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Archive for July, 2010

Inonyizizwe

A flame burns in her indumba. Her incantations are soft as she kneels, sitting on her haunches, bowed in reverence.

Takosa”

she whispers as she cups her hands, claps, sprinkles snuff  in front of her,  A bundle of the sacred herb imphepho is lit, the smoke entwines around her hair.

“Takosa”

Her name is Inonyizizwe meaning The one that comes from afar. The albatross, her mongoni spirit who’s myths have become nestled in the human psyche represents her ancestors passage from Australia to their adopted homeland here. Her great grandfather Henry Waters, her great grandmother, Mary locke-Waters, their children Muriel, Jocelyn, Evelyn Archer and her grandmother Dorothy from whom she inherited the gift of healing. The albatross is her symbolic mediator between the upper and lower realms.

I look through the lens of my camera, My sister is drinking the warm blood flowing from the neck of a goat.  The death bleats summon her ancestors to guide her transition from twasana an initiate to Sangoma. The sacrifice becomes a celebration of life. The goat is skinned and cut up for food. This her first test of strength during her Tsonga initiation.

Things are not revealed – they unfold in their own way. I enter into this ancient and complex ceremony without judgement, it is the only way I can try to understand my sisters calling. I stand outside in the sun, my thoughts stepping on my own worldview while her next task is being prepared. A toothless woman smiles at me, a child covers her forehead with her arms, swings her body from side to side, stares at me. I look at an enamel bowl filled with the head and shins of the goat. It’s dead eyes look peaceful, as peaceful as when they looked at me behind my camera. It got to know the sound of my camera, a sound it associated with my soft voice as I stroked it, the food I gave it, the bowl of water I put down for it while taking pictures in the afternoon light in Soweto. The moment before the blade was held up to its neck,  I clicked and it turned,  it heard the camera and it’s eye’s were calm.

Nonyizizwe is lead out, hands behind her back, her two thumbs tied together with string. She kneels in front of a bowl filled with chunks of raw meat from the sacrificed goat. The bowl is pulled away from her as she crouches. She plunges her face into the bowl to snatch the meat. The bowl must be empty before it is dragged to the end of the yard.  She walks on her knees, her cheeks bulge, she chews, swallows, thrusts her head back into the chunks as she follows the bowl. Her face tilts up to the sky, Her eyes closed, her mouth contorted as though she is about to shout but she is silent.  A procession of Sangomas, drummers, singers, family follow Nonyizizwe upstairs where a coal filled brazier has been lit. The goat carcass hangs from a pole supporting a clothesline. We surround her as she drinks liters of water mixed with medicinal herbs to cleanse her body. She brings up frothy white foam.  The reaching causes her body to tremble. She purges until she has nothing left in her stomach, her bladder, her bowls. Nonyizizwe sits sill. The stillness is around her, the stillness is part of her. It exists deep inside her where her ancestors guide her.

A plate of liver is passed around. We each take a piece. My sister is kneeling next to a stove. A pan filled with a concoction of blood and crushed peanuts bubbles above the hotplate. She dips her hands into the boiling mixture and licks them, she works quickly, her hands are red from the heat, the blood. She taps the surface and licks until the mixture is finished.  She gets up, her face stained.  Ritual medicine is place directly onto the burning hotplate.  A long bamboo stick is handed to her, she draws the smoke into her mouth, inhales it. Two other Sangomas join her. The drumming and singing intensifies.  I look at my sister, her face is tired, her body thin, her feet scarred and calloused. The sunlight catches her eyes, they are resolute.

The Sangoma’s take off their shoes outside Nonyizizwe’s indumba, bow and sit quietly while she communicates with her ancestors.  Her Gobela’s rub her face with white clay,  place grass wreathes around her shoulders –  to me they are wings. The candlelight flickers across her face, to me she is a bird. The white clay indicates that she is in the luminal world. Baba Martha bows next to her. The ritual of Phatla calls her ancestors, welcomes them on the eve of her graduation into Tsonga Sangomahood.

