The Wedding on the Banks of River Khwai

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I’m a tree. I’ve been a tree for a long time. I live on the banks of the Khwai River. It is a peaceful spot and I am tall enough to see a good distance all around. I have a couple of close companions, the Shepherd’s Bush tree has entwined her branches with mine, and a little distant from us is my sister. She got hit by lightning and almost died, but she is managing to produce some branches and leaves at last.

About ten days ago strange happenings got us all talking. The men who patrol this place arrived and began to clear the grass. We had never seen such a thing. In places they pulled it out by its roots, leaving the earth bare and unprotected. And then they cut a section, making it as short as it is at the end of the dry season.

Themba, the elephant who likes to rub the itch out of his behind against my trunk couldn’t decide whether he was put out or not. The hippos didn’t care too much – there was still enough grass for them. No one else seemed to notice.

Today things really began popping around here. Vehicles arrived, people fiddled around the trunk of my sister, suspending tables from her branches. Chairs were brought and set up on the cleared earth.

Soon vehicles arrived, filled with people, who they left with us. Now the lush African bush glimmered in the mid-afternoon sun, the sky clear and domed over all. An air of expectancy hung over the small gathering, milling around the clearing, protected by our shade.

I love being fanciful, but now I will take back the narrative. For once in this pristine environment where they normally rule, the animals gave way, seeming to understand that this was not their time to parade – it was Dwayne and Maike’s turn to be on show.

I had visited the site with Dwayne earlier in the week to make sure all was as it should be. The staff of Mogothlo Camp had cleared it beautifully: a dusty aisle leading from a small, multi-stemmed bush, to the altar canopied by the entwined leaves of a Leadwood and Shepherd’s Bush tree. Another small pathway led to a second Leadwood, old and gnarled, not many leaves left, where drinks would be placed for guests as they waited for the vehicles to bring everyone from the camp.IMG_3000 (1024x768)

The river was fuller than anyone remembered it being for a long time, with parts of the road underwater, much to the glee of Sylvie and Ben, my grandchildren, who had never been in a car that went swimming before. Everyone was assembled, the drinks had refreshed and people began to take their seats.

Dwayne handed me his glasses. A few minutes later he asked for them back again.

“I won’t be able to see Maike!”

Mark and Darron had sorted out the music, the hi-fi camouflaged at the base of the small bush, that would also screen the bridal car when it arrived. It was a game vehicle, and no one needed to see how Maike would get out of it in her wedding dress!

“There are bones under that tree,” Mark said quietly.

“Hopefully that means the lions have eaten,” I answered.

Sound carries in the still of the bush, and we heard the Game Vehicle long before it came into view.Maike arrival

It is translucent in the oblique rays of the sun. Maike is bathed in a soft glow: she looks like a Princess! She smiles, and waves. We all cheer, not too loudly. The Leadwood tree is caked with mud deposited by an elephant as he daily rubs his rump, and we are not sure what time this ritual takes place, or how irate he might be at having his space invaded.

The vehicle comes to a stop behind the bush. There is a rustle. Mark takes his daughter to meet the bride. Sylvie is the perfect flower girl dressed in a lovely, lacy, lay18920373_10158972193525093_972454792950330557_nered dress, as she leads the retinue down the dusty path, strewing bougainvillea petals before her. Dwayne gives me back his glasses as Pastor Chris summonses him. His brother stands next to him.

Maike is assured, only her eyes seeking the approbation of her groom give a hint of her nervousness. Her dad, Stefan is tall and proud as he leads her to her future. The ceremony begins. It is simple, full of love and joy. As the sun begins to reach for the horizon it catches the diamantes in Maike’s veil and she is silhouetted in a halo of light. The vows are 18952684_10158972213420093_6608664925218973324_nspoken, the register is signed, the paperwork completed.

Pastor Chris turns them to face each other.

“By the power invested in me as a minister of Jesus Christ, and the Republic of Botswana, I declare you man and wife, and I present to you Mr and Mrs Elderkin. Dwayne, now you may kiss your bride.”

Sylvie turns to me and exclaims: “They are like us! We are also Elderkin.”

With that the gathering surges around them and shows them with rose petal confetti. Congratulations resound in the golden air. The photographer, Lilani, allows us time, and then begins to organise everyone for the shots that will be so important later on.18920663_10158981079795093_2704545013130258265_n

The guests are taken off to a spot further upriver for sundowners while the family photographs are taken. Soon, we too, are carried off to join the rest of the party, leaving Dwayne and Maike with Lilani. The first thing I see when we join the rest of the group is a restless pod of indignant hippos in the pool, unsure of this intrusion into their space. Kim, the Manager of the group is anxious, concerned for the safety of all as one hippo keeps standing up out of the water, looking quite menacing.

“Keep the children behind us, as far from the water as possible,” she tells me.

But I think there iss safety in numbers, and the hippo soon settled back into the water in IMG_3004 (1024x768)a happy huff, staring balefully at us as we enjoyed canapés and whatever on the bank.

All too soon it is time to return to camp and the wedding feast. The boma looks amazing. Stefan had painstakingly ringed the area with strings of tiny led lights that twinkle like a profusion of stars. Tilley lamps and candles cast a soft glow over tables bedecked in white and green. Ramona, Maike’s mum, had handcrafted white butterflies which seemed to hover over the tables as they perch on wine glasses. Closer inspection reveal they carry our names on their wings.IMG_2996 (1024x768)

Conversation swirls, sparks from the fire outside rise star-wards as we wait for the newlyweds. Soon they arrive to a fanfare of bubble blowing, and the evening begins.

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Have courage, Walk in Integrity

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After the storm, an eagle soars…

 

Whenever the Lord starts giving me scriptures about trusting Him, it’s a sure-fire certainty that I am about to be tested in this area. The last two weeks seem to have lasted at least a month, but I rejoice that along with the testing come answers, and lessons that amaze in the simplicity of their revelation.

