Bones, Branches, and a Lemur

Winter in the southern hemisphere gets down to the brass tacks of nature. The cold in Swaziland isn’t too harsh, but dry fields burn bright orange as wild fires blaze, scorching the earth to regenerate the soil.  Leaves are brittle and dry. Roads are dusty. Winds howl through the naked trees.

The heater in our old Landy works pretty well. It was not love at first sight, driving this old beast, but she has become a symbol of road trips and African adventure for our family. We recently journeyed to Ndlovu camp in Hlane Royal National Park. It has no electricity in its thatched huts called rondavels.  When you check in to get your key (that has no door number, just the name “Big Hut,” ) you see bones and skulls displayed of hippos, crocodiles, deer, and lions.

As we settled in, the late afternoon sun waIMG_0682s setting behind brambles, the light resembling stained glass. Encroaching darkness cast elephant-sized shadows all around, diminishing the details of our ambient room. A woman came by to light our kerosene lamps.Nightjars called, and a bright white crescent appeared with a billion sparkling stars. A bare tree, starkly silhouetted against the moon-lit  sky, had branches dotted with so many stars that they looked like snow flakes.

IMG_0759In the absence of electricity was a gorgeous quiet; no usual house hums of fridge or gadgets. It was so silent, in fact, that I heard a faint ringing in my ears.

I piled on the blankets and read a book by flashlight.

Close to midnight, there was rustling in the living room. I walked toward the noise with a lamp and saw a wild cat staring at me with big ears, a long, ringed tail, and spots. This was no kitty cat. I sort of scream-whispered, “Brad, wake up! There is a wild cat in here with spots!”…(One of those sentences in life you think you’ll never say) . “What IS IT?” Will it bite the baby?!“ is all I could squeak out.

After some harried discussion, we decided there was a lemur in our rondavel. (Techinically, this animal is called a genet, as we later learned). As my husband says, he “thought when we closed the door to our hut, we were keeping the wildlife out.”

In the end, our furry visitor was harmless and crept his way back out into the night through a hole in our thatched roof.  And the rondavel was peaceful once again.

Be Illumined this month, and may nothing dim your light,

Tracy

 

A Swaziland Season: Things to Remember

IMG_9167Our family has six months left here in Mbabane. There are so many things I want to remember. “There is such vibrancy of life here,” my husband says. I nod my head.

IMG_5972Swaziland can be so beautiful that it makes you stand still in awe. I never tire of taking in the sight of lush green mountains and big, beautiful flowering trees that surround us, or watching the way light filters through wide banana leaves.

Life here is slower, and teaches us to be more patient. I am grateful for the stillness of early morning, when I can see both the moon and the sun, and dew glistens on the flowers.

IMG_7093Sometimes, rain falls so hard it sounds like drums on the ground, blurring the lines of the mountains and landscape. It washes out roads. Fog envelops our house, its milky swirls obscuring the windows.  Then, skies clear to reveal a gorgeous rainbow, followed by bright, burning sun.

IMG_7865In Malkerns, I overheard these directions: ” Just go down Rainbow Road until you pass all of the chickens where the pineapples are.” I don’t know where that leads, but the description made me want to go there, too.

I’ve discovered how colorful (and funny-looking) birds, lizards, butterflies and grasshoppers can be, right here in our yard (and sometimes in the house). And how animals are cheeky, like the time a monkey took our toast.

And how a stick is not just a branch, but can be used to stir a pitcher of juice, to start a fire, build a home or a market stall.  A stick can become a child’s toy, assistance for walking up hills, or provide protection from wild dogs.IMG_7388I want to hold the images in my mind of:  The emanating smiles and joy of people here, who have so. very. little. Women in dresses working in the fields, babies blanketed to their backs. Hope House_MacdonaldBarefoot cyclists,truck beds crowded with workers braving the elements, children herding cows, wheelbarrows so full of logs, children and heavy loads, one wonders how it doesn’t topple over. Men wearing ski hats in very hot weather. Earth and stone houses with corrugated tin roofs. Tall, spindly Century Trees, and flat, spreading umbrella Acacias. Bone dry river beds, til the rains come.  Men sitting in the dirt by the road, wearing animal fur headbands and loin cloths.  Grilling corn and meat on the roadside- the fire even burns in the rain- not sure how they do it. Burning orange sunsets. And the popping colors of markets.

