely complex game of patience (as in the card game). micky couldn't help but get involved in it, passing witty and humorous remarks, mostly pertaining to my intelligence, or lack thereof. every now and then they would say " dear, don't you want to go and hang out with The Young People?" i did a few times but i much preferred their company. and anyway, at that stage the only things which fitted were a pair of old track suit pants with holes in them and a pair of hideous dungarees. one hardly wants to be seen out, if you know what i mean? it's not that fun being a public spectacle.

i loved hanging out with M&M. tea times were always taken in the courtyard, with micky and i shooting quelea with the pellet gun, taking bets who would get the most, in between sips of tea and nibbling home made biscuits. the jack russels would eat the dead birds, of which, oh bestests, there were never many. if we went out anywhere, myrtle would always drive and micky would tell her how to. he would always blow his top. she was so patient "yes dear i know dear". they dragged me off to the Harare Agricultural Show. i was taken with the Brahman bull with the blue sash and gold ring in his nose. completely. with his dark, wise eyes and wrinkled face and snowy white coat. i watched the clay pigeon shooting. i lunched at ranches, went with myrtle on her egg runs, watched micky dip the cattle. and waited and waited and waited. safari c arrived about a week before first born made his dramatic entry into the world. the day before we went hiking into the hills where i was literally pushed and pulled to the very top of a giant matopo styled rocky koppie.

it was no easy birth and danu pops was almost dead on arrival. it was 17 hours of pain and struggle. eventually at 21:00hrs, on 11 September 1996, he was born. he hung lifeless, like a dead fish, upside down, for a few minutes. i could hear the doctor saying " come on my boy, breathe, come on my boy breathe" and the noise of the oxygen machine. they kept him that night, away from me, in a little glass box. i cried in the dark. quietly. he was so little and impossibly fragile. i was utterly bewildered and clueless. my dad flew up from south africa and visited me with bright yellow daffodils from the hogsback mountains in the eastern cape. yellow has always been daniel's best colour. he was registered as an "alien zimbabwean".

after a week, we put him in a little wicker basket and drove back to lusaka, through the zambezi valley, across the same chirundu bridge, through a baking pre october heat with the mopane trees stark and naked. he slept star spangled and tiny the whole way home. he was the most perfect thing i think i had ever done. my chest could not contain the love which blossomed and bloomed and nearly killed me.

if i think too much about it, i could die from the enormous, insurmountable love for my boy.

happy birthday precious precious daniel. 9/11 has always been a good day for me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

chirundu crossings.

(gabriella and kasha with nkhasis, west kilimanjaro, august 2010)

everyone's back at school. away from the wilds and neatly stacked into a classroom.
everyone's back from holidays.
except me.
i never went anywhere, technically speaking.
okokok. i rode horses in maasailand but that's just up the road.
i never went more than 50kms outside arusha. i am not sure this was an entirely clever thing.
i need to pinch myself.
still. it's fine. my car couldn't have made it all the way to the coast this time.

the winds have started again. from the mountains at night. they are still fairly gentle but i know how menacing they can become. screaming like a boiling kettle through the cracks. the windows are beginning to rattle and it's becoming dry again. very dry.
my horse has become tetchy.

back to school. it takes me back to those bus trips from lusaka to salisbury (harare now) in the 70's. when i was five and a half and still losing my milk teeth. i would press my face against the window and scream my head off. my mother would smile and wave bravely as if i was coming back tomorrow. it would be weeks before i saw her again. sometimes months. we would catch the school bus from entire day and half a night away, across the border which was only open to school buses. the zimbabwean war of liberation was picking up speed and nobody else traveled that road. only the school buses had right of way. and invisible soldiers from both sides.
i remember the zambian bus would reverse up to the rhodesian bus half way across the chirundu bridge which spanned the zambezi river. we would all pile out and leap into the little bit in the middle which was No Man's Land...this made us happy and we all pretended it was ours. we would dance into the middle gleefully shouting "no man's land no man's land!" staring down at the river below through the iron grids of the bridge. until one day the tired war torn stoned soldiers got cross with us and waved their AK 47's and shooed us back. after that we would wait until we were told to cross the little 10m piece of hot tarmac to The Other Side. in single file. quietly. where were the teachers? i can't remember any. there must have been someone.

