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


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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

back to school...

The impending brutality of departures makes itself known when there are no more safe words to use.  The city, cold and grey in the early morning light, flits by, unfeeling, almost relishing in what’s about to happen. I say, “Oh look at that bus darling. Look at the lights. It’s like a Christmas tree.”
 He looks gravely at me from the back seat and smiles, “Yes.”
I’m grasping at straws already.
“I know you’re going to feel a little homesick but your school is wonderful. I am so happy that you’re there,” I lie, trying to make things better.
He doesn’t answer me.
“Oh look. There are the aeroplanes.”
They stand like giant tin sausage dogs, queued up outside, branded tails in the air. 

A hand tightens over the heart.

There is a queue outside the security gate into International Departures.
I carry his bag. He let’s me.
“Do you want to take the chocolate biscuits?” He chose them yesterday at the Karen Dukkas.
“No thanks, ma. You keep them.”
He clutches The Red Pouch, with his tickets, his passport and his Yellow Fever Book.
“Whatever you do, don’t lose that eh? Then you’ll be stuck…” and I laugh lightly, ruffling his hair.
The line shuffles closer to the gate.  The silence descends. There are no more safe words.
I remember to be Queen Elizabeth as my throat starts to clench. For godsake keep it together, woman. Nations are at stake here. It works for now.
I haul his black bag onto the roller, the x ray machine swallowing it up fast. He turns. We daren’t look each other in the eye.  He hugs me fiercely. I hold onto him for as long as I can. He pulls himself away, rushes through the gate without looking back and disappears in a blink into the mayhem of Jomo Kenyatta International. It’s so final.  
I don’t care that people see my face crumble.  I walk blindly out into a pallid, blurry Nairobi morning and cry at the railings.  I rummage in my bag to find the lip ice he gave me last night. I was looking for some in the dukkas yesterday but failed. He remembered before he went to bed last night.
 “Here ma. Have this one. I don’t need it.”
I know it’s just lip ice but it was the kindness, the thoughtfulness of his action. I find it, put some on and hold it in my hand.

 I cry the entire way from Kenya to Tanzania.

Who knew I had this many tears? I could’ve cried a new river for all of Maasailand.

I know everything will be fine in the end. But one thing I know, farewells are, for me anyway, brutal. 

Kitchen Board: Sunday 13 Jan 2013 (auspicious or what?)

aaargh. the chickens are restless. they need food. we need eggs. bring on the monday shopping ritual.
toodely toot, y'all. bisous. X.X.X. softly. x j

Sunday, January 6, 2013


I’m back on t’hill oh besties but I left my heart behind in Zanzibar. My feet don’t want to be in shoes anymore. I want to be back on the beach where time is slow, waters are azure and the stars hang low and sweet. . . . and, oh bestie bloggies, I’ll let you into a secret, the dream zanzibar fort house is finally finished…!  It’s beautiful and kind.  One day you can stay in it if you wish…Dreams do come true.

Time in Jambiani was perfectly dreamy... I spent 5 days alone working on my book. I don’t think I’ve ever had that amount of time to myself before. It was exceptional. I didn’t have to stop for meals, or drop anyone off at a music class, or pick someone up from basket ball or answer a phone. How extraordinarily fortunate is that? I would wake with the dawn, to the hum of the fan, a silver light, slants of sunshine through the shutters and a silky sea sloshing and whispering. is that rain or is it the palms? I'd drink my coffee and smoke my cigarette on the sea wall, watching the only jogger on the beach. I'd lazily contemplate a swim out to the boats and do it for old time's sake, gasping at the cold water at my waist (which by noon is as warm as tea), laugh and dive in, swimming back and forth a few times, lolling about like an otter.

 I would be at my desk in the tower by ten and work until three every day. In the white still heat of the afternoon, when the tide was way out, whispering from the reef, I’d stroll over to Sale & Pepe’s, Mimo’s (Nemo's...?),  little restaurant for a plate of his best homemade pasta and a good read. In the evenings, if I wasn’t meeting up with new friends from the village, I’d sit on the roof top, at palm height and dream up new words and poems and songs from the stars. I think I managed to catch some in my paper jars and turn them into ink...

