Island Blog from Africa

sausage tree

 

 

They tell me the sausage tree hasn’t flowered for years.  It is now.  Two fat crimson blooms, deep as trumpets, hang down and waggle in the hot wind.  A sugar bird dips its beak into the nectar, then throws back its head to swallow.  Only two blooms as yet, but tomorrow rain is promised.  I sit in the dappled shade of a jacaranda and over there a coral tree waves fire blooms at the sky.  It’s super hot today and the sky is wide and blue with just faint brushstrokes of cloud. I look up and all I see is colour, bright primaries, nothing muted or almost there, but loud in my eyes, almost blinding.

I woke early this morning, around 5 am and opened my curtains slowly.  There she is, Shiloh the Peaceful, a heavily pregnant Nyala, a deer in a land of many different species of deer.  Her body is light tan, softly streaked with white and she has chosen the safety of this small reserve to give birth.  Her herd could be anywhere but she needs solitude for the task ahead.  I could reach out and touch her, she is so close to my window.  She looks at me.  I look back but she isn’t alarmed and soon her head returns to the ground, to pick the watered grass, her nourishment.  Keep safe, I whisper.  She would make a fine breakfast for a hungry leopard and there is a big male that walks this place at night.  Many other deer have made this place their home.  Little hunched Bush Buck, jumpy Impala and, now, Shiloh the Peaceful.

Swifts cut through the blue above my head whilst petrol blue blackbirds scuttle along the ground.  On a walk through the bush yesterday I saw grasshoppers as long as a Scottish housemouse, green at first until they spread their crimson wings.  When the rains come so will the spiders, the scorpions, and the snakes.  When the new arrivals gathered this morning for a power point induction, we learned the guidelines for a safe and happy stay here.  Some have come for a few weeks, some a few months, a few for longer, but the rules around wildlife are always the same.  How to behave in the wild is not a matter of choice, but of survival.  All of us gave our full attention, needless to say.

When encountering anything with venom, claws, teeth or trunks, don’t change shape.  That’s the nutshell of it.  No flapping of arms, no running, just very slowly back away, or, in some cases, stand absolutely still like in musical statues.  One guide, whilst out in the bush came face to face with a cheetah.  Although raw terror shot through him and every natural instinct was to run, he knew better.  Standing completely still and in silence, he waited as the cheetah came towards him brushing the skin of his leg and moving on down the dust track.  Easily advised, this standing still thing, but the truth is that any movement, any attempt to run would have been disastrous.  However, not one single wild animal has the slightest interest in humans, beyond curiosity.  They don’t fancy a human for lunch, nor do they carry ill intent towards us, nor do they think and reason as we do.  They run entirely on instinct and will not harm any of us unless we do something foolish, like flap or run.

We are all wise to remember that this land is their land, not ours.

Island Blog 160 Heads and Tails

best-inspiring-quotes

This morning I walk out into sunshine.  The greylags are crossing the sea-loch, their babes in tow, paddling like the good little muckers they need to be.  Collared doves float between the telephone wire and the bird table and a little mouse just shot along the windowsill (on the outside).  When I empty the compost bucket into the worm-tastic bin, I stand for a moment watching the new mini-hive with just a handful of workers tending a new queen cell, buzzing in and out, always doing the right thing.  Baby birds line the fence, their beaks open, their wings fluttering, their voices pleading, and, sure enough, there is a parent to make everything okay.  The little blackbird we found in the garage, once lifted into the back garden, yelled its head off until mum and dad appeared, making encouraging noises and darting back and forth between the branches.

‘Yes, yes…..they say, we know you haven’t grown a tail yet dear, get over it……. but if you don’t remember those wings can lift you off the ground, then you never will!’

It thinks me about the way they live, those that have a purpose and know it and never forget it.  Okay they are creatures, not humans, but I am game to learn from anything and anyone.  Learning to fly, sans tail, is something we can all do if we choose.

And, unlike animals, we can think and we can reason.

Perhaps that is our problem, because we might forget at times to be thankful for what we have.

Example…….I look out at the garden and I think….oh flip just look at those weeds!  I look around my house and see the dust.  I have a shopping list and I don’t feel like shopping.  But these are just my work, my everyday, my purpose.  Within each of these tasks I find it, if I focus on the task itself, and if I consider it a thanks to life.  Yes, I have weeds that grow faster than I can yank them out, but, at least I have a garden;  yes, there is dust, daily arrivals of it and yes, it shows up in the sunshine, as do the filthy windows, but, at least I have a furnished house with windows; yes, I have a shopping list but at least I have money to buy what I need, a shop down the road, a car to take me there…….and so on.

