Archive for September, 2010


I have posted my story Love from Lamu and would like you to have a look at it and tell me what you think. I have added photographs and edited it since reading it to you and think it comes together better with words and images – please tell me what you think.

I am looking forward to seeing your stories from Lana’s session. Thanks Lans for a great afternoon and for the effort you put into it. Coming all the way to Betty’s Bay with a carload of ‘Tea Treats’ was a mission for you. We all loved your story!

If any of you wants specific feedback on your stories please just ask as I have done – I am sure everyone will give their input.

Read Full Post »


“Time brings about accidents, seemingly meaningless events that fall out differently from our expectations. Somewhere inside our experience of time we find the idea of choice, which lets us take one branch rather than another when we come to a fork in the road”

Francis Huxley

I awoke to Muslim morning song. Stretching from under my mosquito net I opened the curtains. The rainheavy Mombasa light struggled to penetrate my hotel room. White breasted house crows dominated the sky. There is a Swahili proverb about white-breasted crows.
‘My sons wear waistcoats: those who do not are not my sons.’
A woman opened a door onto a roof garden, she scattered crumbs for the crows. They flew down – a multitude of wings, beaks, claws – their squawks vibrating against my windowpane. It began to rain. The woman stood in her bui bui, arms lifted – a black robed Madonna catching raindrops in her cupped hands. That image is what I remember of my overnight stay in Mombasa


The bus to Mokowe was twenty minutes late. My seat had been pre booked right at the back. A man dressed in a Punjab and skullcap knocked on the window and told me I should move.

“That is the worst seat on the bus. You are sitting right on top of the axel.”
He indicated with his hand on his head that I should be careful not to bump my head. I liked my seat as I had windows all around me, so I stayed. The bus filled with passengers, we pulled out of Mombasa in a burst of rain. Piped Taarab music lulled us into silence, now and then interrupted by a crying child, buzzing flies, ever increasing mosquitoes. I looked through the window between Africa and me, my thoughts cutting through the preconceived ideas I had of this land, Kenya – a land romanticized by stories about the early pioneers – The Man Eaters of Tsavo, Out of Africa, The Flame Trees of Thika,West With the Wind. Other books – Rethinking the Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya: seeing Kenyan history from a new perspective, an alternative to the colonialists and nationalists explanations of the Revolt that was one of the world’s greatest events which helped to bring the Empire down to its knees.

The narrow road flooded, a truck had washed over a bridge. People sat on its roof holding umbrellas, waiting to be rescued. The worst part of the road was the section before Kilifi. Yachts moored along the creek became visible for a moment in passing. Mirella Ricciardi’s book ‘African Visions’ came to mind – her affair with Africa.
“Africa lay around me in all her magnificence … I seemed so small and insignificant in my task of capturing her magic.

The bus stopped at Malindi for half an hour. I climbed out with the others to line up for the toilet – a pit with no door; inquisitive eyes watched. I closed my eyes and thought “This is Africa”.
I bought boiled eggs, bottled water from vendors. tropical fruit from the baskets of young girls.

Some of the passengers disembarked and new ones filled their seats. A soldier, heavy with sweat, sat down next to me. He rested his AK47 between his knees – the barrel pointing towards my face. I lifted my index finger onto the tip of the barrel and moved it away. The soldier laughed and said

‘Don’t worry it’s safe, its not cocked.’

He told me he was on the bus to protect us from Somali bandits. He had shot four of them the week before. He lifted his gun and said
‘With this gun.”
They had attempted to hijack the bus to rob passengers of money and food.
“The bandits were so shot up you could not recognize them as humans. We exhibited their bodies on the roadside like trophies as a warning to others.”
I looked at his face. He could not have been older than seventeen. I found it hard to imagine him murdering starving Samalians. I asked him how he felt about killing people.
“It’s my job, if you don’t get them, they get you and they have no mercy.”
We talked about South Africa. He was glad to meet someone from there because of the world cup soccer. We drove along the corridor between Somalia and Kenya, one of the few natural game areas left in Africa.
“I get off here”
He got up, slung his gun over his right shoulder, shook my hand and said goodbye. I waved at him through the window; my reaction to a fully active mercenary killer with fresh blood on his hands surprised me.