My solitary writer life (all of five entire stunning days) joyfully exploded with the arrival of all our friends from Zambia. The house was filled with laughter, children, music and the old stories retold around the lamplight, tied together with jasmine incense and all manner of alcohol, drunk like in the old times.

Friends, endless midday games of Rummikub over bottles of Santa Giulia (a fine Argentine wine), sails out to the reef with Salum in his ngalawa to pootle about in water a zillion shades of blue, long swims out beyond the boats, over the sea urchins or simply sitting in the dark purple shade of a palm staring out to sea – all of these things, peppered our days in no particular order.  We forgot to care whether it was Monday or Wednesday or what date it was. Father Christmas didn’t, though. He’s clearly a punctual kinda guy.

Beans and I headed into Stone Town on the 24th to do some last minute shopping – little water colours of dhows, silver trinkets, pretty, gaudy flower clips, white cotton frocks, hippy dresses, vikoi and treasure boxes. . . The old town still holds its magic and tawdriness, for me, at least.

The hues and essences of Zanzibar haven’t really changed through the ages. I am busy reading Zanzibar by Richard Francis Burton.(Volume 1: Cambridge Library Collection. First published 1872)  It’s a stunningly excellent read. The writing is filled with avid descriptions and facts, a gripping read, littered with wit, facts and humor, which captures imagination. What a brilliant writer he was. I love this excerpt describing the first time he set eyes on the island:

“…Truly prepossessing was our first view of the then mysterious island of Zanzibar, set off by the dome of distant hills, like solidified air, that form the swelling line of the Zanzibar coast. Earth, sea and sky all seemed wrapped in a soft and sensuous repose, in the tranquil life of the Lotus Eaters, in the swoon-like slumbers of the Seven Sleepers, in the dreams of the Castle of Indolence. The sea of purest sapphire, which had not parted with its blue rays to the atmosphere – a frequent appearance near the equator – lay basking, lazy as the tropical man, under a blaze of sunshine which touched every object with a dull burnished gold. The wave had hardly enough energy to dandle, or to cream with snowy foam the yellow sandstrip which separated it from the flower-spangled grass, and from the underwood of dark metallic green. The breath of the ocean would hardly take the trouble to ruffle the fronds of the palm, which sprung, like a living column, graceful and luxuriant, high above its subject growth. 

The bell-shaped convolvulus (Ipomaea Maritima) supported by its juicy bed of greenery, had opened its pink eyes to the light of day, but was languidly closing them, as though gazing upon the face of Heaven were too much of an exertion. The island itself seemed over indolent and unwilling to rise; it showed no trace of mountains but was all voluptuous with gentle swellings with the rounded contours of the a girl-negress and the brown-red tintage of its warm skin showed through its gauzy attire of green. And over all bent lovingly, a dome of glowing azure, reflecting its splendours upon the nether world, whilst every feature was hazy and mellow, as if viewed through “woven air”, and not through vulgar atmosphere…
As we drew nearer and vision became distinct, we found as many questions for the old pilot as did Vasco da Gama of old. Those prim plantations which, from the offing, resembled Italian avenues of oranges, the tea-gardens of China, the vines of romantic Provence, the coffee plantations of Brazil, or the orange groves of Paraguay, were the celebrated clove grounds…We distinctly felt a heavy spicy perfume…”

“…Entering the coral reef…I remarked that the lucent amethyst of the waters was streaked and patched with verdigris green; the ‘light of the waves’ being caused by shoals, whose golden sands blended with the blue of heaven…So smooth was the surface within the walls, that each ship, based upon a thread of light, seemed to hover over its own reflection…”

So yes. I’ve left that all behind…but perhaps my heart will catch up with me soon - or i'll simply have to go and find it. I’ll be back. I’ll be back. Sooner than you think. 
It’s not that bad to be home on the hill, I guess.
The hill is green after much rain, the horses fat and the dogs loyal. And the air is sweetly scented with mountain rain. Yes. That's a very good smell.
As for school? Well, that remains to be seen…

KITCHEN BOARD: 06 JAN 2013. (stormy afternoon on the hill)

To be updated shortly - once my heart and head are barefooted and back in the kitchen. (unpregnant, obviously).
happy 2013 y'all. may it be even better? is that even possible?
toodely toot. bisous. X.X.X. jambiani summer ones, on yer neck like butterflies x. j