Wednesday, December 12, 2012

i'll be seein' ya...

i remember a calm but concerned juma in the film 'Out Of Africa' waking up the beautiful meryl streep whispering urgently " Wake up, mama. God she is coming," when the coffee barns were burning down. this is what i felt when i saw the storm approaching on tuesday afternoon. it rumbled and flashed across the steppes, threatening all manner of disaster upon the little pink house on the hill. it was very godlike and very impressive and very beautiful. when it finally arrived, as night fell, it was gentle, benign and quite frugal with its gift of rain. i think it even ran out of lightening, just like Tanesco rather. but we're all very thankful for the soft rain, nevertheless.

in less than two hours i fly past the mountains and to the sea. i am unhooking myself from  hill life temporarily and swopping it for a shoeless beach life.  i can't wait to walk the white powdered beaches, to watch the palms sweep the stars from the rooftop at night and to sleep with the sound of soft waves licking the beaches, dragging dreams in with the tides.

so from the little pink house on the hill, i wish you all, oh bestest blogging babies peopling the world over, a wonderful christmas and new year.

i'll be seein' ya in 2013.
until then, grin and bear it. . .hooah.

Kitchen Board: 13 December 2012

toodely toot, oh bestests, bisous X.X.X. the best ones yet...x j

Saturday, December 8, 2012

cowboy love

there are some songs which are defining, which stay with you 'til the grave, which you hope will be played at your funeral. this is one of them.
it's so tender and full of polaroids from wilder, halcyon days. . .

Kitchen Board: Sunday 9 december 2012

toodely toot y'all. bisous. X.X.X. wild cowboy ones x j

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

paper thin...

by designer Ryan Thacker on
i want to write funny and i want to be good at it.
i don't want to let you two faithful readers down.
but frankly, some days (months as it turns out) nothing happens of note.
i am weighed under an insufferable creative low.
it's comforting to know that even geniuses like charles darwin had them.
i find his little missive (found on the fabulous Brain Pickings site: rather comforting:
But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.– I am going to write a little Book for Murray on orchids & today I hate them worse than everything so farewell & in a sweet frame of mind, I am

Ever yours
C. Darwin

i try and jot down clever clog things but it's impossible.

i am distracted by the local news.

two days ago a dead white woman was found in a valley not far from here. the police can’t identify her. they  sent out an email asking for help. she was found with her hands bound, a black bra, a white T shirt and one sock, bludgeoned to death with pangas so badly her eye colour can’t be determined. she is apparently around 30 or younger with blond hair to her shoulders. this haunts me well into the late hours of the night as storms flicker and rage just out of reach of the hill. images of her lying crumpled on some forgotten African plain, far from home, alone, flash with the lightning. i worry for her, for her family who don't know where she is or even that she is dead. that she died alone and terrified and abused. i worry they won’t find her killers, the killers who raped her and pangaed her so terribly and senselessly. 
don’t ever dare tell me there is a god.
i share this with you, not only because it brims in my brain, but you never know, perhaps someone will read this and it will lead to some sort of redemption. somewhere.

yes, oh bestests, things are paper thin here on the hill. the poor power supply, the lack of a decent shoe shop south of the Rufiji (i'm sure they exist in Mozambique), an internet which goes on and off like a lighthouse in slow motion, storms which rain 500m away, an unsolved terrible murder all ultimately wear you down. even a strong Famous Grouse only very temporarily smudges the edges. but not to be completely outdone, i shall go and pour one immediately and see if i can spy the nearly full moon between the rainless clouds and lightning. 
louise said it's terribly pretty.

i live in hope.
so there.

Kitchen Board: Wednesday 28 November 2012

perhaps i've left it too late. the lights have just gone off again. the generator is on. again.
but it's time to go and spy the rising moon. 
with a damned strong scotch, i say.
toodely toot, y'all and chin chin. bisous X.X.X. skin warmin' ones. x j

Sunday, November 18, 2012

english department meeting on the hill.

You told us about your near death experience.

You said you floated away from your body, like flying, light, away.

“Did you even see your body below you?” I asked wide eyed.

No. No. You said looking up at the ceiling. It was like flying. . .

I got there, to this place. It’s very, very green….and these children. Yes children everywhere…all in white, shining… you know, just playing and twirling, spinning over there, in the green.

…Yes there are the hooded people…Over there….They look sort of lost…They walk alone. They keep their distance. But they are there, the hooded people.

I hated the hooded people. I thought you were talking about death but then I decided they were probably in the shadow lands. You said you came to a fork in the road, an almost heaven this way hell that way T junction.

You stared ahead, remembering.

…and these three…that came to get me. “This is it,” they said “don’t be afraid. It’s all going to be ok. Come!” they said happily… ay, they were very cheeky, very friendly, very convincing you said; they could have been demons. I was going with them. For sure. It was so green.

…my grandmother stepped out. Eh, she was kali, man. She held a stick and told me to go back. She was very – stern…Kali, kali sana.

It was so – green.

Then you went quiet.

She says to you, “Are you tearing up?”

Yes, you said, holding your hands over your mouth with your eyes closed.

You very nearly died.

Everyone went quiet.

Afterwards, we laughed remembering how W so badly wanted to see the ghost in my office. I loved your stories. I loved your humour and impertinence at the sexist notion that women with rasta hair make bad wives.

really. i couldn't work with more beautiful people.

Kitchen Board: Speckled Sky Sunday: November 2012

toodely toot, y'all. bisous. X.X.X. fresh spring rainy ones, all about ya x j

Sunday, November 11, 2012

power crazy...

Being with no electricity for a week, forces you to go through enough fuel for the generator that’d bring the Americans to the table. I’m not so sure that I have nothing to do with the fuel shortage in Kisongo.

No. It must be the government. 