i remember customs and immigration, the scary bit. and the health desk. they would check our little yellow health books for cholera and yellow fever then pretend they weren't up to date and that we would have to be injected. we would be sick with fear. they even went so far as taking rusty old needles out and cotton wool then laugh rambunctiously at our pale, pinched white faces. i remember the soldiers rifling through our suitcases which were filled with mostly clothes and the odd treasure of flour (for our mothers because you couldn't get it in zambia) or chinese checkers for christmas which would be immediately confiscated.

my mother taught us how to lie. she would give us pocket money to buy fizz pops at karoi, the first stop on the rhodesian is super side (sweets and chocolates were unavailable in zambia at the time). the customs man in zambia would bark, " have you any money to declare?" and we would squeak " yes. two rhodesian dollars," of which he would happily and speedily relieve us whilst mumbling something like "absolutely not allowed. illegal. blah blah." after that my mother sewed our sweet money into the inside pockets of our school blazers and taught us how to lie with poker faces. we became very adept at it.

it would take hours and hours to cross the border. hours and hours after baking hot hours and warm coca colas (on the rhodesian side). we would leave as the sun was edging near the western sky and the bus would wind it's way up the zambezi escarpment. winding along the empty road and through miles and miles of mopane forests dotted with baobab trees. game was plentiful. wild dogs. elephant. herds of buffalo. impala. zebra. giraffe. it was the only sign of life we would see along the way. there were no people to be seen. we would reach the outskirts of salisbury after dark late at night. i could tell we were in the highlands, near to school, because i could smell the "christmas trees", the pine trees. the air was cold and crisp. and the stars stark and bright and i would start to cry in the dark because then i knew i was very very very far from home. the matrons would meet us in the school car park with sandwiches and hot cocoa. they tried to be kind but you still felt little, desolate, scared and far away.

i can't believe our parents trusted the journey. i mean that no one would blow up the bus. it happened one year. not to my bus. but the other one. after that we flew to school. when the war became hot.

here, school is a ten minute trip; down the ngorobob hill, round the corner, past the effing factory and bingo. it's a dead cinch. dead cinch.

toodely toot, y'all. bisous X.X.X. earnest ones tinted with mountain winds x j

Friday, August 27, 2010

the joker.

(maasai boy laughing monduli chini, maasailand. pic by craig doria:

game over, oh bestests. the joker's been slapped onto the green velvet covered bridge table. holidays are officially over and it's back to school for all the naughty wicked people. it's come as rather a rude shock, it must be said. the last two days i have sat staring at paper after paper in a blank way in long school meetings. it felt like staring into an old landrover engine which needs fixing. haven't a clue. can't. not interested. get a mechanic. yawn. which reminds me of the time when i did my safari guide's licence in zambia many moons ago....part of the course was Mechanics. god forbid.

question 1: how does four wheel drive work? (4 marks)
(how easy does this get, she mused, clapping her hands happily in her head)
answer: well. you pull the littlest gear lever back to where it says 4WD and make sure the hubs are locked if you are in a toyota and not a landrover.

question 2: describe the workings of an internal combustion engine. (2 marks)
(wtf? sinking feeling. bewildered and sweating palms followed by resentful anger directed at all males of our species. in her head.)
answer: sdfhwoeihwefzcvw8e3r50237owindefmanvw0ierruw0hjwsoidnvkjhso98eurwer