IMG_4898Hearing the clicking sounds interspersed in lilting siSwati language. Listening to our son speak Zulu. Roosters, peacocks, songbirds, crickets, people singing in the distance, horns and happy cheers at football (soccer) games.  The silence.

I love that our gardener eschewed a mole in our garden by smashing fresh ginger and garlic into a paste on a rock, mixed the paste with water, and poured it into all of the holes. ( It worked!  Who needs pesticide and chemicals)?

I also love that we can pick bananas, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, and avocados right outside. And how delicious the mangoes are here. The salty taste of biltong and the rich, melting flavor of braised oxtail.

We don’t take it for granted that we drive 15 minutes from home and see Zebras. And check the hot springs for crocs before going for a swim.IMG_9146IMG_3985

 

 

 

 

There are so many bits of magic that I hope we can remember to hold in our hearts.

“Let yourself be living poetry.”  -Rumi

IMG_6899

ngiyabonga,

Tracy

Days of Delineation

img_0406.jpgThere are those unexpected days in life when something momentous happens: you wake up and go about your day, then suddenly life hands you a gift that alters your journey.  This gift might come quietly, or it might enter like a dramatic storm of lightning, thunder, and hail.  As Paul Coelho says in his book, Brida, “sometimes …blessings arrive by shattering all the windows.”  Perhaps someone introduces you to a book, film, or music that makes a great impact, or you meet an amazing new friend, get that job offer, or find out you won the prize. Or, in our case, you find out you are moving to a new country.

A year from today we will be leaving Swaziland to live in Cairo, Egypt. I’ve never been there, but I envision camels, pyramids, souks, sailing on the Nile, and diving in the Red Sea. Exploring amazing history and visiting museums and ancient cities. Learning some Arabic, meeting new friends, and tasting exotic new foods. It’s exciting and daunting. We’ll be moving from a small town on the African continent to one inhabited by almost 20 million people! The possibilities of adventures and experiences are endless.

Wishing for you something unexpected in 2015 that brightens your journey.

Carpe Diem,

Tracy

.

Your Time Here Has Expired…

gratitude

Frustrated from an afternoon of struggling with back-to-back “terrible two’s” episodes with our toddler, I enlisted the housekeeper’s help and left to get groceries. I didn’t need much at the store, actually. It was more just to get out; a motherhood break to catch my breath and re-gain composure.  (Do other people run errands when they don’t need to)?

Driving down the highway, I glanced left to see what I thought was initially a bundle of clothes, but then did a double-take to see a man face-down, dead on the side of the road. My mouth agape in shock and awe, I could hardly register what I was seeing. Relieved to see a cop behind me (we were the only cars around), I watched him drive right by, not slowing or turning on sirens, or even turning off on the next exit, as if he had seen a dead deer on the road instead.

I re-played this over and over in my mind all day. When I recounted this to a Swazi friend, he simply said,  ” You are in Africa. This is not a humane place,” which did not put my mind at ease. 

On the last morning of that man’s life, I wonder if he did anything out of the ordinary? If he knew somehow that his time would expire that day?  This quick shift of perspective certainly made me stop and realize how much I take for granted, and erased any complaints and negativity in my head.

I retreated into my thoughts for a few days, formulating question after question. If this were my last day, what would I do differently? Am I leaving anything left unsaid or undone that I would regret? Why do I fritter my time away? There is so much I want to accomplish and learn and explore in this life- what am I waiting for? Why do I pick up toys when I could be squeezing that baby more and doing fun things instead?

And, ultimately, why does it take such a rude awakening to refocus on the important things?  Time seemed to stop that day. In a pondering daze, I sought solace in being outdoors. I watched birds perched  gracefully on a thin branch, bobbing in the wind; a metaphor for the delicate balance of life.

When my internal compass gets thrown off, I try to:

Remember to Breathe. Surrender. Let Go.
Find quiet time for creativity to incubate.
Practice Gratitude.
Spend more time connecting with friends and family.
Play music and do some yoga stretches or dance.
Seek out the beauty in the small things.
Be still and listen.
Take a bubble bath.
Bake something to make the house smell good.
Sit outdoors in the sunshine.
Make tea and read something inspirational.
Start an art project.
Focus on the fun, not the fear.

