Lots of people told me not to come. Not for love or money. (It was for love.) The back of apartheid had still not been broken. Stories coming out of the country were strange and terrible. “How could you even think to go and work in such a place?” “You will be lumped with the privileged white minority. Can you handle that?” “Aren’t you supporting the regime if you choose to live there?” Some people thought this man had proposed to me, an American, so that he could gain entrance to our most illustrious country and escape the inevitable recompense coming to the oppressors.

I stopped telling people where I was going. I ceased sharing with them about my intended and how he worked in a rural hospital and cared for the poorest of the poor. I stopped regaling others with my story. I knew I was called to marry this man and share his fortune, whatever came. I had no doubts; there was no wavering. I packed up what I could, sold or gave away what I could not take and flew away to the “dark continent.”

I discovered an amazing country, an incredible people, a beautiful natural environment. I found a place filled with colourful and diverse cultures. I also saw huge problems and big issues. But in every concern there were people standing up, challenging the status quo, knocking holes in the national policy. Music was one of the avenues people used to spread their message. And Johnny Clegg was one of the musicians who took up the battle cry. His song “Asimbonanga” caught my attention soon after I arrived and has remained one of my favourites to this day. It also helped me learn a bit of isiZulu.

The song is written about Mandela (and other heroes in the struggle to defeat apartheid).

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ umandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhon (in the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona in the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the island into the bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water
A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me
Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ umandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhon (in the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona in the place where he is kept)

Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge Neil Aggett
Asimbonanga Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina (We have not seen our brother/sister)
Laph’ekhona (in the place where he is)
Laph’wafela khona (in the place where he died)
Hey wena (Hey, you!)
Hey wena nawe (Hey, you — and you also)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona? (When will we arrive at our destination?)

I learned the words. I sang with lusty gusto. I prayed for my adopted country. I spoke with people and shared my heart and tried to break down the divisions in my own little circles. A little over a year after my arrival, Mandela was released from prison. And four years after that I stood in a long queue to vote in South Africa’s first free and fully democratic election.

I still sing this song. And now I sing because our beloved Madiba has passed into his rest, and I see a still very young South Africa struggling to implement justice for all. Some things we are getting right, some things we are getting terribly wrong. Mandela stands as a beacon for reconciliation and justice for all. So I still sing this song. Only now as I sing I am asking, “Where is Mandela? We can’t see him (in the things that we are doing – in the way in which we are doing them). Asimbonanga. The struggle lives on.



Day Three of Writing 101:  ASSIGNMENT:

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Today, try free writing. To begin, empty your mind onto the page. Don’t censor yourself; don’t think. Just let go. Let the emotions or memories connected to your three songs carry you.

NOTE:  I started writing about Asimbonanga and the 15 minutes (20 actually) just went flying.  I never got to the other songs.  If you would like to listen to the song, go here.


My Go-To Place


It is so cliché to say “I left my heart in San Francisco.” But it is true. The City by the Bay was my home for a major part of my life and I will always love it, passionately. The history of a pioneering people and their indomitable spirit, the amazing buildings, the cable cars, the streets (seriously –the streets in SF have personality), the neighborhoods, the vistas. It is a vibrant place, full of fun, rowdy people, each with a distinct quirky personality, and yet all joined together by the idea of The City.

But there is another place, my go-to place when I craved a retreat. My sanctuary, my quiet restoration: Muir Woods. On cold, rainy days when I needed solitude I would get into the small brown Pinto and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge north to Marin to Muir Woods National Monument. The drive itself would put me into a reflective mood. As I left civilization and all its noise and confusion, slowly I would unwind and enter a world of silent wonder.

The park would be empty because of the weather. I’d pull the hood of my anorak over my head, climb out of the car and step back into time, into a grove of redwoods older than recorded history. Over 550 acres of rich royal redwood forest, Muir Woods is a natural cathedral. Even when there were other visitors in the park, they were awed into reverent silence as they entered the grove. These incredible trees grow to over 250 feet high and are between 500 and 800 years old. (The oldest tree in the park is over 1 200!) I liked to lean with my back against a tree and gaze up along its strong trunk into the heavens where the tip of the tree was stirring the clouds.

