Monday, November 25, 2013

sparklers...


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

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

my son says i am ruining his social life.

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

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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

you are special



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

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

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

..of stars and polaroids...


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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








Saturday, June 29, 2013

bee karma



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



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

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

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

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

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

yes.

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, June 24, 2013

home fires.


i know i know….i told you both not to adjust your sets and now look…I’ve left you there staring at the screen saver, patiently waiting for tales of spice tours, stone town tours, prison island tours, giant tortoises and mr alphonse who considers himself a swimmer of international repute and mr bongo (from the congo. poetry. fact.) who took such delight in the sea and sand, he made himself into a doughnut.


but, she sighs, that was so long ago now.

winter has since arrived. shadows have grown longer and days shorter.  in any case, this winter is a fine winter, as african winters go, because we had good rains.  it’s suitably crispy;  the butterflies are taking full advantage of the last of the april wild flowers and stars are spikey.  it’s crisp enough for a fire at night.

making the fire is my ritual and nobody else's. collecting wood, on the other hand, is not. apart from when there is a revolution. i have a secret mexican recipe for starting a healthy fire with no fuss (email me for payment details. the mauritian trick of cooking oil in toilet paper sucks.). i love being the fire keeper. i must watch it like a hawk. woe betide meddlers. my daughter is learning fast. you mustn’t, under any circumstances, meddle with other peoples' fires, toss logs so carelessly on like cushions on a couch. unless you're stealin' other peoples' horses which you would never do.  like a sleeping dog, let it lie. like most everything in life, timing is all.  i consider myself an unashamedly dictatorial goddess at fire making but, oh besties, not in The Boiler. The kuni Boiler. The Rhodesian Boiler. call it what you will.

 frankly, it’s a bastard.

 i think I wrote about it a few years ago, at the beginning of this blog, when I dutifully wrote Every. Single. Day, petulantly infused with heady and ridiculous notions about being discovered and making shit loads of money (how adolescent of me. grow up, for godsake)…i wrote about the time when i singed (as in burnt) off my eyebrows. i have learned much since then and am now very adept at throwing a clutch of burning matches on kerosene soaked logs then jumping backwards like a baboon from a crocodile, before the greedy flames can scour you from here to Timbuktu.  it’s quite an art, i tell ya. laugh not.

last night, being a goddawful sunday night, when dishes are piled high, monday leers horribly and doggedly around the corner, the table at the front door is piled high with the left over belongings of three peoples’ week end and undone homework, someone didn’t make the dog food, you're mildly hungover from your friend's barbeque and disturbingly broody after holding her sister's baby (blink),  the rigors of adulthood weigh so heavily on the heart and shoulders and all you want is a piping hot shower (baths are out of the question. no water, remember?)  and no one has lit The Boiler and nobody wants to light The Effing Boiler.

I. HATE. LIGHTING. THE. BOILER. so naturally, you want to immediately pour yourself a stiff whisky and listen to Ella Fitzgerald instead.... but…cleanliness is next to godliness and no one likes sticky legs in bed. or feet. and a hot shower isn’t a lot to ask for. or to arrange, and you are a responsible mother, you might wearily conclude…

so as you have of late been thankfully reminded, you must take heed of the mundane, of all those little daily chores which chain-link the minutes of your days,( whether it’s opening the gate, locking the gate, making the coffee, or lighting The Frikken Boiler). you pay attention wholeheartedly, mindfully....Light The Frikken Boiler. because that’s all there is to it, at this precise moment. (this is particularly hard to practice at 6:30 in the morning when you’ve got to pick up dog shit in the lounge…)

indeed…

I spent a good deal of yesterday evening with my head in the fucking boiler asphyxiating myself by practicing an ancient aboriginal art of channeling your breath through fingers pressed together to form a tunnel directed into specific areas of the fire.(learned from an australian play boy) i successfully inhaled cloudfuls of wood smoke, almost died and failed on both accounts. i swore impressively and quite a lot.  and then felt sad. so sad. the vaguely luke warm shower sufficed. it had to. gosh I’m tough.

honestly? who gives a shit about The Boiler? or sticky legs and feet, come to think of it?

 “creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous” – Bill Moyers….put that in your boiler, babies, and smoke it…

and PS: i might not always crack fire making but i DID crack this…


and won.

so there.