After a bone-shattering journey, the bus dropped me off at the edge the mainland. Swallows fenced through a five o’clock sky. Azizi, who had also been sitting on the back seat of the bus, introduced himself and asked me to follow him.
‘For one hundred shillings you get a speedboat instead of an old dhow that will take forty five minutes to get to Lamu.’
A Muslim woman, who had taken off her ninja during the bus ride, re-covered her face, she sat down next to me in the boat. Her small daughter sat in front.

Lamu – how I had anticipated that moment but I was not prepared for the mystique of it. An ancient hand carved dhow seemed to be suspended in time above the water. Others came into view – exotic names, painted flags. Only when our boat stopped did I notice the rag coral buildings with palm frond roofs. I was looking at centuries of history framed in an Indian Ocean sky.

I stepped off the boat onto Lamuian soil. Azizi led me through rain-puddled corridors to my hotel. Men sat on barazas between caved wooden doorways. They stared down narrow streets that seemed to whisper ancient secrets. The textured surfaces cast varied densities of shadow.
‘Jumbo’ they greeted me softly
You are welcome.
Women dropped their eyes and children took my hands and kissed them.
‘Jumbo Msungu, jumbo, jumbo, jumbo.’

I squeezed past donkeys in narrow alleyways, rough textured walls softened by courtyards of pink hued bougainvillea. In between, houses had crumpled with age. Goats grazed on moonflowers growing over the ruins. Open drains emptied themselves into the sea.

Douglas greeted me on arrival at Jannat House. He took my luggage and led me up a flight of stairs to the entrance of the dinning room. A sign read
‘Please remove your shoes before entering’
I was relieved to kick off my sweaty black pumps, walk across the cold plaster floor. Another flight of stairs led me to my home for the next month. My room had a mosquito net draped above a carved mahogany bed. The sheets, folded in shapes of origami birds were trimmed with flowers.

Carved wood decorated the desk, the wardrobe. Fabrics draped across the doorway leading into the bathroom – there a view led my eyes over rooftops to the sea and across to Manda Island.
This was not a luxury room, nor an expensive room. This was a room that welcomed me with its warmth.

A loud speaker from a mosque outside my window echoed a visceral call to prayer. I freshened up before walking back into the dining room, barefooted. Island flowers crowded bowls on white tablecloths. The sound of ceiling fans reminded me of typewriter keys. I imagined Earnest Hemmingway writing in a room designed by the hands of an ancient architect. A lizard emerged from behind a beam. It remained motionless, as though part of the ornate plasterwork. I was the only guest that night. I listened to night-sounds – the beating wings of fruit bats – children playing – the kissing sounds of boys herding their donkeys’ home. The smell of paraffin stoves permeated the sea air. Douglas brought me a starter of shrimp cocktail. A fish dish served on coconut rice. After a desert of fruit crepes I returned to my room.
The sounds of a contented community living in harmony with its environment punctuated the reality of my life in South Africa. I can’t remember when I last heard children playing in the streets.

Lamu seeped through my pores saturating my senses. Within the first few days I had abandoned my clothes to a bui bui and wrapped my head in Khangas.
Bui bui means spider in Swahili, how appropriate the name was. The women did look like black widow spiders, their dark robes accentuating their thin, tall and perfectly postured bodies.
I lost myself in the maze of alleyways, my fingers reaching out to touch the textured surfaces. The light trapped between walls bounced off paths worn smooth by centuries of footprints. The old stone town – a fusion of Arabic, Indian and Swahili architecture.

