Category Archives: A new year

2015 – halfway mark

Of Roosters and Rain

It is fortunate that, whilst I have people living close to me, I don’t have neighbours in the traditional sense of the word, given the happenings around here first thing Monday morning.

We had some much needed rain over the weekend, accompanied by freezing temperatures. There were heavy snowfalls on the Drakensberg mountains of Lesotho and neighbouring kwaZulu-Natal. The winds sweep off these mountains onto the plains and valleys of this little Kingdom, rattiling badly fitting windows, draughting under ill-matched doors, all essential building faults if we are to survive the heat of summer, but a killer at this time of the year.

Unseasonal rain in the middle of the dry season and the inevitable happened. Water got in where it should not have, and the borehole pump went silent. There are five houses drawing water off this borehole so the sound of air emanating from the tap in the kitchen is cause for instant alarm. Torch found, coin tossed as to who would go out in the dark and wet to check if there was anything to be done – that was a no-brainer, the youngest lost the toss!

The pressure gauge was dormant – a quick jiggle of the wire housing and the familiar purr started up. Thank heavens. Not only was it night, it was Saturday night, and in this part of the world weekends are still traditional rest times for the majority of businesses and services, so the chances of finding anyone to help were remote.

We got through Sunday. Monday dawned clear and glorious, rain washed mountains glowing in the pre-dawn light, no smoke, all fires quashed by the weekend rain. I woke up the younger member and we stood enthralled by the view in the early morning chill, then we noticed a strange movement along the side fence of the yard. A heavily garbed man was moving cautiously along the narrow pathway, stopping now and then, crouching, then moving on. This is a farm, there are many workers, maybe he was checking the canal which brings the irrigation water, so we didn’t pay much heed initially.

But his movements were strange, so I left the refuge of the doorway to find out what he was up to. As I rounded the corner of the house, I saw, to my horror, water cascading out of the elevated water tank. From no water to overflow, which was worse? I had to stop it, fast!

I yelled at my son, who said “Switch it off at the DB”.

Now, to get to the DB I had to lose my coffee cup, ideally don a raincoat, and figure out how to open the board. Thinking on my feet I ran and turned on a tap to mitigate the flow cascading earthwards, balanced the coffee cup on the little shelter for the switches, and manfully tried to slid the cover off the db board while being showered from above with freezing water! Bear in mind I am clad in gaily checked winter pyjams, topped with a warm sweater, disreputable crocs on my feet.

Meantime the strange figure on the other side of the fence had now been joined by another. In between trying to stop the deluge I asked them what they were up to.

“I’m looking for my chicken,” replied one.

“What chicken?” I asked. He lives in a room close to me and I had never seen any chickens around.

“My chicken,” he repeated, a slight hint of hysteria in his voice.

“Is it alive, or dead?” I asked (You can tell I was not functioning too well) at which point the poor lad broke into siSwati. “It is a big chicken from the homestead, and it is missing.”

The saga of the missing chicken has continued unabated for two days. Not dumb, this homestead bird, it scarpered at the first chance it got, and is happily buc,buc,bucking around in the sugar cane, and giving the occasional yodel to let us all know it lives yet.

No amount of food throwing or cajoling has convinced it to come home. This morning our creative young man arrived with a dog in tow.

“Have you caught your chicken yet?” we asked.

“No, but I have brought the dog. The dog will find the chicken in the sugar cane and bring it to me!”

It is now late in the day. My friend has disconsolately returned his friend’s dog, and a few minutes ago, I heard a happy squawking from just within the confines of the cane.Monday's Mayhem (640x478)

With this Smoke, There are Many Fires

As a fire rages through forested slopes, the sugar cane in the foreground waits to be burnt!
As a fire rages through forested slopes, the sugar cane in the foreground waits to be burnt!

The dry rasp of fresh wood smoke in my throat tickles me awake. I feel my lungs recoil, and hear their familiar wheeze of protest.