As you fire up “the genni” (as the generator is fondly referred to) you’re really envious of people who were sensible and invested in an inverter. Like the Bells and the Bakers.  A quiet, clever, ecologically sound, technologically appropriate (powered by solar panels,) little power box, it simply clicks on the moment the power goes off, as naturally as you blink your eyes. You wouldn’t even know the switch over had happened. It’s that efficient. It’s such a superior choice - more expensive in the short term, precociously cheaper in the long term. Why wouldn’t you?  Quite.

You’ve just stepped into the shower, soaped up your face, when BOEM. Power failure. “Fuggitfuggitfuggitfuckintanzania,” you roar, with soap in your eyes as you grope for the taps. Then grope like a blind person to find a towel. Continue groping your way around the house trying desperately to remember where you left your Nokia phone, not called a katochi for nothing, trying to hang onto The Right Frame Of Mine by telling yourself to be thankful for your sight because this is what it feels like to be blind. All the time.

At this precise moment, you imagine this would be the moment where you step on a scorpion in the film. Life’s just like that. They are crawling out the cracks in the floor after all the rain. I have killed three in the last two days. And one centipede. A big fat one with a sea glass blue sting and pincers of sci-fi stature. You find your katochi after stubbing toe on corner of dining table. You yell at first born to “Switch off the bloody computer box please!” as it bleeps mournfully into a powerless night. “I can’t see ma!” “No shit Sherlock. fuggitfuggitfuggit.Stay where you are kids! Scorpions, remember? Jesus effing christ…” The world is eerily illuminated by your katochi.  You ignore the beeping (and obviously the imminent threat of a scorpion sting) and step out into the courtyard, unlock the padlock by vague moonlight forgetting star gazing, a thing of the past,  hold the Katochi in your mouth because you need two hands for this operation (which goes qwreqwjfhaowiuer0w8uer0uwkjdnfowiue because your teeth are biting on the keyboard. You just hope you’re not dialing Hong Kong by mistake). You twiddle all the knobs and switches and pull the genni into life. You can do this with your eyes closed. You feel like a totally tough and capable cowgirl who could run a 500 000 acre ranch on the Rio Grande single handedly. A total Camel man, in fact. You feel satisfactorily wide in the shoulders. It’s quite another thing if you have to also refuel the goddamn thing in the dark. You could write a manual on How To Start A Petrol Fountain. There’s more effing and blinding, cursing the government and god and the dogs, just for good measure, as you spill petrol everwhere because you can’t see the fuel tank or the gauge in the dark. By this time, you’ve been connected to the Egyptian president ever since and you no longer have any credit. You are not impressed when first born says “Jeez ma. Calm down. I think you have an anger management problem.” Honestly? Can you frikken believe it? And you’re still in your towel with wet hair and your phone in your mouth.

That’s why, when you see the neighbour’s pretty little inverter twinkling silent lights across the dark thorn filigreed valley as you stand in the courtyard (still with the phone in your mouth wondering whether you truly are the worst most angry insane mother in the world), listening to the throb of your generator, you cannot help feeling foolish for not investing in an inverter.
But at least you have lights.
For a while.

A distant  generator thumping is something else – a childhood music, that far away comforting heart beat sound of light that chases you to bed, because you know it’s going off at ten.  You lie in bed watching a spluttering paraffin lamp and a persistent suicidal moth, so utterly decided on its death. If bashing itself time after time on the glass, like a kamakazi pilot, doesn’t work, we do the “lets fly through the flame of death, then. A few times why not” The candle flickers nonchalantly in the moth's wing torn wake, steadying itself for the next onslaught, perhaps from a Christmas beetle.

When silence settles, night music takes over - crickets tinkling and the sound of wind through the whistling thorns. Which isn’t like you think it is. It’s a very faint hush sound, like someone learning to whistle in a whisper. A generator humming far away takes me to the smell of gun oil, a smoky fire crackling, and the firelight outlining your father’s profile, his eyes distant, as he stares down the barrels this way and that, probably dreaming of hunting days gone by: dust in eyes, white hot days and dried blood on thatch. Or old lovers. I don’t know. I don’t know my father’s dreams. I know he loves dogs. And children. And red wine and Famous Grouse. I know he is kind. More importantly, I think I know he has enough grace not to bind you to him through emotion. Instead it glimmers like light between you.  And never becomes words. Or chains.

Filipo, the electrician fundi extraordinaire who initially laid our underground cable, was called in. He looks like Mr T from the original A Team. But with more chains and much more panache. He’s an electrician for godsakes. He didn't even use divining rods to find the place of error. He walked along the line, which is covered in bush and roads and driveways with cement ramps to help cars up the hill. He stopped here. Cocked his head to the side, hand on chin, eyes narrowed. “Hmmm,” he thought, sunlight twinkling on his gold chains. “Let’s check here.” And so it came to pass that he discovered the road workers had chopped through the protective covering of the cable, and then it rained, and then water got into the wires, backfired into the “power house” (where everyone has their meters) and literally blew all sorts of switches and boxes up with a death laden 440 volts. It also blew up the Baker’s inverter which cost a cool US$ 1,500, which luckily didn’t burn their house down. Isn’t Filipo a whizz? Anyway – the cable has been repaired. With a steel cover, all 10m of it. And power is restored. It’s mostly on now, than off.

We really should invest in an inverter though.

Next time.

Aren’t those stars so pretty? And how the swallows trace and fly and dive after the rain...

Kitchen Board: 11 November 2012

tootdely toot, y'all. bisous. X.X.X. high voltage, electric ones. yeah. x j

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Trees Are Singing...(apologies to Doris Lessing)

It hasn't stopped raining for three entire days and it’s joyous. What is it about the rain, African rain, which lifts the heart and mind? Banished are those long, hot, dusty white days. The sky is recovering. It makes you wear pin striped shirts and diamond earrings and pretend you are a novelist, a rich and purposeful one with only one task in mind and not a mother or a teacher with a million tasks all baked into one pie. Sigh. Still. Everyone's allowed to play play. Especially on days like these.