i surprisingly passed the exam, believe it or not. (do you know what a dendrocygna viduata is, people? i do. it's a white faced whistling duck and dontcha forget it, you hear? it takes you places in life.) i did not pass the walking exam. i didn't even try for it. only the driving one. you need to know how to shoot a .375 for the walking one. and you need to be able to shoot down charging buffalo or elephant in the walking one. i can't shoot a gun which is a super sized confession for the daughter of a professional hunter. (well. i CAN shoot a lever action .22 so there) anyway, i always preferred taking the old ladies out who couldn't walk anymore (why on earth had they booked into a Walking Camp then i hear you say? well quite.) i liked the old people with hip transplants and dicky hearts who had a perverse interest in mopane trees and squirrels. i remember once seeing a herd of kali cow elephants cross the track way ahead. i stopped the landrover and said to the dear little old lady next to me, "we're going to go the other way, ok?" she nodded her head happily, replying " whatever you say dear." you might think i was chicken but i wasn't. i had a keen sense of self preservation. those elephant on the 05 were kali as hell. they took no prisoners. i stayed well clear of those bastards....(i have just asked safari craig if he has any pictures of charging elephant. he sniggered, " i have more pictures of charging elephant than you can poke a stick at." i said: "i want a vicious one." he said: "i can give you vicious. lots of vicious."

(charging elephant, lake natron area, pic by craig doria:

i have poked my head into my classroom once. i have searched long and deep inside of me for that old spark of inspiration and am happy to report that way down in the ashes i see an ember glowing. it just needs a little bit of wind, some twigs and fear to get it firing again. where is that charging elephant when i need him?

toodely toot oh best beloveds, bisous X.X.X. sparky, red hot ones, on yer lips x j

Friday, August 20, 2010

PS: magnificent magdalena in rwanda

this post goes with my post from yesterday. i received this email and these photographs from Dr Mags yesterday:

You are so sweet and it was great working with you, sure it was all joking!! I am attaching few pics of my patients in Rwanda and DRC - also quite cool people they are!
Big hugs,
if anyone is interested for more check out the website:
the work these people do is fascinating. and these creatures are mind blowingly magnificent. just like magdalena.

(all treatment has to be done with a dart gun)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

two brilliant people and why i'm tired

days flip past like cards in a card game.
i'm waiting for the joker. i forgot to remove it from the pack.
the school term is approaching. closer and closer. quite suddenly i think, " i can't do this! i can't i can't...wail wail etc.." let's see. i'm terrified.

in the meantime, back at the ranch....

i have been traipsing after my friend, mags, who is a vet. so DOCTOR magdalena. she's not just any kind of vet but a vet for gorillas and chimpanzees. and horses. and dogs and cats. she lives in rwanda and treks into the forests to check up on mountain gorillas. she's awesome. and full of energy like a whirly gig. it's exhausting sometimes. she never ever stops. oh and did i mention she rode dressage for poland many years ago? she knows stuff. so while she was here, on holiday, training my horses so they are machines, it was decided we would geld my little colt, sukari. (chop his balls off, in other words.) we borrowed The Emasculator. dot dot dot...

quite suddenly the little hill house is empty of all male members. two boys have headed into losamingora mountains on safari (for 7 days bird shooting and doing bally boy things in the mountain forests) the silver back (as in safari c) baulked and disappeared back to maasailand. sadly mwali had to hold the colt whilst this gory operation was happening. he and mommedi were very interested at the beginning....

this is what he looked like as the first ball was coming off....

precisely after this, he dropped the rope and shook his head and said " i can't watch this anymore..." and i suspect went to get sick in the loo. the little horse was tranquilized and doped up with pain killers, people. so he couldn't feel anything. i promise. but OWEEEEE. it was quite challenging to watch, it must be said. i have decided not to post the picture of the actual removal. beppe, our fabulously charming vet, hailing from southern Italy, held the emasculator while mags did the stitching etc....

beppe is another wow person. another vet. he travels to places like somalia, pakistan and afghanistan where not many people like to travel and works with people and goats and sheep and cattle and writes long and interesting reports on projects. he is very funny. in true southern italian style, he cracked jokes about eating horse balls. which made my toes curl. he was charmed by the beautiful magdalena. they swopped notes, as vets do. it was decided that the following day the goat would be de-balled too. so mags could see. she has never de balled a goat before. (is this how vets flirt, i wondered?)

