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“When thanksgiving hits a tipping point, it becomes thanksliving and catapults us straight into the will of Christ”  Ann Voskamp

Last weekend the sun came out and spring was in the air and I reclaimed my favourite seat in the conservatory,  and drank in the only view in our home where the surrounding houses don’t eyeball you.  I could feel petals unfurling somewhere deep within.

Richard was about to return home after 12 days away in the Congo.  And a lovely, long week of half-term holiday stretched ahead.

Today, a week later,  it is snowing and the temperature is doing a ‘sit-in’ on zero degrees.  The conservatory is a freezer once again. Yesterday we went for a walk in a forest and froze alongside the frozen pools of water. I got bone cold. Nevertheless I did experience the exhileration of the ‘green shoots’ of new friendships, as we walked with a group of  Mum’s-with-their-children.

Throughout, despite the wayward weather, I’ve been counting gifts.  I started counting three gifts a day at the start of 2013, a new years resolution.  Now it’s come to the point where by 11.00am the gifts are falling fast and furious.

Today’s Gifts:

Benjamin’s goodmorning sleepy hug.  Our bedroom is always his first port of call.  Today he enters with a lively “Bonjour”, in an attempt to shrug off the tendrils of sleep.  “Have you heard of Voodoo?” he asks.  “Voodoo, ‘you do’, voo means you’ in French”.  “Not spelt the same”,  my noncommittal sleepy response”.  Later I smile deep as I recall this.  Ahh my idiocentric son who keeps mining his mum’s heart, uncovering new seams of love.

Richard brings me a hot drink of water with ginger and almond nuts.  Don’t ask!  He started the day with a jog-about-the-block for the third time in a row.

Joanna decides to recreate her room, the furniture is moved about with the help of Dad, and now  visitors to her room  no longer have to wade through a swamp of discarded clothes.  She’s pleased with herself.

Two overipe bananas sit, waiting,  with eyebrows arched, on the kitchen counter. After a bit of a rummage through a variety of ‘worse-for-wear’ recipe books I finally find a banana muffin recipe that only needs two bananas, courtesy of Joannas after school cooking club.   It requires chocolate chips (we have cooking chocolate) instead of nuts (the cupboard only has almonds).  A green flag is waved for a bit of baking.

There are three small pots of primulas on the kitchen window sill.  Yellow, orange and purple.  No longer on deaths door.  All they needed was some water.

Richard helps clean the one long, narrow  diningroom and sittingroom.

Benjamin gets an e-mail from the first-friend-he-ever-made in the UK.  He goes to a different school now but he tells Benjamin he might be going to the same secondary school as Benjamin.

I forget to put the chocolate chips, so effeciently created by Joanna with the help of a plastic bag and rolling pin, in the muffin mix.   I have a mini tantrum in the kitchen stomping my feet up and down in quick succession. I imagine probably very like my two year old self was prevented from doing.   It’s my kitchen now, I’ll stomp my feet if I want to!   The baking has lost its bonhomie.   Do I scratch it from my list of gifts?

12 banana muffins and a thin banana loaf sit on my sideboard minus their chocolate chips.  My tummy rumbles.  It’s lent and I’ve given up sugar in all its many forms.  My echo of hunger  reminds me of the ‘tempo de forme’ (time of hunger) in rural Mozambique.  I remember the shock when I first heard a Mozambican refer to it as a matter of fact one January, as an aside almost.  Like the fact that for two months people are hungry, as their food stocks are running out, eaten by people, rats and weavels, and the harvest is not yet in, is just some kind of freak side-show, best ignored.

Perhaps this is the origin of Lent.  When people lived off the land, food reserves at this time of year, as winter drags on and spring fights valiantly to take center stage, would have been very low.  Best to offer this gnawing hunger as a gift of thanks for the greatest of all gifts.

I relook at the banana-without-the-chocolate-chip muffins with eyes that see. I’m humbled, palms open in thanksgiving.

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Saturday Scribes – Listen

Strumming the senses with seven strings

Close your eyes
breath deeply.
place the shell against your ear
what do you hear?

with our ears we hear

Open your eyes
breath deeply.
observe the shell
what do you see?

with our eyes we see

With your finger tips touch
the fence like ridge along it’s
serrated opening, breath deeply
what do you feel?

with our fingers we can touch

Imagine your cowrie is a candy
peel away it’s outer covering
like an egg shell to find marshmallow
what do you taste?

with our mouths we taste

Listen to the ocean
watch the crashing waves
feel the sand between your toes
taste the salt, breath in the sea air
what do you smell?

with our nose we smell

Now storm your brain
if I say,” cowrie shell”
what ideas spring to mind
follow these thoughts
what do you think?

with our minds we think

Cowrie money, beaches paved
with gold, picked bare.  We need to know
what’s true, and good and just
in whom we can put our trust.

is this not common sense?

cowries

Other posts for this week’s Saturday Scribes with the theme Listen and the words: strum, ocean, eggshell and fence can be found here.