 

One of the hangovers of the victim mentality is a feeling of abandonment, and I am particularly susceptible to these negative emotions when I am tired. Of course the person who gets the blame at these times is God: where are You, why are You not helping me out here? Why no answers? Why must I always fight for everything? I am so tired, so very, very tired!

It was with sinking heart a couple of Fridays ago, after a particularly gruelling battle with bureaucracy, that I realised I was descending into this pit, one I had not been in for a long, long time and I really did not want to go there again, longing instead to be where God is, secure in the knowledge of His love. I battled with my thoughts all day, with the fear that threatened to overwhelm once more, the knowledge that while people seem to think I am strong, I really am extraordinarily weak. The feeble hands hung down, the loins remained un-girded as I silently did battle with my Maker.

Late that afternoon I stopped prevaricating, and sat down with Bible in hand, ready for a “session”! Oh how He must laugh at His children, when He is not in despair at our antics!

He led me to Jeremiah 10 v 6: Inasmuch as there is none like You, o Lord (You are great, and Your name is great in might). Like it or not, He is God, He can do as He pleases. A friend in Mozambique once said this to me when I questioned God’s role in events. At the time those words left me with a faint sense of indignation, although I could not argue with them. Now He was telling me the same thing Himself!

Thereafter I heard this insistent voice saying: “When are you going to leave things in My hands?”

This led to a fresh outburst, which was good in that for once I was able to answer honestly, instead of apportioning blame: Because I am scared, I am scared you won’t answer, I’m scared of the future, and I don’t want to be alone anymore.

The answer really is very simple: God is Lord. He does as He pleases and that is His prerogative. My part is to do as I am told, as long, of course, as I clearly hear the instruction. I am usually so busy off to sort everything out, I don’t hear His voice trailing into the distance behind me!

The next day, after a good night’s sleep I was better positioned to listen. The Lord led me to Deuteronomy 31 v 6: Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Old, well-known, comfortable and comforting words, but this day they leapt off the page at me with new meaning. God truly does go with me, I am the one who gives into fear. He knows that, so He says: “Don’t fear them, for they are impotent in My presence, they may not touch you! I go with you.”

The cross reference to this discussion is found in Psalm 27, another old favourite. “Though an army may encamp against me my heart shall not fear…” and again that injunction: …”wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart;…”

It couldn’t be clearer. Or could it. My cell beeped with the tune indicating a message from my home group. it was Fi, with our daily lesson which this day came from Proverbs 4 v12: When you walk your steps will not be impeded, and if you run you will not stumble.” Not on ly did she send these words, but she then sent a prayer for us which began:

“If you don’t learn to thank God in advance, you won’t have the strength you need to wait for the promised.”

Day led into day. We had a dreadful storm, a tornado which ripped through our community, uprooting trees, destroying buildings, leaving us without electricity or water for almost a day. Funny how the Lord tests one’s resolve – I don’t like storms, and strong winds terrify me, but through this storm I was able to keep calm, even filming the gusting rain to send to my boys. Having to deal with the after effects, however, in addition to what seemed like pressure to perform in various aspects of my life on all sides, and pretty soon I felt as if I were in free-fall again.

A new set of questions: You say I must leave things in Your hands. You also say that I am Your hands, that I must be ready to act, to move, to have courage. How do I know when to move and when to wait? The anxiety began to mount once more. A sleepless night, a gnawing in the pit of stomach, a cry for help.

Somewhere along the line I ended up at Deuteronomy 8 v 1-10, again dealing with the need for courage, but telling of God’s presence through every difficulty, of His provision, of how we will suffer lack at times, but never for long. Another day I was impressed to turn to Psalm 37 where almost every question and concern I was struggling with is answered with amazing assurance, but also throughout the verses is the injunction to wait, be patient, wait on the Lord, be controlled, forsake anger, chose instead to trust Him who is able to do abundantly more than we can ever imagine.

I began to understand properly for the first time how worry can lead to wrong doing, but in trusting a door is opened for peace.

Ps 37 v 11: “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”! When we allow ourselves to fully trust God, it induces humility – we are stating that we are powerless, He alone is able and worthy. If we can get to this place, this state of simple being, the reward is an abundance of peace, in which we are able to delight. Strong words, powerful promise!

Another lesson learnt, a step closer to my Lord, a walk in the fertile sunshine of my Father’s provision.

And so, as I face the questions that confront me, the choices placed before me, I know that I have to walk in my own integrity, regardless of the actions of those around me. I cannot treat others as they may treat me, I have to treat them as God directs, and above all, I need to guard my heart, so that no hint of resentment paves the way for a root of bitterness to grow from what sometimes seems grossly unfair.

Home Help or Hindrance

I read an account in our local paper a while back of a woman who had been robbed by the person she employed as domestic helper. The help had made off with thousands of emalangeni worth of jewellery, and I have no doubt, a lot more that the employer will discover over the months to come. The article talked of the abuse that is meted out by these helpers as they lie, cheat and steal from those who employ them.

I wonder why this is? What makes this particular strata of society feel it is their right to help themselves to whatever they fancy in the homes they are paid to clean and take care of?

My first bad experience of this was after the death of my mother. As an only child whose father died when I was nine, and was now a relatively young twenty one, the trauma of losing my only parent was huge. When the funeral and various formalities were over, I turned my attention to the home we had lived in for the past however many years. The house belonged to the Swaziland Government and I had a limited time before I needed to vacate it.

I started in my Mother’s bedroom, because that was the most painful, and slowly moved through the rest of the house. All went relatively well, until I opened the linen cupboard. What had once housed been shelves brimming over with table cloths, matching napkins, sheets, pillowcases was now a cupboard with bare shelves.

