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Weekly writing challenge: Snapshots

Most (but not all!) of the photos I use on my blog are my husband’s. There was a time when we were quite competitive about our photography. I did it as part of my job and took mainly black and white while he took colour slides, but we’d still spend hours trying to out-do each other. When the babies came along I had so much kiddie-litter to carry I usually left the camera bag at home, and he stopped taking slides and switched to photos, because we never got to look at slides anymore. Which just goes to show how life dictates most of our decisions — so much for “free will”.

It’s only recently that I bought a digital camera and started over. I went for high speed, light weight and compact, because I’ve learnt that holding a camera actually distances me from what I’m watching. I miss stuff. Sometimes that can be an advantage. Watching my daughter compete in showjumping made me very nervous, but when you watch through the lens it makes all the difference. You kind of remove yourself from the scene.

Even though I’m using a camera again, I don’t put the same amount of effort into it that I did thirty years ago. I’d rather have less to carry and more time for my own mental snapshots. Which is why I rely on my husband to take those perfect shots. Although (as I said) not always.

So when it comes to mental snapshots, I have plenty, but I’m only going to describe three. My first is my earliest memory (I guess we all have one). In technicolour. I must have been in a pushchair because everything is much taller than me — the yellow and red cannas, the boys in khaki. It was either cadets or scouts. (So my mother tells me.) The second is in 1986. I’m standing outside on the lawn down by the sea with my baby son in my arms. It’s about three in the morning on the day he was christened and Halley’s comet is spread across the sky in front of me and I know that the next time he sees it he will be seventy and all I’ll be able to do is knock on the top of my coffin. And the third? A fish eagle flying over my head (from behind), the day before yesterday. And then, another one.

Innocents … lost

Daily Prompt: Close Call

Tell us about a bullet you’re glad you dodged — when something awful almost happened, but didn’t.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us CLOSE.

Life is a series of close calls. The “something awful” still happens, only not to you. It shocks us when friends and family don’t get it. For them “almost” has no meaning — it’s as if it never happened. For us it’s a reminder of our mortality. There’s no “relief” that we dodged the bullet, no gladness, only sadness and a vague guilt.

On the morning of August 7, 1998, we left our Nairobi hotel and headed for the city centre. Someone needed the bank, as one does on the verge of a trip into the wilderness where there’s nothing to spend money on within 100 km. I remember being vaguely irritated. Why now, in rush hour? They should have drawn money the day before. I think we double parked. The US Embassy was right next door. When at last we headed out of town to Mount Kenya, it must have been some time after 09:00 but certainly before 10:30. I can’t remember the exact time. All I know now is that at 10:30, 900 kg of TNT was detonated in a truck in the parking area behind the US Embassy, killing over 200 people and injuring thousands. The bank and the embassy took the brunt of the blast.

At the time we knew nothing of this. When, after ten days away, we emerged from the sanctitude of a mountain paradise, the national flag at the information centre was at half mast. It was our first indication of the tragedy. The nation was in mourning. We returned to Nairobi to find the city centre still a no-go area. The chaos was unbelievable.

At our Nairobi hotel, life went on, hustlers, businessmen, tourists, the usual rubbish, but all now empty, dark and desperate, because irreplaceable lives, routines, careers, futures were destroyed.

Nothing beats blogging

Daily Prompt: Playtime

Do you play in your daily life? What says “playtime” to you?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us PLAY.

For me, the best fun’s not found in playing with our pup
cycling through the Cradle of Mankind
walking the dogs down the dragReading Book
taking a horse for a hack
surviving Scrabble or
even swimming. For
me, nothing beats
blogging but
a good

Mother Nature’s no lady

Daily Prompt: Safety First

Share the story of a time you felt unsafe.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us SAFETY.


Safe but insecure, as the night burned on, we kept our distance, dully ashamed of our inability to do anything but watch from our tents. It was a nagging toothache of a fear — not for our own safety, but for the animals that were affected. The owners of Kalizo Lodge know how to fight veld fires. If the need arises they do take action, but most of these bush fires are left to burn themselves out. One trigger would have been to protect the unique colony of carmine breasted bee-eaters nearby. Over 5000 birds now nest in holes in the ground since their river bank was washed away by floods. Earlier that afternoon we’d watched them darting about and taking spiralling dives into the river. Even then the sky was grey with ash as the fire grew in intensity. By the following morning all that remained was a vast expanse of smouldering ashes, where once there had been thick bush and tall trees. It took days for the sky to regain its colour.

