women


I know, most people have read this one already. And you know me and my girls… They are my life.  But they also remind me of The Little Girl In The Blue House… Is there someone missing her? Someone talking to her each day? Is she waiting for someone? Is she okay?

 ________________________

2008_0944

The Little Girl In The Blue House

I always walk the same way to the train station. I take the shortest route. I have too. Way too early to walk one meter further than I have to. Or one minute longer than what is needed. There is another route. Slightly longer. But all the time in the world if it is so bloody early in the morning. My normal route is an easy walk. Turn right, then a quick left and straight down to the station. A quick and easy 20 minute stroll.  And who said I don’t get enough exercise… But today I had to go the slightly longer route. Turn left, turn right and down the slightly longer walk to the station. Not by much. Just about 5 minutes added. But sometimes the longer route brings more than just a longer walk. And this morning I got more than I wanted. Another reason why I never like walking that route. A reminder. A memory.

My oldest daughter always does the “left turn” walk. Her friend from across the street walks with her to the bus stop. They pick up another friend along the way and off they go. But not this morning. The girl from across the road didn’t feel too well so she couldn’t walk with my daughter. Dad duties called. I am the backup. So off we went. On our left turn. 

We were joking as we walked. Doing our “home boy” walk down the street. Me doing funny walks and funny voices to show her how I was going to embarrass her in front of her friend who has never met me. Doing my typical dad stuff. We got to the house. I gave her a hug and a kiss and watched her walk to meet her friend. And off I went. Taking my right turn down the road. The slightly longer road.

I put my iPod on and was listening to A Fine Frenzy when I walked past the blue house. And it brought back memories of the little girl who lived there. The little girl in the blue house.

She was the first friend my oldest daughter made at her new school when we moved here. They were in the same class. Hung out together. I saw her often. At the school. Or at the park. Or just in the streets when we were walking. But she was always there when we took my daughter to school. Running to great her friend. She was scrawny just like my daughter. But she was a little bit too thin. A little bit too pale.

In summer she always had just a t-shirt on. And in winter. A very worn and tatty thin little jacket. And trust me. It gets damn cold over here in Boston in winter. I remember seeing her with her arms folded to try and keep some heat in that little body of hers. You could see she was cold. But that was all she had for winter.

Her mother was always well dresses. With the latest fashion. Clothes and accessories she bought at the mall. She looked well looked after. And warm. Not like her little girl. But we didn’t see her at school often. Or anywhere for that matter. She didn’t walk with her little girl that often.

And they stayed just down the road from the school. It looked like a pretty house from the outside. That blue house where the girl stayed.

I often took my girls to the park at the school. And we’ll see her there often. On her own. On the swings. And she’ll be so happy to see my daughters. She was always so good to my little one. Running up to her and giving her a hug and a kiss and playing with her. She was a nice little girl. That little girl from the blue house.

My daughter always told us about her friend. And how she shared her snacks at school with her because she never had snacks. So my wife put in a few extra snacks for two. Never mentioned it to the little girl. Didn’t want her to feel odd. My daughter just shared because that is how she is. It was her friend. No questions.

And one day she told us that the girl was so exited about going to visit her dad in Arkansas. Her parents were divorced. And she lived with her mother and boyfriend in the blue house. The boyfriend had a nice BMW convertible. Nice car. Pretty new. They obviously had some money. Just not always for the little girl. But she was excited. She was going to visit her dad.

And then we saw her during the holiday. When she was meant to be at her dad. It was the first time I really saw her sad. The smile wasn’t there. She spoke to my daughter in a low sad voice and I didn’t want to ask too many questions. Didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. I just wanted her to be a little girl. Playing with her friend. And having fun the way 10-year old girls are meant to have fun. So I let them talk and watched as they started playing and giggling. And the smile started coming back. She was with her friend.

The odd thing was that apart from that day I always saw her smile. A big old child smile. I never heard her complain. Not in front of me in any case. She always looked happy. But you could see that there was something missing. You just had to look carefully.

I always hug and kiss my girls. No matter where we are. When we drop them off at school. When I say goodbye in the morning. When they go to sleep at night. Or just because we feel like a hug and a kiss. Which is often. No matter where we are. And this little girl saw this. Saw how I hugged my girls. And she wanted one too.

I used to see her looking at me and my daughter when we hug. And then one day she came up to me when I took my girl to her school and asked for a hug. She was a little bit shy about asking. But I just gave my girl a hug and she looked at me with her tatty top with the long sleeves and peeked at me. “Can I get a hug please?” “Of course!” I said. I gave her a big old hug. And she hugged back. Hugging maybe a little longer and harder than what I expected. Almost as if she didn’t get a lot of hugs and would like to get hugs more often. She was only ten.

And that was how it was. Whenever she saw me she would come running up to me and give me a hug. And I’ll hug her back. And I’ll give her a smile and ask how she was doing. It became a standard thing. I never really thought much about it. I knew she wanted a hug and I gave her one. We can do with more hugs in this world. And I didn’t think that she got too many hugs elsewhere in any case.

And then one day she was just gone. Just gone. Her mother packed their bags in the middle of the night and just disappeared. Gone. Not even a goodbye. Not even a last hug. Just gone with her tatty little top. We never knew what happened to her. How she is doing or how she is feeling. Is she with her dad? Is she okay? Is she happy? Is she being a kid? Did she get a warmer jacket? Is she still smiling those big old smiles of hers? Is she getting any hugs? Or is she still playing alone in the park?