(12 yr old self clapping hands and hanging  the ribbon above the piano...)

everyone’s terribly impressed this side of the mountain.

toodely toot y'all. bisous X.X.X. red hot boiling ones x. j 


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

titi and the mind...

this is scary. it's been so long.
but i'm still here.
gosh.
i've quite forgotten how to 'insert' photographs. and, confession, i still don't know how to do that clever link thing.
it's all this focus on keeping a calm mind and an open heart. bloody hard work, i tell ya. terribly distracting. no wonder the gurus head for the mountains and caves.  what a cinch. some of them should try a school trip to zanzibar with 45 children in tow. c'mon big ole guru....do yer tricks then, eh? see how calm your mind is when you yell at 24 of them on a bus in the middle of Stone Town, at night, around 8 "ok! are you all on the bus? check to see if your friend is next to you! NOW!" and someone pipes up, "no, titi isn't here." "what? WHATT? well where the devil is he then?" "we don't know..." and you look out the window into a blustery zanzibar night, with piki pikis, dala dalas, the hustle and bustle of the harbour, lights, darkness and titi isn't on the bus...mr nymota, who you'll meet in a minute, leapt off the bus, in a flash, and into the other bus...and found titi who was frogged marched back to the right bus almost by his ears....

...

...and then we all went for ice creams on the corniche and watched the local boys dive off the pier which impressed everyone, especially the girls.

this is mr nyamota on day 1: having fun on the Spice Tour:


this is mr nyamota at the end of day 3: after we found titi.


i think he is working on a calm mind and an open altruistic heart in The Passing Show Hotel of Zanzibar.


more to follow another time. the end of term tsunami is in sight. i'm batoning the hatches on all fronts. and, trying to stay calm. with an open heart. 
sometimes it feels lighter. 
at others, insane.
nothing a nice cup of tea won't soothe...or a spotty hoss, for that matter.
toodely toot y'all. bisous. X.X.X. open hearted ones on yer lips.
ps: tales of zanzibar to follow....do not adjust your sets.



Thursday, April 11, 2013

kiwayu dreaming...



i still can't quite believe that i am on holidays. i keep waking up and thinking, christ, got to get to school. and then that blissful feeling of, ah, yes, holidays...and i lie back and snuggle deep into the covers and listen to the rain on the roof, watching the mist swirl past the attic window and feel good. so good. it's these small moments in life, when you add them up, that surmount bigger problems. that keep your ship sailing true.
and friends. good friends. who love you and think you are brave and graceful and funny. who still believe in you and restore a certain sense of self.


i am just back from a wild hootenanny up north with all my besties, with some of my most favourite people in the world. i went up to lamu, a little island off the northern kenyan coast.



i stayed with one of my oldest friends in the world, from the good old bad old zambian days. she put me up here:



i felt like a princess.


you are lulled awake at dawn, with the gurgle of a boat starting, the silky heavy slurp of the little manda channel tide against the shore. lines between dream and reality are smudged.


it was insanely hot. there was nothing to do but sleep away the midday and afternoon heat.


 in the cool of twilight, we sat on the old Peponi veranda, drinking dawas (one of the finest drinks this side of the Somal border). lime. honey. vodka. two of these and you're right as rain. we'd stumble back home through the romantic narrow alley ways, breathing in fragments of jasmine and old times, swim naked under the stars and slept like drugged  babies under whirring fans. (normal babies don't sleep, remember?) we walked up the lamu beach, past the fort house. jemima showed me where the tides uncovered an ancient, ruined village last year, but now the sand has covered it up again.

early one morning, we took a speed boat up north to Kiwayu, a little island 30 kms down from the Somalian border.


lots of people are scared to travel up there because of the pirates. i think there is still a travel ban for the region...? which is sad for people trying to make a living up there....and for the isolated communities who rely on tourism. we met some fisher folk who said they hadn't see a somal in a year and a half. these shores are wild and desolate and beautiful. mike's camp nestles between the sea and a maze of mangroves.

(www.mikescampkiwayu.com )



 it's idyllic and far from any maddening crowd, miles from your troubles. it's a new world. with its own secrets.