A feast is prepared. We eat while Nonyizizwe stays in her indumba. Food taboos exclude her from this meal. The drummers drum, the voices sing, the dancers take the floor, one at a time. Dancing styles are compared and admired.  The drums throb louder, whistles are blown. People from the street stand outside the yard. An old man on crutches comes in and sits down. He is welcomed and given a plate of food. Others follow, they are welcomed and fed. It is customary to include the community. Nonyizizwe walks into the centre of the room. A mat is put down for her to kneel on. The drumming stops. People are silent.  She bows down, greets the Sangomas individually. To Baba Martha she recites her Tsonga greetings, to Baba Evelyn, Baba Queenie, Baba Cynthia then the neophyte Sangomas.  Each reply Takosa and clap their cupped hands making a hollow, rhythmical, percussive sound. The mantra Takosa is repeated in ancient custom. Nonyizizwe extends her legs, they begin to shake, her arms, her shoulders, her whole body shakes. She jumps up, Shouts,  a loud guttural sound comes from deep within, her eyes glaze over. Her dancing is slow at first – a bird preparing for flight. As it intensifies, the tempo of the drums follow the rhythm of the dance. She rises and falls, a bird soaring effortlessly on a thermal.  She speaks, tears smearing the white clay on her face.

“Where are my things, Where is my Dorothy, I am a pilot, I have been shot down.”

This is the incarnation of her great uncle Evelyn Archer Locke-Waters who was shot down over Arabia just after the second world war. Dorothy was his  sister, Nonyizizwe’s grandmother. She is clutching her grandmothers watch, her broach, her fathers flying wings as she dances. Evelyn Archer is her dlozi. her guide. She is bringing him home. Her professional name will be Baba Evelyn Archer.

There is a Moari myth about the tears of the albatross, weeping for its distant land. Nonizizwe’s tears, Evelyn Archers tears and the albatross tears become one. She is united with her guide, her mongoni spirit, her destiny as a Sangoma, She is a guardian of ancient  knowledge and maintains the balance between man, nature and the ancestral world.

The scenery in Soweto tumbles past us as we drive towards the mountains.  Children are playing, girls walk together laughing, boys kick soccer balls, men lie under trees, caps pulled over their eyes. We follow a path leading up the mountain. I feel at home among the khakibos, the blackjacks; they stick into my jersey, prick my skin. I put my hand around a head of khakibos and squeeze it. My mind is filled with childhood memories of the farm. Nonyizizwe is carrying a chicken, she disappears into the long dry grass as though hiding from predators. I think of the book “Mediations on Hunting” and try to remember the words. “The essence of hunting involves a complete code of ethics. The hunter who accepts this code keeps his commandments.” The Sangomas are about to sacrifice a chicken in the same spirit, in the solitude of this place with no witnesses but us, no audience other than us and the tall aloes, and the yellow grass, and the clumps of acacia trees that form  an amphitheater for our ceremony. In the shade of the acacias the chicken’s throat is cut, its blood spills into an enamel bowl until it is full. Nonyizizwe is kneeling, three crowns of entwined grass are placed on her head on top of which a clay bowl is balanced. The chicken’s blood mixed with frothy medicines is poured into the bowl, it flows over, over her face, over her long hair, her body. Barefooted she is led away from us, further up the mountain. We remain quiet and contemplative. I am summonsed to be with my sister. I find her naked, smeared with red clay. The red of the clay and the red of her hair are the same.

I do not ask questions, my sister is smiling. Her journey to becoming a Tsonga Sangoma is now complete.

Takosa Baba Evelyn Archer.

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Indigenous people used cocoa beans as currency according to recorded history from Spanish explorers.  A night with a prostitute?  Ten cocoa beans were all it took.  100 and you could own a slave.

 

My mouth salivates as I anticipate the dark-sweet taste.  We snap off squares of organic chocolate and share a hand made bar.  The taste is rich and has a slight grainy feel as it melts in my mouth, and I remembered that morning. 