Flying Visits

Daily Prompt: Come Fly with Me

Share a story about the furthest you’ve ever traveled from home.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us TRAVELS.
The furthest I’ve been away from home?
I think that this deserves a poem.
My Buddhist friend gives me a smile
“The eternal present’s not a mile
away” he says “You’re always here
and now.” (We share another beer.)
But measured geographically
the furthest I have ever been
might come as something of a shock
to those of you who read this blog.
[Clue: wearing flowers in my hair,
I bought myself some wind chimes there.]
Not Shanghai, Perth or Timbuktu,
not Auckland, Rome or Kathmandu,
not Ireland, Wales or Edinburgh,
Québec, Toronto, London borough.
The furthest I have ever been
away from home was plus sixteen
thousand k’s from OR Tambo
(Joburg airport) in a jumbo.
Those rusty wind chimes I still own
came all the way from Chinatown,
not from the region of Beijing,
just genuine San Francisco bling.

Friendly ghosts

It started off as a very solemn occasion. On a visit home I decided to look up the family graves. My children were just old enough to be a little apprehensive about visiting a cemetery. My mother wasn’t keen, but humoured me, adamant that she knew exactly where to find the family “plot”. She didn’t.

At the first cemetery we were a little awed by so much emptiness. The fresh wreaths were sad, the dead flowers depressing. We spoke in hushed tones and tiptoed round the sacred mounds.

By the time we got to the third cemetery things had changed. Gravestones held no more terrors. The children leapfrogged over railings, chasing each other round the more ancient monuments. We began to enjoy our meanderings under the cypresses. Instead of a sad search, the outing became a kind of family romp as the chances of finding the family graves became ever more remote.

Each cemetery had a tale of its own, reflecting floods, subsidence, the changes in funeral fashions over the decades. I began to study the headstones, marvelling at the stories they revealed: the flu epidemic of the early 1900s, the different wars, nurses, soldiers, sweethearts, children, parents, fresh flowers at old graves, old flowers at new ones, the rich, the poor, the pillars of the community. It was no longer sad, just a reflection of society much as you’d find in any museum. I suspect the dead were glad to have us around.

It made me wonder how we could popularise cemeteries, encourage people to “use” them rather than avoiding them. There is something beautiful about old and weathered stone and trees, yet we relegate these special places and their memories to caretakers and hobos.

Isn’t collective memory important? When I finally gave up looking for my “own” graves and “found” all those others, I vicariously “remembered” people I never knew. Rather than leave bunches of flowers that wither and die, we could plant bulbs and corms to introduce a little colour, and turn the graveyard into some kind of community garden rather than an arid impersonal wilderness.

If I’d brought flowers with me on that day so long ago, I like to think I would have left them on the oldest most “unloved” grave that I could find.

Double trouble?

Daily Prompt: Food for the Soul (and the Stomach)
Tell us about your favorite meal, either to eat or to prepare. Does it just taste great, or does it have other associations?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us FOOD.

DO have some more, dearie!
No thank you!
Come on I KNOW you want some more!
No thank you …
But you end up with it on your plate anyway. Drives me mad, but it looks like I’m turning into one of them – those women with a compulsion to feed folk. Today, since I couldn’t fly over to the Philippines and feed the homeless, I settled for taking a veggie lasagne (my speciality) to a friend instead. Then I got home and started all over again with another batch for my family. (“Shame, hey” as we say in South Africa.) No, I’m not going to give you the recipe. (Actually, I don’t have a recipe.) BUT, today one of the ingredients was this cute little Siamese twin eggplant:
Which reminded me of this cute not-so-little Siamese twin carrot:
Which reminded me of a recent breakfast when every single one of six eggs in one box had a double yolk: DSC_7070
And, since I can’t give you a second helping (not that you’ve had a first helping) here’s a picture of my veggie lasagne instead (can’t help myself):