( www.mikescampkiwayu.com)

we boated up to milz's camp, which suffered the tragedy of a pirate kidnapping two years ago. it was sad to see the camp derelict and struggling along such sparkling beaches and shores. but the pelizzolis are a tough kenyan family, coming from a long history of explorers and adventurers and they will not give up. the camp will start again, perhaps smaller, but probably even better than ever before.


after a of lunch of freshly caught king fish (caught by luca, aged 12, a passionate and dedicated fisherman)


... grilled with ginger and chili and coconut sauce, milz said, "let's go look for turtles." i've never seen a turtle in the wild. we sailed across the bay and spotted FIVE! the joy of seeing a large plated back emerge through the emerald blue water, an old reptilian head surface for breath, then torpedo down for safety, was indescribable and novel and made me feel humble and extremely fortunate. we swam for hours in perfect waves with not a person in sight. we walked for miles up empty beaches, popping blue bottles with our bare feet, delighting in the pop sound.

and, oh besties, i met a wizard. he had no words but i knew he was a wizard. you can tell these things straight off.


...and a puffer fish cat who dealt with the torpid heat in a solid and sensible fashion...


conversations were never dull.we sat under fat monsoon stars, watching russian satellites float slowly by the pleiades. we swopped tales and laughed until our faces hurt. one night, we heard a boat. i felt a little scared and tried to remember where i had left my flip flops, in case i had to run into the dunes to hide. but dreams were stronger and far more seductive.  and the morning arrived anyway as it is wont to do, pirates or no pirates.

and now i am back on the rainy little green hill. home. living rather like a hermit but i am happy to be here. the boy is studying for his exams, albeit reluctantly, and i am watching the trees grow and listening to the grass. the rain makes me feel alive. wild flowers unfurl in the green among scatterlings of mushrooms. the girl is in zanzibar, so i must look for fairies alone. great storms sweep across the maasai steppes and the karongas gush brown and furious down from the monduli mountains. it is too wet to ride, so the horses run free and fat and wild in the green.



my heart is full, with dreams and seas and hills and skies and all is well.

toodely toot y'all. bisous X.X.X. wild pirate ones, on yer lips, gold earrings and everything. x j

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

love an' hosses...



"..Finally he said that among men there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men can be understood at all was probably an illusion..."

All the Pretty Horses- Cormac McCarthy
Luis, Chapter 2.

i cain't say it prettier than that, y'all...


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rhino: A Eulogy...

mwali and rhino: monduli: maasailand : tanzania
(all pics by craig doria www.craigdoriasafaris.com)

the horses were poisoned. i don't know. perhaps in the food. or they ate something. one still lives. she is young. she has a hopeful name, Sun Rise. but this one, the one in the picture, called Rhino, didn't.  this was a fine soldier of a horse. he was born in kenya. his official name on his certificate is Taverna. but he wasn't a Taverna. that sounds like a bar. he was a Rhino. he played polo for a long time in kenya. he lived somewhere out on the athi plains, where the winds batter the plains flat. when his legs became tired he was sold to grumeti reserves in the northern serengeti. to do safaris.  he was the brave one. never hesitated.  he was given to me because "he throws his head" and one day he's "likely to smack a client in the nose and we can't be having that." i took him unseen. i had no idea what was coming my way. i knew he was a flea bitten grey and claire told me he had a heart like a lion. 

he travelled by truck through the serengeti, by night, so the tsetses wouldn't bite. i rode him over from Burka Coffee Estate to the Ngorobobs. he spooked at a log on the way and i thought, "humph. lion heart, eh?" tati was my outrider on her new horse,a 16 hand dark bay, Jefferson. it was a hot day. white sun. bare ground and sunflowers to the horizon. he spooked at some maasai women and their donkeys, carrying water in bright yellow plastic containers. i nearly fell off. "lion heart se gat," i thought.

he was the fastest horse i ever rode. sometimes when the bottom field was ploughed, just before the rains, i'd let him gallop home. he was like lightening and at the slightest shift backwards in weight, he'd scream to a halt, dust flyin', hocks deep under his belly, tossing his head high.  he acted in our little play that sunday when gabby and i dressed up as shifta. she was the princess, in hot pink and gold satin with a crown even. and i let her wear lipstick. she rode sirrocco, another fine and sturdy steed gone to greener pastures.  i had to get her through a valley full of swarming hordes of christians. i carried the old musket which corbett gave to craig for...what was it for?... a lake manyara canoe to grow herbs in....? but we have both...? i can't rightly recall. 