 

I was salty and damp from sweat and water spray, as salty as the mangrove leaves, through whose tangled roots the red snapper swam in the brackish river.  We sliced a v through the water and ahead, on the banks were a few wooden shacks, surrounded and backed by a thick forest of banana trees.  The fronts of a couple of them were brightly painted, as if to give a good appearance to the Kuna Indians as they glide by in their traditional dug-out canoes, or ulus, which are always carved from a single tree trunk.  As our small boat neared, I saw rows of wooden trays on the docks in front of the shacks.  Gilberto, our new friend, explained that in each were cocoa beans, which the farmer spreads out by hand.  Thick pulp had already fermented, liquefied and dripped away, leaving the brown beans to dry in the searing Panamanian sun.

 

Central America was a place that attracted both of us.  Never having been there before, and speaking very little Spanish, we flew into Panama’s lively capital, Panama City, and rented a car.  Breakfast was fresh fruit, juicy slices of mango, tangy-sweet rings of pineapple, and of course, the ever present Chiquita bananas, an assortment of organic yogurt and fresh baked breads.

 

Sated, and with a delicious sense of freedom and adventure, we left Panama City on the Pan-Americana Highway.  Although we had a guidebook, intuition was our beacon, and we followed her toward the mountain range that splits the country, with a glance at the Panama Canal as we drove over the bridge. 

Our destination was not the mountains, although breathtakingly beautiful with thick tropical vegetation and streaked with flowing waterfalls, but was the Bocas del Toro archipelago on the north-west corner of Panama, scattered in the Caribbean Sea near the Costa Rican border.

We thought we’d make it over the mountains by nightfall, but we hadn’t yet crested the top when dusk painted long blue shadows, and shades of rosy-pink tinged the sky.  A thick blanket of fog enveloped us, and visibility was limited to a few feet.  First concern, then fear clutched me as voices screamed out to us from a passing car in a language we didn’t understand.  We heard rushing water, and soon realized that the voices were screaming a warning.  Suddenly, most of the road in front of us was gone, washed away by a mudslide.  Turning around wasn’t possible on the narrow road, and we couldn’t reverse down in the thick fog, so we crept forward through the muck.  We hugged the wall of mud on our left.  To the right, jagged asphalt jutted over the steep mountain cliff, only a couple of feet from our tires.

We made it safely through and over the top of the mountain.  On the way down, we found a little place to pull over, put the seats back, and fell into a soft sleep.  At dawn, the magical sight of a dewy mist hung on everything, like a dripping wet blanket, and sparkled in the early morning sun.  Just down the road, we were the only diners at a tiny open air restaurant where the coffee was strong and the eggs were fresh.  Chickens wandered around us and scratched at the dirt near our feet, and we watched horses playing on the nearby hills.

At Almirante, the gateway to Bocas del Toro, we leave the car and wait for a water taxi.  From there on, transport is by boat, bicycle or foot.  We glide over the narrow river, passing tiny villages, where pigs root along the banks and naked children call out to us and wave.

The main island of Bocas is bustling with bars serving tropical drinks made with pineapple and lime.  We buy molas, the beautifully embroidered stories on cotton cloth from the Kuna Indian women.  At the docks, we’re too late to catch a ride to one of the less inhabited islands, and a small dark man with shiny black hair and a shocking smile offers us a ride for a few cents in his ulu.  Under the moon’s shimmering light, the small dug-out canoe slices through the calmly rolling sea to Isla Bastimentos.

 

We met a young local whose uncle was selling a piece of his farm that overlooked Dolphin Bay; did we want to see it?  Of course we did.  Therefore, we were in a small boat with young Gilberto, cutting a v through the water, passing trays of cocoa beans drying in the searing Panamanian sun.  Uncle Antonio was a huge laughing Panamanian with plenty of horses and pigs in his yard. 