I called to the woman who had shared most of my life with me.

“Where are all the table clothes, the napkins, all the things that were here?”

She shook her head. No idea what I was talking about. There had never been anything in that cupboard, all my imagination. It got worse. When I got to the dining room plates of all description, together with most of the cutlery, was gone. She’d moved fast.

What hurt was not so much the value of the items taken, although there obviously was a cost involved: silver forks and spoons with the Warburton and Leary family crests might have some commercial value but that was not what mattered right then. It was not only the loss of that tenuous link to my past, but the feeling of betrayal, that trust that was shattered. Items that I could have held as I remembered precious moments, gentle words spoken beneath my father’s piercing blue eyes, my Mum’s green eyes flashing merrily as we laughed at some piece of fun – that aura of comfort so necessary in a world suddenly lonely.

That was the first time, sadly not the last. It is a way of life, the sudden discovery that something is missing. You learn to accept that it is going to happen, your only decision is how much you allow to disappear before you act and diplomatically remove the offender. It isn’t always stealing. Sometimes it is simply carelessness and glasses, cups, even furniture is broken. Responsibility for repairing or replacing these items is eschewed with a shrug of the shoulders.

I have been pondering all this for a while, trying to decide whether employing someone to assist me with housework is a help or a hindrance, how much more damage and loss can I afford. As always, God has a happy knack of showing up with a reasoning argument just before I descend into active dislike and resentment.

Our Ladies’ Bible Study started up last week after the Christmas break, with a study on the book of the prophet Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. All my complaints and mutterings seemed to be duplicated in the first chapter! God is talking about the behaviour and attitude of the children of Israel, who had come to such a parting of the ways between themselves that they were now two kingdoms, quite apart from deserting God, and insulting Him by consorting with other gods, and deliberately flouting every one of His injunctions!

To demonstrate His point, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute, which he does. Thereafter follows a tale of love and despair, of faithlessness and forgiveness, the story of a God, tried to the utmost by the actions of His chosen people, yet determined to claim them as His own, to bless them and honour them as His adored creation.

I think I have a small glimmer of how He feels, because I have treated Him in much the same way as domestic assistants down the years have treated me. In spite of all my wrongdoing, He still proclaims in ringing tones:

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth,

And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy;

Then I will say to those who were not My people,

‘You are My people!’

And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’’

Hosea 2:23

There are many gems throughout this book:

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,

And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’

Hosea 6:6

Again:

‘My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge’ Hosea 4:6

– we presume to judge God, to insist He should act as we would have Him act, and when He doesn’t we thump our chests and say ‘See, what kind of God is He?’

As in all things, we have a choice. What I do about my domestic situation is in my hands, I have the authority to decide how much ‘abuse’ I am prepared to take, if any at all. There will be a cost, and again I get to decide how much I am prepared to give.

Does our Father not get the same right? To decide how much He will take from us, give us warning when we go too far. The difference is God’s love is so much greater than mine, and if He can forgive me all that I get up to, how do I deny forgiveness to others?

 

Clumsy, Thy Name is Glenda!

It all started before Christmas. I was on my way home from Nelspruit when I did something really stupid.

On a previous trip, during winter, I had caught glimpse of a gulley that looked as if it was on fire. It was aloes, in full bloom, clinging precariously, victorious in their ability to hold themselves fast in the rock clefts. There is nowhere to stop easily at that point, so I had to imprint the picture on my mind because I knew I wanted to paint it.

A few months later, after playing with the picture in my mind, I decided I needed to take a picture of the spot. I had to go to Nelspruit, so I knew I would have my chance. I have learnt over the years that even the simplest of cameras takes a pretty good snapshot from a moving vehicle. As I turned onto the stretch of road leading to my ‘Flaming Kloof’ there was a line of fairly slow moving vehicles in front of me. Aha! My chance!

I would put my swanky new cell to the test. A little problem – my driving glasses reduce everything within the car to a mild blur, most particularly anything on the screen of a mobile. While I was squinting, trying to figure out where the camera icon was, something felt a little off. I looked up to find myself trundling merrily off-road, down a pretty steep hill straight towards a small dam!

A quick manoeuvre brought me around. But. There was brick edging to the road at that point, and I crunched over it with a sickening thud, followed immediately by a screeching scrape. At the point where I steered back onto the road was a small but deadly rock! It had completely massacred my front passenger wheel. Yes, wheel. The tyre was shredded, the wheel buckled, the hub cap protruding at an odd angle.

Shaking like a leaf, I called the friend with whom I had spent the night. Her husband immediately made a plan to rescue me, until reason prevailed and I told him to wait a while, surely some intrepid soul would stop to assist. A minibus trundled by, hooted in greeting. Didn’t stop. The ubiquitous white Fortuna, much loved by most of the population in this part of the world, slowed, took one look at me, and drove off.

Pray! That small still voice penetrated my panic. I did. Within minutes a spiffy white Audi appeared. I tentatively put out my hand to flag it down. Relief allowed some moisture back into my mouth as It pulled over. The man behind the wheel assured me he had been in the tyre business for decades and proceeded to change the wheel for me.

The first quote I got put the damage far beyond what I had in my budget for “whatevers” – oh the cost of folly! I made it through Christmas, determinedly ignoring the fact that I was driving around with no spare tyre.

As we do every year, I determined that 2017 is going to be a good year. I lost my way in 2016, largely due to taking on the chair of our local equestrian federation. Writing schedules went out the window, the days became substantially shorter, a new system, accepted by some, agreed to begrudgingly by others, took huge mental effort to understand, and resolving age-old differences tested my conciliatory skills to the nth degree. I was tired, irritable, desperate to get my writing back on track, and 2017, that magical number for whatever reason, was going to do it for me.