Time passed and memories started fading. We’ll mention her every now and again and just wonder.

And then we started looking at buying a house. And one of the houses that was on the market was the blue house. The blue house where the little girl stayed. So off we went to look at the house. Thinking that maybe we can buy it and make it our little house. Until we opened the front door and walked in.

My wife and myself just looked at each other when we walked in. I knew what she was thinking. It was my thoughts to.

The house stank. It was dirty. So dirty. Everything was a mess. Stuff lying on the floor everywhere. Clothes. Plates. Old food. Ashtrays overflowing. Wet spots. I have never, ever seen anything like this anywhere. And I have been to some places… It has been like this for a long, long time. Our shoes got stuck on the sticky dirt that was on the floors. All the rooms were in a mess. You couldn’t even see what color the walls or carpets were. It was brown. From dirt and cigarette smoke. I felt nauseous. Sick. The ex-boyfriend was lying in bed downstairs watching something on a big screen television. On his huge water bed. With plates and empty bottles and cigarettes lying all around him. A pig in a pigsty.

We went up the stairs to look at the real bedrooms. And we walked into the room that would have been that little girls room. It was a mess. Just a mess. No place for a little girl. Any little girl. Dirty. Filthy. Disgusting. You could see little things she must have tried to do to make it a little girl’s room. A little picture here and there. A ripped out poster. A wonky little table where she must have tried to study. Some girlie jewelery lying on the floor amongst the dirt that she must have forgotten to pack in the haste. But it was covered in a floor that ran skew. Holes in the floors and roof. And cold. And this was in winter. No heating. This was the room of the little girl with the big smile.

My wife and myself just looked at each other. We knew what each of us were thinking. We just wanted to get out. Just wanted to forget that we ever came. That we ever knew that little girl. And that she lived there. Her little room in the blue house.

We sat in the car and just stared at nothing for a while. And then she said it. “She lived in that house.” That’s all that needed to be said. We knew. The little girl in the blue house.

And walking past that house this morning reminded me of her. That little girl in the blue house. Made me think. Again. How did she do it? How did she manage? How did she remain a little girl in that house? How long can she be that girl with the big old kid smile? How long before she falls through the cracks? Is she strong enough? Where will she find the love she needs? The hugs she deserves? How is the little girl from the blue house doing?

The little girl from the blue house. I hope you remember me. I hope you remember those hugs. I just wish I hugged you a little harder and a little longer.

1577872978_10dac8bfd6

It started with a simple set of questions… “Dad, what are people doing? Why don’t they want other people to marry? Why don’t they do anything about global warming? Why are they always fighting?”

How do I tell her? How. Do. I. Tell. Her?

1001, 1002, 1003, die… 1004, 1005, 1006, dead…

How do I tell her that every 3 seconds a child dies from something that we could’ve stopped? From hunger. From not enough food. From not having an apple. Or clean drinking water. Or just a little porridge in the morning. That we have it in our power to stop it if we want. But we choose not to. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that our friends can’t marry because some people just hate their love too much? That love is sometimes not enough. That caring for each other is not what everyone else thinks should be. That the insecurities of the heart and soul of others drive hate instead of seeing the love. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that some people talk freedom but don’t believe in it? That freedom is freedom even if we don’t like what others do or say. That freedom to marry. Freedom to love. Freedom to see the love of your life die in hospital. That these freedoms are killed by bigots every day. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her the pursuit of happiness is denied for most? That it’s a lie that we are told by so many who deny the happiness of others. That justice, equality and liberty is claimed by many but believed and practiced by few. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her people believe in carrying guns that kill but don’t believe in caring for love? That it’s okay to defend the right to carry a weapon of hatred in your holster but not love in your heart. That it’s okay to defend the right to carry that gun but not the right to love? How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that I don’t know what our earth will look like in her future? That maybe we are killing this world of ours with our greed and want. That wanting, buying, driving, wearing, making, living, eating too much and all those things we do might be killing our world slowly. So slowly that we argue while the pot is starting to boil. Like frogs we are killing ourselves slowly. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that most people don’t really believe in human rights? That they speak of it as if they care and are willing to fight for it and die for it. But that they will deny others those same human rights. Their right not to be tortured. Their right to marry. Their right to choose. Their right to believe and love who they want. They deny it all. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that people are willing to let their fellow Americans die. That they can stop it but they choose to look the other way and walk away? That a public option will save lives but some of us are too selfish and scared and would rather offer up American lives. American blood. All because they don’t care to care. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that so many men carry hate in their hearts. They rape. They kill. They take away. That these are men we see and know. But we don’t see and we don’t know. That it’s okay to love the world. But be careful with who you trust. They will hurt you if they can because we know of those who are dead and missing. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her to not trust the man who speaks of God because they use and abuse His name? That they will hate in His name. That they will lie in His name. That they will give Him different names and still be full of hate and lies. That the hate and lies is preached by bigots claiming every religion – Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim – you name it. That it’s okay to love God but to not trust those who speak in His name. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that there are mad men in caves wanting to kill a dream? That there are enemies everywhere willing to take lives. Innocent lives. And that we live in so much fear that we are willing to do the same as them. We are willing to let innocent people die because of our own fears. That we play into the hand of the warmongers with our weakness of fear. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her all this and so much more? Racism. Discrimination. Child labor. Obesity. Diseases. Sexism. And all this stuff waiting out there in the world. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her all this? How do I tell her that if we all just wasted a little less. Wanted a little less. Cared a little more. Believed a little more. Loved a little more. Spoke out a little louder. Did a little more…

How do I tell her that I see the faces of those kids dying? I know their names in my dreams. That they are my kids. Our kids. Not a number. Her kids.

