Arising from the Ashes

I am not gone away, I am just temporarily absent due to my house burning down. I have a Hall of Heroes that need to be thanked and will be posting that shortly. Meantime have a wonderful season over the next couple of weeks, and I will be back in full force before the new year!

Thought, Word, Deed

Do you ever play conversations over and over in your mind? Do you have those times when words that have been spoken, either to you or by you, simply will not go away?
Words are creative and they have a life of their own. Proverbs 23:7 says “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”. So who do you think you are in your heart? This might seem like a trite question, but so much about how we interact with those around us hinges on our opinion of ourselves. Where does this opinion come from and how is it formed?
Our understanding of who we are, our significance, and perception of our destiny are formed in early childhood through the words that are spoken to us, the unspoken words, the communication through nuance and the reactions to our actions of those who are closest to us. Careless words spoken harshly at this tender stage of development can leave lasting scars and set in motion behaviours that in turn affect many people along life’s road. Or careful words spoken in such a way as to belie their true meaning.
I remember in the eighties as a journalist having to develop a way of reporting events in such a way as to get the message across without actually giving all the details. In those days detaining journalists was the national sport. One of our top reporters even developed a star chart for the various jails in the country. I was once taken in for questioning after a report I had broadcast, in “special speak” of course. I duly produced my typed report and the tape and when examined in that light, what I had said seemed all quite innocuous. The frustrated officer, who had been ordered to get me silenced at any cost, eventually exclaimed: “It’s the way that you speak English that’s the problem!”
More and more I am seeing how the impact of words spoken today can impact people many years hence. The way I was raised and how my personality developed is how I live my life. This is passed on to my children, who in turn continue the thread. We either live according to the words that formed us, or we live fighting against what was said to us. Whichever is true, people we associate with throughout our days on this planet are affected in some way by what we say and how we say it.
It doesn’t end there, either, because words are how we communicate, they are the essence of our interaction with our fellow man. Their importance, their efficacy in forming us, continues throughout our lives and so it is really important that what you hear is good, positive and edifying. It is strange but true that the negative words are the ones you continue to hear long after they have been spoken. They are the ones that seem so real, whilst the compliments and life giving words are somehow not quite credible. Another repercussion of the apple incident in that paradisal garden is man’s propensity to believe the worst of himself.
A friend of mine likes to say of women that we take our worst features and compare them to our closest friend’s best features in order to feel bad about ourselves!
The power of words, the power of opinion, and the power of the mind to interpret both is something to be very aware of. We can so easily destroy that which is meant for good, by reacting to a false understanding of what has been said. We see criticism where none is intended. We become defensive when no one is attacking us.
It is a hard lesson to learn, that of speaking only that which is positive, that which is edifying, that which brings love and peace and not disquiet and insecurity. But it is one that each one of us, me first, needs to learn!

A name is but a name…

These red millipedes decorate the dune shrubbery and are clearly visible even from a distance