I took a trip on a fishing dhow around the mangrove islands. The wind calm – our Captain dropped sail and used the diesel engine for power. I managed to get a few shots of yellow-billed storks, carmine bee-eaters, a fish eagle. The crew sat in the back of the boat while I captured shot after shot of sunset. 

That night three other guests joined me at the dining room table – a couple from the UK and a Swedish girl who introduced herself as Karin. She reminded me of a friend I had made in London and liked her immediately. We arranged to walk to Shela beach the following day. Douglas cleared away our wine glasses, blew out the candles and said goodnight.

‘Lala Salama’
I did sleep peacefully that night.

Mosque prayers through a loudspeaker woke me at five. I was glad to be up at that time to see the sunrise over the sea. After a breakfast of juice, tropical fruit salad and a Spanish omelet, Karin and I set off for our walk. I greeted some Rustas I had got to know – each had their own pseudonym

‘Hi Captain Coconut, what’s up’
Captain Coconut lifted his hand to mine and gave me a take five slap
‘Jumbo Candy, the sky is up. Karebo, have a nice day.’
Captain Dolphin quoted his own Swahili proverb
‘Be free
like a bird to the sea
like a fish to the sky.’

Wales showed us his curio stall on the beachfront. He told us about a root from a tree called Mira. He said the islanders call it The Romantic Tree.
We were soon able to spot those who had chewed Mira – it made the whites of their eyes red. Old men sat under a giant tree in the town square chewing its leaves, eyes glazed over in hallucinogenic bliss.
We passed the power station – a dilapidated building surrounded by acres of drums. Old generators thumped through thick diesel smoke. The regular power cuts in the town did not surprise us after seeing the source of its power.
Karin and I chatted while walking and I got to know her better. She practiced as an Expressive Arts Psychologist combining the visual arts, movement, drama, music, writing to promote deep personal growth and development. She told me that by integrating the arts and allowing one to flow into another, access to inner resources for healing, clarity, illumination and creativity can be achieved. Karin explained her theory called ‘The council of all living things’ She believes that pollution is created from within oneself.
“If you are clean inside, you cannot pollute the outer world”
It began to rain, we continued walking – the downpour soaked our hair, our clothes, our skin. I thought about Karin’s theory and how symbolic it was for the rain to have come just then. Like a cleansing ceremony, the warm drops seemed to penetrate my body and wash away scar tissue from deep within me.
We passed donkeys saddled with woven bags that bulged with coral bricks -their legs buckling under the weight. Old men sat along the seawall reading their Korans, fishermen threw nets out in semi circles.
Shela is the luxury south side of the island where the famous build holiday homes. Prince Ernst of Hanover and Princess Caroline have houses there. Opulent hotels mushroomed up everywhere, houses were being renovated to the extent that they had little resemblance to the indigenous architecture – I was glad to be staying in Old Lamu Town where I felt closer to the soul of the people.

Karin and I returned by ferry just in time to enjoy the giant prawns Douglas had prepared for dinner. I went up to my room afterwards feeling nourished and satisfied. Harrison had made up my bed with flowers again – when I thanked him he said
“You must lie in your bed like a princess.”

Sunrise walks through old Lamu town became a ritual – the light perfect for photography, the streets vibrant with vendors setting up stalls. I took pictures of Orma women selling tobacco. They believe in a higher power called Wakka who forsakes them when the moon wanes and blesses them when the moon is full. The Orma associate spirits with mountain tops, trees, groves, rivers, wells. They are bone thin, their skins dark, their faces lined with hardship.

A young boy walking past told me that he had a very old grandmother and asked if I would like to take pictures of her. He led me through labyrinthine alleys to his home. His grandmother was bedridden. Her skeletal neck seemed too fragile to hold up her head, her dress clung to her loose skin. She seemed comfortable with me photographing while she sorted green lentils on an aluminum tray. She was a natural – her eyes penetrated my lens with intense curiosity


I walked passed the fort built by Omanis in 1808 for the Sultan. Behind it the market sprawled through three buildings. Fresh produce stalls displayed coconuts, bananas, mangoes, limes brought in from the shambas. Fish stalls, meat stalls blackened with flies. Lamu cats lay on their backs in the sun licking their paws – potbellied from market offerings.