While writing this I remembered an assignment I was given

as part of a creative writing course about 8 years ago.


ASSIGNMENT TWO

Cowrie Shell – Artwork of the Sea

An egg-like curve sits snugly in the palm of my hand. Flattening out underneath, it is unzipped down the centre where a rough ridge grabs at my fingers, as they bump over tiny ridges and grooves. The rest of the surface is silky smooth yet hard like porcelain. So smooth that placing the curve against my cheek, I imagine the soft plumpness of that belonging to my infant child. But tap it with a fingernail and you have the sound of a woodpecker.

Place it against the ear and you can hear the roar of a sea-lashing wind. Lifting it to the nose one can detect the smell of sand, the sand that can be found flanking a tidal river estuary, a few miles up from the sea. Sea sand gone musky and stale.

Open one’s eyes and the dominant image is of slightly blurred leopard spots, such as those photographed out of focus, covering the surface of a cowry shell.   Looking closer one notices a layering effect, with the faint imprint of older markings reflected through a milky sheen of pale cream and grey. One of the brown spots on the outer layer has leaked,  looking like a minute hangman’s noose, swaying in the breeze.

Turn the shell upside down and one sees that its flattened underside remains a pristine marble white, with the zip-like ridge gaping like the skeletal jaw of a miniature baby shark.  The entire surface of the shell has a photographic gloss as if varnished, however it is a natural sheen as if the result of centuries of shining by sea and sand.

A cowrie no longer “waiting to be found.”


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Time to Talk

Julia walked along the forest path, with the cascading view of never ending hills peeking through the gaps, where the sun poured in.  The last time she had walked along here, it was to show him the way,  and her feet had hardly touched the ground.  That was when the reality of him filled her whole being with such buoyancy.  Complete happiness. How she loved that lightness of being, which made her feel invincible, super woman in disguise.

Now she carried millstones in her pockets as she stumbled forward, blind to the beauty of this special place.  They had survived so much.  The jeers from car windows driving past as they walked hand in hand, people getting up to leave when they walked into a  restaurant, giving them accusing glares.   That time she wasn’t in, and a man escorted him out the building at knife point.  Two such private, introverts loosing all public anonymity.

Another painful blow struck her heart as she remembered the effect he had upon her physically. In her wildest dreams she would never have imagined anything so powerful.  Just a look from across a room and she thought she would explode.   How could she go on without him.  Breaking off a sprig from a bush, she tore off the leaves whispering, “I have to have him, I have to, I have to”.

Julia  reached the waterfall and sitting on their rock,  she  felt that kick in the stomach that occurred  each time she recalled the hardness in his gaze,  wiping out all love from his eyes.  The worst of it, is it had been all her doing.  What was that stupid, stupid thing she had said.  Something about diluting his darkness.  She had tried to explain this strong instinctive desire to have his babies, and the sense that she couldn’t because of the whiteness in her genes messing with his.  It was to do with this whole black consciousness thing she was experiencing.  In her mind everything black was good and everything white was bad.   She recalled the condescending way he had ripped her simplistic political analysis to shreds.

Welile,  his confidante, had told Julia that behind his anger was pain.  She had to get through to him that she loved the particular person he was.  Him, him, him – the individual. The particular way he looked, that wry smile of his, the way his eyes bore right through her, his uncombed hair over the weekend.   The way he didn’t follow the crowd but made his own way through the political minefields.  That contagious laugh.   A smile broke across her face as she recalled  how as a small rural boy he  had once tried to smuggle a puppy into his bed, in a culture where dogs were strictly outdoor animals, kept to assist with the important task of hunting.  He had paid for this attempt by being made chief poop scooper around the dust swept yard.

Once again anxiety swept over her at the thought of loosing him. He had once told her that the ineffectual way she pronounced the clicks in his mother tongue made him want to grab her tongue and smack it with a hammer. “I need to take a pair of scissors and not a hammer to my tongue”, she thought bitterly. Then out of the blue the words of the sermon she had inadvertently tuned into on the radio, driving over here, pierced through her thoughts.   She had been about to change channels, being instantly put off by the sermonizing tone of voice, when she heard the preacher say, “No-one is more influential in your life then you are, because no-one talks to you more than you do.  You are in an unending conversation with yourself.”  Julia had recognised the truth in this, and had stayed listening.   The LOUD VOICE had continued to read Psalm 42 which was all about the troubled soul, THE SOUL IN TORMENT.    According to the LOUD VOICE the Psalm was an example of an internal conversation. The Psalmist DESIRE’S God’s presence but FEELS God’s absence.   Julia could empathise.   Though her particular longing was for him, as her relationship with God was currently on hold.   “So how does the Psalmist respond to this unending conversation in his soul, how does he address his soul?” , the voice on the radio had boomed on.   “The appropriate response when your soul is troubled is to talk to yourself, no.1 and talk to God, no. 2.”