Until I came home from work, opened the car door to get out, realised the windows were open, turned the key in the ignition to close them, got out and went to talk to the gardener. The next morning keys stubbornly missing, I decided to look in the car. I saw them in the ignition through the window, and was turning away when a mournful beep, beep, beep, made me open the door. I hadn’t only left them in the ignition, but left the ignition turned on.

A kindly neighbour, who agreed to let his watch of the cricket be interrupted, got me jump-started, but an annoying yellow light, reflecting the letters ABS persisted in mocking me.

Things happened in quick sequence hereafter. A phone call asking me for a reference for a domestic helper who had once worked for me. Except it wasn’t once, she was currently working for me. How dumb is that? Giving my name as reference when you haven’t given notice? I now had to lock my poor Lexie into the house when I had to shop, or work, or whatever.

My life took a swift turn to the stressed. Washing I can handle, vacuuming I can manage, but ironing and mopping floors are a challenge as yet unattained. Then there is Lexie. With none to keep an eye on him he has refined his skills as a worthy follower of Houdini to a fine craft. He has my cat as teacher, so windows are to be jumped through, the gate scaled, and furniture is there to be chewed when boredom threatens.

Trying to make him feel better after one day of long incarceration in the kitchen, I bought him a new ball and a hide bone. He immediately buried the bone with great ceremony and secret ritual. When he was done he returned, and eyed the ball with an expectant glitter in his eyes. I went to cut off the label, and get rid of plastic bags and life continued.

Until two days later when I needed my spare house keys. I searched, and searched. I went around the garden thinking Lexie may have made off with them. at last I decided I must have thrown them away with the label of the ball. The packet with the hide bone had two in it – I only gave him one – the other is also missing. Conundrum: Lexie or the refuse bag?

It was refuse collection day, so I decided to go and check through the bag I had deposited there a couple of hours earlier. I knew exactly where it was, to the side of the pile. It would be messy but quick. So I thought.

But no. Life in this cycle is not that simple. In this country we have people, men mostly, who eschewing the psychiatric facilities live on the streets, where they laugh and sing and dance to whatever beat they alone can hear. Our resident chap was having a whale of a time going through all our stinking bags, and mine was no longer where I placed it. I stood for a couple of minutes trying to recognise it, confident I had tied mine differently to those I was looking at.

I mean, really?!

By the time I had opened the third one, been covered in flies and sickened with stench, I gave up. My decision was hastened by one of my neighbours driving past and waving cheerfully. Then the farm manager rode past on his bicycle.

“Afternoon, Madam,” without a change of expression.

I took stock. Here I was, with the village imbecile, looking through refuse bags in full view of all the world on a Tuesday afternoon.

Is 2017 going to be a better year? With a start like this, it has to be!

 

 

When there is no cake

I try and walk most mornings, weather and lungs permitting.

A few months back, much against my better judgement, I allowed myself to be talked into taking a young puppy, who came with the claim of being a purebred Jack Russell. Well, judge for yourself! But he is a character, very enthusiastic about many things, and ‘walkies’ is high on the priority list. Each morning he watches me like a hawk, and at the first sign of the possibility of a wander, his tail begins a silent tattoo, and he inches closer and closer to the gate in expectation. But should I show no sign of compliance, his demeanour crumbles piteously, hurt eyes dart towards me from under still expectant eyelashes, until at last with a sigh he closes them to escape the horror of another day within the confines of the yard. Such a guilt monger as you have never met!

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My faithful Lex, whose nagging ensures I exercise regularly

 

It was on one of these perambulations that I was stopped by a young man, gently insistent when I tried to walk on past him after the usual greeting.

“Please look at this,” he pleaded, pulling documents out of an ubiquitous brown envelope.

It was his school report, together with the offer of a place for Form 1 at a local high school. His finger trembled over a paragraph towards the bottom of the page. I saw the amount in, typed in bold. E4990. An impossible amount for me, and for many of us, but totally out of reach for some 65% of the local population. He had passed Form 7, the last grade of junior school with a second class pass, making him deserving of further education in my book, and obviously in that of the school to which he had applied.

That was me netted. How do you tell a kid who wants to better himself that there isn’t a hope of him finding that sort of money, you don’t have it and the chances of your convincing anyone to help are slim to non-existent.

It’s the same story each January. Parents and children alike, desperate for that chance of a better life, unable to find the wherewithal, take to the streets in the hope that they will find some good Samaritan willing to part with some ‘bucks’. For some, employers will take pity and lend them the money – they spend the rest of the year paying it back.

Anyway, I tried, very aware that it was not only the preposterously high school fees that I was looking for. School uniforms are not cheap, although at some stage in our independent history there was a suggestion the same uniform be adopted throughout the country to lessen the cost. Then there are books, endless school building funds, whatever. I knew the E5k would end up closer to E8k. and if we didn’t find all of this, by the end of January he would be sent home from school until such time as he could make payment in full.

Every day thereafter Siboniso was at my gate, his eyes pleading, his shoulders desperate. After a week, I knew I had to be honest with him.

“Siboniso, you need to accept that this is not going to happen.” His shoulders slumped. “But I have an idea. Distance learning. You can get some part time work, and study part time.”

“How?”

“Emlalatini.”

So the next day saw us off to Ezulwini, that sometimes lives up to its name and at others seems to represent the other place! (Ezulwini means ‘heaven’ in siSwati)

Emlalatini was strangely quiet, but the principal was in and after a short wait we were invited into his office. I told him our story, he looked at the paper work, and gave the nod for Siboniso to register. The delight on the young man’s face was a picture to behold. The excitement and exuberance that accompanied me home was fabulous.

And that was the last I saw of him. I found him work. He was due to report that Saturday to find out the details. I kept checking my gate, the road. No show. We were supposed to register last week. No sign of him.