i was duly convinced, by my doctor friends, that indeed it was time for Beano (the little white goat which a chief in natron gave to safari craig because he's so nice) to be de balled. " he will start to get very cheeky if you don't," they told me. and regaled me with a tale of someone being knocked out by a goat head butt. ok. convinced. when Beano arrived, i was definitely going to eat him. but literally in two days he became a fast and firm friend. goats are clever like this. so the following morning, beano lost his balls too...well actually, they're still there but apparently will fall off. a little elastic is neatly and very tightly tied around them. he seems fine, actually. . . .

and as if this wasn't enough, the next thing on the agenda was Teeth Filing...for horses....and we all know, oh best beloveds, what i feel about dentists and teeth....oh my. positively foetal at the best of times.

all the older horses with long teeth were led out and one by one had their teeth ground by an electric drill type file thingy. it was nerve shattering to say the least. but essential. i asked if i could also have some horse tranquillizer but my doctor friends just laughed at me. i was being quite serious.

mommedi is looking the other way because of all the tooth enamel flying everywhere. after the teeth, we had to lance a horse hoof to drain an abscess.

magdalena was magnificent obviously. we all thought so. and so was beppe. she has left for rwanda and gorillas and left me to do all the after care....which i am taking very seriously. here they are after everything... guilio is another trainee vet on the LHS. beppe is in the middle and Magnificent Magdalena is on the RHS.

here is an email i received this morning:

Dear Janel,

Nice to read you and get news.

I never had a so relaxing working time in my life. Could you please ask Magdalena to come back for me to go fishing to Lake Turkana?

Nice to know Sukari is better. Please tell Craig that I took the emasculator with me but I left the elastrator.

Best regards to all of you from Giulio and me (Lieve is in Dar).

Dear Magdalena,

I am really disappointed with you. The only work (?) I did was the X-rays say that only one was less than acceptable, you disgraced me. Nobody will ask anymore for my services.

Thanks for the excellent description of the lesion and way forward. I am available to trim the hoof and help to make the bar-hoof up (I need the shoe first). X-rays, it is not a problem, however VJ should come next week and if Janice wants, we could try to organize a visit and make “good x-rays”. Otherwise you have to keep-up with mine.

We will send you the feed-back and photos of an excellent ray.

All the Arusha animals are missing you, please come back soon.

Keep well and in touch


toodely toot oh best beloveds and bisous X.X.X. ones with balls. x j

Monday, August 9, 2010

maasailand dreamin'

(mwali on rhino)

i don't feel like being back on the hill.

i don't.

i am sulking.

i am spoilt for life.

people, the best way of traversing maasailand is on horse back. and that's a fact. walking is slow and long. driving leaves tracks for years and engulfs you in clouds of dust. it jolts the spine. whereas on a horse, you can pick your way through thickets, silently, flushing lesser kudu. you can play with zebra, if you have the wind right. you can sneak up on gerenuk, with their strange long necks and giraffe wander out to get a closer look at you. sand grouse or yellow necks fly suddenly from the horses feet. you can stop and watch the mountains and the clouds edge across the sun. and you can never get lost on a horse. they will always find their way back to camp. always. it's the only way. more than anything, the horses love it. the place matches their wild spirit.

northern maasailand is a vast wild area, tangle wood drear, lying between tanzania and kenya, belonging to no one, through which the maasai still wander following their herds. it stretches out like an ocean, undulating and changing light with each minute. you can sit and stare at it like you would at a fire. it rolls away in front of you, leaving the impression of gentleness. but once you step off into it, it's anything but gentle. its a sea of dust and acacia. waterless. a desert. the thorns try and grab you as you squeeze past the crooked acacia branches. squat snake tracks lie on old dried up lakes. you think of them as you pick your way through long grass. the wind is ceaseless. sometimes raging, sometimes gentle but always there. at midday, as you sit in camp, sheltering from the sun, dust devils twist and turn far away into the white sky.