With these and so many more of my gifts, comes responsibility, my responsibility to each of them, to honour each one, with respect and good humour, for what is this life, if not a gift?  Whatever hardships I may encounter, they will never be as hard as they are for others.  I tell myself that, often, at times when I forget I have wings.

These times are valuable times.  Pushing them away, pretending they’re not there is never the answer.  Feelings about life come and go;  times are good and times are not good;  the way we see something one day is not necessarily the way we will see it the next.  We all want to be happy all of the time, and, yet this is an ideal, an impossible dream, perfection.  In order to become the best we can, we need a lost tail day or two here and there, because, although it may be uncomfortable, it helps us to remember that we do have wings.

Oh, and good news for those with lost tails…….

They grow again.

 

 

Island Blog 156 Another Way Back Home

2014-12-31 09.15.26

I realised, whilst getting myself lost in the streets of Barcelona, that although most of us have two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth, no two of us look exactly the same.  Similar, yes, almost identical in twins, but never exactly the same.  Even the identical twins I know, numbering one brace of birds, are not exactly the same; eyes slightly further apart on one, mouth a bit wider on the other, one quiet and pensive, the other gregarious and full of chat.

People throng through these streets.  I stop in a patch of sunshine as they flow by me.  They seem to know where they’re going, these hundreds of different faces, just in this one square with 10 narrow cobbled streets running out from it like sunbeams in a child’s painting. Not only am I seeing different nationalities and colours, but within those very numbers there are more differences, and more.  Perhaps, I wonder to myself, as I puff for the enth time back into Government Square, they are all thinking it’s Groundhog Day and I am the one keeping it going, popping into view again and again as if I can’t get enough of Government HQ. Although they are a moving mass of human souls, I’m sure I recognise a few of them and they do stare a bit as I grow more and more de-hydrated and anxious.  How on earth I manage to keep returning to the same flipping square, when I choose a new street every time is a marvel, even to me, although in my defence, I would like to point out that every single one of them is lined with the same shops.  One Desigual, one Barcelona Football Shop, one Flower Shop and one Pharmacy.  I might be needing that one if I don’t find my way out of the maze.  I also have no money, no idea of the address I’m staying at, nor do I have my mobile phone.

I bet not another soul in this flipping Government Square (oh here it is again!) is as vulnerable on this deceptively calm sunny afternoon.  I decide to stop panicking and lean against a wall looking as nonchalant as I can manage. Even though my mouth is dry as sandpaper and my heart about to take off,  I manage to calm my breathing, refusing to pay attention to any thoughts of being lost in Spain for months and dying of thirst.   Nobody knows where I am, other than somewhere in Barcelona and, as it took us 30 minutes to reach the outskirts yesterday in a speedy motor, it’s a pretty big city.  It’s beautiful too, and filled with stunning architecture, churches with bells that toll every quarter and on the hour, quirky alleyways (!), window boxes ablaze with colour, bustling cafes and wine bars.  Gaudi is everywhere, or his influence is.  The Gran Familia is spectacular from the outside with swoops and swirls of stonework, angels and trumpets, holy words and what looked liked bowls of fruit at the very top.  The queue was long and it was raining that day so we didn’t go inside but sat, instead under a cafe umbrella drinking strong black coffee and sharing our opinions on the charge of 25 euros per person to walk through a sacred space, squashed, as you would be, in a seethe of people, and unable to see very much at all.

We are not only different on the outside, but on the inside too.  It’s a strange part of our DNA, this difference thingy, because, to be honest, if a little more consideration had gone into our wiring, we might all be great pals, and life would be a doddle.  And dreadfully dull, or so I imagine.  If we knew just what to do next around each other, we wouldn’t have to ask, research, enquire.  We wouldn’t have to dig deep inside ourselves for those folk we find ‘difficult’.  We would never need to change. It sounds like Pleasantville to me.

However there are times when I get thoroughly fed up with all this inner changing.  It’s all very well writing, and reading, books on the subject of inner betterment, but putting any of it into practice is hard work.  Sometimes minute by minute hard work and for years and years.  What I have learned is that, if I want to succeed in life I must put everyone else first.  I must be compassionate even when I feel like murder – especially then – and I must learn not to talk about myself as often as possible.