My dear friend and neighbor, the artist aka Mrs Claire Baker, has visited for lunch and a few snifters of  dry white sherries and some, um, bean stew. Not bridge. It’d be better if it was roast lamb, but there you go, and sweet garden peas harvested from these misty fresh climes all accompanied by the ticking of a grandfather clock in a dark corner and fine conversation.  We  celebrated the divine weather together. Such is the joy of neighbours – like minded ones to boot. She has to feed a baby falcon every 4 hours, apparently. Her husband has even phoned Japhet (groundsman, mechanic, gardener, neighbour, general all round fundi read as expert) from the wedding in Iringa,  to check up on her. She has confessed she isn't great actually holding birds. Me neither. All that reptilian flapping and hissing. Ew. Having an avid ornithologist for a husband adds to the pressure. It'd be like me having to hold a frog or something.Over. My. Dead. Body. I'd need to be institutionalized afterwards. But I can pick up dead giant centipedes. So there. She has to drop long slithers of ropey meat down its throat. Still. Chin chin to the rain and all that. Yes. Indeed. And good films.

After all the rain, only the trees are a ridiculous green because they like to be early, a bit like Granny Martha, may she RIP,  who liked to be at the airport at least 4 hours ahead of check in time.  Everyone else is late, like the grass,…it sleeps until the rain wakes it.  You can see it growing every time you look. In fact, if you listened carefully enough, you’d hear it growing. I imagine it as an inaudible squeaky stretch. While the trees sing. I’ve nothing against grass, you must understand. It’s just that, well, trees have ears and eyes.  And voices, clearly. The hill is how I imagine the Scottish highlands to be from stories and postcards – curling mist carrying fine soft rain in swathes, this grand and grave weather arriving without warning.

I love these slow misty mornings. You lie, warm like a scone, sipping coffee, laced with Cranberry Juice (I know. Go figure. The milk carton and the cranberry juice carton look and feel exactly the same at six thirty in the morning) listening to Radio 4, then reading a totally inspirational interview with Billy Collins on the  Paris Review.  Deep under my hyrax rug (I know I know. Karma hasn’t happened yet. 53 pelts in total. I've counted them and I do worry. But by golly, it’s warm. Enough.) Billie Collins, poet laureate, makes me feel so much better about my present state of affairs but more about staring out the window for what I've always considered wasted hours, at swallows in the mist and a bee skirting rain drops on the window pane.

“…There’s a lot of waiting around until something happens. Some poets like David Lehman and William Stafford set out on these very willful programs to write a poem a day. They’re extending what Catullus said about “never a day without a line.” But most poets don’t write a poem a day. For me it’s a very sporadic activity. Until recently, I thought “occasional poetry” meant that you wrote only occasionally. So there’s a lot of waiting, and there’s a kind of vigilance involved. I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times—and this, I think, is a sense you develop—I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum—the poem finds a reason for continuing. The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme. Now it’s tone that establishes the poet’s authority. The first few lines keep giving birth to more and more lines. Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going. The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you’re simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with. You’re trying to discover something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value…”

Yes. The way the words lie waiting to be found.
Here a wee poem which I think echoes this sentiment of discovery “..for something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value.”

Monday’s Ritual
high priestess of poetry
lines up the ink pens,
three in a row;
"my little thirsty word birds,"
she muses.
fingers curved around
cold bone smoothness, 
she twists their tails.
they drink obediently.
silver beaks dipping and winking
into sapphire blue wells.
orchestras should play
as they take the plunge.

unseen words,
like bottom feeders,
dwell in the depths of dark, blue ink - 
unborn - 
undefined - 
as yet.
the pens - 
like fishing birds - 
greedy gannets,
diving comorants,
swallow them whole,
gorging themselves
like fat pelicans.

Kitchen Board: Rainy Sunday Afternoon: Early November and Happiness

with the rain, the termites are active. we need more poles for the horses' schooling arena. 
add to your vocab lists, oh bestests.
toodely toot y'all...bisous X.X.X. long, rainy wind blown wuthering heights ones x. j 

Friday, October 26, 2012

beading summer away...

Waking up this morning and remembering that it was only a Friday and not in fact a Saturday and, best of all, a public holiday so no school, was like winning something.   Waking up and remembering this was real, I lay back and played it all over again before I took the horse out into the hills.  

The rain is nowhere near. What did Damian say? Mid October?  Nada. Presently, the stars are spread like jam across ink black nights, fat, petulant, pretty and red from the dust. I drank far too many whiskies on Tuesday night with one of my bestests, swopping tales of hosses and the big plains of Mongolia. We look to the stars, saying nothing, listening to the dogs barking far away. And silently wish for rain at the same time.The aloes burn bright, a splash of hot yellow in the dry. Soon the sun birds will arrive. The acacia have sprouted bright new green leave in anticipation of the rain. There is a vague coolness to the mornings, which quickly burns away, like tissue in flames, along with the blue of the sky, leaving it a milky, white blind eye stretched, uninterrupted,  from horizon to horizon.

Francesca is here from Milano with new designs for Maasai Women’s Art. She is an incredibly talented jewelry designer from Italy who comes out every year with new designs for the project. She gives her time freely to teach the women. MWA is a fantastic NGO which supports Maasai women living in West Meru. See the site here  They're using the coolness of the veranda for today before they move to their real location next week. Last born sat with her and Ellen learning the fine art of beading.

"Beading takes patience and dedication." Francesca Soldini.

 What manner of sparkling treasure they weave outside my window.

 I wander out to smoke and watch them. It seems Ellen has magnet magic, the way those tiny beads shoot onto her hair thin wire.

