Housekeeping in the Bush

Once upon a time, long ago in Africa, I lived in a Game Reserve. In those days this particular National Park was called Wankie but now, much more acceptable (at least in Australia), it is known as Hwange. Roland’s posting was Main Camp and that is where I went as a young bride. There was electricity and running water. The wood stove was a Dover, a big, black, cast iron monster that was the devil to light and to keep lit. In the garden there were mulberry trees right up against the house. The elephants would raid the trees in the night, pulling down the branches and munching through leaves, fruit and branches. On one occasion they ate the aerial I had threaded through the tree to improve reception on the radio. After that, I kept an empty biscuit tin near the window which I would bang furiously to chase the great beasts away. How exciting, though, to see the moonlight reflecting off the big bull’s tusks – right there by the window! The wise old eyes looking into mine as I banged and crashed the biscuit tin is a memory I will take to my grave.

animals
From my sketch book 1964

The nearest grocery shop was in Dett, exactly eleven miles from Main Camp – so my husband tells me. Each week I would make a shopping list in a small blue notebook ready for the Parks employee to take to Dett for the order to be filled. I can’t recollect his name but it could have been Mwene. He would collect my notebook and those of the other Rangers and set off on his bicycle to Dett. The road out of Main Camp was, and probably still is, dirt – sand really, past the airstrip where there were often elephant and zebra. Mwene was cautious around the elephant and even more alert for lions. He was often chased by the animals so was an extremely fit man! Pushing a fairly old treadly through thick Kalahari sand with a lion hot on your heels would do wonders for cardio. The next day, the van from Dett would come tearing down the road to deliver the goods we had ordered: sugar, tea, mealie-meal and whatever else I had ordered that they had in stock. Golden syrup was popular and powdered milk.

Sometimes, the Rangers’ wives would drive through to Wankie town and do some ‘proper’ shopping. On one memorable occasion on the way home the car broke down a few kilometres from Main Camp. We had to wait till someone missed us and came looking for us before we were rescued. There were four of us in the car and none of us was game enough to get out and walk through the dusk to Main Camp.

Sometimes I would take my sketch book when we were out in the Park looking for animals or stranded tourists. I found the sketch while I was decluttering my study.

Housekeeping in the Bush

Great Grandmother, Grandmother and Mother

I woke up this morning thinking about my mother and her mother. I don’t know who my grandmother’s mother was. I vaguely remember Granny telling me that her father took her and her sister away from South Africa to New Zealand when she was a small child. Her mother (my great grandmother) didn’t want to leave her family; her country, so great grandfather snatched the children and went anyway. His sister went with him to care for the children. He was in the British army – or so the story goes. There has been some discussion on how important he was in the army. My research shows he was simply the aide de comp and not the main player. No matter. Great grandfather never returned to South Africa from New Zealand because he suffered such terrible seasickness on the trip over there. Granny eventually went back to her homeland as an adult. She married a South African man and my mother was their oldest child. Because she was a girl, but was meant to be a boy, my mother’s nickname was Bobby. This had no relation to her real name at all.

My mother had four siblings: three boys and a girl. One of her brothers was a pilot in the South African Air Force. He was killed in the Second World War. I believe he was a rear-gunner as he was quite tiny in stature and I’ve always heard him referred to as ‘Uncle Stumps’ because of it. I have a photo of him. My second brother looks a lot like him.

My mother was an artist. She studied art at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. Some of her botanical studies are beautifully executed. I don’t have them but my oldest brother managed to get them to Australia when he migrated here some years ago. He has them in his keeping and they will, no doubt, be passed on to his children eventually.

I have started writing a novel, part fact and part fiction (the bits I don’t know I make up) about my granny but I’ve bogged myself down in the research so have stopped. Actually, I stopped a couple of years ago, maybe three years ago!

Sometimes I wish I knew more about my ancestors. I’d like to know so that I can tell my grand daughters if they show any interest.