I could fold my mental arms and stay exactly as I am, but the damnable thing is that if I put into practice all of the above, learn to breathe more slowly and to count to ten instead of ripping someone’s head off, it is I who feel better about me!   I have achieved something, because I have overcome myself. I have found a new way. I don’t welcome change, not in the areas I don’t feel need it, but it is needed for there to be any peace. Biting my tongue is painful, but so much better in the long run.  Those unspoken words can leave my mouth in one slow outbreath.  Simples.

I was certain I was right in my choice of direction out of the square and yet I was insistently walking the same way over and over, hoping for a different outcome.  Once I stopped marching forth with all the conviction of a zealot, my mind set in concrete, and I slowed down, breathed away the panic and allowed in, if not welcomed, the possibility that I might be wrong in my choice of direction, I noticed a wooden walkway between two buildings that had been there all along.  It was the one I had walked beneath and admired some hours before. This was my way back home.

I can do the same around a routine, or the way I like something done.  It can be a no-big-deal sort of thing and yet it escalates into exactly that when I hold on too tight. After all, I’ve done it this way for years.  Why should I change it?

But….  if I let go,(just saying it lowers my shoulders and unclaws my fingers) I allow in the possibility that there might be another way.

Another way back home.

Island Blog 135 Little Weeds

 

Flowers close up 1

 

 

As the garden grows into complete hilarity, with an ebullient chuckle, I watch the weeds find their places.  They’re clever, these weeds, finding quiet little dark places to begin their journey, rising into view long after the roots have winkled their way around, along and through those finer species, once carefully placed by us.  When we clear space for such a planting, we see, not the weeds to come, or those now removed, but just this fine sunny spot, allocated to a shrub or bush, envisioned in full majestic bloom, with the ground floor as peaty brown as it was at the start.

Well Ho, says Mother Earth, and Hum to that, for she has other plans and she’s not giving them up to any old human.  Let them eat cake, she says, for now.

Over winter the roots keep spreading, like witches fingers, in the silence of the earth, out of view, out of mind.  Some of us employ evil sprays, conveniently forgetting the lasting damage any of them might do in the long term.  We don’t worry too much about long term, unless we are a fledged and experienced gardener, which I am not.  I quite understand those who buy all their bedding plants each year, thus creating what appears to be an established garden.  It’s tempting.  We don’t use sprays, choosing, instead, to allow the witches fingers room and time to stake their hold.  Then, whatever Spring might bring in showers, snow, frosts and sunshine, these roots decide to reach for the sky, pushing up green and strong, and tempting me with pretty yellow blooms the bees love to visit.  Well, that makes it okay then, if the bees choose thus.

It thinks me about weeds, or wild flowers in the wrong places.  But who says  it’s so?  The wild flowers were here long before me and they’ll be here long after me, so which of us has rights in this little hill garden?

I was a weed, once. I think we can all admit to that at some point in our lives; when we just don’t fit in.  Actually, I think I have often been a weed, but not ‘weedy’.  Finely pedigreed folk who do fit in, might want to remove me, for I pinch the light and the live-giving water allocated to them.  But, the strength and tenacity of me might undermine them, as long as I keep moving, keep finding new ways to reach the sun, keep producing pretty blooms for the bees.  This is not a ‘them’ and ‘us’ thing, for we all have our place and time in this life, but, instead, of ‘both’.  I never did like either/or scenarios, opting every time for a laterally sought choice.  We know there is room for all of us, but the trouble is always one of boundaries – where you stop and I begin.  After all, we don’t have the same voices, you and I, nor the same dreams, visions, hopes and plans.  You may be planning for something I have no interest in.  This doesn’t make either of us wrong nor right, just different.  We laughingly say ‘Vive la difference!’ in our best french accent, but most of us have no idea what it means as a life choice.  No matter how careful we are with our inner thoughts, we all make judgements on others.  Words like ‘should’ and ‘ought’ pop into our mouths and out again and we feel regret long after the damage is done, for, in speaking those words about another living soul, we have shown we are better than they and have established it firmly in the ears of the listener.

I kick myself often for such worthless chatter, gossip to call it by it’s proper name.  If I name a weed, I damage three people.  Myself, the weed and the listener, and on what authority I ask myself?

In reply, I look out of the window, at the fancy shrub about to bloom, and, then down towards the so-called weeds.  The shrub will never surprise me inside it’s controlled boundary limits, but the long-tailed fronded grasses, the speckly indigo blooms of the wild forget-me-nots, the creeping buttercups, the purple-belled ground ivy and the Lady Elizabeth  poppies, the colour of sunshine……?

Well they will.