On the northern side of the island tall coconut palms reflected in pools of rainwater. A forest of sacred baobab trees shaded crumbling tombstones inscribed with Arabic writing – their large blossoms wreathed the graves. A Koran worn with age hung in a palm fronded mausoleum. I stopped at a ruin on the edge of a marsh close to a beach. Within minutes a little bee-eater perched in front of me. It seemed to pose for me, turning this way and that preening its feathers. Another gift of nature presented itself – dragonflies blurring into pinks and purples as they skimmed across the water. A somber skull of an animal peered down from a tree trunk above the ruin.

Children followed calling ‘pictcha, pictcha, pictcha’ Small boys ran ahead to collect shells. When they noticed my camera focus on them, they did summersaults in the sand. Small girls wore Peter Pan collared dresses with puffed sleeves, their hair tied in Swahili braids. I heard the distinctive sound of a kingfisher. Looking to the right I saw it perched on a log. It remained there long enough for me to get closer. The birds were used to human activity as a school had its playing fields on the beach

I arranged to sail to Matandoni with Captain Happy Flower. Maureen who I met in the town square decided to accompany us. Our trip on a dhow powered by the Kusi monsoon introduced us to her extensive knowledge of natural history.

As we sailed past the mangrove swamps she pointed out colonies of oysters attached to their roots. She told me that a certain type of isopod was destroying the mangroves by boring into the roots. The black mangrove sea horse could be found in these parts. We sailed past the home of Dr. Richard Leakey – renowned paleoanthropologist and environmentalist. He organized an excavation of the eastern shore of Lake Turkana and found ancient hominid fossils. He unearthed the famous “Turkana Boy,” roughly 1.6 million years old. It is one of the most complete skeletons ever found.

The breeze picked up and our dhow tipped dangerously to the right. We did some quick maneuvering to stabilize it. Fishermen sat silently catching giant crabs. The breeze swirled the fragrance of mangrove flowers in the air, flycatchers sat on high branches seeking food. Otherwise, at that time of day, the birds were sheltering from the sun. We passed Lamu mainland, Maureen told us how they transport cattle across to the island.
“They simply swim them over. I call it the ‘death passage’, as they take them directly to the slaughterhouse on arrival.”

A community of fiddler crabs greeted us as we stepped off the boat at Matandoni. Mohammed, waiting to meet us said
“They are not for eating. Their job is to wave ‘jumbo’ to our visitors and bid them farewell when they leave.”
Matandoni seemed different to Lamu – the buildings more primitive, the people more rural. We walked around the village while women wove baskets under shady trees, men sat in groups making fishing nets, boys played soccer in a dry river bed.The children came out of school, girls passed by – pink veils billowing in the afternoon breeze.

On the way back to the boat Maureen poked her stick into the sand to find pieces of century old porcelain.
“This is Chinese, it has the markings of the imperial dragon, see, it has five claws, this is a piece of Celadon China – it is my favorite. Here look at this, it is from the aubergine period.’
We sailed home happy. I noticed the inscription on the front of the boat
I thought – what more could you wish for?