Their red bodies are clearly visible on the pathways, on branches, on leaves, their tracks distinctive in the sand. They are a type of what I have always called “shongololos”. In English millipedes, in American who knows?
I like words, and I like the sound of words, so “shongololo” says a lot more to me than millipede. I believe this is true of most of us, we have an affinity to certain words, and they have peculiar pertinence for us even meaningless words and expressions. I remember a shop assistant who kept proclaiming excitedly, “yummy bananas” in response to every comment and action.
In a number of cultures in the world, a person’s name is important and has significance in terms of culture, or the family unit. Sometimes they are linked to the faith of the family, or to an historic event, or simply something that really impacted the parents around the time of conception or birth. I think we have lost a lot in my culture by simply choosing names that we like for our children, instead of thinking out what would be a good, powerful name to serve as a reminder of who they are every time they are called.
A friend of mine many years ago was a bookkeeper for a large utilities company in Swaziland. She was responsible for the payroll. Procedures were fairly informal in those days, and so workers simply gave their names verbally when they went onto the register. One of her more favourite characters was “Doughnut” Nkambule. She was intrigued by this name and often wondered how he came by it, how his parents would have known about doughnuts which were not readily available in Swaziland in those days. Then a new tax law was introduced and everyone had to produce their birth certificates to prove they were who they said they were. Imagine her surprise when her “Doughnut” turned out to be “Donald”.
I worked with a man whose first names were Noah Mkhumbi. Mkhumbi is the siSwati word for boat, a clever link by his parents. I don’t remember why they gave him these names, but in my imagination I see a flooded river and a desperate boat trip to get to the maternity hospital on time.
Recently the entire twitching community was up in arms over the re-naming of birds. I am not sure if this was only in Africa or worldwide. The outcry was certainly monumental enough to be global. The rationale behind this massive exercise was quite logical: the same bird in Kenya is called by a different name in Madagascar; a finch in Zambia is something else in Uganda. This was causing confusion in the avian world and so it was decided that in the interests of accuracy, uniformity of nomenclature was the route to take.
Words can be confusing. Languages are living and evolve constantly as the human races progresses. My faithful old Oxford Students Dictionary is hopelessly out of date and many everyday words we now use cannot be found in it – a serious drawback for someone who is setting out to be a writer and author of note. Throw different connotations into this and you can be further confused. New meanings are given to old words and if you don’t keep up with the modern usage you may well find yourself in an embarrassing situation. Such as has happened to me recently.
I have long joshed friends from across the pond that American is a completely different language to English. I believe it was Scott who gently told me, when I was talking about a series of children’s books based on the antics of my beloved cat, that the word “Snatch” has a rather smutty connotation in America. I ingested this information and felt a little bewildered. What to do?
You see, in true African tradition, her name is linked to her arrival in our household. She was brought to me by none other than the Duracell man, Jaime himself. He arrived one day with this minuscule, spikey haired, green-eyed, underage feline in a plastic bag. I felt she had been snatched from the fate of feral survival as a Mocambican Kraal special and named her accordingly. Friends of mine called their rescue cat Miss BIB, short for “Bum in Butter”, a clever and apt description. After her tumble from the rafters I did think of “Crash” as an alternative, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill. “Crash Tales” doesn’t have the same ring as “Snatch Tales”.
Snatch is a perfectly acceptable English word with a definition that implies grabbing, quickly taking, or a small excerpt of music. How anyone could make the mental leap between the verb, “snatch”, and the noun “vagina” is beyond me. In actual fact, I feel slightly offended by it, both as a woman and as someone who loves semantics.
After serious consideration and reflection, the decision I have taken was really very easy. My cat’s name is Snatch!

Losers Take All

 

No matter what time and tide through at them, the rocks are immutable

I was so thrilled to see a low tide early yesterday morning. The height of the tide, and having to be away for a week, have made it two weeks since I last had an early morning walk on the beach.

As I got to my favourite spot I greeted the birds, crabs and reef fish like old friends. It never ceases to amaze me how the beach changes from day to day. As I looked for familiar rocks I was astounded to see the one I pictured on this blog a few weeks back, the masterpiece, was almost wholly buried under the sand. I couldn’t find it at first as only a small portion of one corner was visible. The sand was firmly packed on top of the rocks I had walked around a couple of weeks ago. New pools have appeared where there were none. But they are rocks and I know that they are still there, solidly under my feet, under the water. I know too that they will appear again, next week maybe or the week after. They are not fickle, these rocks, they are dependable. They go with the flow, they withstand the blows. They emerge triumphant for a time and then accept their sublimation with equanimity, knowing they will have their chance to glow in the light again.

On this journey through life there are many times when we are covered with sand, when we are in a place that is gritty and dark and maybe a little suffocating. If you are anything like me you do not respond well to these testing times. I squawk and squall and am most ungracious in the chaffing that is so necessary to form me into that which my Creator wishes me to be. I have yet to learn the lesson of the rocks: that time and tide wait for no man. I forget that I need this time of grinding, of filing and smoothing in order to better perform my role when it is my turn to do so. I forget that if I am grounded on my Rock, it does not matter what life washes over me, I will be secure. I may be hidden for a while under a pile of sand, but in time it will wash away and I will see the light of day once more.