It was a day to finally start the painting on the blank canvas. This has morphed into a collage of my dear friend Carlos, the Spanish horse whisperer from Kilimanjaro. These portraits were taken as he was telling me a story about how Ronaldo pulled up all his beautiful sunflowers because “they drink too much water” and then as if that wasn’t bad enough, pulled up his beloved spring onions. You don’t do that to Spanish vaqueros. No. The work is not finished, yet. But I already love it. See his horses beaded up here..

Music tinkles out the wide open windows to summer where the women bead; Mama Paka, the cat, snoozes on the old landrover chair; the dogs lie on the cool floor of the veranda periodically snapping at flies and passing bees; I wish my life was like this every single day, the slow, full of music birth of soft, twinkling, beautiful ideas...

Today I’m not wishing anything away.  Not even the heat.

Kitchen Board: Holiday Friday: Hot With Certain Late Sweet Moon October 2012

toodely toot, y'all. bisous. X.X.X. twinkly beaded ones 'round your neck x j

Thursday, October 18, 2012

waking from wind dreams...

Waking from bad dreams in a grey morning that never rains,  makes for a heavy feeling.
The ceiling is pearl white, shadowless. The mosquito net hangs glacier still. The house is quiet. The dogs bark. On and on and on. I think I hear someone shout, “Bella!” Who else knows my dog’s name?  Perhaps it was a shout in the wind. Like the night I woke up at three in the morning, the wind tearing into the eaves like a pack of hungry dogs, teeth in bones, and I thought I could hear the wail of a baby…I stood rock statue still at the window, head cocked, alert, in the attic of my bedroom, gazing out onto a wind torn, moon slashed 3 o clock morning. The wailing of neglect and cold faded, disappeared into a cave of sound and then floated back, imperceptibly. Awake, I trudged downstairs to the loo, perplexed, slightly unnerved. As I stood in the bathroom, the lights dipped dim and rose lightning bright three times, ethereal. Goose flesh crept like urgent little caterpillars up my spine. The rational mind is a godsend. She speaks to me: “ Oh it’s TANESCO, obviously. There you go thinking ghostly thoughts. Honestly.  Stop this nonsense and go back to bed. Yes. There you are. But before you go up, best switch the computer boxes off so you don’t have to schlep downstairs when the lights finally die, ok?” I obediently agree.  

When you turn off the UPS box, you have to firmly hold down the button for a good few seconds. There is nothing loose about that switch. As I leaned under the desk, hundreds of creepy crawly caterpillar legs scurried across my spine. I felt someone or something behind me. Rational Ruth Mind: “It’s nothing. Now stop this at once!” Yes, yes. I cautiously climbed the stairs to bed, blinking myself to calmness, ignoring The Thing Behind. I paused by the window to listen for the baby wailing, but only the wind again, star littered sky and skeleton ceilings. As I began to drift off to sleep, I hear footsteps downstairs - slow, heavy, shuffling definite footsteps – as the wind takes a breath.  My body stiffens involuntarily. I freeze, ears like long stethoscopes. Yes. Definitely foot steps. My heart thuds like run away village drums. My cold sweaty hands clench into balls. My ears hum with fear. I hear the UPS box beeping, switching on. I hear the printer click to life. And then nothing. “ Rada swami. Rada Swami. Rada Swami,” I whisper in my head, chanting, chanting, until  the wind breathes out, sighing long, sad songs and sleep.

The wind is more persistent at this time of year, greedy, knowing the rain will not come, blowing supreme. It isn’t a kind wind. It smells of dust, dry grass and hot rocks. I want it to fly lightning balloons behind it. It holds unseen stirring things in its claws, dropping them where it pleases. Wendigos waltz with dervishes and dust devils, spinning wildly on.  I lie in bed at night staring at the shadows like ribs on the ceiling.  Great swells of wave like wind break on the edge of the hill, like an omniscient sea. Sometimes wind spirits hook into your dreams.  

I open the door to the barking dogs and give the Alsatian a breakfast of the chicken carcass from last night. He needs it more than the other two. He is recovering from the cobra bites on his back leg. I sit with the other two out in the courtyard, drinking my coffee, rubbing silky black dog ears. I watch my spotty horse. I call him, “Boeliboelieboelieboelie” in a high pitched rolling bubbling sound. He knows it. His ears prick up and he stares earnestly at me from his stable, demanding breakfast. Slowly the bad dreams start to curl away, as morning stretches like a cat, slowly, slowly, a white morning pleasingly licking itself.

 My man boy child stumbles out, a crumpled face, mumbling, “Hi Ma. Did it rain last night?”   

Kitchen Board: Thursday Morning: Austere.

time for more water already and a vague reminder about new exercise regime...
things are looking austere. and rather dry.
i think the board needs decorating, rather.
toodely ole toot, y'all..and bisous X.X.X. gravely tender ones. x j

Monday, October 8, 2012

the stickiness of being human

So the poetry and the water post are both rubbish, obviously (eyebrows wriggling in your general direction), in which case I’ll have to lambaste you two slackards out there with horse stories. The thing is I know you both  like snake stories and robber stories and goddamn tragedies. That gets you elbowing your way onto the comment page, doesn’t it? I love you both dearly. Please, thanks god. I am going to gushingly write about my children now. Stay at your own risk.  And please, if you do, be nice. Otherwise I’ll have to ‘see someone’.

I am so proud of this one (first born) who I have just collected from a school sports trip in Nairobi.