Lamu first caught the attention of the outside world when a group of idealistic British and European intellectuals called Freelanders settled there in 1894. They planned to use the Island as a base for a Utopian community. Many have followed – writers such as Cynthia Salvadori who wrote ‘We Came In Dhows’ and ‘Through Open Doors’. Errol Trzebinski, famous for her books on the ‘Happy Valley Set.’ She wrote ‘Silence Will Speak’ a study of the life of Denys Finch Hatton and his relationship with Karen Blixen. It was used as a source for the script of ‘Out Of Africa.’ She also wrote ‘The Kenya Pioneers’, ‘The Lives Of Beryl Markham’, ‘The Life And Death Of Lord Erroll‘
Flying doctor Anne Spoerry who lived and died in Lamu, devoted half her life to the bush people of Kenya. . Maureen had known her and said she was a true bush doctor. She learnt to improvise when she was not prepared for an emergency. Once she took a thread of cotton from her dress to sew up a patient. George Fegan donated the burial plot he had carefully chosen for himself years before for her mortal remains. I had been to the graveyard where she was buried – it had only a handful of graves resting between a copse of lime trees. I walked up further and found a headstone decorated with porcelain pieces and shells from the beach. I noticed the name Diana inscribed across it. It was simple yet beautiful, peaceful. I asked Maureen about it. Diana’s death had been a tragedy and a shock to all those who knew her. She had burnt to death in her lovely home in Lamu a year before. Her friends decided not to cover her body with a tombstone – instead they wanted the green grass and wild flowers to spread across her, limes to grow over her.

I think of all the women past and present who have been mesmerized by Africa, all the woman I came across, learned about, discovered, talked to, read about, heard about, serendipitously encountered – anchoring roots in the foreign soil of this stygian, intoxicating continent, some for a moment, some for a lifetime. taking from it a wisdom somehow drawn up from deep within the subterranean bowels of Africa to make their mark in this prosaic world.
I am sure those who have stepped onto Lamuian soil are left with an indelible impression of peace and goodwill. During that month on the Island, my life was perfectly in rhythm, moving confidently in a pattern of self-discovery.

Leaving the Islands my plan flew low across the waters of the tropical archipelago. For a second Lamu came into view – I looked out of my window and saw the vast sand dunes of Shela where the legendary lost city of Habidu lies buried. I glimpsed for the last time at what had been my world for a moment in time – a place that could have been out of the pages of `The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom.’
I imagined Lawrence Of Arabia riding across the rolling dunes of Shela – once a place of great battle, his caravan of camels melting into a mirage of cinema graphic magnificence.

Read Full Post »


Giants of the desert,

The desert-dwelling elephants,together with other animals,are the jewels in the

crown of the Kaokoland and desert regions of Namibia,reaching up to the Skeleton

coastal areas.Without them the beauty of this wilderness would be sadly demeaned.

They add a dimension of grandeur and excitement to this lonely landscape.These elephants

have a great influence on plants and trees and other animals,which is very little understood

or recognised.These desert elephants are not seperate subspecies of the african elephant.

They form a population that has adapted to the survival of this arid regions by behaviour,

tradition and most possibly physiology.

These Kaokoland and desert elephants appear to have very well adapted to living under

the particular ecological conditions of these desert regions.They move great distances

between feeding grounds and scattered waterholes,where they can drink in the dry season.

Up to 70 kilometers have been observed of their daily travels.The Kruger National Park

elephants cover a mere distance of 5 to 7 kilometers in search of food and water,due to the

abundance of trees and plants.In the dry season,the desert elephants cover about 24 to

26 kilometer as they are required to spend more time and energy in search of food.They

are heavily dependant on the vegetation of the riverbeds for food.They feed on a wide

range of plants,and like elephants elsewhere the take leaves,flowers,fruit,bulbs,tubers

and roots as well as grass.They have distinct and practical seasonal feeding preferences.

During the rainy season,they use more grass,which is then more available,but in the dry

season they concentrate on browsing.This allows the trees and woody plants respite for

recovery during the summer.

They are careful feeders,and in this they are unlike the other elephants.The desert elephant

also break branches,but not nearly to the same extent as can be seen in the Kruger Park or

in Botswana.They very seldom fell a tree or debark trees.This care in their behaviour

is necessary to ensure the survival in their environment where woody plants are few and

far between.Therefore,there is very little dammage,as has been recorded in other areas.