How do I tell her that I feel the love of my friends being denied? That I only feel threatened because they are being denied the right to love and live in love the way I do? They they are not gay. That they are me. They are her.

How do I tell her I believe in freedom? That it’s worth fighting for even when others are trying to kill it with their freedom-my-way-or-no-way lies and bigotry and double standards. That I fight for the rights for all because I fight for her rights.

How do I tell her I don’t believe in guns? That I hate guns. That guns have killed in my family. That I will still defend those who want the right to have a gun. But that I expect them to fight and defend the right of my friends to love just as hard. That those rights are all hers.

How do I tell her that I don’t know everything about global warming? That I don’t know the science that well. But that I know that it’s better to be safe than sorry. That I will fight for this planet because it is all we have. The only one we have. It’s all I can give her. This little planet in the middle of nowhere is her planet.

How do I tell her that human rights means we have to give it to everyone? To those who are like us. Who love like us. Who live like us. Who believe like us. And those who don’t believe like us. Don’t want to be us. That human rights means we take the higher road and don’t torture. That human right means we allow everyone to be treated the same way we are treated. In love and in marriage. And that I will speak out and fight for those rights. Every single day until we all have it. Because it is her rights.

How do I tell her I believe in justice, equality and liberty? That I believe it is fundamental to who we are and how we want to live. Even though other say it but don’t live it or truly believe it through action. That I will fight for her to have justice. That I will stand up for her to have equality. And I will defend her liberty. Because justice, equality and liberty are hers.

How do I tell her that I don’t want these Americans we live with to die? That I want them to live. I want to help look after them. I want them to have an option to get looked after when they are sick. And that the only option for them is a government option. That I have not option but support an option that will let Americans live. Because I believe that Americans are good. And that it is our duty to love them and respect them and help look after them. Because we are them. American health is her health.

How do I tell her not all men are bad? That there are good men out there. Men who love and care. Men we can trust. And that it’s worth trusting and finding the men we can believe in and trust. That we men will fight those who hurt. Because these are her men.

How do I tell her that God is good? That it is okay to believe and not be part of the lies told by those who claim Him – no matter what they call Him. That God is good and God is love. That I will fight for Him and claim Him back from those who use and abuse His name. Who lie and spread hate in His name. Because He is her God.

How do I tell her not to fear the mad man in the cave or anyone else who lives to hate? That fear is not what makes us who we are. That love makes us who we are. That the love we have is stronger than the hate of others. That love should never be seen as a weakness. Because I will fight for it. Because this love is her love. My love for her. My gift to her. Love.

How do I tell her that when I am alone in my thoughts… On the bus. Running. In a hotel. Flying. That I cry inside when I am alone. And sometimes I cry on the outside for all these strangers to see. Thinking of this. Knowing that I don’t know what we are doing. That I don’t know what we are leaving for her tomorrow. For her future. Her world. I just don’t know.

I don’t know what world she will inherit from us. I don’t know what world we will leave behind. For her. And for her kids.

But I do know that I will fight for what I believe in. I will fight for her rights. Her right to love, believe, be free, have no fear, carry a gun, marry who she wants. her right to be herself. My big angel. Because I love her. And it’s all I can give her.

I want to tell her that the world is full of good people. That every single day I work with people who make this world a little better. One step at a time. Sometimes small but always forward. I want to tell her we will fight the good fight. Every single day. There are more of us than what the world might think. And we are strong. And we will never give up.

I want to tell her I do what I do because of her. That I see her face when I work. I see her face when I fight for what is right. I see her face when I live my life. It drives me. I want to leave her a world to be proud of. I want to leave her a dad to be proud of.

But I don’t. I don’t tell her any of this…

I take her hand and we dance on a Saturday. I joke with her and I tickle her. I play with her and I tease her. I help her with her homework and I say I’m proud of her great work. I have fun with her and walk her to the bus stop. I hang out with her and watch Harry Potter with her. I lie watching music videos with her and write silly stuff to her on Facebook. Sometimes we talk about Madiba or God and space-time limitations. Or science and mathematics. Geography or food. Even a little bit of serious stuff like politics and rights. And then I talk to her about crazy silly things and give her my books to read. I pull her finger and burp as loud as I can. I go mess up her bed and chase her around. I just do the things a crazy silly stupid dad is meant to do. Because she is my girl. My oldest girl. My big angel. And I’m just her dad. That’s all I want to be. The cool guy who loves her more than life.

She is my Ubuntu. I am because we are.

So I don’t tell her. But I know. I know we have to fix this world to make it ready for her. She deserves nothing less. She is perfect. She needs a perfect world.

We’ve got work to do. My big angel is coming and I’ve got a world to clean and get ready…

I am inspired by the women in my life. My mother, my wife, my daughters and my sisters. I love you all. You inspire me. And then those women from Africa. Those women who carry our people on their backs and cradle our continent in their arms. The same women who suffer at the hands of us African men. This piece was written for them…

 

1223120968_690a76404a

 

Long Live Mama Africa!