A favourite book of mine in the Bible is Jeremiah. Chapter 17 is one that is well thumbed. Verses 5 – 6 give a warning: be careful if you depart from the Lord, if you separate yourself, if you make man, or yourself, your strength, because you will not see good when it comes. Truly, when I am in that dark place, having taken my eyes off the Lord and am looking to man to meet my needs, I see no good around me. I fall into a black pit of despair. But when I am in right standing with Him, wonders abound!

I have had a special sighting on each of the last three days. I call these “God moments”. The first was a red duiker, which I have never seen before, coming out of the dune bush onto the road in front of my car as I arrived back here on Saturday. I have seen his spoor a couple of times and finally I got to see him. It was so special and I felt God was saying “Welcome back”! Yesterday I saw a mongoose in the same area – another first here. This morning the first dove I have seen came a pecking around my little patch of dune. I believe each of these is a token of love from my Maker, a soupçon to delight my heart, to encourage me. How sad it might have been if I had missed them. Many times we allow ourselves to get so busy fighting for our slice of the pie, wanting our own way no matter the cost, that we miss out on much of the wonder and blessing that God has lined up for us.

We get ensnared by “My way”, instead of “His way”; we want it all no matter the cost. I want to change that in my life. I want to be able to embrace each season for what is worth and not for what I want. I want to be able to shine for all I am worth when it is my turn in the light, don’t you?

“He aint heavy……

Complete opposites
I’ll support you, thorns and all

I stopped dead in my tracks. The thought and the sighting fused simultaneously in a moment of glee and awe: “He aint heavy, he’s my brother”!
This past week the tide has been full at around six when I go walking. My temperamental feet don’t allow me to walk too far on a soft, sloping surface, so on these mornings I head off into the dune forests which have their own special attraction.
It’s amazing how a heap of sand and some undergrowth totally deaden the interminable hush, roar and pound of the sea. Here there is absolute quiet, and a sense of peace that is sublime. You have no choice but to walk as quietly and reverently as you can in this Edenic paradise that must entice God Himself. Your ear soon tunes into the sounds around you: little rustlings in the bush; birdsongs; a twig cracking as monkeys, guinea fowl and not yet seen red duiker and suni move out of one’s way.
With the advent of spring and some good rains a couple of weeks ago flora is erupting, and there are new treasures every morning. A thicket of wild jasmine bushes erupted into vestal white, perfuming the air all around; a small bush sprouting showers of pansy blue; a little yellow rose-like flower delicately adorns a robust shrub.
At the end of most of the tracks through the forest are glorious vantage points from where you either look out on pristine dune vegetation, or onto the beach and miles of Indian Ocean. There is a fallen trunk, conveniently placed at a point where it is politic to pause a while, that is a most comfortable seat. I have named it “The writing chair”. This is where I put the thoughts that crowd my mind from all the stimuli around me into a notebook.
It was there that my heart stopped one morning as I saw a human sized shadow silently stalking the bush! What great relief when it evolved from shadow into Scott, my neighbour and fellow scribe, barefooted, coffee carrying and intently pursuing what he firmly believed was “the duiker”. These early morning perambulations must have something to do with being writers.
On one of these mornings on a stretch of what passes for road in these parts, that I have been on countless times, I suddenly saw the sight that stopped me in my tracks and made me want to reach for my camera. A small, white trunked tree, forked a third of the way up its trunk, in which nestled the remains of a huge branch. There was no other interpretation than the cribbing of the song title. This little tree was supporting, for no visible reason, a tree three times its size. There has to be a lesson in that, and my mind took off running to the tune of the song.
I needed to look more closely at these two entwined friends. They bore absolutely no resemblance to each other: the one had pale, smooth bark, was upright and had full leaves; the other wore rough, drab, dark bark, mean leaflets and large unfriendly thorns.
What truths can be gleaned from this conjoining in the natural!
That we live in a world of opposites was so clearly highlighted. The restfulness of the forest a sandbank away from an ever busy sea, a strong and peaceful friend to a prickly overweight brother, the emotions that swirl beneath the still façade of a small beachside community.
I can put it no better than Solomon writing in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Again, if two lie down together,
They will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered
By another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Paul tells us in Galatians 6:2 to “bear one another’s burdens…” Again in Romans 15:1-2 he tells us that “we who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak……”

How many times have I tried to go it alone and failed dismally? How many times have I turned back from supporting a fellow human simply because the look of them was not to my liking? How many times am I deaf to a friend’s silent cry for help because I looked at the thorns instead of the need?