it is so silent out there at night. the silence is punctuated only by the mournful whoop of hyaena or the staccato yelp of jackal. lion are silent in maasailand. they are clever. they know to keep quiet. they share their space with maasai and their cattle. maasai do not like lion. they poison the cattle carcasses. and i dream in maasailand, oh best beloveds. its a land of dreaming. clear and vivid dreams, as alive as the waking hours. the lines are thin between dreaming and wakefulness. sometimes you think you can hear the stars creak on their axis, it's so silent. the wind on canvas lets you imagine you are in a little boat far out at sea. camping in maasailand makes you feel very small. and right. it reconfirms that no one can own africa. you want to. you dream of it. you pretend it's all yours. but if you try, it'll kill you in the end. you can only pass through it. momentarily.

we packed the landrover high, bales of hay, horse food, hooch, nyama, fruit and vegetables. safari c took his holland & holland, not for hunting but in case we had to shoot a horse... we loaded our fine steeds onto willie's little blue canter truck, aptly named The White Horse, painted in curly red letters above the windscreen and trundled northwards.

to make the horse camp, we tied a rope from branch to branch, high up in the crooked tortillas branches, and attached the horses on halters to this, long enough rope so the horses could lie down and couldn't tangle themselves up. amneey, mwali, mammedi and steven made an askari rota to keep watch on the horses through the night. hyena circled the flickering horse camp fire at night. nosy jackals snuck in close. my horse, the legendary apaloosa, De La Rey aka The General, lay down each night and perfectly ignored these pesky predators. he knows the bush. he ain't afraid of nothin'. the other horses snorted and pulled at their ropes. it was only on the last night that lion called from far away. i think the little spotty horse would've stood up if they had come closer. . . .

the day starts early. good tanzanian coffee is delivered with a gentle "hodi hodi" from claus or juma to your tent around 6, at first light, when everything is still cool, pastel and gentle. you stumble out your tent, barefeet, stepping on a misplaced devil thorn (those teeny little "mibas" with three spikes). you drink your coffee, thinking of your dreams, smoking a sportsman, eyeing your dusty boots from yesterday, staring at the view.(coffee, early morning and dusty boots of spanish of leather)

two hours later, you sit down to a sumptuous breakfast of fried eggs (2, naturally), bacon (crispy), lashings of baked beans (heinz. some things never change.), tomatoes (fried), toast and strawberry jam, paw paw (the sweetest you'll ever taste) and more coffee just in case you never had enough at six. the horses arrive from their camp, sporting bright yellow boots of pi grease, to thwart the maasailand ticks. you saddle up and ride out, drifting this way and that with the wind, distant cowbells tinkling. you stop to watch a line of zebra in the distance, wandering below a post card picture of kilimanjaro, the snow like icing sugar. two or three hours later, you're home, sipping on a cold vodka and tonic, prettily laced with sliced lemon, or a chilled glass of the cape's finest white followed by a salad lunch. siesta time follows. more dreaming. four o clock tea time and another ride. riding in the late afternoon glow when the grass is gold and the mountains are blue and you know you never magicked this up....

( de la rey with mt meru back drop)

the smell of acacia wood smoke welcomes you back home, at last light, and we sit and watch the african night swiftly arrive, throwing her net of stars across the sky. we munch on bitings of biltong, drawing nearer to the fire because the wind has an icy edge to it now. it blows from behind your back. from the mountains, across the empty ngaserai plain, cold tendrils creeping around your neck.

( mohammed and sybil first home at last light)

the best thing are the piping hot showers. the water is stingingly hot, making your skin steamy pink. the smell of dust, sweat, leather and horse mixed with jasmine scented soap is heady. dinner at a long table, dressed in stiff white linen and the children chattering like monkeys, begging me not to regale them with my finest ghost tales yet secretly wanting me to. the winding sandy path to bed and dreams, following the "nyali" (paraffin lanterns) hung delicately in the tree branches all the way to your tent and the wind, the wind, playing in my hair....

you see, that's why i don't want to be here, oh best beloveds.

i'll be dreaming of maasailand for a while.

toodely toot then, bisous X.X.X windy desert ones x j