What do you do  when life throws you off-kilter?

Carpe Diem, friends. Go and enjoy THIS AMAZING LIFE.
Tracy

Africa Burning and Nature Treasure Hunts

IMG_4024

Mbabane Mountain Fires at Night

The arrival of winter in Swaziland has brought dry, strong winds, brown mountainsides, and the beginning of “burning,” a winter tradition of setting fire to the fields, leaves, and brush to promote regrowth, get rid of trash, and decrease crime. (It gets dark early this season, and people walking get mugged (or worse) from criminals hiding in tall grasses, so I’m told). They even burn right along side the highway, flames licking the sides of the road,  billowing smoke thick like fog.

It’s an eerie, but beautiful sight to see hills glowing orange at night, red-orange sparks flying up into the sky.  But the smoke…. oh, the smoke. It fills our house, our nose, burns our throat and eyes. If someone will teach me a real rain dance, I will happily partake. Dust and soot is on everything, and ashes blow in clumps up to doors and window screens.

Fires get out of control quickly with the whipping breeze. Amazingly, the fire trucks have no water, but rather, firefighters use what look like rubber rakes to stomp out the flames. It’s actually quite effective, but some houses in town have been burned to the ground, an understood risk this time of year.

It has become a hobby for our toddler to look for fires and point them out, and he likes to say, “look! fire! ‘moke!”  On the bright side, there is gorgeous sun that brings warm days. When the smoke subsides, we venture out to finger paint or treasure hunt in nature for shapes, patterns, colors, bugs, baby tomatoes, and camouflaged animals. And to find our shadows and wave hello.

Here’s to finding inspiration where you can, and less fires for all of us,

Tracy

Johannesburg and Capetown Travelogue

Hello there!

Hope your weekend is going well.  We haven’t had internet in a long while in Swaziland, so while I have WiFi at a hotel, I’m posting saved drafts of thoughts and travels.  I would love your comments and feedback if you have time. Have you ever been to these places? We especially loved the vibe, food, and friendliness (and panoramic views of mountains and ocean) in Capetown.  Happy Travels! – Starry

Johannesburg Highlights:
Nelson Mandela Square and nearby cafes
Michelangelo Hotel
Neighborgood Market
Arts and Crafts Market in Sandton
Great coffee shops
Quirky, trendy, fun decor of 44 Stanley Avenue enclave
Good Book Shops and Thai Food

Capetown Highlights:
Palm-lined streets (without potholes)
Rooftop terrace of our beautiful little Waterkant Village flat
Watching Ramsay take in aquatic life at the Aquarium
Discovery of Caroline Gibello’s Art Gallery (love her wildlife images and collage- worth clicking on the link to watch a 2 minute video that will make you fall in love with Africa)
Green Market Square
Simon’s Town penguin viewing
Gorgeous beaches and views of Kalk Bay, Hermanus, Camp’s Bay,  and Hout Bay
Stellenbosch wine country and Spier Vineyard tasting
Creative Block art project
Cable Car 3,000 feet up to Table Mountain
Coastal Road to Cape of Good Hope (almost made it to the end of the peninsula, but had to turn around due to a massive brush fire)
Delicious Seafood
Boats and restaurants along the Waterfront
Long strolls with ice cream cones
Hearing Drums and Finding Shells at the Beach (and our son dancing to Hare Krishnas’ tambourine shaking as they fluttered by)

Seeing Beauty and the Beast With Crooked Blue Glasses

IMG_4223

     When I pulled my favorite blue sunglasses out of my purse today, I noticed they looked bent. When I put them on, the frame was crooked.  “What an analogy for life sometimes,” I thought, “seeing things a little blue and off-kilter.” There are simply those days when, even as someone who strives to be positive and look for the silver lining, enough negativity seeps in through struggles of friends and family and shocking world events that it’s hard to look on the bright side.