It’s fire time in this part of Africa, and a pall of noxious smoke smudges the landscape. For the most part, the burning is indiscriminate.

It’s honey time, we have large pine and gum forests that offer plenty of food and shelter to bees, so young men go and smoke them out of their hives. They make a few extra cents selling the dripping combs along the side of the road. The more entrepreneurial will strain and sell it in bottles of various sizes and hues. Frequently their smoking goes awry, resulting in furious forest fires, that cause millions of rands worth of damage each year.

Subsistence farmers believe that if they burn the grass at this time of the year, it will be healthier in spring. This legend is lent truth by virtue of the grass looking nutritiously green as it emerges from the blackened and charred matts. No amount of reasoning can persuade them that burning pastureland causes more damage than good – myriads of erosion ditches haphazardly littering the countryside fail to convince. Many huts are lost to fire at this time of year, and sadly a number of lives too, especially of children too small to run fast enough from the flames.

More controlled burning is done by the Sugar Farmers. Another myth is that cane needs to be burnt to increase its sugar content. In fact, it is burnt simply to tidy out the dead leaves, to make it easier for the cane cutters to do their job. There are probably thousands of acres under sugar along the east coast of Africa – a couple of years ago I drove under a pall of smoke from this valley in Swaziland to beyond Chinevane in Mozambique. I thought seriously during that trip of starting a campaign to ban sugar!

After all, we all know that too much sugar is bad for you, right? So no sugar, no smoke, no hips, to laboured breath was my argument. I also feel sad that where once citrus orchards and banana plantations flourished in attractive rows, the concerted green wall providing the promise of millions of calories now waves indolently in passing breezes. What happened to the health fad, I wonder?

But for me, the biggest blight of fires, is the one born of necessity. To so many of us electricity is a right, but to the vast majority of Africans it is a privilege to be coveted. The ugly spectre of poverty raises its head, as I see children with eyes red-rimmed from inflamed conjunctivae, listen to dry and hollow coughs, and notice the awful puckerings caused by burning logs, or trying to manage precariously balanced kettles of boiling water.

And all the while our politicians and leaders show little regard for the plight of the people they have promised to lead, focussed only on wiping each and every honeypot clean. Africans have long given up fighting this inequality, knowing they are dealing with people who have no conscience. Those who want something better for themselves, and for those to come after them, are the ones who flee north, willing to risk their lives, because either way, they will die.

I watch European leaders argue about what to do with the migrants, and I find myself shouting at the television – deal with the problems, the issues, deal with the leaders!

Then the story of Bashan breaks, and my heart, and that of many Africans breaks a little more

On the Move, Swazi Style!

IMG-20150526-WA0008What is it about moving that causes such anxiety?

For me, it is always the logistics: what can be packed ahead of time; how best to transport all items; what to do with the cat while moving?

These certainly were the questions that pre-occupied my thinking as I prepared to move for the umpteenth time in the last three years. I was also making the worst of moves – a small distance from where I was

Farm Movers - Highly recommended!
Farm Movers – Highly recommended!

living. One always thinks those will be the easiest, numerous trips in the car, clothes left on hangers, seemingly simple, but the opposite is true.

Professional movers are not in abundance in this part of the world, so I had to look for an adequate vehicle, “for hires” abound, but finding a few well-muscled labourers, and willing hands to go with the hired vehicle is another matter.

So imagine my relief and delight when I received a message from a friend to say their farm tractor, complete with able-bodied workers, would be available to move me on a certain day. It was twenty-four hours ahead of my planned move day, but it was help I badly needed.

Bang on 6.30 am, as the sky was streaked with dawn pastels, the tractor arrived at the gate and once we had negotiated its entrance through the electric gates, we were set to go. In short order, my possessions disappeared out of the door, and soon we were ready to transport the first load. As I reached the turn-off to my new abode, I met my soon-to-be neighbour on his way to work. He looked somewhat startled at seeing me first thing in the morning, and more so when I indicated the tractor making its careful way down the not-too-smooth farm road.