Now, he did lie to me, told me he was an orphan, that neighbours took care of him. I gave him food one day because he was so hungry. I then discovered he had both parents, his father was employed, but that is no guarantee that he would be able to shell out what amounts to a large fortune to most of the people of this land of eSwatini to ensure his oldest son’s education.

Was it a scam? If so, to what end? Did he think I would hand over E5000 crisp brown or green notes, without making sure they went where they were intended? Was it a test of some sort? The bible says we will be tested by men and angels?

Whatever. The issue represented in this tale is what really concerns me. Why have we in Africa made it so difficult for our people to be educated? In this country the increase from primary school fees to secondary is huge. After much fuss, a programme was rolled out to offer free primary schooling, which used to be around E500 a year, but to jump from there to approximately E8000 a year, in a country where the average worker earns less than E2000 a month is disproportionate.

The end result is a large portion of population, barely educated, trying to eek a living out of the soil, handicrafts, or their wits. Surely we would all be better off with well-equipped, enquiring minds, bringing new inventions and businesses and ideas to stimulate our sagging economy? The same goes for most of Africa.

In neighbouring South Africa the #Feesmustfall campaign was born of a desperate need by youngsters who believe they deserve to be equipped to succeed at their chosen careers, to have the same opportunities as many children they see daily in television programmes and the internet from around the world.

Is there a deliberate, covert policy to keep the masses uneducated? Do the minority that constitute the leadership fear that if these young minds are trained to think, they may ask too many questions that cut close to the bone? Why is it that only the well-off, the well-connected can educate their children, and so perpetuate a system that is not beneficial to the vast majority.

I fear that our laxity in addressing this issue will lead to our downfall. There is a tale told of a conversation in the French court at the onset of the revolution that changed the ways of governance in the European world. The queen, Marie Antoinette, asked why the masses were so unhappy, so restless. When she was told that it was because they were hungry, her replay was: “Tell them to eat cake!” Her words were called back to her as she knelt in front of those hungry people, put her head on a block, and waited for the blade to fall that would sever it from the rest of her body.

I am a great proponent of the lessons of history and I think we in Africa would do well to become conversant with them, before we, too, lose our heads for living in lavish excess while our people die hungry and our children are denied their right to a better future, one that comes from being adequately educated and equipped to deal with the challenges of the modern world.

 

 

 

 

 

Poisonous Pens

There are many conflicting thoughts running around in my head today, so this blog may turn into three!

Over the past week I have, among other important happenings, received three scurrilous, long-winded messages on two WhatsApp groups, with, as always, Barack Husain Obama the huge, terrifying monster through whom our entire world is about to be destroyed.

These barbed missives always come with a plethora of Bible verses to support the author’s viewpoint, and to terrify the global Christian community into a frenzied outpouring of intercession. For what outcome? Donald Trump as the new President of the United States of America? Will this man stop abortion and homosexuality? Seriously? Because those seem to be the only two issues that this group of right-wing bigots can offer up as any sort of political fodder, unaware it would seem, that abortion has been around since conception began, as has homosexuality. Please don’t think that I condone these. I don’t. I just happen to think that more pressing social problems exist in the world like extreme poverty, children denied access to health and education, rhino poaching and the destruction of the world’s habitats are all hugely important issues in my book. But I quote those two because they are the issues that are touted so monotonously.

My bible is extraordinarily clear: we are to love all men, win them to Christ that not one be lost. Math 18:14; 1 Tim 2:4.

That includes Muslims. And blacks. And Hispanics. And Jews. And women. And gays. Everyone.

What saddens me, and yes, annoys me to distraction, is that the basis of these messages is always false, aimed at the un-initiated, who mindlessly send them on to numerous people and never think to check the veracity of what they are reading. Has every person who signed up to Obama-care received a chip, and thus received in themselves the 666 mark of the beast of Revelations? Did not the Bush administration moot the suggestion of a two-state solution to Palestine and Israel?

Not according to poisonous pens of these authors. Their statements are blatantly untrue, and easily ascertained as such. But still the mails do the rounds, and people waste time reading them, forwarding them, that could and should be spent on real issues. Even people of colour, who seem unaware of the innate racism that drives these people, are caught up in religious fervor associated with sending these messages on.

As I pondered these messages, a revelation dawned. These are not claptrap to be facilely discarded and scoffed at. These tracts have played a very real role in bringing Donald

Trump onto the world stage.

Reading Numbers 13:33 through all of chapter 14, we see graphically the result of the false report brought by 8 of the 10 spies who were sent to check out the promised land. Sadly there too, the majority were believed. When Joshua and Caleb averred, and stood for the truth they were threatened with being stoned. The result? An entire generation spent 40 years wandering in the Wilderness, until everyone one of them, with the exception of our two true men of faith, was no longer.

What all must have happened in the known world of that time as a giant and barbarous nation held sway? How many people in neighbouring countries died? What of the battles that ultimately had to be fought before the Israelites were able to claim what had been promised them half a century previously? And the sin of the Israelites that brought this about? they didn’t trust God. If we need to convince an world that one man is able to wreak so much havoc, what does that say of our faith in God?

My fear is the consequences today of a concerted effort by what at best can be described as right wing fascists, demented in the fear that anyone unlike them, especially if they happen to be black, might prove to be more worthy than they, will be a world sucked into chaos in a vortex of hate and irrational fear.

Christian, you need to examine yourself. You need to test your motives against the light of the perfect love and freedom we have through the sacrifice at Calvary. If you have taken any part in this campaign, passed on a message, not sought God’s will before acting on it, you need to get face down before your Maker in repentance. You need to seek forgiveness from Him and from those who may have been hurt by your action. Do it the same way you sent on the false hood, through email or Whatsapp, it doesn’t matter how, but you need to make it right!