 

I am always amazed at how people from outside Africa look at Africa and always have an “oh shame” expression on their faces. They somehow feel sorry for the people of Africa. You know. How could you not? How could you not feel sorry for the people of Africa when all you see in the papers and on the charity cards are the faces of hungry children and suffering women. You can’t have a heart and not feel sorry for them. Especially not for the women of Africa. Or can you? Sorry is not the emotion we want you to feel when you look at us. And sorry is not the feeling you should have when you look at the women of Africa. They have given birth to Africa. To all the children of Africa. And they carry Africa on their backs. The same way they carry the children of Africa on their backs. They carry Africa and the children while they work in the fields. While they toil in the sun. Getting the food ready for our people to eat. Don’t feel sorry for them. Celebrate them. They are the power in our arms. The speed in our footsteps. And the food of our souls. Hear them roar.

Let me tell you a story that plays out in Africa every single day. And then you will know to never feel sorry for the women of Africa.

Every single day you will find women selling fruit next to the road. Walk the dusty roads of Africa and there they are. Working from before the sun rises to after the sun sets. To sell their goods as people commute to work and back. And they walk for miles to go and buy those fruits and vegetables. To get ready to open the “doors” of their business in time to hit the commuters before they are all off to work. And they sit there day in and day out. Waiting for the commuters to come back. Selling their fruits and their vegetables. Bananas. Apples. Oranges. Mangoes. Tomatoes. Carrots. Potatoes. Whatever goes and grows in that region – and what they can find at the main market. Come rain or sun, floods to droughts. They sit there and sell their goods. And feed the people. And you want to feel sorry for them?

Don’t. Do not feel sorry for them. Think of Bill Gates when you see these women sitting there. Running their business. With a hundred competitors each side. Competing for the same small group of buyers. They run their business. But they also run Africa.

Celebrate them because they run their businesses with all those competitors on both sides. And hardly any schooling. And no business training. And they support an extended family. Feeding them and keeping them safe while the men are off somewhere else. Making war or making love. With another. And you want to feel sorry for them? What is there to be sorry about? These are strong women. Women with pride. Women with a business sense that Bill Gates could only dream of. They run a successful business with nothing but the sweat on their foreheads and strength of their souls and the heads on their shoulders. They don’t suffer. They don’t suffer fools.

No. Don’t feel sorry for them. They are the arms who cradle Africa. Feel sorry for the men of Africa. Feel sorry for the men of Africa because they don’t know what they are doing. Feel sorry for the men because they make the wars. And the women bury the dead. Feel sorry for the men who beat our women. And the women give birth to them. Feel sorry for the men who have no pride. And the women pick up the pieces behind them. Yes. The women of Africa clean up after the men. These men with no pride. These women of strength.

You know why the men of Africa are so weak? Because the women of Africa is so strong. The men see it in the eyes of the women. This strength. And they know they can never be that strong. And they do whatever they can to kill that light in their eyes. But you can’t. Not with African women. They are too strong. And that is what makes the men so weak and so scared. They can never roar like the women of Africa. Never. And they know it.

Yes. We men treat the women of Africa like second-class citizens. We treat them like that because we know we can never be that strong. We can never be the backbone of Africa. We can never give berth to a nation. We can never care for Africa the way the women do. We are not Africa. We can never be the women of Africa. That is why we call her Mama Africa. She is our soul and she is our life. She gives us life and she keeps us safe. Viva Mama Africa. Long Live the Women of Africa.

 

photo_lg_mozambique

hello

“Hello.”

And then a big smile and a wave.

I just loved it. Just loved it. My oldest daughter used to walk around greeting everyone in the streets. It doesn’t matter who they were. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know them. She just smiled and waved, and said hello. We do that in Africa. Walk around like a bunch of happy-clappies waving and greeting and smiling at people we don’t know.

It made me feel part of something bigger. Just knowing that they are my people. We are one big family. Really. You should see how we greet each other. Not just a little nod of the head or lifting of the eyebrow. No, not us crazy Africans. We go all out. We say hello as if it is our best friend that we haven’t seen for years. The long lost brother. The sister that went to college. The Biblical son returning. “How are you?” “I’m great thanks! And you?” “Great! Cheers!” Crazy Africans.

We have enough shit going on in Africa to enjoy the little things like greeting each other on the streets. Just acknowledging that it’s okay. That we are okay. That we are somehow connected.

It didn’t matter where I was in Africa. I can be walking in the streets in Zimbabwe and people will greet me and I will greet them – with a smile. I’ll sit in a bar in Zambia and someone will walk over and start talking to me. Asking questions about where I’m from and what I’m doing in Lusaka or do I want another beer. “Hey buddy, why don’t you come with us to the Green Frog?” Aah… The Green Frog. Dancing and drinking with people I’ve never met and will most likely never see again. The market in Bamako (Mali) and the guy walking with me to show me around and help me out with the French spoken at the stalls. Guess what. He didn’t want to get paid for it. He just wanted to show me his town and maybe have a beer with me.

It used to drive my wife crazy. I’ll walk into a bar and “check out the scene”. Searching for my next victim… I mean “friend”. Anyone that’s alone. And I’ll start talking to them. It is especially good when it is a foreigner. Just talk and hear their stories. Where they are from, how is their mom and dad, what they are doing over here, what beer do they want. You name it and I’ll talk about it. I’ve heard some great stories thanks to these strangers. And then we’ll say goodbye and never talk again. But I’ll remember them and I hope they’ll remember me. The crazy guy from Africa. They were African for a day or two. One of us. All of us. And it started with a simple “hello”.

And I miss that.