By the time we returned with the second load, good friends had unpacked boxes, made beds, and, before midday, pictures were hung and the house, quite incredibly, looked like a home. As the tractor left for the final time, I looked around me, and what should have been utter chaos, was simply organised mess.

The final blessing of the day, was good friend Maureen arriving with a tray of the most welcome bangers and mash!

Three weeks down the road, my house truly is a home and I happily welcome friends for a cuppa and a chat – and each time I do, I say a silent thanks to Pete, Jim, Carlie, Maureen, Small, Mandla, Alison and the rest of the crew who spared no effort on my behalf.

You are the essence of what I call ‘community’, that selfless coming together to help a member, and I thank God for each one of you!

 

Books Wonderful Books

I have just been to Cape Town for a wonderful week of bonding with my grandchildren. Their parents, too!

One of the boons of travelling from a place like Swaziland is the time you spend waiting for flights, or busses, and then the journey itself – great downtime to catch up on all those books that I never quite get to grips with at home.

This week was no exception, and I devoured two!

The first, The Secret of Eleanor Cobham, a fascinating historical  tale by Tony Riches, set in England and Wales in the mid 1400’s. Told in the first person, in the form of diary entries, it tells of intrigue in the royal courts of long ago, and swift retribution if you crossed one more powerful than you. There is interesting insight into the power of superstition, accusations of witchery often bringing better judgements for the accusers at times, than hard evidence of wrongdoing. The book is well-researched, bringing alive how people lived in that era, how they thought, and how they fought.

Strange that all these centuries later, similar happenings are taking place in this little Kingdom somewhere in the southern part of Africa. Political jostling, hunger for power and riches, scant regard for reason or law, and suddenly you are watching a drama that is playing out in real time. Two high court judges,  the registrar of the same court, the Minister, now erstwhile, of Justice, all in jail on charges of corruption, accused of criminal malfeasance. The Chief Justice, who should be with the quartet, has barricaded himself in his house. In retaliation he has had his water and electricity cut off. I cannot help wonder how clean the hands are of those who bring the charges.

I digress. The second book I found at the airport, The Edge of the Water by one of my favourite authors, Elizabeth George, she of Inspector Lynley fame. I love her writing – she takes you into the world of the tale from the first word, and doesn’t let go of you until the final sigh of satisfaction as you reach The End. This is her first young adult novel, which I, as an old adult, thoroughly enjoyed.

Tony Riches is an “indie” author – he publishes himself on Amazon, and has learnt how to market himself and his books. Elizabeth George is published by Hodder, once Hodder and Stoughton. Without in any way disparaging Tony’s book, which I enjoyed immensely, there is a polish to Elizabeth George’s book. Is it because she is a great writer, is it that she is more experienced, or is it because she has the benefits of a team provided by her publisher: A full time editor, graphic artists to design her covers, a distribution team, marketers, funds for research?

As an independent author and publisher, you have to do everything yourself: find and pay for a professional editor, establish an author platform through which you market yourself and your wares, keep tabs on what is selling, where is the best place to market your book, figure out distribution deals, the list seems endless at times. But if you believe in your craft, you have no choice, but to jump through the maze of hoops in order to get your book into the hands of the people you have written it for.

I admire every single Indie author out there – it takes courage, commitment and determination, and I think that publishing houses are poorer for their inability to accommodate all the talent that is manifesting throughout the world.