Then ask your Father, who loved you enough to ensure your salvation, to fill you with that perfect love that drives out all fear.

If we are truly rooted and grounded in love, if we understand who we are in Christ, then our identity must be secure. And if we are confident of our standing, accepting of who we are, then we have no need to fear others. We can relate as equals, equal but different if you will, but as people who are able to accept others, respect their differences, and pray for all men according to the will of our Father in heaven.

 

There are many conflicting thoughts running around in my head today, so this blog may turn into three!

Over the past week I have, among other important happenings, received three scurrilous, long-winded messages on two WhatsApp groups, with, as always, Barack Husain Obama the huge, terrifying monster through whom our entire world is about to be destroyed.

These barbed missives always come with a plethora of Bible verses to support the author’s viewpoint, and to terrify the global Christian community into a frenzied outpouring of intercession. For what outcome? Donald Trump as the new President of the United States of America? Will this man stop abortion and homosexuality? Seriously? Because those seem to be the only two issues that this group of right-wing bigots can offer up as any sort of political fodder, unaware it would seem, that abortion has been around since conception began, as has homosexuality. Please don’t think that I condone these. I don’t. I just happen to think that more pressing social problems exist in the world like extreme poverty, children denied access to health and education, rhino poaching and the destruction of the world’s habitats are all hugely important issues in my book. But I quote those two because they are the issues that are touted so monotonously.

My bible is extraordinarily clear: we are to love all men, win them to Christ that not one be lost. Math 18:14; 1 Tim 2:4.

That includes Muslims. And blacks. And Hispanics. And Jews. And women. And gays. Everyone.

What saddens me, and yes, annoys me to distraction, is that the basis of these messages is always false, aimed at the un-initiated, who mindlessly send them on to numerous people and never think to check the veracity of what they are reading. Has every person who signed up to Obama-care received a chip, and thus received in themselves the 666 mark of the beast of Revelations? Did not the Bush administration moot the suggestion of a two-state solution to Palestine and Israel?

Not according to poisonous pens of these authors. Their statements are blatantly untrue, and easily ascertained as such. But still the mails do the rounds, and people waste time reading them, forwarding them, that could and should be spent on real issues. Even people of colour, who seem unaware of the innate racism that drives these people, are caught up in religious fervor associated with sending these messages on.

As I pondered these messages, a revelation dawned. These are not claptrap to be facilely discarded and scoffed at. These tracts have played a very real role in bringing Donald

Trump onto the world stage.

Reading Numbers 13:33 through all of chapter 14, we see graphically the result of the false report brought by 8 of the 10 spies who were sent to check out the promised land. Sadly there too, the majority were believed. When Joshua and Caleb averred, and stood for the truth they were threatened with being stoned. The result? An entire generation spent 40 years wandering in the Wilderness, until everyone one of them, with the exception of our two true men of faith, was no longer.

What all must have happened in the known world of that time as a giant and barbarous nation held sway? How many people in neighbouring countries died? What of the battles that ultimately had to be fought before the Israelites were able to claim what had been promised them half a century previously? And the sin of the Israelites that brought this about? they didn’t trust God. If we need to convince an world that one man is able to wreak so much havoc, what does that say of our faith in God?

My fear is the consequences today of a concerted effort by what at best can be described as right wing fascists, demented in the fear that anyone unlike them, especially if they happen to be black, might prove to be more worthy than they, will be a world sucked into chaos in a vortex of hate and irrational fear.

Christian, you need to examine yourself. You need to test your motives against the light of the perfect love and freedom we have through the sacrifice at Calvary. If you have taken any part in this campaign, passed on a message, not sought God’s will before acting on it, you need to get face down before your Maker in repentance. You need to seek forgiveness from Him and from those who may have been hurt by your action. Do it the same way you sent on the false hood, through email or Whatsapp, it doesn’t matter how, but you need to make it right!

Then ask your Father, who loved you enough to ensure your salvation, to fill you with that perfect love that drives out all fear.

If we are truly rooted and grounded in love, if we understand who we are in Christ, then our identity must be secure. And if we are confident of our standing, accepting of who we are, then we have no need to fear others. We can relate as equals, equal but different if you will, but as people who are able to accept others, respect their differences, and pray for all men according to the will of our Father in heaven.

 

 

So Who is the Real Loser?

It’s four and a half hours since I awoke to a silent house, no hum of fridges, or water pumps, or daylight switches humming their warning that they are about to go off.

I don’t mind too much. I’m broke so every minute that my meter is blank, I think of all the units I am saving and smile. Sure, it’s inconvenient, but I have a gas ring so I can have a cup of tea, even make a meal. I have candles and rechargeable lights, all the mod cons needed to deal with outages such as these over the years. Others have generators for emergencies.

I remember driving home from work one Sunday afternoon many years ago in the foulest of weather: wind, driving rain, trees bending and breaking – scary. It was the onset of Cyclone Domoina, or ‘Zamcolo’ as it is known here. In front of me was a truck easily identified as belonging to the Swaziland Electricity Board as it was known then. As fast as poles crashed down, they were putting them up, an amazing effort in the face of huge adversity, and well worthy of great reward.

Before Christmas, with scant warning, we were told the staff of SEC were going to begin a sit-in, or go-slow or some such action because they had not received their annual bonuses. That doesn’t worry me too much either. Power outages in my area are endemic, sometimes as many as seven times in a day the power goes off. At times it comes straight back, or we can wait an hour or longer. We seldom have twenty four consecutive hours of uninterrupted power. All of which contribute to a gradual degradation of motors, and we then have the expense of replacing fridges, modems, water pumps, irrigation systems, the list is endless.