Once again I am humbled by the simplicity of the lessons taught by my Creator and my God in this place, at this time in the journey of this life He has given to me.

©GMS October 2012
All Bible quotations from the New King James Version

Creatures Great and Small

Yup, that’s a baby whale!

This has been a week when critters prevailed at the beach and the tales are as extraordinary as if they were fabled. It’s hard to know where to begin, so we will go from ground to air to sea.

Neighbour Chris is into snakes. Every time I visit I either have to keep on the deck of their house, or keep my eyes averted as I enter their lounge to avoid looking at the rather attractive Burmese python that is housed in a glass terrarium. The reason for my aversion is the hapless mice and rats in the box with it awaiting ingestion. Chris accuses me of anthropomorphism but I cannot help it – I have far too vivid an imagination and I empathise with all creatures. I even remove spiders and put them outside rather than kill them.

Chris’ brother Scott is here from Dallas writing his thesis at the moment. His feelings about the terrarium are similar to mine: cages just don’t sit well whether the creatures in them have any feelings or understanding about being incarcerated or not. I met him while walking on the dune roads wild-eyed and gabbling. Gradually the tale unfolded.

Another snake, this time a Natal green snake had been found and put in the glass cage, together with the python and the rat. This snake was to be the pet of Chris’ fourteen year old son. They came downstairs one morning to find the rat had completely eviscerated the green snake. A part of me wanted to say: “Good for you! Go, rat, go!” An awful story, which to my mind, completely explained Scott’s agitation. The tale, however, did not end here.

The next day, Scott was in the kitchen when he heard thuds coming from the lounge accompanied by some rather high-pitched shouting. The rat was now attacking the python who was trying to shed its skin, and the thuds were the rat being bounced off the glass walls as the python, who was bleeding on its head and elsewhere, defended itself. Scott decided, quite rightly in my opinion, to ignore all that was happening and continue preparing dinner. He suggested to his nephew that he too find something else to do and let nature take its course. That is, until he heard a new sound: bang, bang-bang, bang-bang-bang. He flew out of the kitchen to find Chris shooting at the rat with a BB gun! At this point he decided enough was enough and left home!

Yellow billed kites are summer residents here and they floated in a couple of weeks ago. It is interesting watching Snatch’s reaction to these graceful aviators. She seems to know that she is too big for them, but she takes up a defensive crouch and watches them very carefully over her shoulder just to make sure that they aren’t singling her out for dinner. They are most intrepid and come in close to look for any scraps that might be waiting for them. A piece of meat on the pole at the end of the deck was adroitly collected. The cucumber was discarded.

The highlight of the week for me, however, was going fishing with my son and neighbour from atop the dune, John. The chaps who run the charter business are located a little south of here and are characters of note. The sort of rough diamonds one tends to find in these more remote locations. John’s wife Jane has nicknamed them “The Cowboys”. So it was with a spirit of resilience that we met Philip on the beach, boarded Calypso and set out to sea.

The fishing was abysmal, but the whale spotting was extraordinary.

Our first sighting was a calf erupting out of the water like a bullet straight into the air. Not once, but over and over again with all the exuberance of youth on a frivolous Friday morning. My camera clicked away, and I managed to miss all of the show! But I was thrilled on putting them onto the computer to discover that I did, in fact, have two very blurred outlines of whales and I am proudly sharing the least blurry of these with you. These are hump backed whales, and whilst not the biggest of the species they are pretty huge, especially close up.

Next we had a cow and her calf cross within spitting distance in front of us. As skipper Philip said, even the babies made our boat look small. We watched them swim by us in awed silence feeling somehow privileged to be allowed so close to mammals that most of us know best from books.