rhino and the musket: ngorobob hill:

he became the school master. he faithfully taught all the watoto on the hill to ride. if they kicked too hard he'd trot faster to bounce them off. if they were gentle, he'd canter like a rocking horse.

he bolted with emily at a trot, towards the popadopalous flower farm, through a maize field. he carried safari c 'cross the dust plains in maasailand, chasing zebra. god he was a fine horse.

so it was with deep regret, that on Sunday, i put him down. he had bad colic. i couldn't bare to see him struggle. he wouldn't give up. he'd fall. struggle up. fall again. struggle up. i watched him. 
"now that's a lion heart,"i thought." he's not giving up."
horses are like that. they fight all the way to the end. you want to say, "look. enough. just bloody die now won't you? please?" 
you can't watch an old soldier like that go down rough. i made the call. 
we tranquilized him and when he finally lay his head down, we found the vein and did it.
a horse's soul explodes from the body and leaves it so crumpled behind. 



raise yer glasses one and all...thanks for the rides, Rhino,  babu with a lion heart...



Monday, February 18, 2013

happy shop - Part 2

if i owned an Happy Shop these are the things i'd be selling. these are the things i'd be buying in bulk.


 free and wild children who still play with sticks and mud, who don't wear shoes and who believe in majiks and ghosts and fairies.


food glorious food. carrots sliced and olives and dips and fanta and pineapple juice and pies from the eastern cape. 


puppies and dogs....and girlie wirlies.


colourful bicycles every day on the way to school with shirts and scarves to match the ensemble.


music music music and the time and space to make it.


i'd buy a way to give smiles, even costly ones, because they make happiness.


and lastly, horses horses horses....who could live without your friend?

...(to be continued)


happy shop



Skies are dark. Storms loom on the horizon but there is no hope of rain. Only this dull heat. We’ve forgotten to fill the bird bath with water for too long. Even the birds have given up. Skies are full of curved balls and flaming arrows. And thirsty birds, obviously. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this blog going because I don’t like the idea of not writing the truth. Is this not the purpose of anyone who dares to sew words together?  I could carry on writing about the sky, the weather, how the children make me laugh and weep and stretch my heart wider and wider, so gladly, so gladly, but all those shiny things are not the only fabric of our lives. It takes more dark blue to weave a beautiful carpet.

Pain is so stark. So present. So eina. No matter if you lie still on the cold stone floor and wish it away. It’s there. Like the black dog. When you wake up in the morning, you have a brief respite of say 2 minutes before the dreaded realization, the awful reality, swims into focus and you can barely get out of bed. Pain gobbles up words and notes and leaves you ship wrecked, reaching for the vodka.

I wish it was as simple as swinging by a shop to pick up some happiness. There. Pop it into a  brown paper packet tied up in string, take it home and eat it fresh, like we did as kids, picking out the inside of the hot loaf on the way home, knowing everything’s going to be ok.

Betrayal, on any level, is a dark and dangerous beast which needs to be sjambokked to death by kindness, love, compassion and humor. The saddest people are always the funniest.

But, across the wild tangled wood drear, on the other side of the mountains, over the rivers, ‘cross the whip lashed plains, there is hope. There is light which shines courageously, which will not be snuffed. Like a lighthouse, it will guide me through these treacherous seas. I went to the sea, a wild and beautiful cold sea, where the white horses pounded the jagged rocks, hungrily wishing for a boat to smash. I saw eight dolphin spinning by in the silver dawn. They tattooed themselves behind my eye lids.

My chest breaks wide open with the beautiful weight of the world.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for leaving comments, which at times have been like life blood, reasons to keep going. Silly, I know, but there you go.

And, Andrew, your translation was right. But you caught the drift anyway. 

Not everything is lost in translation. Thank god.



Tuesday, February 5, 2013

the piggery of time...


"dashing" into town. not. the road home.