Published vs Independent
Published vs Independent

A Flight of Whimsy …

At the end of the street, near the pasture land, is a small structure, almost hidden by vegetation. So hidden, that it was some three months after I moved into the street that I saw it.
“Who lives there?” I asked of my landlady.
“Oh, that’s old Joyce – she’s as mad as a hatter!”
“Who takes care of her?”
“I think she takes care of herself. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen her for ages.”
The next day, as I set off on my daily walk, my feet unbidden set off towards the hidden house. As I came close, I heard singing – a joyous, uplifting sound, the notes lilting on the early morning rays.
The house whispered into view. The windows sparkled in the burgeoning sunlight. I could see a cat indolently sunning itself in the open doorway. I was drawn to the wooden gate, festooned on either side with creepers of old fashioned dog roses.
The light emanating from the house beckoned, the singing mesmerised.
I stood, uncertain, my hand hovering near the latch on the gate. I wanted to make contact. I wanted to see the owner of the voice, and I oh so desperately wanted to peek inside the little house that nestled gemlike in its Edenic garden.
As if sensing my presence, the singing stopped. A shadow shuffled across the doorway, and the tiniest figure materialised out of the glistening dust motes. Bright eyes pierced towards me.
I smiled.
The eyes twinkled, a finger beckoned.
I opened the gate.
Hidden House

The Summer Wind

The wind is soughing through the trees, birds twittering about their daily business.
The repetitive call of a dove could irritate, but is simply a part of the harmony. Now and again rough voices jar, the sound of hammer on plank introduces a different beat. Flies buzz annoyingly, determined to distract.
The breeze sings, brings information from round and about. Now it soothes, then it terrified as it tore angrily at everything in its way. Wind is my soul’s barometer, sighing in time to my emotions, sometimes fevered, sometimes calm, sometimes playful, then too, sombre and portentous.
God, how I hate flies! And there are many of them here. Buzzing, trickling, interfering, all the while dropping their nefarious poison, transferring germs from one surface to another. In between swatting them, I hear the birds and wonder at all they have to say. I wish I could name them, know them better!
In the background a lawn mower attests to summer’s growth and speaks of life. How strange – I’ve always thought I was averse to the sounds of man-made machinery.
I hear the whispers of God as He looks down on His creation –does He still feel that all is good? Why do we always seek to diminutize Him? Are our egos so fragile that we cannot bear the thought of a powerful Deity, impatient with our own impotence, always angry, snapping and snarking at those around us?
Unperturbed, the wind continues its journey, gently clearing spiderwebsIMG_1677 (800x600), and if we let it, soothing breathing, loving!
IMG_1458

Loss

I feel the grain of the wood

Its rich red magnificence

And I mourn anew the death of the tree

That gave life to my world.

 

The steps, the beds, the chairs

The Table

Defined my life, my love of the woods

Now gone

Dry disintegrated into iron seared sand

 

My photographs

Imprints of a past few will remember

But it was my past, my ancestors,

And as I visited them

I would wonder at their thoughts,

Their actions, their loves,

Because all that is in them

Is what led to me.

A Child is Born …

Now that the fuss and kerfuffle of end of year festivities is over, I feel a need to look at the Christmas story, bearing in mind that Jesus was really born in March! Here goes:

Fire and smoke or a dramatic sunriseIt was a crisp, clear night in late winter, the stars shining brightly in the moonless sky.
There was a buzz in the little Israeli town of Bethlehem in Judea. In those days Israel was ruled by Rome, and the Emperor, Caesar Augustus decreed that every person had to be registered. Bethlehem, small as it was, was the registration centre for a substantial area that included Nazareth. People thronged the narrow streets, every bed was taken; it was hard to find a table in any restaurant for a meal.
A young couple moved wearily through the crowds. The more observant would notice that the wife was heavily pregnant. They would also notice an air of separation, a politeness between the two. Over this, an aura of despair cloaked them, as they approached the last Inn on the road out of town. The woman’s body sagged when she saw her husband’s shoulders slump further, and she watched the innkeeper shake his head, apologetically. The man turned away. The Tavernier caught sight of the woman and suddenly understood their predicament. He called to the man, beckoned to his wife to follow him. He led them to the back of the building to the stable, where there was a vacant stall.
“It’s the best I can do,” he said.
“It looks wonderful,” the woman said wearily. “It is warm, it is dry, and the hay will make a comfortable bed.”
“Thank you for your consideration; may the God of our fathers bless you,” the man’s voice was husky, tight with emotion.
Overhead a star glowed brightly, and appeared to increase in size.
A little way outside the village, a group of shepherds were sitting around a fire, enjoying the clear night. They noticed the star, commented on it, wondered about it, and fell into companionable silence.
Further afield, a caravan of camels and donkeys moved through the early night towards Jerusalem. There was a sense of urgency in the voices of the drivers, encouraging their camels forward. Underlying their urgings, a serious conversation was taking place between three well-dressed men. If you were to inquire, you would discover that they were respected Magi, wise and holy men respected in the east for their vast knowledge and wisdom.
“We must be close, the star burns brighter, and it has grown in size.”
“We are at the outskirts of the city, why don’t we go and ask Herod – he should know if a king has been born.”
Little did they know the savagery their request would unleash, when Herod, terrified of any opposition ordered the slaughter of all male children to the age of two.
Mathew 2:18 A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. (Quoted from Jeremiah 31:15, written some 600 years earlier)
Back in the stable, the young lady, her name is Mary, realised the tiredness and pain in her back were more than the effects of their journey from Nazareth. The contractions began to come fast and were intense. Joseph, her husband, experienced a moment of wild panic as he realised that as a carpenter, his midwifery skills were severely lacking.
His prayer was directed heavenwards: “You got me into this, Father, so I look to you for help in delivering this baby.”
Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (approx. 700 years previously)
The animals shuffled curiously as they listened to the muffled grunts of pain, and the quiet soothing voice as it encouraged. Soon there was the cry of a new life.
“Well done, Mary, you have done it! You have delivered the Son! And yes, His name is truly Emanuel, for He is God with us!” Joseph wrapped the small form in swaddling clothes, all he could find in their travel bags, and handed Him to his mother.
Out on the hillside, the shepherds were dozing. Suddenly a brilliant light appeared! Before they could gasp out their fear, they were astounded by the sight of an enormous angel. They rubbed their eyes, their faces reflecting their disbelief, then fear took hold of them.
A voice thundered forth from the being in the midst of the light: “It’s okay, you don’t need to be afraid! I’ve come to bring you some amazing news: tonight in Bethlehem your Saviour has been born, the Christ is lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.”
Suddenly the sky was filled with angels, singing in glorious harmony: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
They couldn’t wait, almost falling over each other in their eagerness to be the first to see if what they had been told was true. Their joy at finding the baby, exactly as had been described, was untrammelled.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He sent his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The simple shepherds were the first to witness the beginning of a new era, an era that would guide and divide the world for centuries to come. They were the first to meet this man Jesus, who with a few chosen disciples, so impacted the world that time has been measured from that day.
Mathew 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.”
It was to take the baby’s lifetime, a scant thirty-three years, and His cruel and unfair death, before men of the human race understood fully the happenings of that far off night in Bethlehem. What is death, but separation? The greatest separation is that from the God who created us. God is Holy, and He is pure, and anything that is not holy and pure cannot stand in His presence.
Exodus 33: 19 Then He (God) said (to Moses) “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”
That was the consequence of Adam and Eve wanting to know all about everything – for evermore God’s prime creation, the reflection of His glory, man, would be separated from Him. God was heartbroken. All of heaven came together to find a way to change this. There was only one solution. There was one person who could change this – the Son, Jesus. If He came and lived as a mortal among men, a man pure enough to stand in the presence of the Father, and if He were to die a death that would allow Him to pay the full consequence of man’s sin, a way would be forged for God to once more be able to enjoy fellowship with the being He created in His image.
That is the significance of that heralded birth, in that lowly stable long ago in the little town of Bethlehem.
That is the story of Christmas.