I miss the warmth. The sense of humanity. The acknowledgement of each other. The small moments of happiness. The connection of life and living.

And I miss seeing my daughters do that.

My oldest daughter was just a few years old when we moved over to the UK. She still walked around greeting everyone. Thank God we stayed in a small village of about 2,000 people. They got to know her. The crazy African kid who greets everyone. At first people stared at her and then slowly looked up at us parent, thinking that she must be a “special needs” kid. Some even gave us the “shame, poor you” look. Feeling sorry for these parents with the backward kid. But the little one didn’t care. She just kept on greeting.

And slowly but surely she won them over. The older people were the first to come around to her way of thinking. They loved seeing her greeting and waving at them. Shocked at first and then just a huge smile thanks to this skinny little girl with the big eyes and even bigger smile. And the looks they gave us parents – that was just all that was needed for us to know that we were okay as parents. They would look at us and greet us as well. With a big smile and a thank you in their eyes. And sometimes a little “What a nice little girl” comment to go with that.

My youngest one – born in the UK with the American accent (but South African passport)? Well, I don’t know if it is in our blood. But she greets people. She’ll stop to talk to people as we walk to the park. Especially if they have a baby or a dog. “Isn’t she cute dad?” Me? “Hi, sorry about that. She just loves babies.”

When did I lose my “hello”?

I really can’t say. I don’t know when it happened. Maybe it was the continuous looks I got in the UK. Or the stares in the US. Maybe I started switching off after too many blank returns and rejections. But I don’t really greet strangers anymore. And I miss that.

We don’t accept peple for who they are anymore. We are too scared. Scared shitless. We reject people for who we think they might be.

I am not crazy. I am not a rapist. I am not a child molester. I am not a sex offender. I am not a maniac. I am not a murderer. I’m not a mugger. I am just me. Living a life and trying to be as good as what I can be. I live Ubuntu. But Ubuntu isn’t always around.

Must I wear a banner around my neck to say who I am not?

I see little kids and sad grown-ups around me. All I want to do is stop for a minute and ask them how they are. Maybe give the little one a hug and a kiss. Tell them that the world will be okay. Just go and be a kid and enjoy going down the slide for a while. Swing low and swing high. Go around and around on the merry-go-round. It a bit like life. But without the worries that go with it.

But I can’t. Because of others.

I have to pick my battles. Be friendly to the person behind the counter at Honey Farms. Smile at the girl in Starbucks. At a push, talk to the person squashed in next to me when the train is packed like sardines. Hug a client I got to know really well. Or kiss a friend I haven’t seen for a while. On the cheek, of course. Oh so European.

What have we done? What the fuck have we done? To this world and to our lives?

Why can’t we even stop and talk anymore? Or just greet each other?

I know some things are cultural. Where I come from we kiss on the lips just to say hello. Men and women. Okay, more women than men. But I kiss my cousins on the lips when I see them. Men and women. I kissed my father on the lips even though we hardly spoke. And my brother. And my brother-in-laws. Even my ex brother-in-law. I kiss my best friends. On the lips. It’s just a hello.

I don’t want anything more from them. I just want to feel the link. That we are one. That we love each other. In a different way than when I kiss my wife. But so many times I just want to kiss the person I am friends with. Say hello in the way I know best because it means I open myself to my most vulnerable self. Take my lips. Our eyes will be close for a minute and the connection is confirmed. Just a kiss hello.

But I can’t. We can’t. It doesn’t fit in with our culture. At best I can get a hug. Or a kiss on the cheek. And I can live with that. It is easier because I know them already. We are already friends. There is already some connection. And with time it will grow. I hope.

But I know I miss my hello. When talking to strangers.

I have become one of those who worry about my kids. Not like when I was young. I could play in the streets and talk to strangers. But not today. Not in the life we live and the craziness that goes around.

Even that little girl in the blue house. I gave her hugs and ruffled her hair. But I always had to check who was looking. Just to make sure they don’t think anything funny was going on. She was just a little girl. Needing a hug. And I had to check that no one thought anything else.

How did we become like this?

We can say it is because of all the weirdos out there. The rapists and the child abusers and stealers of kids. I know they are out there. But somewhere along the line we allowed them to win. We allowed them to define who we are. And how we say hello.

How did the hello start to hurt us? How did the hello become a way to divide us? How did the hello move from love to scare?

I struggle with this every single day. How do you bring up your child to love everyone and still know about the danger out there? I don’t know. We all play it safe. We tell them not to say hello. Not to talk to strangers. Not to trust people they don’t know. Not to just say hello to everyone.

And slowly but surely we kill ourselves as we kill the hello inside our kids.

Talking to strangers.

How did we become the strangers?

20070315093644_stranger_fog

mandela1_11

I’ve been asked about my “anger” many times. What do you have to be “Angry” about? Why are you the “Angry African”? Why indeed…

I would rather have a good meal. Maybe help my wife prepare the food. Get the table ready. Talk about whether we should have brocolli or peas or carrots to go with the maple syrup chicken and roast potatoes she just made. That’s what I would rather do. Just have a good meal together with my family. Sitting at the table and laughing at the silliness of my daughters. Making funny noises and joking with their mother. Good times. Me, my family and a good meal. I would rather have a good meal. No need for anger here.