A number of times we have been out for ten or more hours at a stretch. We are told the technicians have gone home, or they are waiting for the storm to pass, or we don’t get any explanation at all. That is always assuming we can actually get someone to answer at the call centre. I doggedly left the phone ringing for forty minutes once. Twice I have received follow up calls after reporting the lack of power, once three days later, the other time a day later. I mean, please, why waste money on the phone call?

Today we were told that the technicians now only start work at 8am, which happened to be some three hours after our power failed. It is heading for 10 am, so over five hours I’ve saved a goodly number of units, far less than SEC has lost! All of which must be translated into revenue, or loss of earnings for the Company.

So who is really the loser in a situation like this? As I see it, the degenerating service offered by the Swaziland Electricity Company is causing more people to look to alternative forms of power. Solar is no longer as expensive as it was, companies like Guba show how waste can be converted to gas, wind is another option. I have friends who have converted almost completely to solar, and take very little from SEC. Another has made numerous alterations to their home and will soon not only be off the grid, but in a position to sell power back to SEC.

I certainly, if I am ever in the happy place of owning my own house, will look at alternate energy sources. I love the idea of self-sufficiency, not being dependant on someone unwilling to get out of bed to go to work on a rainy morning. But as more people look at these options, the workers of SEC may find that not only do they not receive any bonuses, but they may not have jobs to go to either.

 

Goodbye 2016! Goodbye bigotry?

Goodbye 2016

I was watching a review of 2016 on eNCA that outlined instances of racism that made headline news in South Africa during 2016. This question of colour has to be one of the most invidious ills of this era, a time when it should be so far in remission as to be non-existent. But the opposite is true, not only in Africa but globally.

Growing up here in Swaziland I was pretty well protected from the day to day unfairness of the apartheid system. My mother would mutter darkly about the “Nat Government”, the word communist was bandied about by other adults, we had to watch what we did and said when we crossed to border into South Africa. I had no idea what they were talking about, and I only gradually awoke to the realities of the political system that dominated all our lives, even those of us resident in so-called independent territories or protectorates when I reached early adulthood.

My first brush came at the age of 17. I was working for Khosi Noge who had started a factory under the newly formed SEDCO called kuKhanya kwemaSwati, making dresses out of Java print and tishweshwe. She had to go to Johannesburg to buy supplies, and wanted me to go with her – a white in the party would carry more more weight, even a gangly uninformed teenager. That part I only figured out much later. Khosi told me that they would book me into a hotel in Germiston, while the rest of the group would stay with her brother in Katlehong, the perennial satellite township associated with towns in South Africa.

I agreed nervously when still in Swaziland. But I had been in boarding school in Pretoria for 6 years and I knew that Germiston was a hotbed of rapists, murderers and thugs. The closer we got the more I felt fingers of fear clutch at my innards at the thought of being alone in some dimly lit hotel in this town of lurid iniquity. As we reached the outskirts, Khosi gave instructions to start looking for a place. That was it.

“Khosi, you are not leaving me alone in a hotel in Germiston. I’m coming with you.”

“You can’t come with us,”

“I’m coming with you. I’m not staying here on my own.”

Silence. Muttered conversation.

“You are not allowed in the townships.”

“Why not?”

“Only black people stay in the townships.”

“I don’t care. I’m a Swazi. I’m staying with you. You are not leaving me here alone.”

It was an interesting week, starting with having to hide on the floor between the back seats of the Toyota Hi-Ace, covered with blankets, as we entered Katlehong. I had to stay hidden during daylight hours, emerging only after dark, protected by a throng of youths who constantly made sure the coast was clear, as I went to call home from the callbox. Our last night there one of the children had a birthday, and Khosi’s brother had organised a movie which was shown against the wall of the garage. It seemed most of Katlehong turned out to watch. One old lady came up to me, touched me, then patted my chest, tears streaming down her face.

“I never believed I would see a white person here with us. I pray God I live to see the day when this happens all the time.”

Back in Swaziland my mother was having many nervous breakdowns, convinced each time the phone rang it would be someone to tell her I had been arrested under some arcane law. Now I know I must seem incredibly thick, but I still did not get it. I lived here, among Swazis. My mother was a civil servant and we had people of all races and cultures walking into our house, and had done since I could remember. My father had broken tradition way back in the 1950’s by insisting a number of clerks in his office be allowed to join the Piggs Peak Country Club because they were good tennis players. My neighbours were black, the nurses who took care of me when I was desperately ill in hospital were black, what was the big deal?

At the end of that year I went to Johannesburg to work and study speech and drama at evening school. I struggled at times, mainly because I didn’t remember to look at the signs. I would stand at the wrong bus stops, enter the incorrect section of the Post Office, sit on wrong park benches. Sometimes people would correct me gently, other times they looked at me with deep resentment, sometimes they shouted.

I still found it hard to understand the arguments that waxed around me, so I had no firm opinion, and the propaganda machine was efficient enough to ensure that no white person of my age really knew what was going on. It was only when I came back to Swaziland and began to read books banned across the border that the penny began to drop. I started with Robert Ruark’s “Uhuru”. That icon of the BBC World Service, Mick Delap sent me Donald Wood’s “Biko”, where for the first time I got to read a transcript of Mandela’s speech at the Rivonia trial and realised the extent of the misinformation disseminated by the “Nat” government. For the first time in my life I felt uncomfortable in my white skin. It worried me. I had many conversations with the late Tars Makama, who would seek to reassure me, but he couldn’t. When the crunch came, as I believed it had to, no one would have time to ask if I was for or against the black man. My skin would be my downfall.