Great Grandmother, Grandmother and Mother

The Other Side of You The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers

The Other Side of You

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Other Side of You
Salley Vickers is an author who seldom fails to deliver. The Other Side of You is a lovely, lyrical book. As with most of Vicker’s books, it is neither quick nor easy to read but oh, so satisfying. Vickers crafts the story eloquently. I was moved to tears by the way she captures the honesty and love of the main characters. I imagine that writing about a psychiatrist is not easy, especially one as conflicted as David McBride. His relationship with Elizabeth Cruikshank and the other clients in the hospital, help him explore how love and art can penetrate the complexities of the human psyche.

Michael Dirda of the Washington Post says, “Vickers is a novelist in the great English tradition of moral seriousness. Her characters suffer, they struggle to be true to both themselves and the promptings of the human heart.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this articulate, well written book. I recommend it to anyone who is stuck reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, which need some relief – an intermission – between books.

View all my reviews

The Other Side of You The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers

How a Diaspora may happen

Background

thoughts and memories

This blog takes me back to when I researched and wrote my Honours dissertation. I have reworked the introduction to make it relevant for the blog. The material is self-reflective and, at the time, it worked as a catharsis for me, helping me understand my own identity and my own place in the world. The dissertation also gave me the opportunity to begin (and eventually complete) my doctorate. The dissertation is called ‘When “Back Home” isn’t England: making visible the memories, lives and experiences of some white women in Rhodesia’. I was awarded First Class Honours although there was some dispute regarding my work and a third examiner had to be appointed. I had a similar experience with my doctoral thesis so it seems to me that my writing has the effect of polarising readers. I have included some excerpts from the journal I kept on my trip which serve…

View original post 411 more words

How a Diaspora may happen

Once upon a time?

In Australia my dreams are of Africa.

[In Africa there is no need to dream? Or, no need to remember dreams? Is Australia the place of dreaming? Does Australia cease to exist when I’m in Africa?]

Once upon a time I presented a paper at a conference in Wollongong, NSW. This was not the first conference I had spoken at but it was where, for the first time, I was admired for my writing. The paper, Christmas at the Big House,  was subtitled ‘intersecting the insider and outsider roles in the fieldwork process.’ Why anthropology and ethnography papers have such long and convoluted titles is a mystery. Nevertheless, at that stage of my life, that is what I did. I even quoted Foucault in the introduction.

I returned ‘home’ to Zimbabwe in 1996 to research for Honours, so being both the insider and the outsider were conflicting roles. The Christmas mentioned in the title was a celebration of the reunion of my siblings. I was the only one without my immediate family at the party. It was held at the Big House.

The Big House, on a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe, is where I was born and brought up. It is a big house, built around a lawned courtyard, colourful with bougainvillea and flowering vines. There are verandahs, arches, and many big rooms. The gardens are bright with poinsettias and jacaranda trees. Once upon a time the house seemed to be alive and strong. Now, when I visit in 1996, I find the termites have eaten away the parquet floors. The wild bees have swarmed in the chimneys and the ceiling space. Honey drips through the ceilings leaving honey puddles in the sun-room. The electric wiring, never dependable, is completely unreliable, not helped by the intermittent blackouts and power outages.

For many of the past decades the house had not been permanently occupied. Because it is isolated, and usually empty, the night-watchman had taken the opportunity  to remove much of the furniture. In the more recent past, since the family left Zimbabwe, the Big House is now home to three or four Zimbabwean families. I think to myself, “at least it is being lived in.”

I quote, verbatim, from the essay

My knowledge of the family is sensitive. I am fluent in the language. The cultural world of this family is familiar to me as insider (how easily I slipped back into that identity) alien to me as outsider (how difficult to be part of the scheming and plotting). Intersecting the roles of insider/outsider allows me to acknowledge my limits – and that my analysis is imperfect and it is incomplete

I have to be honest, this was not the best Christmas I’ve ever had! However, when the time came to say goodbye, everyone was very emotional. There was much kissing and hugging. I left with my brother and his family because I am staying out on their farm now, and going to Aberfoyle (on the Mozambique border) with them for New Year.