 As I roared in, after a few wines, Dutch cheese and other delicacies at C’s (gorgeous inspirational neighbor. Oh god, what is it with anonymity? Claire Baker, ok? Dietary preferences: ID Number: Bank Account Number. No. So silly, Janelle.) beautifully eclectic house, he was standing alone at the top of the school steps in a blue tracksuit hoodie type affair. (I know!) I thought, gosh, he looks cold and tired, all zipped up. As he walked up to the door, he unzipped the jacket and there was a medal, for being Champion Of The World or something like that. Oh my. But I’m more proud, in a way, that he still likes X, (who will def. remain anonymous. also on said sports trip.) who, on being asked by a perfectly respectable elderly teacher, what she would do to help her country if she was ever the president of Tanzania (high on her life ambition list, apparently), woodenly replied “Kick out all the whites.”  He was the only white boy sitting there. He said he just laughed. “She’s quite nice you know, Ma.”

Where was I? Yes.

I am proud of this one not only because she didn't fall off the pony at trot. Or when he leaped about and threw in a little buck.

But more to actually see her on the pony, Sukari. We’ve had this little pony since he was, oh, a baby. She has spent most of her last growing up years either wrapped around his neck or teaching him 'tricks'. But on the ground.  My heart burst from my chest to see them happily pootling about in the school ring.

And proud of this one because, well,  he’s so courageous and we all know why. (gulp)

I don’t think it’s cool to be peacock proud of oneself. No. If I was, it would be because I have birthed three incredibly beautiful worthy people, from my very own womb and all by myself. Yes. Yes. The midwives were lovely at the time and the doctors were very good indeed, but I frikken did it, ok? But for the rest, I remain bunny in the headlights wide eyed about life generally. It scares the shit out of me most of the time, no matter how fervently and frequently I froth and preach about NOT doing fear or guilt or regret or any of those shitty worthless emotions…. I certainly acknowledge “the stickiness of being human”(Kiran Desai  – ‘Hullaballoo In The Orchard’, a wonderful, glorious read of rich hyperbole.) I love people, in fact, in all their stickiness. How could you not? No matter how sticky, because you are one, no? 
So there.

Kitchen Board: Monday October 2012 
Yes. And even a kitchen board. By now you should both know that maji means water. And land puncture?
G'waan. Give it a twirl. 
The rest is par for the course.

Toodely ole toot, y'all. Bisous X.X.X. sticky pretty ones all about ya like butterflies. x j

Saturday, October 6, 2012

poetry, birds and saturday afternoons...

the girl and i were supposed to go away for the night.
but things happened so we stayed home.
home where the wild wind blows and the horses are frisky. 
i'll take tea under the thorn tree.
i'll watch the dogs chasing crows and the lanner falcons race by.
i don't like my little water rant from yesterday. so please excuse me. 
i am posting this in haste to forget about it, then. 
i thought i'd share some poetry instead. 
if you can bear it.

smile (aug 2011)
there’s a smile that slides onto my face
from the side.
(i think.)
it spreads then slips away.
i’m  not sure if it’s born from inside
or outside of me.
but there it comes,
like a bird’s shadow on the plain.

a little wave passes through me –
curling furiously through my stomach
whirling sometimes faster and faster
shooting out my palms like fountains…
birds fly from my chest.
feathers float in my head,
making me ultimately
quite useless,

toodely toot, y'all. bisous. X.X.X. perfectly poetic ones. x j.

Friday, October 5, 2012

october dust yarns...

                                              (taken a few months ago. now there is no more green left. anywhere.)
I’ve been meaning to write all this deep and meaningful prose about water in these parts. There isn’t any. That’s the thing. Every day when I drive down the hill to school and back again, I watch people walking from miles, with strings of donkeys and herds of skinny cattle, towards the two watering points between here and school. The watering points are always colourful affairs from all the buckets around the tap.  Children flitter around them, like ragged wind torn butterflies, playing games in the dust. I watch this and think about the world across the sea. The First World. How spoilt it is. I am repulsed by the billions that are spent to keep nations from nose diving into debt. The fat bankers that make millions. How much does one person need? The trouble is that there isn’t any cash left in the first world. It’s been melted into plastic and computers. Why does the world go bananas then? Oh. My. God. Where’s all the money gone? Well. You’ve bloody well spent it, like water, mind, and have been living off air and plastic since. That’s why. Here people have no water, no electricity and at this time of year, not much food.  We live by cash here. Cash in hand. Japhet, who lives nearby, kept all his money in a hidey hole in his house. He went to go and get some the other day and the termites had eaten it. Fortunately for him Marc managed to salvage it at the bank because they hadn’t eaten the serial numbers. Japhet is lucky. Cash is cash and no one has cards. Here people don’t trust cards. Or cheques.  You won’t be able to survive without cash. Call it backward, but we laugh in the face of recession. We’ve never known anything else but recession this side of the equator. You’re very spoilt that side of the sea. You have responsible governments, no matter what you say. Even the unemployed have electricity and televisions and running water.

There are folks out on the plains here who have nothing. Nothing. Who sew scraggly maize out of the dust lands. There are no schools nearby. No clinics. No electricity. No water. Only wind. Except when it rains then the landscape turns into  turgid mud flats. They become inaccessible. You see children walking to school carrying their shoes so they aren’t eaten by the mud. Children walk for miles. There are no buses or trains or trams or taxis. Sometimes they leave home before the sun rises. But to learn is a noble and honorable thing. To learn is to hope. This time of year, the children walk tiredly home in the heat – surrounded by clouds of dust, following the tired skeletal herds. Tractors and water bowsers crowd and huddle around the only water point near the factory. Everyone is waiting for some rain, some water, some moisture, some greenness. That’d be nice.