The grand finale was a pod which treated us to a full display of all their antics. They started with the fin slap, then onto the tail whacking with a few back flips thrown in. It was utterly amazing and we yelped with delight at each new trick that was performed for us. I was flabbergasted at the amount of water that is displaced when these enormous mammals do a backflip.

We came back fairly tired out after a day on the water to continue the battle of the bats. Faithful Arlindo arrived half an hour before sunset, armed with his netting and Silicone spray, to continue his quest to secure our gingerbread house against these useful but noxious critters. My son had had little sleep because of the incessant rustling and squeaking in the walls of his bedroom. Saturday morning we were awoken around four to hysterical shrieking and thudding against the walls of the house as the bat brigade returned to find eviction notices across their access points.

We ended the week sitting on the beach last night watching the full moon come up over the ocean. It was incredible. Once again I stood in awe of my Creator, overwhelmed by His grandeur and the opulence of His creation. I can’t wait to see all He has for me this week!

Treasures from an old brown suitcase

 

My Mother

It’s been a really strange week at the beach. It began Sunday before last when we awoke to no power. This situation continued throughout the day until sometime after 8pm that night, at which point all cell signals died!
As you know by now, this is a small community consisting of only 6 permanently resident families, so when some of them leave the enclave it creates a certain imbalance. When communication ceases it causes a mild form of hysteria which is what happened at the beginning of the week.
Nevertheless we all survived the vagaries of the weather, services and absent members, and by midweek everyone was back where they belonged, for a couple of days anyway. The electricity has been more on than off, but the cell signal has come back stronger, albeit a little up and down. It makes one quite fit as at the first complaint of breaking up you take off towards the signal point, yelling as you go: “Hang on while I go upstairs!”
But none of that is the point of this blog. Confronted with a cold, wet Sunday I thought what better time to start sorting out the old brown suitcase with all those family photographs in it. It would be undignified to tell you for how many years I have threatened to do this. So I settled myself on a cushion near to the big windows to take advantage of what light there was and started making orderly piles of pictures according to family, holidays, houses, Kruger etc.
The best part was when I got to the really old pictures, the ones that were faded and in some cases had bits peeling off them. One caught my eye – it was of a little girl with a long mass of unruly blonde curls. My granddaughter has a mass of blonde curls and we have been wondering who the culprit in her lineage is. I found a few more pictures of this young lass, and then the penny dropped – it was my mother! I came across an old-fashioned portrait of her as an infant, in what passed for colour in around 1928, on cardboard and there was no longer any doubt that her legacy lives on to some degree in her great-granddaughter.
I felt an overwhelming sense of joy as I thought how happy she would be, knowing that her genes did actually count. She always bewailed the fact that I was my father’s daughter and there was little evidence of her involvement in my creation at all!
I went back to the pile of pictures with renewed vigour and tried to identify some of the other family members. I recognised the family farmhouse in Fort Beaufort, but little else. I felt frustrated that for whatever reason I had not spent enough time with members of my extended family who would know all these people and be able to fill in the very substantial gaps in my knowledge of my family history. In the midst of my ruminations, I found another gem. This time a picture of my father when he was in his early twenties. My father died in 1962, and I have no pictures of him prior to his marriage to my mother in 1952, so this was a real find. Again I was thrilled to see the family resemblance passed down to my sons.
Then I happened on a brown envelope and this was the best treasure of all. In it were about thirty letters written by my grandfather to members of his family from the front in World War One. It was strange reading words and phrases that I myself use without knowing how I have come to do so, on paper that is almost 100 years old. The first letter is dated 1917, and they cover his postings in France, Belgium, Germany and his stays in London and Ireland. A maddeningly brief mention is made of his receiving the Military Cross from King George V himself at Buckingham Palace.
As I shared this with my neighbour and fellow writer, Scott (ah, I have yet to tell you about Scott, but not now) he said “Oh well there you go, that’s another book!” As we laughed I thought “Yes, and I am going to have live for at least another fifty years if I am going to get them all written!”
Life is full of surprises and I loved the contrast that on a dreary, cold, and dank Sunday I discovered treasures that caused my heart to soar. Those who have lost close family members early on will understand how I felt, the sudden link and insight into someone who is a part of you but whom you have never met. It somehow gives me additional strength knowing that I have ancestors who led brave lives that are worthy of recording.
There are so many wonderful stories out there. I wonder how many of them are shared. I wonder, too, how many secrets are nestling untold in graves around the world. It makes me a little sad because I think that we are the poorer for it.
The Beach
September 2012

Caution – Fire Hazard!