During question time after I presented the paper, which discusses the feelings of identity, belonging, remembering, and misunderstanding, one of the audience paid me the supreme compliment of likening my writing to that of Michael Ondaatje.

 

 

 

 

 

Once upon a time?

Focus versus Lackadaisical

Focus

The genesis for this blog entry comes from Facebook where a friend published this meme:

15966180_10154893058144110_6966792452140581386_n

So, I did that and found the following on page 117 of Writing Begins with the Breath by Laraine Herring. At first, I was wondering how this was going to ‘be my life’ in 2017. Read on …

 

“I have even picked her up and carried her away from the window, but her gaze never leaves the bird, and as soon as I release her, she’s back in the window, focused, taunting the object of her intention.”

writingbegins_largest

According to Laraine Herring, it is becoming more and more difficult for us to “… cultivate the mental discipline necessary to deepen our lives”. Having made the commitment to write in this blog once a week, I’m finding the truth in her words. She says we have to make a conscious effort to withdraw from the constant assault on our senses. The mind needs to be trained to focus. It is too easy for me to be lackadaisical, filling my day with inconsequential activities (Facebook, I’m looking at you) and generally lacking vitality and purpose. I find it too easy to blame the weather – it’s too hot, too windy, too cold and so forth. My latest excuse for not swimming at the beach is that there is too much weed and the ocean is too choppy and too murky. Actually there is a lot of weed, there are mountains of weed and it is not pleasant to step through it and then stub my toe on a rock.

However, morning asana practice is not not negotiable and neither is the gym, two or three days a week; yoga class on Thursday evenings is a priority. It seems that sitting down to write something brings out the lackadaisical in me. Part of the commitment I made at the Writing and Yoga Retreat at New Norcia last year was to begin and complete a short story. I’m sort of planning that now but … there’s always a but … when I start writing something it just seems so banal, so mundane.

Lackadaisical

/ˌlækəˈdeɪzɪkəl/
adjective

1.

lacking vitality and purpose
2.

lazy or idle, esp in a dreamy way
Derived Forms
lackadaisically, adverb
lackadaisicalness, noun
Word Origin

lackadaisical. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/lackadaisical

I find it so much easier to be lackadaisical and loll around dreaming and reading. Sometimes, a burst of energy and I water the garden.
Focus versus Lackadaisical

Homo Ludens

Now, here’s a myth I heard somewhere long ago. The story came back into memory today when I found an article in the newspaper (print version) about the philtrum. The philtrum is the groove that runs from the base of the nose to the upper lip. This is the place where the three main sections of the human face come together in the womb during foetal development. I never knew this but it segues very elegantly into the myth.

9012

The myth, as I remember it, goes like this. In the moments before a baby is born, an angel holds the infant and, with a soft finger, gently presses the spot between the nose and the mouth. “Hush, baby,” says the angel, “All that you have seen and heard in the time before you go into the world is sealed with my touch.”You won’t be able to remember or to speak of it until you return to the light.” The mark I leave on your dear face is the seal of silence. You will remember for a little while but you will soon forget.” The angel continues, “People will remark on the wise look in your eyes; an old soul.”

Some years ago, I was at a party and chatting to a friend who had a lot to say for himself. After a while I gently and playfully touched his face on the seal of the philtrum. He stopped talking. He looked at me, surprised, and his eyes became soft. I told him the myth I’ve just told you. We sat for a few minutes in silence.

Homo Ludens is a book by Johan Huizinga (1872-1945). Like Sapiens means ‘knowing’, Ludens means ‘playing’. Huizinga was a philosopher and historian of culture. The achievements in philosophy, poetry, and in the arts are profoundly nourished by the instinct of play. If you can get a copy of this book, I encourage you to read it.

Please stop me if I get too pompous.

 

 

Homo Ludens