But how can I? How can I just have a meal when I know that somewhere out there in Zambia is a family arguing about how they divide the last of the nsima. Maybe this will be the last meal they share together. Because tomorrow brings no food and no hope. Maybe tomorrow the kids will have to go down to the charity handing out food and slip some away for ma and pa back home. But will grandma make it? Can she wait another 24 hours before she gets a little something to eat. No laughing or poking of fun. Not when the bones on their bodies are poking hard at their skin. How can there be no anger?

I would rather watch telly. Just vegetate and do nothing. Stare blankly at the screen. Flip channels because I can’t decide between CSI Miami or Kitchen Nightmares. Or maybe I should watch that Bond movie I taped? Or watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King again? Yeah. That’s what I want to do. Just stare at the telly and think of nothing. No anger here.

But how can I? How can I stare at the telly when tonight someone might be staring at the barrel of a gun somewhere in the Congo? No channels for them to watch. Maybe tonight will be the last time they see anything. I can change the channel but they can’t change their lives. I can play with the remote but they are here. Waiting for me to think of them. Always hiding somewhere in my conscious. Waiting to flip the channel of my brain to their station. No static. Just their lives waiting to be changed while they live a reality life. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather read a good book. Maybe just finish one of the many I am reading right now. Should I go with Mao and his killing or read about hope through the eyes of Obama? Maybe just get away from all that stuff and laugh at Bill Bryson telling me about A Short History of Nearly Everything. Aah. That what I want to do. Just read my book and let my mind slip away for a little bit. No anger here.

But how can I? How can I read a book when tomorrow the children will go and work those cocoa fields? The pages they flip are the pages of their life going past. One empty page after the other. Or maybe it is a horror. The horror of their lives. Living a Stephen King life larger than even he can imagine. But maybe some khat will help numb the pain. At least it will take away the glint in their eyes. And the empty pages of their life can be seen in their empty stares. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather play with my kids. Play outside like the crazy gang we are. Wild splashing we call swimming down at the lake. And go down that snowy hill when winter comes. Just me and my girls. Crazy, crazy, crazy. All I want is to hear their laughing and more laughing at their silly dad. Egging them on. Come on! You can do it girl! That’s what I would much rather want. Me and my crazy girls. Having fun. No anger here.

But how can I? When the other kids are running away from the warlord down the road. Playing dodgeball with the bullets. Not a sound of joy and belly laughs to be heard coming from their mouths. Just cries of pain as the bullets hit. Lucky if it misses. Dodge, dodge, dodge. That the games they play in the Congo. How can there be no anger?

I would must rather lie next to my wife. Falling asleep and hearing her breathe next to me. I can feel the stress of the day just slip away. Here is where I belong. Always telling her how much I love her. I can never say it too much or too often. And I run home because that is where I want to be. Just there next to her. My lovely wife. The one who gives me meaning. No anger here.

But how can I? When the women in Africa have to walk miles and miles just to get a drop of water for their homes. Every day. Down to the river and back. In the rush forgetting to boil it clean. And they see their families die around them. From a simple thing like drinking dirty water. How can I look at my wife and not see those women carry Africa on their backs being beaten and beaten and beaten. Day in and day out. Rape and murder. That’s what lies next to them at night. Death and destruction giving them meaning. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather just go on holiday. Maybe take a trip to Europe and visit those fancy French. Some cheese and red wine. Aah, that’s the life. Or laugh and point at Mickey and Minnie down at Disney. Maybe get away for just a week or two and visit my friend back home. Another trip to Bucks County would be nice. Just me and my three girls. Hanging out in New Hope for a drink and maybe a small piece of memory for the mantle. No anger here.

But how can I? When the only break my people get is another trade deal that fails. Or another empty promise for those dying of aids or malaria. Or the breaking of another leg as the torture continues in countries down South and East. But also here in the North and West. Broken promises to go with their broken lives. How can there be no anger?

I really just want to hang with my friends. Or drink a coffee by myself. Sip by sip. A braai and a good old fire. Learn to play the guitar like I’ve always wanted. Or write that bloody book that’s been bugging me for years. Save some money and retire early. Go for a drive in my car to watch the leaves go all rainbow in fall. The good things. That’s all I ever really want to do. Take it easy and stay easy. A smile, a laugh and good times.

I don’t want anger. I hate anger. It’s not nice. And it is not me.

Why am I angry?

I know happiness. I know what it is. I have it. Oh boy, do I have it. But I can’t enjoy it. At least not the way I want to enjoy it… Fully. I want to give myself totally to happiness. I want to live my happy days by throwing myself at it. Just living it 24/7.

That’s what pisses me off. That I can’t just enjoy life because of bigots. Because of liberty for some. Equality for those who can afford it. Freedom for those who were born free. Justice for those at the top.

I am angry because I can’t enjoy my life thanks to oppression of others. My right to have a fun time is shot to hell because of the rights of others being shot to hell. Bullet by bullet. Every warlord pisses me off because they remind me of what I am missing because of them. They are taking away my happiness because they are taking away the happiness of others.

I am angry because my friends and people I don’t even know can’t just love who they want. I love my wife. I love my wife. But the more I love her the more I am reminded of those who can’t love the way we love. That their love is somehow less meaningful than our love. I am pissed at bigots taking away happiness because they are taking away the rights of others.

I am pissed and angry for purely selfish reasons. I don’t want to fight for the rights of kids to have a shot at a life. I don’t want to fight for justice in the world trade and aid system. I don’t want to fight for the freedom of African women. I don’t want to fight for the equality of my gay friends who want to get married. I don’t want to fight for the liberty of the slaves working the sweatshops or farms in China or Africa. I don’t want to do all this crap. I want nothing to do with any of this.