     Do you find that sometimes more information is not necessarily better? (This is why I stopped watching the daily morning news before arming myself with coffee and a hot shower). Why let stories sensationalized with fear and disaster shape the beginning of a beautiful day? I can read all that later in the day once I’ve found my footing.

     Especially, lately, as we connect with neighbors and colleagues, and learn more about the community around us, we are discovering a very dark side of Africa. She is the dichotomy of Beauty and the Beast. In particular, Swaziland is a beautiful country, but its citizens are not empowered. Kids have to bribe corrupt employers with their only savings to get a job. Women have little voice. There are very real accounts of car accidents from treacherous roads, deaths from malaria, abject poverty, unnecessary loss of life due to lack of training and equipment at local clinics, child victimization and horrifying witch-doctor, black magic rituals involving cannibalism in the forest. Stories so incomprehensibly awful that it sounds like savagery from the Middle Ages or something out of Joseph Conrad’s  novel, Heart of Darkness (basis for the film “Apocalypse Now”).

      Is this possibly happening, really happening in villages just kilometers from our house? In 2014? It will scare the hell out of you, and make you feel frustrated with third-world solutions; defeated that so much is broken, you don’t know where to start.

     Deeply disturbing “muti” killings are frequently reported here; a kind of ritualistic religion, where body parts are harvested to gain power, wisdom, and good luck. This especially happens before elections. (If this sounds like I am making this up, there are plenty of newspaper articles to read, such as this one): http://www.iol.co.za/dailynews/news/swazi-albinos-fear-muti-killings-before-elections-1.1521290#.U1tVQcfYUwg

     This is when trying to understand cultural differences is vital in order to feel sane. Priests visit schools to exorcise demons of possessed children with “many heads.” Natives with AIDS are told to bring a chicken to the village doctor, who slits the chicken’s throat and waves it in circles above their head to heal them. And they believe in it. Believe it works. Or they think sleeping with a virgin gets rid of HIV, even in the face of so much good education from NGO’s and AID organizations here.  Thank goodness for the doctors, missionaries, leaders, and volunteers who are driven and determined to help. They must have to constantly keep perspective, focusing on saving lives when they can, and making a difference for the greater good of humanity where they can. I applaud them.

     I wonder how they don’t throw their hands up in despair and give up, but then I see a joyful child who has nothing, waving and smiling with light and innocence that melts your heart. And the genuine peacefulness and friendliness of the Swazi people, the potential of this country, and its gorgeous, breathtaking views. At the end of the day,  there is more good than evil that surrounds us, more hope than defeat. More beauty than beast.

Keep perspective out there,

Starry

The (other) Mosquito Coast and Crocodile Bridge

Historically, people think of Nicaragua and Honduras as the mosquito coast, but Africa has its share of mosquitoes and malaria zones; Maputo and Komatipoort being two of those. Below are the initial impressions of these vastly different cities.

We crossed the border from quiet Swaziland into Mozambique, and the sidewalks were bustling with people and activity.  Wood-framed stalls were stacked side by side like a crooked house of cards.  Inside: mufflers, clothes, fruit, bags of cashew nuts (yum), tires, lumber, and bric-a-brac galore.

Trucks were filled with green bananas, and women balanced buckets of grapes on their head, scissors dangling on a string to cut off the plump clusters. Tractors wobbled slowly down the road, passed by fast-whizzing cars that do not stop at “robots” (stop lights) or stop signs. The polarity of rich and poor in the capital city of Maputo is glaring.  Beautiful, old-world hotels dot blocks of buildings that are dilapidated and beyond repair.

Maputo is a town heavily influenced by its Portuguese origins, but is a buzzing meld of cultures. Our summer visit there was a heady mix of sublime Caipirinhas (a drink of sugar cane, lime, and rum), hot sun, anti-malaria medicine, and delicious food. It also has its share of crime. We parked on the street to board a ferry to nearby Catembe Island, and gone only an hour, we returned to a stolen review mirror.

A few hours by car in a different direction, the terrain completely changes, along with the ambiance. In the peaceful, tiny town of Komatipoort, we spent the night on the other side of Crocodile River from Kruger National Park.  Rarely am I wide awake and giddy at 5:45am, but crossing Crocodile Bridge to begin a day of safari, I was overwhelmed with anticipation.

