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