I. Do. Not. Want. To. Do. This.

I just want to sit back and enjoy my life. Just me, my girls and my friends. Happy times. Good times.

But I can’t. And that is what pisses me off. That is what makes me angry. That is what makes me the Angry African.

I can only go do nothing when there is nothing to be done. When others can afford to do nothing. When everyone has a shot. You bloody people. With your rights and freedoms and liberty and equality and justice. Just have it already.

Fuck. Dammit. And everything and anything else that go with that.

I am because we are. Ubuntu.

I can only stop caring about what to watch on telly when there is nothing to care about. I can only be happy watching my kids go crazy when you have a shot at happiness. I can only have the liberty to drink my coffee sip after slow sip when you have liberty. I can only have my braai in peace when you have peace. I can only be the equal of my wife when we all are equal. I can only have justice when you have justice.  My freedom is your freedom…

I can only be free when you are free.

I can only be me when you can be you.

Until then… I am the Angry African.

f_slavery_boy_map_africa1

mamaafrica

Mama Africa died. The voice of the people. The song of the people. She is no more. But her music lives on. And with it… Her love for Africa and its people.

This is from one of her first songs that the world got to see. Hum… She was hot! Mama Africa singing Pata Pata.

The one song every bloody Souf Efrikan whitie knows… (And she is still hot!) Miriam Makeba singing The Click Song. (With a bit of an intro into Xhosa and politics – sorry, I had to use a new link so the politics got lost. Someone removed the original from YouTube!)

And this one has a bit of a long intro but it hits you hard when she starts singing. Man… Did I mention that she is hot! Sinead O’Connor of Africa singing Amampondo.

But in the end Mama Africa was about so much more than her music. Miriam Makeba made music. Mama Africa spoke for her people. A glimpse of what she had to say to the UN back in 1963. Being Mama Africa…

Her citizenship was revoked shortly after this. She couldn’t go back to her country. To her people. But she always fought on. Always for justice. Always for her people. The people of Africa. And her people from South Africa. From fighting for justice when she married (and later separated from) Trinidadian civil rights activist and Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael to receiving the UN Dag Hammerskjöld Peace Prize. She always fought for justice. Always.

But she saw her country united at last. She came back in 1990. To her home. To her people. And this song was made for her to sing. (The intro is played by Hugh Masekela. Another legend and another ex-husband of Mama Africa.)

Mama Africa never forgot about the fight for justice. Never. She didn’t die at home. She died in Castel Volturno in Italy, in the evening of 9 November 2008, of a heart attack, shortly after taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation. Camorra finances itself through drug trafficking, extortion, protection and racketeering. It is the oldest organized criminal organization in Italy. Mama Africa… Mama World… Mama Ubuntu… No matter where you were, she was with you in your fight for justice, freedom, liberty and equality for all.

She died just after singing Pata Pata. She died on stage.

In the words of Mama Africa, “I will sing until the last day of my life.”

So she is gone. But live on. Always.

Viva Mama Africa! Viva! Long Live Miriam Makeba! Long Live!

makeba_miriam

I’ve never tried writing fiction. This is a first attempt. Written at midnight. Just a start. Just a beginning of a story that has been forming in my mind. But like I said, I am not a writer so see it as a first shot at something written very late at night. Let me know what you think.

_______________________

Waking Up

A blink and he is awake. It’s always like this. Just a blink and his eyes open and he is awake. Nothing but a blink. No tiredness and no dreams to remember. Just a blink and he is awake.

The darkness is total. There is no window to let the light seep in, but he doesn’t need any light yet. He just lies staring at the darkness for awhile; staring at the tin roof hidden in the darkness. Letting his eyes find the first signs of light and life. Any second now the tin roof stars will show themselves. A little spot of dull early morning light that fades through a tiny little hole, first one then another one and another one, turning the holes into dancing stars on the tin roof. His tin roof stars.

The tin roof stars dance around and pop up everywhere. Every nail that was ever used on the tin sheets of the roof is shining and dancing. Every hole left by the nails is a memory of better days; the days before it was a tin roof in a shanty town.

But he isn’t thinking of the memories of the holes. Not this morning. He is looking at the dancing stars to see if a brighter light will shine through any of the holes, because that spells trouble. A brighter light means a hole in the thick black plastic sheets that are spread out and tied down on the roof. These plastic sheets are the defense against the rains. A bright light is a leaking roof. But this morning there is nothing but dancing stars. He smiles into the darkness at his tin roof stars. Today is going to be a good day.

Slowly the shanty town morning noises seep through the walls. The far-off hooting of the taxis at the taxi rank a mile away. Telling the squatters they have space for a few people more and ready to go. The voices of women talking amongst each other as they walk through the narrow passageways between the shacks making their way to the taxi ranks to catch the early trucks selling fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables they’ll need as they lay out their tables at the market before people come to buy their daily goods. Taxis and women are the shanty town voices of the morning.

He’ll be at the market a bit later this morning, buying an apple or banana on his way looking for work. And so will his wife. She’ll be there before she comes home from her day looking for work, buying a potato or two, maybe some carrots to put in the stew that goes with the pap. The market is the main artery of the shanty town. It feeds the people who feed the shanty town.