We had lunch of fresh caught pan-fried fish, in their shack on stilts over Dolphin Bay and watched the pitifully skinny dogs dive in the water after the bones that were casually thrown in.  When asked, I told his wife that I had no children, and she said that I must move into their house, so she could cook for me.  That way, she assured me, I’d have lots of them.

Antonio met us one day on the main island to finalize the deal.  He came from work, and still wore his blood-splattered shirt from the two cows that he’d slaughtered and delivered in his 30-foot ulu to the mainland.

We drank shots of Jose Cuervo Gold tequila with slices of lime to the occasion and discovered, to our absolute delight, that the more we drank, the better we understood each other.  Antonio’s only English phrase was “Take it easy”, which can make me laugh to this day, years later.

While in this marvelous cluster of islands, we held tiny poison dart frogs in our hands, shiny and red as a poppy in the sun, watched leave cutter ants cut a path in front of our path to a swath of white-sand, palm tree-stuffed shoreline.  We were alone there, except for the young man who asked us if we wanted some ganja.  We stayed at Frances’ place, who met us in his bare feet, asked our first names, and gave us a key.  There, we shared a communal open-air kitchen, took cold-water showers, and napped in the brightly colorful hammocks overlooking the sea.  We got drunk with the locals and bought a piece of paradise and groceries from the Chinese woman who wouldn’t stop staring at my feet.  We snorkeled and swam, and turned dark as the cocoa beans.  Oh, the cocoa beans…

The process is organic, from bean to bar, and tastes unlike any chocolate that I’ve ever eaten.  I’ve had the great fortune in my life to savor chunks of chocolate in Switzerland, and thought it the best in the world, until I bit into a bar made locally in Bocas del Toro, Panama.  I had to wonder, after all we’d done, seen and experienced…was chocolate the reason we both had a strong intuition to come to Panama and follow our hearts to this very spot?  Maybe so.  At that moment, it certainly seemed reason enough as I closed my eyes, smiled and relished the last square.

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SWEETNESSES OF LIFE  June 2010

Warm to hot sunshine on my winter-cold body

Lounging in the peacefulness

                        and quiet

                        of the garden summer house

Sunlight drifting through gentle swaying leaves

Ahead : Mountains – Three Sisters, Jean’s Hill, Perdeberg

A Sunday of rest. Deleted: telephone calls, wayward computer activity

No people needing attention for themselves

I myself, my shadow and I

Keeping ourselves company

For long idle hours

Sweet moments pf well-being and good fortune.

Clear blue skies will fade into starry night.

Scorpio overhead

Moon at her near fullness

Venus by her side.

Walking along the sandy beach

Watching terns circling wide in vast flocks

A friendly dog or five

Little human angels – exploring, chasing, building sand castles and moats

Sweetness of ice-cold ocean

Sweetness smell of salt sea.

At home, the call of our resident fish eagle

Serenade by fiscal shrike family

Sweetness of birdsingings – intricate and many, notes, melodies, cadence, rhythms

Visitation by a cape batis, low-hopping through knoppiesbos

Fragrance of lavender on the air

Wild rosemary up-pointing her fluffy white flowerets.

Tress growing tall, proud, shady

Fynbos queendom offering nectar to bird goddesses

Glint of a spiderweb trap from leaf to leaf

I ,Myself, my shadow, and I

Strong in the centre

Breathing gently

Tall and free and easy

Aware to the ends of the earth

and the tips of my toes

Sweetnesses of hearing

Seeing

Tasting

In detail

In each moment of space-time

Relaxed

At ease

Letting go of worrisome mind, demanding world

The earth under my feet

Heaven above

Balanced between.

Soft eyes – heart – centre – belly

Smiling from heartspace into the impossible flowers

of the world

Sweetness of body feeling light, balanced, relaxed, easy

Feeling calm in this world of sweetnesses

Remembering to be in kindness – to self and the world

Sweetness of no judging

            No commenting

            No criticising

            Just roaming in awareness

Sweetness of just Being  – choosing the gentler option.