As you’ve both summized by now, I live on the top of a beautiful little hill in Tanzania. It’s a bitch of a hill when you run it…by the time you get to the top you want to faint,vomit and possibly die. All the children at the bottom of the hill laugh and point at me as I shuffle past like an old man of 75. My ascent hasn't even begun. "Mimi ni mzee, " (I am old) I growl back at them, huffing and puffing and shuffling. They answer, "Hapana!! (no) heh he heh!" I’ve only ever made it twice without stopping and that was, oh, two years ago. It’s enough to put anyone off running a marathon for the rest of their lives. The hill is conquered far more painlessly in a car or on a horse. There are, apparently, 34 bumps from the bottom to the top. (The children have counted them. Some say there are more, others less, so let’s round it off to 34.) These have been built to save the road from the torrential summer rains. They work. But they’re bastards. Because they slow you down. It’s a real pain when you get to the bottom on a school morning and someone says “Ma. I’ve forgotten my PE clothes/my guitar/ my homework”. Tough luck, you want to say. Instead a string of expletives stream out of your mouth, smooth as milk, as you start your 48 point turn and head back up, the clock ticking mercilessly on. The turn around gobbles up at least 15 minutes which eats into your 8am on the dot Monday meeting. Time time time. I hate time.  There is simply never enough of the stuff no matter how hard you try.

I think that’s why I love this story about a Mexican man, Jose, and his pig Juanita. If you've heard it, stop right here. He was old and also lived on top of a very steep hill, not a dissimilar one to the Ngorobob Hill, by all accounts. Every single day he would walk down to the bottom, with his pig, Juanita, so she could drink at the water trough and roll happily around in the mud. He would sit under the shade of a tree, catching up with his village friends, and after a small amount of time, when his dear pig had finished enjoying herself, they would slowly make their way back up the hill. The entire round trip would take around three hours if not more.

One day, a very smart, young and handsome anthropologist recently graduated from Harvard, moved into the remote village to complete his PHD on people and time. For a few weeks he watched as Jose and Juanita would make their way up and down the hill. It bothered him that the old man wasted so many precious hours of his day. He thought long and hard about it and came up with an ingenious idea. He was thrilled about it.

The following day, he stopped Jose at the water trough, while Juanita oinked and snorted and rolled, as pigs are wont to do, and presented his proposal. “ Jose I have watched you for weeks making your daily journey up and down your hill, bringing your pig to drink and lie in the mud. It takes approximately three hours out of your day. Now. What if I connected this pipe to this pump and pumped water up to the top of your hill? Juanita could have her own water and mud at home! And you’d save yourself three hours a day.” He felt very proud of his simple solution. The old Mexican looked at him, nodding his head wisely. This was a very smart, educated young man from America.  He replied, “ Si signor. That is a very good idea indeed but….” and he paused, thinking carefully, “What is time to a pig?”

It’s impossible to rush around here. You can’t just “pop into town” or “dash into Kisongo”. No. There’ll be either a traffic jam, a political cavalcade, a broken down truck blocking the way, a police road block, an accident. Or you’ll arrive at the bank, pressured to get back to work in an hour and there’ll be a queue from here to Timbuktu or “I’m sorry Madam. But your account has been blocked.” Or “ I’m sorry madam, there is no money in the bank today.” And you want to roar and cry and tear your hair out. Instead you let it go. Let. It Go. (although I didn’t quite manage anything remotely as guru like as that the other day…I’m sure if I’d been anywhere else in the world security would’ve been rallied, especially when I tore up a form under Ernest’s nose and said “ You can shove that up where the sun don’t shine!” tear tear tear )

What to do?

Time is a pig.

I need more of the goddamn stuff.

And money.

Kitchen Board: Tuesday 5 February 2013.


"fix hole in lounge"...yes. there is a big hole in the floor. and out of that hole crawl things like centipedes, scorpions and...snakes. first born and i found one last night. well. mama paka the cat did. i suspected it was a burrowing adder, a nasty lil fucker, so i stomped on it with my birkenstock. they should use that in their ad. Buy Birkkies For Your Health: And Kill Snakes Too. i felt bad. i did. i don;t like killing little baby snakes. but if it was a centipede eater (as it might have been) i am sure there are other babies wriggling around and a mum and a dad and i hope i haven't dented the snake world too much. sorry snakes! must fix hole tomorrow.
toodely toot y'all. bisous. X.X.X. reg'lar as a clock, on yer neck. x j