But right now he just lies in bed and stares at his tin roof stars. And listen to the shanty town morning voices. He lies there for another twenty minutes or so. Slowly the room starts showing itself. But he doesn’t need to look at it. He knows where everything is. He’ll rather just look at his morning beauty, his wife lying next to him.

His wife never wakes up like him. She always takes her time waking up. He watches her every morning as she wakes up. It’s the perfect start to his day. It is life waking up to a new day.

She’s lying on her side cuddled up with the teddy bear he got her from the charity down the road. She starts with little moaning noises like a puppy dreaming. Then the waves start. Her body making slow rhythmic moves as she moves her arms and legs like some underwater dancer seducing the gods. This is when he knows she will open her eyes or whisper to him. The bed is too small for the two of them. Just a single bed mattress made for two. She turns around to stretch out but there is not space. Her hand hits his chest as she tries to stretch. Some mornings she gets a fright as if she didn’t expect someone to be lying there. Not him or anyone. But not this morning, this morning she starts with a smile. His morning beauty.

“Morning baby”, she whispers. Her eyes are still closed but she is smiling. That’s all he wanted, just a smile and a whisper. He kisses her softly on her lips and whispers back, “Molo Beauty”. He pulls the blankets a bit higher to cover her shoulders and then slowly slips out of bed. “Lie down Beauty. I’ll boil some water and make us something to eat”, he says to his wife as he leans forward and gives her another kiss on her forehead.

Thank God it is summer, he thinks to himself. He hates winter. It’s always a rush to get his clothes on before the coldness takes over. But in summer it is easy. He slips on the pair of jeans that has seen better days. More patches of denim and off-cuts than the original jeans. A shirt over his t-shirt and then his boots and he is ready.

He slowly walks over to the little paraffin lamp. Taking special care not to bump against the bed where his wife is still lying with her eyes closed. He picks up the matches lying next to the lamp and takes out one match before turning the knob on the lamp. And in what seemed like it was part of the same movement, he strikes the match and light the lamp while shielding the bright light with is hand. He turns the light down to a shimmer so save on paraffin and to not let it shine too brightly before his wife gets up. He’s done this a thousand times. He doesn’t even think about it anymore. It’s like flipping a switch.

He leans down to pick up the water bucket. It’s empty. His wife forgot to fill it last night. He smiles to himself. He remembers why she forgot. He looks over at her to say something but sees that her eyes are still closed. He shakes his heads with a smile, picks up the bucket and heads for the door. No need to get her out of bed. The taps aren’t far. It’s a quick walk to the community centre and he’ll be back in thirty minutes at most.  It’s one of the advantages of not having a steady job, you can take that extra thirty minutes to go and fill the water buckets. No boss to chase you around if you are late. Beauty will wait for him. It will be over before she knows he is gone. Well, almost. It will be quick. He’ll be back to make them some black coffee they can share in their little shack called home. A moment of peace before they take on their day.

(I am okay with it up to here. Still rough around the edges but it is more or less where I was hoping to go. The rest I am not sure about. Not sure I want to take it there, but thought I would leave it in for now.)

He just stepped outside the shack when he heard someone behind him. He knew who it was. It was Sipho, the boy next door. “Morning Sipho”, he whispered. Sipho was about to say something but he stopped him by waving his finger and whispering, “No Sipho. Beauty is still asleep. Do me a favor and keep an eye on her for me. I’ll buy you an apple today”. Sipho grinned and held up both his thumbs. That was a close one, he thought. Sipho is a great kid but is always making a noise to try and get his attention. He’ll make it up to him later and chase him around the shacks. That always gets Sipho going.

The walk to community centre was quick. He enjoys walking through the shacks this time of the morning when it’s not too busy. There are women walking to the taxi ranks to buy their goods but most people are just starting to wake up. You can still hear your footsteps on the hard ground this time of the morning. He was quickly lost in his own thoughts.

Thank God it’s too early for the queues, he thought to himself, just a few women filling up their containers. He goes to one of the taps and starts filling the bucket. He’s been away for about ten minutes now. Beauty will be up wondering where he is. She’ll see the bucket is gone though and know that he came to fetch water. She might even be getting some bread ready for them to eat together. He smiles thinking of how she always puts too much butter on his bread. She knows he loves butter and they can’t really afford it but she always somehow gets butter just for him.

The bucket is filled; time to go home and make some coffee. The walk back is more difficult because the bucket is heavy. He laughs to himself thinking about the women who carry the buckets on their heads. Men can’t do that. Their necks hurt and they can’t balance the buckets. Whoever thought that men are the tough ones should come to this shanty town and look at the weight that these women carry. He is always amazed at how Beauty carries such a heavy bucket as if it is nothing. His Beauty.

He was still deep in thought when he heard the shouting. It was coming closer to him. Louder and louder. Closer and closer. It was Sipho. He could make out that it was Sipho but he couldn’t make out what he was shouting. He dropped the bucket and started running towards the shouting; his heart pounding in his chest. Did she fall and hurt herself? Oh please let her be okay.

He could see Sipho dodging between the shacks as he was getting closer. Still shouting and calling for him. He didn’t even look where he was going. Sipho was just running like crazy. He kept on calling his name and shouting, “Jonas! Jonas! Quick!”. Sipho looked up while running and saw him coming towards him. He tried to shout for Sipho to calm down, “Sipho! Calm down! What is it?” Then he saw Sipho’s face. The face of fear.

And Sipho kept on shouting and shouting…

But all he could hear was, “It’s Beauty. They are taking her…”

Next Page »