Sweetness of tranquility, of no anxiety no haste, no problem

Sweetness of a timeless zone

Sweetness of dimensions of space rolling through, in, on and out

Sweetnesses in the house of memories

Of good times past

Sweetness of obstacles overcome, challenges completed

Sweetness of nostalgia, even of regret

Childhood happinesses

Sweetnesses, my mom and dad, great and honorable Beings

Sweetness of being loved, guided, respected

And let free into my own explorations and ways

Sweet ways on hockey fields, tennis courts, swimming pools

libraries, classrooms

Sweet teachers – some.

Adolescent romances, sweet naïve kisses, university friendships

Sweetness of achievements, of study, of mentors,

Of recognition of the immense panorama of

Human endeavour, history, struggle, possibility

So many sweetnesses in the growing into the eyars and days of living.

Miraculous sweetness of babies, so tiny, soft against my body,

Softening forever my heart

Sweetness of hugs and cuddles and ‘love you’s’

Scary sweetnesses watching them grow and learn and change

Sweet fragrance of one’s own family

Sweetness of a daughter , strong, independent, clear.

Sweetness of a son with red hair and green eyes.

Sweetness of being grandparent,

The love and trust of a pair of little grandgirls

Sweetness of unconditional love from them,  enjoytimes and playtimes together.

Sweetnesses  of taking up life after children, finding a calling, work of many hues and experiences,

Working in the everyday world,

Sweet integrating the marketplace with expanding consciousness

Sweetnesses that arise from good work

With changing pace and style as I roll into aging

Sweetnesses of compensations for loss

And through it all – sweetnesses of good friendships, new friendships and old friendships

The sweetness of sharing, chatting, confiding,

Listening, supporting, dancing and weeping through the years.

Sweetness of books, movies and music

Of poets and poetry, writers, artists

Sweetness of exploring and opening to the new in the now

The sweetnesses of finding comfort and feeling

in the deeper dimensions of experience –

in touching the world in all its aspects and levels

– magical, the mysterious, the marvelous and intriguing sweetnesses .

Heart responses to the words, music and thoughts of great teachers

Guides to emotion and psyche, soul and spirit

Sweet perfume of favourites – Mary Oliver, Rumi, Hafiz,

Tagore, John Tarrant

Billy Kennedy in the Garden of Paradise

The sweetneesses of time spent alone

and times in good companionship

The sweetness of silence

and solitary walks

Of the spaciousness of the Karoo –

Tracks of ancestors, animals, early peoples

The sweetnesses of ordinary life this day

Of chocolate, chocolat, rich coffee, greek shortbread

Of food and good coffee

Of mezzes and melanzanes, soups and salads, pizzas and pies, olives and oranges

Meringues and mushrooms

Angie’s sunflower biscuits

Cupcakes loaded with sweet icing

The sweetness of inner-warming sherry

sipped by the fireside

Reflecting the flames and the shadows on home

Of chocolate, chocholat, rich coffee, greek shortbread

The sweetness of life in Kleinmond –

Our people, our library, our traders.

Loyalty and community,

The pace and space of a small village.

The sweetnesses of living privately, where the outside world knows not to impose,

not to rob me of my time and activity

The sweetnesses of escape – of non-working time –

Of non-housekeeping time –

Of roaming, exploring, tasting, touching,

The incredible sweetnesses of myriads ordinary and extraordinary enjoyments

The sweetness of stopping, and pausing, and choosing

the softer, gentler path

The sweetnesses of great music in great cathedrals,

in the spaces that make your heart breathe and break

The sweetnesses of travel, of new adventure,

Of favourite places, of Paris, Cordoba, Glastonbury, Aleppo –  and

the impact of history and culture, courage and enlightenment

Of monumental architecture, great dance and theatre,

vibrant cities and rural countrysides

Of food and wine,

Of dress, and art.