The big decline of numbers of these magnificiant animals came about in the years around

1970 onwards,due largely to heavy poaching for their ivory,much of which found its way

into the international trade via Angola.Poaching by local residents and by armed dealers

in Angola was a great source of elephant mortality.Even the South African Defence Force

and local polititians as well as goverment officials hunted the elephants to this big decline.

The population of the elephants in the Kunene region was shot out and is now extinct.

The rest of the “survivors” moved more to the west towards the Namibian desert and is

now a group of circa 70 animals,which are now the true desert elephants.

What happened to the other elephants from the eastern and northern regions has occured

before in many other countries of the african continent,and this process is an ongoing one.

Unfortunately there are not always people or organisations around,who can set the wheels

in motion to stop the wholesale slaughterof our wildlife.

These last existing desert elephants are an asset not only for the local tribes,but to all the

people of Namibia.They are a part of basic resource of a wildlife utilisation industry,

which could largely benefit the tourist industry,and therefore earn their keep in this isolated

area.Much more important is the fact,they make no negative impact on their habitat,

something that man and his livestock cannot match.In future,if their numbers increase,they

could also contribute to a viable safari hunting industry,but only when the hunting of these

elephants can be sustained.

For the moment the elephant numbers are stable and birth of calves in the desert region

population will hopefully soon start the process of recovery.For the remaining elephants

in the eastern and northern regions,the future is far from secure.The rest of surviving local

elephants clash with farming interest,local lifestock,which also destroys more and more the

existing grazing areas,which turn into desert.As in South Africa,the elephants will now

mostly survive only in protected and fenced-in areas,which restricts their movements as

well their free living spirits.

Read Full Post »

our book

I have the results of our votes for what we consider to be the best stories for our book. Stories that received three stars or more qualified. Take a look at the list below.
Now we have to decide which of us would like a book and how we are going to go about setting it up.
We all have certain talents we can use so perhaps it would be a good idea to meet for a brainstorming session.
It is really not such a mission. Please let me know who would like to participate.


SEA ROAD *****
RED SEQUINS IN POOLS OF BLOOD ***(think we should drop this one)



WINTER 1945 ****








FLUX ****

Read Full Post »

Ice Cream

It was a hot summer’s day late in January as the arriving tourists scrambled out of their tour bus to visit their last destination, before heading back to their hotels. They spotted an ice cream shop, advertising all their delicious flavours of the available treats and soon a long queue formed at the entrance. Hot and tired they waited for their turn at the counter, longing for this refreshing offering to escape a little from the heat of the day. All ages were in this group, young and elderly people from European countries, arriving in South Africa to seek a better climate. An elderly lady dressed in a flowery dress stood patiently, her arms reddened by the sun and her face flustered as she spotted a little girl standing some distance away. Barefoot and her frail bony body dressed in an oversized t-shirt and a shabby pair of shorts. Her brown legs were covered in dust and her face sweaty. A short cropped black crown of hair, glistening from the heat and sweat topped her little face. Her deep brown eyes followed every move of the advancing crowd of people and there was a longing in them for this unaffordable delicacy. Slowly the elderly woman approached the counter and ordered her favourite ice cream cone, but also paid for a vanilla scoop and went towards the little black girl, offering her this icy treat. The little girl’s eyes lit up and she quickly gripped the cone and with a smile, a little nod of her head for a thank you, she disappeared into the nearest crowd.

Read Full Post »

I felt suspended in that terrible time – the in-between time of being ready to go, but not having yet said the real good byes. I continued packing, and saw a photo of me, smiling proudly all those years ago, standing by the “sold” sign, a home of my very own, and I looked around at it now, so bare.

Oh, how I’d loved that old place with its polished terrazzo floors, tiny perfect kitchen, dropped ceiling fans, and retro egg lights which reminded me of Salvador Dali. It was built the year I was born, and was full of character and, I was sure, the ghost of the sweet old man who’d lived there. The wife had to go into a nursing home, and I visited her, held her hand, and told her that I’d love the house as they had and would take good care of it. Light came in everywhere, and I could see explosions of fuchsia from the windows in the bright yellow sun room when the bougainvillea were blooming. In winter, from the open windows of my bedroom, the scent from the tiny white grapefruit blossoms floated in and in the summertime, I loved listening to the deluges of rain cascading on the thick banana leaves. Yes, I’d loved that house and it had loved me back.