 

Island Blog 129 Out of Africa

African woman

 

 

In Africa I was more likely to find wildlife than wifi.   Of course, there were odd times, in a bar perhaps in town or in a friend’s spanking new office block, but mostly, the only form of contact with anyone at all, was with a handshake, a wide smile and an exchange of words, a state of being I rather like, even if I did, out of habit, reach for my phone if ever we stopped for coffee.

This new office block, with its wide light rooms and wrap around views across Capetown, is already a business hub.  Inventive and creative thinking, interior design and spatial understanding brings together anyone with a business to run and no desk to run it from.  Hot Desks are affordable and genius, because, not only do you get your own space, wifi connection, etc, but you also get to work in a bustling energetic atmosphere among other creators, all of whom are more than happy to network over coffee or a beer.

At every robot (traffic lights) there may be 3 lanes of vehicles.  I look across at those parked beside us in our little silver car (Maggie) and can hardly see the tops of the buckies (four-wheel drives) without craning. Inside these sit the well-upholstered Africaaners, their windows tight shut for the aircon to work.   On the other side, a people carrier taxi, all windows open, pumps out music, the black passengers grinning and bopping on their way to or from work.  The second we stop, the street sellers move in, weaving their way among the cars, holding their merchandise, such as beaded animals, children’s wooden puzzles, mobiles, jewelery, long-legged birds fashioned from plastic bags, woven sunhats and the Big Issue. The sellers are clean and proud, in the main, the turbanned women flashing sparkly smiles, the men making eye contact.  Not begging but business.  We don’t buy because we can find exactly what they are selling on the high street or at the market, even though they did assure us it was all their own work. It could also cause a cafuffle if the lights changed in the middle of negotiations, for there are always negotiations.  The asking price is set high, the rest is barter.

I found the beggars, when we did meet them in town, and you always meet them in town, most distressing to observe.  I always wanted to give something, but, had I done so, I would still be there in Market Square with not a penny left to my name.  Once you give to one, others move in, many of them children, and all of them thin as rakes.  Those who live in Capetown are not cold hearted, but they have grown a thicker skin.  They will consider employing anyone who turns up, who cleans up, who decides to move up in life, but they will not easily support those who choose doorways to sleep in and some lethal coctail as nourishment.

I thought much about that.  If someone has lost whatever they had, which may not have been much, it might not take long for that loss to turn into an acceptable way to live.  I imagine self-confidence and respect dissolve pretty quickquick when your only chance of food is by raiding bins on collection day.  I watched a man walk down the street doing just that and talking away to himself. He was oblivious to me, beyond stepping off the pavement to avoid a collision, and his eyes were bloodshot and empty.  I pulled my bag closer and felt vulnerable and overdressed and frightfully well spoken and, well, guilty.  We were heading out of town for a few nights on the coast, with food and wine and a rented beach hut to wrap around us and all he had to look forward to was another long street of wheelie bins and the possibility of Thai curry leftovers in polystyrene. And a doorway to sleep in.

Then (for life always sends a balance to help out) I met young black people with a zeal in their bellies. Not priveleged and living in one of the townships –  mile upon mile of tin roofs and dust floors, but still determined to find new quality for their lives, waiting at tables, working on the dustcart, cleaning, odd-jobbing, and so much more.  ‘If anyone wants it, the work is here’, I was told more than once.  This is a country where labour is abundant and cheap.  Wages are low, work is hard, but these people have a joy about them, a laughter that may well not come from a place of comfort.  It’s more an attitude than a result of how life treats them.  In other words, it comes first, that smile, that easy laugh.

We saw the maids arriving at the big smart Africaaner homes every morning around 7am.  Dressed in black with brilliant white aprons, they trudged up the hills from the noisy taxi that brought them out of the townships, talking and laughing together.  They always looked up for a greeting and always responded with friendship.  Their hours, from 7.30 to whenever they were done cleaning, looking after children and cooking, might earn them £8 at the far end of a day that expects a woman to do every domestic job required.  Then they walked back to the taxi rank, back to the townships to their own families to begin all over again, every single day.  When I talked with one maid, she told me she was happy to work.  Work, she said, is important.  No work, no importance. She look at me, astonished when I told her I had worked as a maid for a time.  Why?  she asked me.  ‘You don’t have maids in Scotland?’  As if cleaning was not for my shiny white hands. I fumbled about for an answer that didn’t sound like ‘well, I needed the money.’  She would have fainted clean away, had she known the wage I was paid for doing far less than is expected of her. And then she smiled the widest smile and then she laughed a laugh that made her bangles jingle and shook her head in amazement and amusement at the very thought of the ‘Ma’ cleaning a house, even her own.  Then she gathered up a huge pile of washing and left me wondering at my priveleged life and how often I forget to remember that it is just that.