Of thinkers and writers

The sweetnesses of pure oils and long, w arm bathtimes

Of the lights and fragrances of candles, candles, candles

Of the richnesses and riotousnesses of colours and tendrils

Of the lives and the characters of our animal, bird and plant peoples

Of mountain, river, ocean, forest, steppe, deserts kingdoms

Of the thoughts of gods and goddesses, angels, devas, shamans and spirits

The sweetnesses of soul and soulfulness

Spirit, spiritedness and Great Spirit

Multi-coloured sweetnesses manifested by the

many many human beings passing through my days

            When all the seats are taken

For the years of sweetnesses given by my daughter and her life

By my son of the red hair, mischief and vulnerability

For the sweetnesses of Charles, daily, in great and true kindness

For the different sweetnesses of friends old, new, unknown and in-between.

Sweetnesses of the immense and varied  beauty

Of our planet, this universe

The sweetness of caring about what is important for me and my others

The clouds drift by now, warmth departs and the beauteous moon is on high, Softness of the day is gone. Rainclouds roll in from the west. Fiscal shrike departs for his somewhere nest, The sun sets golden. Mist coves the mountains. Quietness, coolness descends like a blessing.

From his room I hear the massed choirs and orchestra of Elena Karaindroua, Elegy of the Trojan Women

while guinea fowl peck at seeds in the grass outside

Must have many, many sweetnesses or this life is too terrible

Sweetnesses to drown the terrors, losses, disappointments, sufferings and violence of our times.

-ends-

For the sweetnesses of a brother who writes

            “In this wild and tender place

            May we ever hear the sound of truth

            In the whispering of starts

            In turning windmills

            In the silence of the veld.

            And as long as I draw breath

            May I be

            A light for those who have lost their way

            A home for the forsaken

            A backstage pass to the great unknown

            When all the seats are taken

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The last rays of the afternoon sun was casting an illumines and soft glow of yellow to orange onto the high grass of the savannah in Moremi  in northern Botswana. “Liza’ , the collard main female lion of her pride of sisters crouched  low into the vegetation, They had circled a large Buffalo herd and waited patiently for the right moment to attack. They had left their offspring of seven cubs behind, hidden in some shrubs and thickets. All had not eaten for several days and the youngster’s survival depended on their mothers hunt. Slowly, the females approached the herd, the evening breeze was in their favour coming from behind towards the Buffaloes. They lifted their heads and suddenly “Liza” started the run, all the females had waited for her first move and joined from all the sides. They had spotted one old female Buffalo, trying desperately to keep up with the stampeding rest of her companions, but to no avail and soon the lions tackled the big beast and brought to ground. A frenzy of feeding starts, but all the mothers had called their offspring to join into the feast and the little cubs started to rip into the soft underbelly to get the easiest morsels. Their heads were covered in blood and soon the big animal was reduced to a carcass, which they left to the approaching Hyenas. Full with a good and needed feed, they retreated to the nearest trees and shade to digest in peace. The cubs had yet another chance of survival, thanks to the hunting skills of their mothers. 