I’d said goodbye to my clients, most of whom had been loyal to me for fourteen years. I’d had garage sales and was ruthless about culling the unnecessary items. A friend with a green thumb had asked for my potted plants. I must have had fifty. Another wanted clothes. I wouldn’t need business attire in my new life.

I thought of Karen Blixen and the immense amount of things she took with her to her new home at the foot of the Ngong Hills in Kenya. I recall thinking how ridiculous she seemed, traveling so far with all of those crates. Now I’m about to take the long journey to a new life in Africa, my things following in a huge container ship, packed away neatly in grey plastic boxes.

I had to laugh at my own comparison. Karen Blixen I am not, but the things I packed are as precious to me as hers were to her. They aren’t fine silver and beautiful, delicate china, but they will serve to remind me of home and of myself, in case I forget.

A wall mirror made with bent wire and mosaic that Joanne bought me as we walked through an outdoor art show, under the branches of huge old oak trees. My worn wooden spatula, the one that feels so natural in my hands when I cook. My paints, brushes and wooden easel, in case the need overwhelms me, as it does from time to time, to mash colors together and create on canvas that which I see in my mind. My eclectic collection of music. And, my books – my books are something that will make any place my home, wherever in the world I am, be it near the Indian River in the dense humidity of Florida, my birthplace, or on the shores where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean, half a world away.

In the eighteen years John lived in the States, he never bought anything, not even furniture. He always knew that one day he’d move back to his home in South Africa. He had sold his business, made his plans and was packed to leave when we began dating years after we’d met and became friends. How like me to be attracted to someone who would soon be gone. But it wasn’t to be with John. If I wouldn’t go, he wasn’t going.

I was in the process of looking at my role in a life-long history of choosing the wrong people, sabotaging relationships, having serious trust issues and a deep lack of self-esteem. John was different from anyone I’d ever dated. He was kind, gentle and decent. He saw through to the real “me” behind all the masks. He knew about my demons and how to react when the old ghosts came to haunt me. I made up my mind not to “fuck this one up”, as my friend Ginny said. It took him two years to convince me to move to South Africa with him.

We’ve been here 5 months now and I still can’t think about the day of our departure. I told the people closest to me that it’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. But relationships change. It’s impossible to keep that day to day connection when you’re so far away.

One of the most difficult separations was from my girlfriends. Ginny, a psychologist, and I started a support group for women. Our women’s group was small and met once a week for years. We were different ages and came from varied backgrounds. We shared our lives and were intimate in a way that only women can be with each other. While going through an especially difficult time after moving, Kathleen once said to me, “being there, without your backup group (singing softly in the background) you start to question your own sanity”. I would say my women friends saved my life.

I remember the day Ginny gave me a sideways glance, one eyebrow lifted, when I said “…with all that I’ve been through, I never had psychological help and I’m fine.” Ha. She knew better and stuck it out with me, gently holding up the mirror whenever she thought I needed it. Years later, we laughed whenever any of us said that we were fine. To us, “fine” became an acronym for fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional.

We’d already said goodbye, but as John and I packed the last few things in the car for the drive to New York, Ginny pulled up and hugged me tight, handing us a basket of beautiful organic food for our trip.

It’s a perfect October day on the beach. The sky is a crisp blue and you can feel the warmth of spring on its way. I’m not sure that I will ever get used to spring in October, my July birthday in the middle of winter, and Christmas in the warmth of summer.

The smell of someone’s lunch is in the air, cooking on an outdoor grill nearby making my mouth salivate. The ocean is like a two toned jewel, emerald green and sapphire blue. The light, which is different here, makes the seawater look like pale green stained glass through the waves.