One of the first indicators that one has tumbled into the generation gap is when your children bring home music that you do not understand. In fact, you are not sure at times that it is music, it seems to be a meaningless rumble of irritation.
Happily, like most things, this irritation does pass and there comes a time when some sort of common ground is reached. My sons, knowing my musical preferences, are good about introducing me to new singers they think I will enjoy and so I have just purchased, under instruction of course, a CD by young singing sensation, Adele.
I put it on as soon as I got home and was half listening, and I must confess half impressed, when she sang a line that made me stop what I was doing and start listening. It was a line that gave the first words to expressing some of what I have been grappling with over the past few weeks.
Why is it that pain, or heartache, or hurt, or remorse, any of those painful emotions are so destructive? Why are they so difficult to unravel, to grasp hold of, deal with, overcome? I was thinking about emotional healing, and it is patent that unless we can unravel the threads that cause the pain, we can never come to a place of wholeness.
As I heard Adele sing “… so I spend my whole life hiding my heart away” I got the beginnings of an answer. The old clichés about walls of defence don’t really put it as well as this line does. How do you heal what is hidden? The short answer is that you don’t, you cannot. If a surgeon does not see where the tumour is, he is not able to cut it out.
The prophet Isaiah puts it this way:

Look, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with sparks:
Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled –
This you shall have from My hand:
You shall lie down in torment. *

We lock ourselves into our pain, and as we do we lock others out. We also lock out any help, even divine aid, that might bring release. That wound then festers inside the prison of our hearts, turning ever inward, boring into the soul, unleashing its torment. The only solution is to make sure no further barbs gain entrance, so light the fire, build the wall, turn the key do whatever you think you need to in order to protect that wound.
If you have ever built a fire outdoors you will know that not only does the heat keep predators away but sparks fly off that themselves have the potential for starting a fire, or burning whatever is close by. That is what happens to us: as we build this ring of fire we burn those that get close to us and we hold at bay any others that might want to get close to us.
I am of the generation that was brought up to believe that it is right to hide one’s heart, that it is shameful to admit to pain. The ability to control one’s emotions is praised. As for getting help – the “shrink” stigma is a great deterrent. I would like to put it to you that those advocates of “bravery” and the “stiff upper lip” brigade are really advocates of cowardice.
In truth, it takes gut wrenching courage to face one’s pain. Looking your hurt in the face is just the beginning of the process. From there you have to move onto owning it, taking responsibility for it and dealing with it openly and honestly. Hidden is never good. Casting blame onto others, no matter how justified that might be, only delays and obscures the issues. As the prophet says, we light the fire that surrounds us, we have to accept that we have a portion of blame. We have to take the first steps to extinquish the blaze, and if we get blisters in the process we need to know that they too will heal. We are the only ones who can open the doors, and “unhide” our hearts.
Fine, you might say, I’m open, I’m brave, but how do I get rid of this ache, how do I find the courage to trust again, how do I move forward from here?
I have a picture in my mind of a scene in heaven. God is pacing the floor because He cannot bear to see the agony of his finest creation as the enemy of their souls causes them to tear each other to shreds with cruel words and deeds. Jesus is there, and He is moved not only by the plight of fallen man, but also by the sorrow of His Father. The Holy Spirit is restless, impatient, waiting for the time when He is released to play His role in the redemptive plan.
It is only the overwhelming love of a Saviour, who, when seeing His father’s anguish at the pain inflicted on and by His pinnacle creation, cries out: “Let Me go, I can do it, I can take the beating, I can even bear the cross if that is what is needed to end all the hurt, all the suffering.”
God is torn between the need of His created man and His love for His son. The Holy Spirit is anxious, believing Jesus can do it, but the cost, can he really do what needs to be done all alone down there? God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit all knew the enormous sacrifice that was needed if complete healing and release were to become reality on earth.
The rest, one could say, is history.
So to answer your question: Will you let Him in? Will you allow your heart to stop hiding long enough for Him to find you? Will you allow His living water to extinguish the fire you have built around yourself? Will you allow Him to be your Saviour, this man Jesus?