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At the age of 25, I was free from the chains of my mother with no worries in my life and I decided to leave for the unknown South Africa to start a new career. New friends and a different surrounding embraced me , as I threw myself into this strange but beautiful country. Parties and outings were on my list and so one evening I met a new love in my life. He was handsome with dark brooding eyes and black hair, just my type! We met later on several occasions and our friendship developed into a great love affair. We moved together into a house with a couple of friends. Christmas was around and we decided to take a holiday trip to Mozambique for four weeks. We had just purchased a second hand Mini 750, which should not have left the outskirts of Johannesburg! But who cares when young and in love. Soon our cases were packed and we hit the road. Not much later we were at the border post and headed for Lorenzo Marques, a well visited place for the European immigrants at this time period. We indulged in some phantastic seafood and travelled further north along a fairly good but narrow road. Up to now the trustful Mini did his duty and gave us no trouble. We stopped at a very small place in still smaller village, called Morumbene, where we were treated to a marvellous dinner, amazing for such an unknown little place. The bathroom was shared with hundreds of lizards, which by entering, scattered to safety. But after a good clean  the next morning and paying a minimal amount for their hospitality, it was back on the road again northbound. The turnoff to Vilanculos was unfortunately a very rough and sandy path and very soon we started to smell  petrol fumes from our open windows, which at over 40 degrees were wide open. We stopped to examine the damage and to our horror found the petrol pump lying and leaking on the hot sand beneath the bonnet. Not a soul in sight, thick bush and white sand stretching in front of us. Suddenly, out the corner of my eye, I spotted a black face curiously staring at our predicament. He soon appeared to have a look at this strange looking couple with an even stranger looking car. With hand and feet, we tied to explain our misery and after a while he smiled and gestured to us to stay and wait. He disappeared into the thickets and shortly a huge truck with a load of wood stopped behind us, as there was no place to pass. Smiling faces, some black, some portugues. Soon our little car was lifted by strong arms and hands into a place behind the truck. A rope was secured at the front of our car and we were lifted to Vilanculos, the next tiny town to the laughing stock of the local community. The Mini went into a garage for repairs as we had to catch the local fishing boat to our final destination on the island of Margaruque. The island was small and the perfect paradise with unspoilt white beaches, blue endless sky and nights with thousands of stars. Our cook boy was busy from early morning to collect firewood to start our breakfast, which mainly consisted of some kind of fish dish. There was no fridge or cooling facilities, so we learned quickly to handle the fishing lines to catch our daily meals. I was in heaven and walked on the beach like eve, naked, just a hat and line with hook and sinker. One morning we suddenly heard the troubled motor noise of the arriving little fishing boat. We quickly dived under the next available bush to conceal our nakedness from the new arrivals. Three hours we hugged the sand, but not only the sand, I must admit! At dusk we made our escape to our little flatlet. Had I enjoyed this interruption. We stayed for two weeks and with the Mini back in running order, we headed back towards the border to enter South Africa. A holiday, which I will never forget, because nine month later my son was born, a happy little fellow, conceived on the beach of Mozambique by a French father and a German mother.

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June 19,2010

A short story of my residency on an island

Wading through Westerland

For nearly a year I have looked forward to this event: an invitation to spend one month on the North Sea island of Sylt as a resident artist at kunst raum sylt quelle. Sounds quite magical not so? What came to mind soon after that day in April 2009 when I received a phone call whilst sitting at Cut above : the one and only hairdresser in Bettys Bay (and from which I departed in a weary state of orange hair, the result of a colour treatment gone excessively wrong); was the image of a remote island and kindred encounters with the spirits of painters from the art books of my student days; Caspar David Friedrich, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde who once lived and worked on the island. I consulted the website and spoke to other South African artists who had previously been there : Paul Emmanuel was discreetly evasive and Strijdom van der Merwe mused that it was one of his all time favourite residencies. This made me feel carefully optimistic about the trip.

Raymond accompanied me for the first two weeks and we had a splendid time with lots of discussions amongst some of the other residents who included the German poet Dieter M Graf and South African artist Alexandra Ross. Another South African , the poet Lebo Mashile spent three days on the island as part of the German launch of her book  In a ribbon of rhythm. True to the bohemian illusion of unbridled time, our late nights merged into never- ending long days of sauna and swimming in the North Sea waters, long walks along the dykes and in the small contained forests and prepairing superb meals such as seasonal asparagus, new potatoes and fresh salmon accompanied with a bottle of Baron Grogzwig. For this small chapter we were adamant to forget about reality as we knew it, we were in another country, far away from hunger and poverty.

One Sunday morning  we  decided to take the bus to the most southern part of the island called Hӧrnum. We had anticipated a quaint fishmarket with little fishing boats bobbing in the North Sea harbor, but alas not so. First of all there was no market whatsoever on this particular day, and the trend which seems to behest most of the island was prevalent: wealthy Germans with dark mercs and volkswagens and porches and Ferraris and Harley- Davidsons park their vehicles and parade up and down to be seen. You can eat crepes and drink beer and swallow herring. All good and well but for the more adventurous this place becomes dismal. So we bought some liebensmittel at the local store and waited for the bus back to Rantum Nord.