I had never seen an elephant in the wild until that day, and it really is something to behold. Elephants are not just intelligent, but expressive and emotional. They mourn and bury members of their beloved herd, and they celebrate the birth of a baby elephant with joy.

It was an amazing day of collecting bits of knowledge about animals and the bush, and witnessing nature at its finest. The light changed frequently and was beautiful to watch, moving from bright and sunny to foreboding clouds that cast long, dark shadows, then the golden light of late afternoon appeared, illuminating the trees and grasses. Favorite images:

Sometimes the best part is back at the lodge, at the end of a full day, listening to dinner conversation. And as a response to the question, “What’s all the fuss about? It’s an elephant,” I would quote something a great friend sent: “Don’t forget to stop and be grateful for the ordinary.”  I guess locals forget that seeing wildlife like this is not an ordinary experience for most. For some (like me), this is the stuff of Hemingway novels. I suppose for others, it’s just another crocodile story… ”

IMG_4411Enjoy the journey,

Starry

The Nectar and Nuances

One of the best things about the African continent is the opportunity to drink in interesting details all around you, all of the time.  I’m not much of an insect person (mostly try to encourage them to stay outdoors), but pretty patterns on a moth’s wings caught my attention this week:IMG_4133other observations that held me captive:

A baby sleeping peacefully on top of tomatoes under a fruit stall umbrella

Mist that swiftly blankets the mountainside with a ghostly white veil

The distinct flavor of Southern African “red bush”  Rooibos tea

The expression “I am long in the tooth”  (relating to age and wisdom)

Afternoon soft, yellow light that falls below the cloud line, back-lighting the trees

IMG_1847

Local children staring right at me, not breaking eye contact, and without expression; just looking

And children at the library, touching my hair and saying “so soft, so soft”

On the side of the road in the pouring rain, vendors patiently waiting to sell mobile phone minutes under a thin, unhelpful yellow umbrella

(Also on the side of the road: livestock, men grilling corn, and children running with long sticks pressed inside of tires, racing and laughing as they rolled them down the road)

Iridescent purple hummingbirds drinking nectar from luminous and large, orange blossoms

And when I asked my husband one evening why he wasn’t reading the book he’d brought outdoors, he said, ” I feel like I’d be missing out, not staring at the horizon.”

Sala kahle (be well),

Starry

Marvelous Moments

IMG_3828

Reading through my journal, 2014 has already brought so many wonderful new experiences.  Our time living abroad feels like life is on fast-forward,  so we really try to be present and feel thankful for these kinds of moments:

  • sampling new  Swazi and South African dishes: impala, pap, warthog, and ox tail
  • the moving, resonant, and harmonic voices of just six people attending an evening church service; their sound burst through the silence with gorgeous, powerful, a cappella song that filled the room
  • A hippo and crocodile cruise in St. Lucia’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and sleeping under mosquito netting in a cabin that feels like you’re in the jungle
  • the concept of the lodge “honesty bar, ” where you drink what you like in an outside lounge area, write it down, and get charged when you check out
  • playing with our toddler in tidal pools formed by the  Indian Ocean, watching the joy of his daily discoveries, wonderment of life, and reminders to all of us to be child-like and PLAY
  • fragrant Victoria St. Market in Durban; a maze of beaded sandals, wooden carvings clothing, jewelry, painted ostrich eggs, and woven baskets
  • being treated like family at a coffee roaster in a litchi orchard in Salt Rock, South Africa, where they are “mad for a gorgeous cuppa”
  • the adrenaline rush and phenomenal views from a first micro flight over Ballito
  • Driving on highway R541 called “The Genesis Route,” tied to the origins of our planet and the idea that all humans share an African heritage. 3.5 billion-year-old rocks in Makhonjwa mountain range are amongst the most ancient in the world. (let that sink in for a second. Wow, right)?
  • Discovering Vetiver grass roots, which smell divine, and loving the beautiful nests into which the roots are woven
  • Visiting Jane Goodall’s Chimp Eden, a bit disappointed not to have time for a tour, but then heading back to the car and spotting a group of  giraffes (called a “tower,” which seems aptly named, as they do tower, and grandly so).  Just free roaming, wild and out in the open.  Stunning.