13 September 2012
©GMS

*New King James Version, Isaiah 50:11

Duracell Man

It is inescapable reality that every positive has its negative. The situation of this house, nestled among the sand dunes of Moçambique, within spitting distance of the Indian Ocean, to all intents and purposes is absolute paradise.
One of the attractions of this location is the moderate climate. As we go into early spring and I look back over the past couple of months, if the temperature dared to drop below 16 degrees we all shivered and cried about being banished to Greenland! So what happens come summer? The whales flee southwards to cooler waters and we roast. The beach is too hot to walk on a few hours after sunrise. In February temperatures climb towards the 50 degree mark.
It is at this time that being surrounded by fairy tale dunes becomes a little less idyllic. The reflection of the sun off the sand causes the house to become a sauna. My solution to the problem was to get planting. I found out about the best grass to plant, how to plant it, and began looking for indigenous trees to provide shade. I am not sure if there is anyone else who has attempted to plant a lawn on a beach, but let me tell you it is challenging to say the least.
I am ably assisted in my endeavours by the ever faithful Jaime who you have already met. I say “assisted” with a set look on my face. Jaime is not only imbued with great generosity of spirit, but he also has boundless energy and does not understand the concept or need for patience. He is severely ADD, but as he never went to school he has never been diagnosed as such. Not that I think a diagnosis would make much difference, but an understanding of how to manage him early on might have helped him progress a little further in life.
So, there is no sooner a sheen of moisture on the grass when Jaime darts out from the shade to move the sprayer. The game begins. I hover in the wings, waiting to catch him before he gets there. “Não, Jaime, não”, I call, and crestfallen he turns back, but only to a position where he can see where I am. I no sooner move out of sight than he again shoots forward to grab the sprayer.
He is indefatigable in his determination to water all the plants as expediently as possible. After an hour or less of this I am exhausted! I have dubbed Jaime “The Duracell Man”, stolen from an advert which shows toy bunnies wound up and running around, but one by one they all fall over as their batteries run out, until only the bunny with Duracell batteries is still up and running. The name has stuck and continues to be true of the man.
The wind can come up at any hour of the night, and Jaime will be there to rescue cushions and get chairs to safety. Let one car onto the sand, and Jaime will be there to eradicate its tracks with his rake. Guests arrive; Jaime’s head will pop up from his room under the house to check who they are, making sure they are friend and not foe, and greet them.
You may be wondering what the downside is of someone who displays so many positive attributes, and sadly there is a downside. I have come across this trait before in those who have been denied the basic right of education that so many of us take for granted. I’m not sure about other cultures, but here in Africa we tend to equate a lack of education with a lack of mental acuity. To be blunt, we regard anyone who is not educated as being unintelligent.
Have you ever noticed that people frequently become how they are adjudged to be? For someone like Jaime, it seems it is easy for him to behave as though he is unintelligent, because that is how he has been treated all his life. He has learnt that it doesn’t matter when he does things incorrectly: he will be excused because he does not “know any better”. This is not true. His ignorance is only with regard to learning as we know it, not with his ability to observe or reason.
Many, like Jaime, are quite obstinate in their ignorance, unwilling to change or progress. But I am not prepared to leave him like that. I am determined to prove my own theory that with patience an uneducated person can be encouraged to use their brain. Slowly, I am getting through to him, and slowly he is responding.
My reward is the huge smile that broke out the other day as he finally understood how to get the garden sprayer to spray where he wanted it to, instead of being filled with abject misery when it kept watering the deck instead of the garden!

©GMS September 2012

Who would plant a lawn on the beach?
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