Sitting on the rock, feeling tormented, Julia decided to talk to herself.   Listening in on the internal conversation she heard once again the words echoing above her beating heart, “I must have him, I must have him.”    “Why?” she interrupted.  “I will die without him”, came the reply.   “Why?”, she asked again.  “Because without him, I am nothing”, came the response.  Staring silently ahead as the thunder of the waterfall filled her head, there came to Julia the burgeoning awareness that this later answer was a complete lie.   And with this awareness something stirred within her, as if waking up after a long sleep.  She couldn’t quite name it, but felt a hint of hope as she pondered, “perhaps I should try conversation no.2, and talk to God.”

VisitSaturday Scribes for other posts on the theme of Awakening using the words in bold in this post.

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The three words at Three Word Wednesdayare: burden, natural, ubiquitous. These three seem to have given me verbal diarrhea.

The Ubiquitous Three Words

Finding my ubiquitous children a burden, I send them out to play and come and see what 3WW has to say. My 8 yr old son, Benjamin, soon runs in declaring, eyes shining, “Hey mummy, can you come and see my snowman?” I dutifully follow his excited footsteps out of doors. He has made a natural looking snowman in the ubiquitous sand pit, with round sand buttons for eyes and nose and down it’s front. Full of enthusiasm he scrapes away a peep hole in the the ‘snowman’s’ head revealing the rock burdened by the sand. I am impressed and role-play what a natural mother would say. But I am burdened by whispers in my head saying, “is this really what you want to do all day?”.

My utterly natural daughter Joanna, unburdened by societies ubiquitous media demands of how a 6yr old ought to be, runs in breathless. And announces in a pitch belonging to a soccer match, “Mamma, Mamma the chickens have had a baby”. This forces a natural laugh from me. We only bought the chickens yesterday, two hens and one cockerel so naturally they can’t have reproduced quite yet. In this scenario it’s definitely the egg that comes before the chicken. I go out to see, feeling burdened by their ubiquitous need of me. It’s the neighbors chicken who, burdened by the absence of a cockerel in her neck of the wood, has sought out ours, quite naturally.

At lunch time we sit down around a table, a conventional four member family. I’m feeling burdened by anxiety as my ubiquitous emotions invade me. I ask Benjamin if he showed Daddy his snowman and discover that the snowman had been transformed during the course of the morning to a birds nest, mole hole, rabbit warren, badger set and finally a baby’s bed. Suddenly Joanna blurts out, “I love you Daddy, I love you Mama, I love you Benjamin”, as if unburdening herself of a ubiquitous feeling that for some reason is not naturally said. Benjamin’s response is to declare the fact that he loves everyone. He repeats this twice as if warming up, then finally responds to the love gauntlet laid down by his younger sister. Rapidly unburdening himself he also declares, “I love you Mummy, I love you Daddy, I love you Joanna”. Then with an extra special grin he adds, “And I love me.”

Too bad if I’m not a natural mother, safeguarding their happy childhood is something I have chosen to do. Too bad if I feel burdened, their ubiquitous love is my sweet reward.

Later I read scripture and am reminded that naturally I can’t do this in my own strength but there is a ubiquitous divinity who says, “”Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” Mathew 11:28

And …

The ubiquitous heat
can be a burden
but it’s quite natural

Natural heat,
a ubiquitous burden
but it’s to be

3ww111

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On this day…..

1 March 2009

It is Sunday and we have woken up at Zalala Beach after spending the night in a Zalala Beach Cottage, the first time ever.  I remember visiting Ute, a couple of years back, when she was staying at a Zalala Beach Cottage, but that doesn’t count.  That visit was particularly eventful as I was accompanied by three small children and two dogs and managed to run out of petrol and get a puncture.  Richard was away, so Eric came to the rescue but that’s another story.

When we arrived here yesterday it was extremely hot.  And we had to get our heads around the fact that there is no kettle, stove or running water.  Why do we still expect these things?  When will we ever learn? But that was yesterday’s story.

Today, it is 6.30am and we are walking along a sandy trail towards the beach.  Wood pigeons are calling and the grass is singing.   We pass a little grass hut, perched on a sand dune, under the towering pine trees planted by the Portuguese.  The hut looks like it belongs in the story of the Three Little Pigs, luckily no wolves in this part of the world.  Apart from the wolves of hunger and pestilence but that’s a completely different story.