The horses have finally broken through to Kim’s shamba. There isn’t much grass left on this one. Everyone is quite understanding about it so far. Grazing is a highly guarded affair. The Baker’s even have mzee william's cows on their shamba, for now. Sometimes my head bursts with trying to equal worlds. It doesn’t balance. In the gentle twilight, I saddle up the spotty one, and we head out. We try and work a little in the school ring. But there are too many things to watch – the wide views flung far and beyond, the rainbow, which means there must have been some water falling somewhere out there. We pootle up Baker’s hill. The wind is howling at the top. Wendigo style.  But the horse and I, we don’t care. We stand like Braves, still like boulders, staring narrow eyed at our desert kingdom below. The wind tears at our hair, twists and dances and flattens the dry threadbare grass which the horse nibbles at with long teeth. It will rain again. We must  be patient. We plod home. Happy and full of heart, waiting for the late moon. 

Perhaps it will rain after the next moon. Damian says mid october but then he's always been completely rubbish with weather predictions... I need a sailor's advice. Someone who can see rings around the moon and can tell clouds apart.

toodely toot, y'all. bisous X X X dusty boot ones behind the stables. x j

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Robot Mummy.(found on google)

Life does go on a bit, doesn’t it? Whether you like it or not. Not to sound ungrateful or anything like that. No. I am. Very thankful. The sun comes up and goes down. The moon is a sweet half and growing. The weather is positively disgusting. Wild winds throwing dust in great revolting clouds. There is no more grass. The old horse keeps getting dust colic. The days are white with heat and becoming relentless and there is no sign of rain, apart from the early flowering of the acacia nilotica. Julie says it means the rains are close. Close, my arse. As we bumped up the hill yesterday, clouded in red dust, I muttered "Please let it rain soon, God." First born: What would you do if it started raining when we got home ma?
Me: Definitely convert. Immediately.
It didn't.
God: 0. Janelle: 4, 328 526.5

 It’s back to the drawing board for me.  Well, the chalk board (read white board) after all the drama of the past few weeks.  For the first time, I am immersed in my work but in a good way. I am not exactly planning anything, like you’re supposed to (you know, lesson plans, termly objectives and everything…good LORD!) But I am inspired by what I am discovering and sharing.  Teaching English literature sure is a plum job. Yes. So after leaving second born far behind, I’ve hit the road running. There hasn’t really been time to lick wounds, which is likely a healthy thing. Not utterly convinced though because the result of this is that I am now royally sick. My brain is leaking out of my nose. I kid you not. I am considering shoving mini tampons up my nostrils to stop the flow. But that wouldn’t look very attractive, especially in class, which is essentially a stage. I could get away with it at home, I guess. Anyone who visits the hill would understand. Those are the kind of friends I have. Few but true. 

Everyone has righteous ideas about how to cure a cold: piriton, (2 and pass out), crush and eat raw garlic, Vit C, rest, ginger and honey (we love this one and we are presently sipping this as we type – she’s back, Queenie). Jim Harrison suggests a T bone steak, followed by a bottle of whisky and a joint in a hot bath, in that order. I think you wake up the next day in the bath and feel better. I haven't tried that one. Yet. My first aid bag contains plasters and one tube of germoline. Oh and since yesterday more brufen than you could shake a stick at – enough to fill all the tubes in a smartie factory. I’m popping them avidly. My eyes have lovely black rings around them which are terribly dramatic so you can tell I am sick.  I stagger through the school day and flake out fantastically when I get home. It’s exceedingly boring. I might as well stand over a basin and drip to death, watching my skull concave from where my brain used to be. I’m nearing the I Want My Mummy stage. When you’re the mother, it seems you can’t get sick. No one’s going to do your shit for you. Or plump up your pillows and bring you tea and Bovril soldiers in bed. “I can’t not go to school,” she wails. I know. I know. Shining halo eh? But no. It’s because I haven’t done any cover lessons and I’m scared of being caught out and fired. Can’t let the side down now, can we? So I have to keep on keeping on teaching. But the body is not at all happy about this. I tell it to shuddup and get on with it. But I am not a robot it seems. I am an imperfect, confused, tired human being.

Which brings me to my next annoying Big Thing Point: the please prove you’re not a robot saga on the  bloggie comment sections….For christ’s sake? It’s complicated, isn’t it?  I lean into the screen, I feel the pressure. The letters are all purposefully squashed together so you can’t tell if it’s a “D” or an “l” close up to a “C”….
Clearly, I am not a robot. I have feelings. I am sick and I am terrifically human.
And I shall paint The Naartjie tree when I feel better. 
So there.

Cold Poem

A cold has put me on the fritz, said Eugene O'Neill,
how can I forget certain things?
Now I have thirteen bottles of red wine
where once I had over a thousand.
I know where they went but why should I tell?
Every day I feed the dogs and birds.
The yard is littered with bones and seed husks.
Hearts spend their entire lives in the dark,
but the dogs and birds are fond of me.
I take a shower frequently but still
women are not drawn to me in large numbers.
Perhaps they know I'm happily married
and why exhaust themselves vainly to seduce me?
I loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars
and was paid back only by two Indians.
If I had known history it was never otherwise.
This is the song of the cold when people
are themselves but less so, people
who haven't listened to my unworded advice.
I was once described as "immortal"
but this didn't include my mother who recently died.
And why go to New York after the asteroid
and the floods of polar waters, the crumbling
buildings, when you're the only one there
in 2050? Come back to earth.
Blow your nose and dwell on the shortness of life.
Lift up your dark heart and sing a song about
how time drifts past you like the gentlest, almost
imperceptible breeze. 
toodely toot, y'all. bisous X X X blown ones into the dusty ole wind, so i don't make you sick too. x j

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

...and then there were 2.

You can’t swop lives like postcards but you can start building bridges for transitions. Things will start to feel alright again – not so dislocated or distressing. Farewells are the worst. Farewells of any sort. They equate endings. Fact. Walking away, step by step, was devastating.

We leave home at three in the morning on a Sunday. We pay our first chai (bribe) at 3:20 am to the policeman who is posted outside Mohammed’s Space Oil  - a petrol station which no longer sells petrol. The only good thing about leaving home so early is that the road is empty, but for lonely, hungry, cold policemen.