There are surfers out, and just beyond them, a group of seals is floating in one spot, nothing showing but their flippers sticking out of the water like the masts of sailboats painted a shiny black. Some fishermen are standing on an outcrop of sharp rocks, hoping to eat seafood tonight. It’s the season for the Southern Right Whales to migrate, and off in the distance I see a couple of them, slowly bobbing out of the water, like huge, black boulders, as they make their way around this jagged coastline.

Behind me, the majestic Kogelberg Mountains jut up, in which leopards, baboons and other equally exotic animals live. In the distance, the mountains are soft lavender, and plunge right into the sea. The gift and blessings of the contrasting colors makes me teary.

We rented a house in a small village on the sea called Betty’s Bay. It’s a beautiful older home at the end of a deep red-rust colored dirt road perched on the rocks above the crashing Ocean. The wild, sometimes fifteen-foot waves are often strong enough to make the windows rattle.

Betty’s Bay, South Africa is one of the only places in the world where fynbos grows. From the spiky bunches of brown and black Cape Reed to the huge flower of the King Protea, the beauty of this hearty plant-life is stunning.

The only heat the house has is a fireplace, which does nothing but fill the house with smoke, and a small portable gas heater, which we roll from room to room. I have been jarred awake when inside doors slam shut from the wind coming through the poorly insulated, thatch roof house during the gale-force South African Northwester and at times I wear a hat and scarf, even inside when I’m cold.

In the first nights, I felt along the walls in the total pitch darkness to find my way to the bathroom. I learned quickly not to do that. The huge, hand-size wolf spiders, which can rear up and hiss like a snake, come down the walls from the thatch roof at night and linger, catching prey.

There is an informal settlement down the road with houses built out of old corrugated iron squares and loose pieces of wood nailed together. Big rocks, piles of cinder blocks, old rusted wheelbarrows, and tires are on the roofs to help secure them. I watch women carry huge bundles of firewood balanced on top of their heads and wonder how cold their houses must be.

One day I heard a rattling, then a banging on the back door. I looked out a nearby window to see the yard strewn with a troupe of baboons. They were trying to get in the house. I was terrified, thinking of the size of the big male I had seen in the yard. My mind raced. Had I locked all the doors? Some of the locals told me never to corner them, or block their way out if they ever do get inside the house. I ran toward the back bedroom where the cats were and locked the door behind me. They could have all the food in the house, I didn’t care. My heart beat hard against my chest as I heard them all over the house, and soon the banging stopped. Luckily, they hadn’t found a way inside. I peeked out one of the windows. They were gone. The only trace was a paw full of reeds I saw one take as it slid down off the thatch roof.

One of the most difficult things for me to get used to is the poverty and the begging. I have learned to try to give food rather than money. There are so many stories, like the man outside the grocery store who began to cry when we said we didn’t have anything to give him. Or the woman with a baby wrapped tightly against her body who asked if I could please buy her some baby food.

I cannot say no. Here, although I’m far from rich, I have so much more than so many, I feel I must give, and it pains me to know that giving food or money is but a temporary solution.

I have learned much living in this breathtaking land. I am learning which direction north is, which wind brings the rain, how to drive on the other side of the road, and that there is poverty and real hunger in the world. I am learning not to be wasteful, that the old torn shoes that I once would have thrown out will keep someone’s feet warm this winter, and that being poor is a matter of perspective.

I see and do new things on a daily basis. It is sometimes frustrating, a little bit frightening, and very bittersweet being so far from home and living in a new country, but I feel alive here. Now in my middle age, I have shaken my life up, left my routine and I’m learning who I am all over again.

If there is ever a day that I move away from Africa, I will be leaving home again. This is what I now know. A pulse beats and rushes through me here. Africa was the birthplace of all of us. By leaving home and everything I knew, I have come home.

Read Full Post »