That was then, the seventies, which soon were followed by the turbulence of the eighties. During those decades I came to terms with who I am, and decided to embrace my whiteness, not allow anyone to make me ashamed of who my God created me to be. At long last the nineties arrived and sanity seemed to prevail: black and white stood side by side for hours in election queues, the prophets of doom and naysayers were silenced as a rainbow nation was birthed. No one was naïve enough to believe the transition would be smooth sailing – there was a lot of history to overcome – but there was definitely a pride that South Africans across the colour spectrum had achieved what many other nations had not: a peaceful transition from oppression to freedom. The future beckoned, hope burned powerfully as the constitution was drawn up, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission got underway, the will to make South Africa strong and united was incontrovertible.

So where did it all go wrong? Or has it gone wrong? Are the slurs really slurs, or have we become over sensitive? If so, why? Let’s face it, many expectations have not been met, poverty persists, the divide between rich and poor seems to widen inexorably, the have’s seem secure in their wealthy arrogance while the have-nots dwindle into ever increasing despair. And through all the insecurity generated by uncaring politicians suspicion of anything that does not look like me creeps menacingly through our societies and explodes at some insignificant person’s thoughtless rant.

Many of us have been called names, mostly based on colour or gender, age too, any difference will do, and for the most part we ignore this, knowing the name-caller is reacting to some stress in much the same way as we ourselves have done on occasion. Every now and then I have to breathe deeply as a black brother or sister merrily trashes me in the vernacular, unaware that I understand what they are saying. But I have a choice. I can react, take it to heart and lash back. Or I can swallow it, and determine not to allow that speech to colour my attitude towards others. Not easy, but if we are grounded and sure of who we are, we can do it.

Prejudice is born of fear, and fear is the opposite of love. Scripture tells us that perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). I hate that which I fear, and I fear that which I hate. It’s that simple. What is not so simply is figuring out what I fear, and why.

Back to the racism discussion. Every now and then, a racial slur hits a nerve. And on reflection, I think it needs to, in order to remind each one of us to watch our tongues, to search our hearts for attitudes that are not pleasing to God. Leviticus 19: vv11-17 describes very clearly how we are to deal with those around us, dealing honestly with all, considering other’s needs as much as our own, and by so doing honouring God.

My prayer for 2017 is for each one of us to experience that love that drives out fear, that soothes the torment of insecurity, and allows us to live in peace, respecting those around us. I pray, too, for our leaders, all through southern Africa, that they will respect the roles they have been given, to take care of their people, and deal fairly with all.

May the wounds of the past remain in the past, and may 2017 be the start of a new season, rich in blessing, in peace, in love.

 

The Morning Wind

The Morning Wind

 

An errant breeze ruffled curtains

A glimpse of indigo sky

The morning star

proudly incandescent

 

There’s a whispering in the cane

Something’s afoot

And the wind is spreading the news

Dry stalks rustling

Leaves twisting like desiccated snakes

 

The mountains glow like a painting

In the burgeoning dawn

The wind is stronger now

No longer playful

Its sudden sorties menace

Then go still

Where is it now

The soughing in the branches

As they quiver and dip

Leaves dancing

The birds are strangely silent

Only crickets ring a monotonous dirge

 

No sun, yet shadows

Firmly etched give definition

To the hills

Lights flicker and grow dim

As leaves all spent

flutter to the awakening ground

Autumn
Autumn

Not Over Yet!

It really is ridiculous. I came back from a wonderful refreshing ten days in Mozambique, and then what happened? How did five weeks fly by, and I have not put pen to paper? When I have serious deadlines to meet?

As most of us do when we find ourselves in similar pickles, I have plenty of justification for the gap, but at the end of the day it comes down to me. Why did I allow people, events, other peoples’ tardiness to overturn my life and cause me to compromise my routine and deadlines? Many questions, one simple answer: old habits die hard.

For as much of my life as I can remember, I have felt responsible. This is largely the legacy of being an only child, left fatherless at a young age, believing I needed to take care of my distraught mother, widowed at the young age of 34. Rather than decreasing as I got older, this sense of being the buck, the one charged with taking care of everything, increased. And as is the manner of the such things, every stage of my life seemed to bring situations that ensured this sense became more and more entrenched.

Of course, how this comes across to others is not great. Overbearing is probably a kind way of putting it, while feeling stressed and unable to cope, lashing out at whoever comes too close.

I am trained in what used to be called Theophostic Prayer Ministry, now Transformation Prayer Ministry, which is a powerful method of bringing healing. One of the steps one takes as a facilitator in the process, is after counsellees have a revelation that exchanges the lies they have believed for the light of truth, is to go back and ‘test’ the emotion, test that the person really does have freedom in that area.

I believe God does that. He takes us through a process where He shows us the error of our ways. But He always comes back to check if we have learnt the lesson, if we’ve really got it. Sometimes He has to check a few times before He can let us go, give us the certificate, be sure we are not going to fall into that trap again.

Tied into this is the scripture so many love to quote from Luke 4:13: “and he left Him, for a while”. The New King James Version says “until an opportune time”, which is also translated as a testing time.

I think that is where I have been the past few weeks.

Thankfully, I have learnt enough to know that when I am in trouble, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, I need to seek Him, seek my God’s wisdom and guidance and I praise Him for He is faithful who carries us!

This morning I woke up with a wonderful feeling of release, that freedom from oppression, understanding once more that I can only be responsible for that which falls under my brief. Equally those around me are responsible for what is theirs. If we are tied into a venture together, we will stand or fall – either way only my share of the load will be accounted to me.

What a relief!

Back to the journey, to the walk Beside Still Waters. Yes, I said I had come to a place of healing, and it seemed I had come to the end of this series of blogs. I have not. There are three more issues that need to be addressed, and I will work on these over the next three weeks.

Meanwhile it is impressed on me once more that our journey on this planet is never over. As much as God’s mercies are new every morning, so are the lessons to be learned, the experiences to be had, the friendships to be developed, until that day when the promise of the heavenly Jerusalem comes to pass.

 

 

I'm a writer. One book down, two in the pipline, one half way and one in the head!

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