This is where premonition entered: there were only a few people on the bus, but one person in particular emerged significantly: a man of between forty and fifty who was visibly odd with short cropped greyish hair seated diagonally behind us and every time I glanced at him he grinned,blinked and quickly looked away. I noticed that his attire was not the usual slick designer apparel worn by most of the island inhabitants, but that instead he was wearing tatty shorts and tan coloured stockings with sandals which meant that his big toes were pushing through the fibre of the stocking. It is a most distressing way of being clad, similar to the tendency of camel’s foot when a girl wears jeans that are too tight.

I tried to avert the man’s quiziccal gaze but he remained insanely adamant at making some eye contact with me. At the Sansibar stop, three  unusually overweight German women boarded the bus and took up seats near him but soon they proceeded to giggle about his exasperated state. He muttered along, probably oblivious of his own condition, which in turn made way for the pitiless response of the three women . This made me think of the persecuted Jews, how many are left in Germany today? Did any of them ever return? How do they manage to live here? And then I thought of home and home has its own historical detritus.

Eventually we arrived at our stop and I was relieved to be rid of the madman, the three women and the ghosts of the holocaust.

Contrary to nonconformist belief, and in order to make sense of the journey’s contours, everything does have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Hamburg was our middle and the place from which Raymond would return home.This median with a certain weightless presence along and between the Elbe river, revealed exquisite city skapes of ingenious contemporary architectural manifestations sensibly balanced between ancient structures from the Hanseatic league. Ironically, the Hafencity development with an ever increasing budget remains a bone of contention for the city fathers and mothers and children. We could not be bothered, for us the sound shaped windows of Herzog & de Meuron’s opera house meant the epiphany of classical composition woven into built form. From here we continued our ecstatic meandering through the Museum fϋr Kunst und Gewerbe until frozen in front of an extraordinary Ming collection from the Harold and Ingeborg Hartog bequest where behind impenetrable glass cases a small famille rose pillow will never be broken.,

After Raymond’s departure I embarked on numerous projects in order to make sense of my time on the island. Long walks with my camera were interspersed with interior portrait shots of some of the people I have encountered here. A waitress, a chef, a poet, a painter and an administrator who used to be an ex nurse an ex biologist and an ex politician. Talk about multiplicity. The new series would have as working title re-turning the gaze and as the images were being collected I could anticipate a diptych format which would function as a guestbook of sorts.

Visitor or not, it was inevitable to avoid the soccer which was followed in between one’s  waning optimism and in the face of German efficiency and industriousness I was holding my breath for further news of a power failure which left 2000 fans stranded, robberies out of hotel rooms or striking security guards. About our team little was spoken.

On the subject of this particular residency I need to share with you the fact that the four guest apartments are situated between a restaurant and a water bottling factory. So you could say that Sylt Quelle is the Evian of Germany. Sort of. This is where every illusion of a secluded and quiet artist’s cove falls away completely. At any given time of the day you would sit there working or attempting to make contact with an elusive muse when all of a sudden there would be this loud “sweeesh pop” sound – I guess it has something to do with the gass exponent in the bottling process. Every time this happens you’d miss a heartbeat. Then again it could be quiet for at least half a day or so. Two nights ago an alarm went off inside the factory and all night long there was this slow flashing geen light accompanying the menacing sound of the alarm. Eventually I closed all the windows which are double glazing and just a faint bleep was audible. Nothing on a vuvuzela, I thought before I finally fell asleep.

That was to be my last good night as the person I used to be. The very next morning I was up early, ready for a long walk down to the beach including the prospect of a swim in the North Sea waters. As I made my  optimistic exit out of the apartment complex there was a sudden loud explosion, the next moment I was hit by something damp and sharp. Damn sharp I thought as I went down, hitting the hard paving, feeling the blue sky falling through almost every image I have ever had, the sky should be somewhere else I thought and then the mad man joined me on an island far from home.

Lien Botha

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