He kisses his sleepy little sister goodbye, all warm like a scone in her giant bed, hugging her fiercely as I hover in the doorway.  He hugs his older brother, a louche but tender 16 year old who actually makes it out of bed for this terrible goodbye. As he walks out the door, without looking back, he says “I love you D” into a cold and dark 3 o clock morning. I look on helplessly, hands limp at my sides. We bump down the hill and I hear imperceptible sniffling. “I’m going to miss everyone so much.” Nyamuhanga, the askari, had hugged him too long. The afternoon before, Marco, the groom (preacher and self professed healer man), had held his St Christopher in his hands and mumbled blessings, prayers and Maasai magics into it. Bumping down the hill, into this cold, still morning feels wrong and too sad. I am Queen Elizabeth. I am Queen Elizabeth, rolls my mantra like a repetitive cine in my head. I hold his hand and tell him everything is going to be alright and of course you feel sad saying good bye and feel sick and little in the pit of my stomach. And alone.

Checking in at 5 in the morning at Kilimanjaro Airport is a rude and banal distraction from my emotional turmoil. The check in man writes a PhD single fingeredly into a screen and still makes errors, as I discovered in Nairobi when I am called up by security along with a fellow called something like Mohammed Al Quaeda Bin Laden from Mogadishu. The dwindling Kilimanjaro glaciers shine soft and quiet as we fly by, the patient granite face of the mother mountain saying nothing, giving no comfort except perhaps that she will be there when we return.

We arrive at Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg along with the rest of Africa: A football team from Angola, our flight from Kenya, a boeing from Nigeria, one from the DRC and another one from Cameroun. Everyone wants to come to the land of milk and honey. The luggage belt churns around, spitting bags out. We find mine.  He says, “ I don’t think mine’s made it…” his words laced with anxiety. He had been packing his little suitcase for a week, carefully labeling each loved piece of him from home in his squonky scrawl, methodically ticking off the list. He’s right. It doesn’t arrive. He and I are not supposed to travel together – we’re far too similar – too emotional and fiery. Calm is a foreign country to us in times of adversity. I don’t think the Lost Luggage Counter had ever seen anything like it. Nothing could produce my son’s bag. Not his tears. Not mine. Nor my rage or despair.

We head on, for the next flight to the sea, our eyes scratchy from tiredness and tears, bewildered by this giant airport. Through the crowd, like an angel, strides dear T, from nowhere, a dear and beloved face in a sea of nothingness. He whisks us off for milkshakes and vodka all round. Sometimes life is kind and uplifting, soaringly so.  

We head on – numb from tiredness, mile after blue mile sliding below us, foreign crinkled mountains and then, there, far below, a vast emerald sea dotted with little ships, twinkling in the twilight. We fly closer to the D Day of all goodbyes. The B & B is cold. Horrible. In the morning he creeps into my bed and we curl up and he murmurs, “This is what you call lying like spoons.” My brave, cold boy.

We race through ghastly shopping malls, throwing things into trolleys, bags, madly ticking off lists. We get lost in the new city. Me: Oh hurrah! We’re on Cape Road at last. Him: No Ma! It says…K…Kaap Weg.
He will learn enough Afrikaans in good time to get by, I know. We race up the highway, through the new country, sad songs on the radio which we can’t change and a hard and sleety rain hammering the rented car windscreen. Crunching gravel, we arrive at the new school.  Between each breath the heaviness of the imminent goodbye rests. I am Queen Elizabeth. I am Queen Elizabeth. “Try this shirt for size,” smiling, in the uniform shop and other vacuous pleasantries. The moment of truth arrives as we walk into his dormitory and we see his little naked bed where other boys like him have slept before. Reality slaps us in the face. I am Queen Elizabeth. I am….her. We frantically label all the new shopping to replace his lost luggage. I see his big boy hand shaking, unable to write. My mouth is dry. Somehow I keep smiling. I talk to another mother but I don’t really know what I am saying. Labelling, talking, making his bed, folding . . .until…until he says “Ok Ma…I’m going to watch football,” and walks away out the door. I look up. I say, “You can’t walk off without saying goodbye, man!” to his back. He turns. I see his eyes and crumpled face. I grab him. Hold him. Kiss the top of his head. Kiss his cheek, his lips. “Be good darling. Be brave. Try your best. Have fun, ok? Bye, you…” and I drop what I am doing, grab my bag and leave without looking back. I am Queen Elizabeth. I was her. Not anymore. Not at all. Fact. But she got me through, for sure.

It was terrible.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

boarding school...

He’s always been different to the others, in soul and stature. From the moment he was born. He was so big. I remember the doctor in East London (South Africa) said, after looking at the scan, “Hmmmm I wouldn’t rush out and buy tutus and ballet shoes. This is a boy. And he’s much bigger than the first one.” He certainly was. I roared the hospital down with him. Nurses rushed in, wide eyed, “What’s going on?” Me: “I’m. Having. A Baby!!! Roar. Roar. Roar.” They dimmed the harsh theatre lights to a soft warm butter light to ease his arrival into this troubled world. He was perfect. Fat. Strong. Dark haired. They says babies can’t see when they’re first born. He could. He looked around at all of us, very slowly and very diligently, before taking his first earthly breath. He was strong from the beginning. So strong. He walked at nine months. And has always loved his food. I’d line his cot with bottles for the night. His chubby giant hands would find them in the still of night; he’d drink to his heart’s content and fling them out when done. In the morning, he would lie there in his little suits, smiling, gurgling, in a planet of empty bottles.

His eyes are like skies, wide and blue, my second born.