Very little sun reaches the forest floor which is covered in lush greenery. The air in the sanctuary is dense and full of earthy richness. There aren’t very many birds to call out in the park, although once I heard an owl’s lament. My favorite place in the park is a small bridge built over Redwood Creek. Here I could sit or stand for hours listening to the water gurgle its way through the woods. The songs it sings and the stories it tells are secrets of the redwoods whispered for thousands and thousands of years. And if I closed my eyes and stilled my breathing I could almost understand the tune.

Although I now live over ten-thousand miles away from my beloved San Francisco and the enchanted Muir Woods, sometimes, when I need some peace and stillness in my life, I close my eyes and imagine the hallowed sanctum of giant redwoods and the murmuring prayers of the little stream.







Day Two of Writing 101:  ASSIGNMENT:

Choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?


Waffles Waffling


Loosen up. Loosen up.
I am tense. Not looking forward to the thirteen hour drive tomorrow. Every one else is in slumberland. I am making Cornish pasties and doing the last load of laundry and still packing and worrying that I will forget something important and gotta write that last little note to the house-sitter and make sure I put the cat food out and wash my hair in the morning, but of course we are driving away at 6 am which means I already have to be up at 5 am to pack the cool box and make the lunches and put in my last minute toiletries. Maybe I should get up at 4 am. Considering it is already 11 pm and I have 23 more minutes for the pasties to bake and 25 more minutes until the laundry is done, I don’t think there is any way that I will be ready to get out of bed at 4.
Loosen up. Loosen up.
Let’s see, I could think about how the internet went off all day and how I didn’t get to read any email or post to my blog or even see what other people were doing. I couldn’t Google (and I needed a recipe for something with chicken and brinjal –which is what people here call eggplant or aubergine or melongene or guinea squash). Funny how some vegetables have so many names. Like zucchini. Here it is called “baby marrow” if it is small (which it usually is) or just “marrow” if it is large (which is usually isn’t –and I thought marrow what was inside of your bones) and it is also called “courgette.” And, the other weird thing about marrow/zucchini/courgette is that it is actually a FRUIT! Yes, indeed. In the strictest sense of the word, zucchini is a fruit. Like tomatoes. I won’t bother to tell you that eggplant is classified as a “berry,” because you wouldn’t believe me, or that it is in the nightshade family and related to the tomato and potato and (wait for it) tobacco! I ended up making a Moroccan Chicken and Eggplant dish, a tagine, but I didn’t have an slivered almonds and had to leave out the coriander (which is also known as dhanya and cilantro Chinese parsley — although to be terribly strict here, coriander refers to the ground seed and cilantro is the green leaves) because Kevin hates cilantro. He said he read a National Geographic article (so it must be true, right?) that said you either LOVE cilantro or you HATE it. No in-between and it is genetic. So he believes he is predisposed to hating “stink weed” (his name for it) and that there is nothing he can do about it. He also hated garlic before he was forced to eat my cooking. Now he just mildly dislikes it.
Loosen up. Loosen up.
I think I am nervous about leaving the house. We had ANOTHER break in last week. I don’t want to come back from H’s graduation and find that someone uninvited has been in our house. I always feel so violated! And angry. And sad. And suspicious. And . . . STOP WORRYING!
Loosen up. Loosen up!
The pasties are smelling good. Cornish pasties. Miners used to eat them for lunch. That is why the crust is so big on the outside of the pie. They’d hold the pie there, eat the thing and then throw away the dirty crust. (Again, this is what I have heard.) I just put cubed beef and potato in mine. I had someone’s once who put in all her left-overs. Spinach, beans, carrots . . . really! Not a meat pie anymore! And definitely not Cornish, right Cornwall? Rutabaga (or turnip) — yes! But all that other stuff — no! Well, those pasties need to come out in a few minutes and it has been 20 minutes of solid writing, during which time I have been able to forget . . . oh, who am I kidding? I don’t feel any looser now than I did 22 minutes ago. BUT I did enjoy avoiding the packing. Because I HAD to write tonight!








Day One of Writing 101:  ASSIGNMENT:

To get started, let’s loosen up. Let’s unlock the mind. Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write.

Keep typing (or scribbling, if you prefer to handwrite for this exercise) until your twenty minutes are up. It doesn’t matter if what you write is incomplete, or nonsense, or not worthy of the “Publish” button.

And for your first twist? Publish this stream-of-consciousness post on your blog.