We round a corner and locate the source of melodic singing, a young man is clearing the undergrowth with a machete, filling the air with it’s pungent aroma.  Then we cross over a sand road, up an inclination, and there is Zalala beach stretching as far as the eye can see in all directions.  This is the spot where we had Zina and Mark’s farewell with the prawn braai or was it Aukje’s birthday.  Different stories.

There are the ever present  crows, of course, and the patchwork sail of a fisherman’s boat waves pirate- like from the middle distance. Two busy bicycles glint in the sunlit sea.

busy bicycle glints in the sunlit sea

busy bicycle glints in the sunlit sea

I can still distinctly recall being deeply disappointed the first time I visited Zalala and encountered it’s chocolate brown sea.  A brown sea, an oxymoron for me spoilt by Kwazulu Natal’s beaches.  But now Zalala holds so many memories.  There is Smithies era, when Noel played golf on the beach getting children to collect his golf balls for him, while those without the benefit of dark skins turned deep red in the midday sun.  Then another time under the shade of the pine trees,  the image of 4 yr old William determined to hold his nose for the duration of his beach visit.  And the stress of wanting to rescue an injured wild bird offered for sale but knowing this would perpetuate the selling of birds.  The time Benjamin crawled for the first time as we sat on the sand in the late afternoon sun with Tim and Lyn and possibly also Catherine, listening to an old man crouched down besides us singing to the accompaniment of a three string tin guitar.  Benjamin was transformed from a sitting thinker to a crawling dancer, at his first taste of the wild side. A mix of crab and wolf pup.   Then much later, there was Cindy’s 30th birthday and  beach rounders and the famous photo of nossas amigas wallowing hypo-like,  in a line, in a large sea puddle.  And little Jonathan and his sister were also there – a huge story all of its own.

In today’s story we plunge into the waves, Joanna in her many-coloured plastic ring holding tightly onto my hand.  Yeah!! the sea doesn’t feel like warm bath water as it did yesterday.  How on earth does such a huge quantity of water actually cool down overnight. Joanna is full of six year old glee as I lift her over the waves, skin touching skin, joy connecting. Benjamin the 8 yr old incessant talker says: “I like the smooth part of the wave, just before its about to crumble.” “Now for some peace and quiet”. I wait with bated breath will he stop talking. “”I call these waves floaty waves.” And on goes his verbal diarrhea. His exhilarated, full-throttle energy carrying us along.

I go to shore to relieve Richard and take over the camera watch. Joanna and I build a sand ‘mud hut’ and decorate it with shells and a zig zag of tiny sticks. It has a leaf flag jutting out the pinnacle of its roof.  This suddenly takes me back to the  fact finding mission I was part of, when Namibia were about to have their first democratic elections. Most the houses in the township’s displayed flag’s, jutting up on the end of poles, from their roofs showing their party allegiance. A historic tale.

The fishing boat comes to shore loosing all hint of pirate and we buy two manteiga fish and two peixe pedra. . Richard walks back to the Zalala Beach Cottage to pay the fishermen, taking Joanna with him. Benjamin sits in the shallows playing a game with clam shells, talking to himself.

dsc_0069-zalala-boat-small

I lie on a towel, against a piece of drift wood. Silence and solitude abound. Until an olive green crab pops up by my toes, clasping a clump of wet sand, bearing two ‘stick flags’ side by side on top of his head. I notice that with the absence of footsteps crabs now litter the beach. If these things were ten times larger, no way I’d stick around. But then if they were ten times larger they would probably have all been eaten. Down goes my olive green crab, he’s got work to do. Next time he comes up, he opens a star-trek door where a mouth might be, and in a split second cleans something from one of his ‘stick flags’ which bends towards the opening.  He exudes busy importance, in a sergeant major type of way.  A coral pink crab pays my olive green friend a tentative visit but decides against it. I tell you olive green is awfully busy today, no sabbath rest for him.

Benjamin comes thumping up the beach and instantly every crab vanishes.  He has a tiny, fragile, pink butterfly type shell to show me. It looks like it might melt in my hand.

I return for a swim and both Benjamin and I are stung by something unseen in the chocolate sea. A reminder that this sea does not simply exist for our amusement.

Back at the Zalala Beach Cottage, I decide to make pancakes but soon realise that spontaneous decision making is not suited to the available technology, as I watch the person employed to fill the gap of no kettle, stove or running water, run off down a sandy path with half a coconut shell in search of fire.

But despite my awkward attempts at  making pancakes over a fire in the baking sun, the cockroaches floating in the container of water in the bathroom and emerging from the gaping hole in the shower, the heat beating down.  We would recommend a stay in a Zalala Beach Cottage any day.  Take your own kettle.

dsc_0051-zalala-small

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