He never saw words on a page, but the gaps between the words which made shapes of giant trees and ships which I could never see until he traced their shapes for me, with his grubby, fat fingers. Worlds would leap from between the printed pages, like magic, until they were all I could see too.  I'd marvel for hours afterwards. The years have flipped by, like pages of a calendar and he is going away to boarding school. Because he wants to. Tomorrow we make the long journey down south, taking lots of plane rides until we get to the town near the sea. And I will leave him there, with labeled clothes, new uniforms, far far far from me, across darkling plains, past mountains, 'cross twinkling rivers, crinkled blue wild landscapes, to another country. Far from me.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he said to me the other night, “I’m so excited!”
And we must be too. When I kiss his cheeks goodnight and hold him just a little longer than usual, inhaling his particular scent, my eyes closed, feeling the waves of emotion rise, from my toes up to my throat, I pretend I am Queen Elizabeth 1. She never broke. Well. Not in front of her people. Not in front of the children. She ruled the land and the seas. She was strong. And she was also alone. She managed, somehow.  And I will too.

Our children do not belong to us. They pass through us and out and we have to let go…Like the first day you take them to school and you watch them walk away from you for the very first time, in starched new uniforms, little legs still dimpled behind the knees that only a mother can see, with those wee wings brand new, freshly unfurled, glistening tenderly in a new morning sun. They will say things and do things that you won't know about. Over the years you watch their wings grow stronger and stronger and before you’re ready, they are. 

“I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too…” Queen Elizabeth I, Tilbury Speech.

toodely ole toot, y'all and bisous X.X.X. heartfelt ones before the journey. x j

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Neil Armstrong.
i've got into a habit of sleeping with the beeb on...i prop up my iPad and listen to the news and sometimes podcasts and generally fall asleep.then i wonder why i dream of wars and bombs. this woke me up last night, the passing of neil armstrong. i'm a lunatic, you see. the moon rules me. i marvel at the fact that he actually walked on it. what a moment. i don't need to bang on about it, though. obviously. we all know what a giant leap it was.
i liked his family's tribute: 
"For those who may ask what they can do to honour Neil, we have a simple request. Honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

and i love this excerpt from That's The Way Life Is, a blog i found this morning by mistake. 


“You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.”
~ Isadora Duncan

I had almost forgotten it - the feeling that only astronauts and children know. That feeling of pure uninhibited flight, of wings disguised as arms, toes pointed heavenward touching the cerulean sky; spinning in orbit, seeing the world for the very first time; being pulled back to earth only to take flight again. I had almost forgotten it.

Time has a way of taming us. Our eyes become familiar with life’s terrain and we become immune to so much beauty, to potential, to fallen dreams that need mended wings to fly. We work around what we are lacking for fear of the pain caused by mending what is broken – or simply for lack of knowing how to fix it. And eventually what we once knew is all but forgotten, a hole in our hearts, a feeling we can’t really distinguish anymore. We have become tamed.

I had almost forgotten it – the thirst for life that I once knew. The feeling that I belonged, that I had a purpose, that life had something planned for me, and the passion for the possible that once stirred deep within. I had almost forgotten it. I was almost tamed.

let's not be tamed too much, then. 
and dream of impossible things being possible. 
neil armstrong did.
"The dream remains! The reality has faded a bit, but it will come back, in time”Neil Armstrong

toodely toot, y'all and bisous X.X.X. dreamy, golden ones all about ya x j

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


                              "This life disappears only very quickly
                                       Like something written in water with a stick." - BUDDAH.

I’ve been rattling around the empty house, unfocused, nibbling on bacon, Bram’s pate, chocolate biscuits (in that order) withering (and wilting) into a bland but persistent white fear about upcoming responsibilities, my psychosis, my job, my future, about being a mother, a teacher, a grown up generally. The holidays are ending. And they were too good to be true. They glimmer around me like a retreating lightning storm at the rim of the hills. I can still smell the rain. I am sulking. I want them back, please thank you very much.

Eventually I settle onto the bed in the spare room with the Dalai Lama’s sage "Advice On Dying" if only to remind myself of the impermanence of all things (especially holidays),  how important The Moment is and, although irritating, a virtuous mind.  These pious reflections are sobering and enlightening but seem to unravel spectacularly around friends. And whisky. As I discovered on Monday morning after a particularly boozy Sunday lunch chez Julie and remembered we had cut my hair clean and quite remarkably off. To just below my ears. I staggered to the mirror, giddy with horror and a hangover from hell, to discover, with lashings of relief, I actually like it.  It’s short. Very short.  And square. Very square. In fact, a little too square as Louise sweetly pointed out last night.

It’s time for another chocolate biscuit. Winter is still here. The hills are tinder dry already, heralding a revoltingly dusty summer season around the corner, the white heat days when the dust overtakes your car.  But for now, the jasmine is flowering and scenting the house, very delicately. There is sweetness to this in so many ways.


I want to go back to the magic forests of Meru, where the air is sweet and clean, where the Colobus’ eerie howls echo in the mist. I want to go swimming in the marble sea again under glass still Zanzibar mornings, swim out to the boat, into the sun. I don’t want to be here. I’m ready to trade in my horse. Call an ambulance. Or hide my horse. Play No Woman No Cry and turn the volume up at  the "everythingsgonnabealrighteverythingsgonnabealright" bit. right. there you are.

These long quiet hours are taxing to the spirit as are the ghosts and Veronica’s fresh flowers in the old room. And capital letters.

“right. enough uf zat. rauss rauss!"( sound tracked to some eye watering Wagner.) sweaty German alter ego man steps in. or is it my dead mother? "there’s no blood. you’ll be ok. chin chin. toughen up.  there are starving children in somalia and thank your lucky stars you're not Syrian".
thank goodness for that then.

(above pic found at the beautiful and poignant blog and it's true that i want those things.)

toodely toot, y'all. bisous X.X.X. flittery, faffy, frolicky ones x. j.