Tuesday, January 29, 2013

double digit girl



I’m trying to remember when I turned 10. I think we had just moved from Zambia to South Africa, a very different animal in every way. I remember sitting slouched on a chair in the St Catherine’s Convent staff room, meeting Sister Jane Francis for my interview. I don’t think I had ever met a real nun. I peered at her down my nose, curious. It was a little school in a tiny farming town called Empangeni. My mother wouldn't send me to the local Afrikaans school "run by the bloody Nats." It was a rainy day. I wore Lee jeans tucked into my gumboots, which were covered in mud and a Rhodesia Is Super T Shirt tucked into the jeans.  I wanted to look like a horse girl from the north. And I did. I remember my mother saying to me “Sit up, darling! Stop slouching!” I was ten. I was new. I spoke differently to everyone. They said “Police poss the jem.” I called coloured pens, neomagics. They called them kokis. They called biros ball points. My language was so different. So was my world. I came from a 1970’s Zambia, slightly jaded from the last spluttering fireworks of liberation and the fading splendor of a newly founded independence. It was a Lusaka of AK’s, ivory on the streets, armed robberies and afros deluxe. My mother was fiercely liberal and took great pains to point out the apartheid architecture of South Africa whenever she could. It was utterly incomprehensible to me.

I dreaded my first day at the convent because you had to wear white socks and black shoes and I didn’t know any Afrikaans. I was used to beige socks, brown sandals, navy blue pleated skirts and sun hats. I don’t remember any birthday parties when we went to South Africa. I only remember the boarding school ones. That’s odd. I do remember the Christmases, though.

And now here, on the hill, the last born, the girl, is turning 10. “I can’t wait to be a double digit, mama, ” she said, eyes shining with expectation. (Confession: I hate children’s birthday parties. Period.)  We decided to have this one over the week end, because her real birthday is this Thursday and everyone will be at school. So I took a deep breath and told her to make her list. The Birthday List. First born, the 16 year old, helped her design the invitations. I told her to be sensitive when she handed them out so nobody would feel uninvited. We all know how we feel about that now, don’t we?

I’ll spare you the  insanely boring details of “and then they did this and here is the cake" and the inanities of all that was said.” There was nothing for it, but to spend the day by a swimming pool. The heat has been insufferable, white treacherous days stretching into one another. The children tumbled like otters in the water for hours, taking breaks to lie like lizards in the midday sun on the hot rocks, munching on cake and pizza and sipping periodically on hot sodas because they’d forgotten to leave them in the shade. When the sun started its fast track west, I piled them into the car and we headed for the hills. They slept in tents, made a fire, roasted potatoes and marshmallows and ate the left over pizza from lunch. I told them ghost stories, all the favourites: the Zanzibar Flip Flop Man, The Office Ghost and Mohammed And The Silver Bicycle Searching For Fatima one. I was allowed! For once!  I realized they are much loved, in fact. And I gleefully realized I am an excellent story teller. I know how to scare ten year old people good and proper.

I left them sitting around their fire, shoes forgotten despite stern scorpion warnings, and watched a dainty paper moon float up over the salmon pink snows of Kilimanjaro in the twilight. My ribs softened into ribbons in the warm summer night wind. The appaloosa sighed nearby. Yes. This was a good double digit party. The children were free, barefooted, wild, dirty, riotous and high, runnin’ on sugar ‘cross the moonlit hill.

I left last born, with her head peering out of a tent crammed with girls, saying, “Mama I feel like vomiting.” I said, “Too many sweets. Fresh air’ll do the trick. Just make sure you vomit outside the tent, hey? ”
“Thank you mama. This is the best party I have ever had.”

I walked quietly down the hill, following the pathway down which the horses have cut, which winds through the short tufty grass, remembering the Nairobi morning, almost ten years ago, when she arrived; how my heart burst through my bones when that little fat baby girl was handed to me, her hair in tight black curls, her fingers curly with her little wings neatly folded against her perfect spine; how she latched onto me, furiously and with intent, her neat black eyebrows still and arched. Who knew that love could grow so giant?

 My little beautiful baby girl.

 And now she’s 10 already. A Double Digit Girl.