Island Blog 76 – Webcage

Spider web

 

This morning, early, I took my camera outside to capture what looked like froth covering everything.  Trees, long grass, bushes and the fence.  Closer up I recognized the froth.

Spider webs.

They got me thinking.

Yesterday, in the hot bright sunshine, I saw not one of them. They were all invisible until this morning’s heavy dew painted them clearly for my eyes to see.  And that is the whole plan. If I was a fly, this could be dead dodgy.  I could ping into one of those sticky tendrils and be lunch in seconds.  If I was a wasp or one of our honey bees, I might be dinner instead, for no spider will attack things with stings immediately, for very obvious reasons.  And they always know, the spiders.  I have watched, many times, a stinging thing fly into a web and become part of it whilst the spider dashes out, stops dead and dashes back again to wait.  Things with stings have more time for an escape plan.

In life, we all know the feeling of being caught in a web.  The ‘spider’ in charge may be bigger and more powerful than us, or half our size, but this fact matters not one jot in the end.  Once we are trapped, and held fast by the web, we can either struggle ourselves into an even tighter fix, or we can work ourselves free.

It might be our job or aspects of it that spins an invisible web to catch us.  It might be a relationship, or aspects of it.  It might be habits, contacts, colleagues or our own mistaken need to repeat old patterns.  Whatever is holding us, weakening us so that we ever so gradually dull our own wits and lose purchase on our freedom, we have to recognize it, and therein lies the rub, for we will blame anything and anyone as our wings grow weak and our fears take control.

As a result of becoming trapped in a webcage, I might take on and develop bad habits.  I will probably grow fat or I will grow thin.  I will become a bit manic (if it is possible to become a ‘bit’ manic) about a fitness routine, or my own private space or the way I like things done until I can no longer see anyone but myself in relation to the rest of humankind.  What I will not see is that, if I just rest a little, I can probably work out an escape, because resting means dilemma to me.  I cannot stop moving, because if I stop moving, I will have to think and the inside of my unhappy head is the last place I want to spend any time at all.

But this is exactly what I need to do.

Someone, possibly more than one someone, once said that in order to find a way out of the pain, we have to stay inside  it, engage with it, to accept it, and to move on beyond it.  It sounds ghastly at best, but from experience I know it to be true.  The alternative is a lifetime of running, and not from one bad situation to another, although that is exactly what it will be, but from our own self.

What we all need to do to free our wings is to stop and say…….ok, Pain, talk to me.

If our job/partner/lifestyle is slowly killing us, we must find the courage to acknowledge it and take action.  Yes, it is scary, but I have done it and felt terrified in a strange land, one I now know well with views and spaces and light and fun; not one of which I saw before I acknowledged the dark pain and fear, reminded myself that I have wings and a sting,and rose myself up and away into a new sky, trailing a strand of web.

Island Blog 70 – Life is a simple thing

Island Blog 70 - Freedom

fig: http://favim.com

It’s all about breathing in and out for decades, something that happens to us quite naturally.  We can take no credit for this and it’s not complicated, until it stops, of course, or struggles to continue.  All we have to do, as out heart beats and our lungs fill and empty a thousand times a day, is to get on with living.

Ah, you might say.  That’s the rub.  My life is so much harder than just breathing in and out and getting on with things.  My circumstances, you see…..well, life is not simple at all.

Yes, I say, it is.  It may not be easy, but it is simple, and then I draw back in case I get swiped, because why?

Because people love to complicate things, all things and especially their own things.

I know people who have come through cancer and people who have not come through.  I am not one of them.  Therefore my life is a breeze.

I know people who have lost a child.  I have not.  Therefore my life is a breeze.

I know someone disabled, paralised, in prison,bereaved,destitute and hungry.

I am none of them. Therefore….etc

At Jenny’s funeral yesterday, I listened to the tributes.  I counted 250 at least in the church.  I caught the sparkle of a woman who refused to moan, although, believe me, she had plenty of reason to. In fact, she had absolutely no time at all for moaners.

On the way to the church, down winding country lanes, I saw a land rover parked  in a driveway.  Across the top of the windscreen the words in bold black said this:-

ONE LIFE.  LIVE IT.

Jenny did.

Short or long it is the same for us all, as far as we know, although one friend whose family are fisherfolk, plans to return as a crack shot seagull.

Whatever our piddling ailments, our list of miniature disasters, we were born with laughter in our hearts and we all know it.

We might consider laughing more and particularly at ourselves.