In the quiet hours of the dove grey morning, the owl visited, hooting soft as velvet, his talons scritch scratching on the tin roof. He hasn’t been for a long time. What invisible scrolls has he left for me this time, I wonder?

Kitchen Board: Tuesday 29 January 2013

it's already been a busy old week, as you can see. the "hela" is going to be a slight problem. barclay's bank has blocked my account along with thousands of other ones because we hadn't handed in our details, ya know, passport info, work permit info, salary slips, residential details and on and on and on it goes. so they just blocked the accounts WITHOUT WARNING. rather a tetchy problem what with pay day comin' up. still. the world keeps spinnin', we're all double digits, some bigger than others, and kesho ni kesho. (google it goddamnit. you should nearly be fluent by now) And today, just after lunch, sitting in another English literature class, the thunder rolled and it rained and rained and rained and my heart danced up up up and away to where the giants played bowls in the sky.
toodely toot, y'all and bisous X.X.X. double ones, obviously, smack on yer lips.. x j


Sunday, January 20, 2013

NFI'd...



My dear friend Pamu, artist, wise woman guru and mentor extraordinaire, recently translated the acronym of FOMO for me. I know I was born in a cave but this is about keeping up with the times, people. Thank god, then, for my guru. (Fear Of Missing Out, just in case you didn’t know either. Don't be shy.)  As I’ve grown older and older and older (and older), you’d imagine one would've grown out of this mind state, grown up, a little bit. Clearly (and horrifyingly) it seems this is not the case here…Someone (someone who I really like and wished they liked me as much) threw a party last night and invited everyone on the hill except me. I know I shouldn’t feel left out or offended (I have lectured myself incessantly since last night. Sternly, I’ll have you know.) but truly, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I must be uncannily lucky or protected by a host of angelic beings because, oh besties, if the Universe is as responsive as I believe it to be, I should be way up shit creek. 

You see, since finding out everyone was going except me, I have hatched such wicked, colourful and intricate plans of revenge, I fear to commit them to paper. They involve goats and/or pigs and scrolls with messages inside, firecrackers, much fanfare and Maasai herdsmen. The thing is, I probably wouldn’t have gone but it’s always nice to be remembered. I'm blaming this on being sent to boarding school at the tender age of 5 (which has obviously stunted my emotional intelligence. gulp. gulp.)...where the birthday girls would stand in the quadrangle before dinner and read out the names of all the lucky invited people who would sit at the table on the stage and get to eat chocolate log cake and sweets before chapel. The entire year would center around The Birthday List. Any slight misdemeanor would result in a curt and brutal: "Right. That's it. I. Am. Crossing. You. Off. My. Birthday. List." It was never very final and the lists would change endlessly - on and off like a lighthouse. Still. With childish hope brimming in your five year old throat, it was crushing not to be called out. 

So, my dear and loyal readers, I have spent today, this windblown, dusty white Sunday, in splendid isolation, drumming up ship loads of forgiveness and letting the heat burn away my bizarre and unworldly revenge plans. Far too complicated anyway. Instead, I donned my running shoes and headed for a walk out about on t' hill with the express purpose of taking photographs for you. It was really too hot for running and too early for gin. 
Here they are...
You: Oh god please no…Really? Reeeeally?
Me (purposefully ignoring any signs of protest as is my way): Here is my dog. The one who survived the cobra bites? Remember?

Here are the horses. 

Here are some rather beautiful bougainvillea. How can Damian hate them?


You (gaunt): Sigh....
Me: Here are acacia flowers which look like pom poms and mean it will rain. ha ha.

Here is a road, which might look interesting, enticing, to anyone with an imagination.

Here is a massive cactus.

And here, oh patient ones, is Felix!


He’s the early birthday present for last born. Two of the dogs are in love and utterly devoted to this little fella…The bitch, on the other hand, is pointedly ignoring him and all stiff legged. Mama Paka, the cat, is absolutely livid and would eat him for dinner if she could.

We are smitten.

FOMO be banished. You can win some but not all.
So there you are.
PS: is it better to be forgotten or purposefully not invited? 
I'm just sayin'.. jeez.

Kitchen Board: Sunday 20 Jan 2013: (dust storms starting...)


toodely toot y'all. you're on the birthday list for sure. bisous X.X.X. chocolate log ones...x yeah. j