Wednesday, May 20, 2015

water is life

FROG HOSPITAL -- May 20, 2015
Water is Life
By Fred Owens
I wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Santa Barbara Independent with the headline Water is Life.  The piece is about the dramatic -- triple -- increase in water rates for local farmers. Read the piece and find out how the farmers are doing.

The Goleta Water District, where I live and work, is just north of Santa Barbara city. The district covers 29,000 acres and 87,000 people live here, served by 16,000 water meters with 270 miles of pipe. We have had roughly HALF the normal rainfall in the past four years, which is what they call a drought. And that means people in our district -- commercial, residential and agricultural -- will be paying more money for less water. No one likes that. Everyone will get hit, but I reserve a bit of pity for the five directors of the water district.
These poor people on the water board -- five dedicated citizens who took a low-paying position some years ago in a quiet agency without the usual public clamor -- are about to become the focus of controversy. They are the bearers of bad news. They are compelled to introduce regulations and restrictions on water usage and proclaim Thou Shall Not Do This and Thou Shall Not Do That.
And those directors did not climb on to the board of the Water District because they wanted to wield such power, they only hoped to be quiet bureaucrats. Oh well.
California is singing the blues, a tune called Brown Lawns and Dusty Cars. But don't count us out. Gleeful East Coast media big shots are singing our swan song, saying California is done for, but they will be disappointed, because we're going to pull through this. We will surprise you, We will endure, We will invent, We will adapt and We will flourish.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

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Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

Monday, May 18, 2015

Ernest the Garden Boy looked after the vegetables at our romantic retreat on Airport Road. This was when we first met and before we rented the house.

You see his face how it becomes a mask, as I drew it with more abstraction. You see African art, especially the masks, and they don't look like real people until you must realize that they are real people, as you can see from these drawings and from the photo.

"Boy" is a term that is forbidden and even illegal in describing an African man, but there is one clear exception and that always puzzled me. The man who lived in the back of the house and looked after the yard was called a Garden Boy, and it was not a very respectable occupation, as if the fellow could do little useful work so he could occupy himself in the garden.

So we see Ernest, who held himself in low esteem......

But I liked him and wished for him to show courage and strength. A better life for all the garden boys through out Africa and the world!

The typical garden in Bulawayo grew corn and chemolios -- chemolios were a kind of collard green that did not bolt in the strong sun, but simply grew higher up the stalk and you could always go out and pull a few leaves to boil and serve as a relish alongside your sadza. Sadza was the main dish -- corn meal porridge made very stiff.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

An African man is happy. He can relax in his kraal the whole day. His mother spoils him. His sister cooks and cleans. His wife works in the field. His daughter watches the baby...... The African man smiles and drinks a beer.

This man is Jerry Thebe, a Tswana man  -- he lives in Botswana, so he is a Tswana man. This is his kraal, where his large family lives. Jerry was my good friend the whole time in Bulawayo. He lived in the garden boy's shed in the back of our house. The shed was a small brick building, complete with toilet, shower, sink and electricity  -- very decent but simple.

Jerry's mother and father owned the house we rented, and Jerry lived in the shed in the back yard. He was always kind and gentle and happy. He cooked his small dinner on a hot plate. He washed his clothes in a bucket. He listened to the radio and studied computers at night.

Then sometimes he would leave Bulawayo and go to his country home in Botswana, where we see him in this photo, where his mother spoiled him and his sister brought him his beer. An African man is happy.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

It was all about the money -- the journey to Africa in 1997,  the house in Zimbabwe, shown here with me standing in the front yard, and then me sitting with my wife in the living room of that same house,  and the two of us standing in the back yard in a pose of domestic harmony as the sun quickly dried the laundry.

My spinster aunt died and left me and her other nieces and nephews some money  -- more than I expected, money I had not earned and did not deserve, so I went to Africa and shared the wealth. 

My funds never actually entered the Dark Continent  -- that would have been a bad mistake. Capital that flows into Zimbabwe does not flow out. It becomes imprisoned and subject to difficult restrictions.

I kept my account at the bank in Wilmette, Illinois, and withdrew funds as needed by the use of the local branch of Barclay's in Zimbabwe.

The bank manager, Mr. Moyo, was a Shona man, a political appointee, a well-dressed and over-fed man who knew nothing about banking, who was almost proud of his ignorance. "I am the manager of this bank. I have the power. That is all I need to know."

The teller, a nice young man in a crisply ironed white shirt, had difficulty adding and subtracting numbers. He did not inspire confidence. He looked at my credit card and withdrawal slip as if it were blinding fireworks from outer space. The look on his face was childish. I recounted the money in front of him,  to my satisfaction and his.

My observation was that Africans are not financially skilled, and for that reason they have very little money. That is a judgment I could easily make about myself, to be fair.  People who are good at earning money tend to be good at keeping it as well. I am not one of those people.

Money that goes to Africa leaves very quickly, almost instantly, to be installed in a Swiss bank. Or money that goes to Africa does not get stolen, it evaporates -- this is astounding, but the money actually dissolves and disappears from the earth, not even enriching the thieves who run the government..


Mr. Moyo, the Barclay's bank manager, was a Shona man. The Shona are the dominant tribe in Zimbabwe and control all the high offices and corporate positions. I would have to go into tribal politics to explain how that works. Leave it that Mr. Moyo did not need to know anything about banking, but he did need to know the right people.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

But the Africa of your dreams was in Kezi, an hour's drive from Bulawayo. This is Aunt Jennifer's kraal, or compound. One house for cooking, one house for sleeping, one house for storage, one house for brewing beer. I have a wonderful portrait of Aunt Jennifer, but I will save that for another time. Today, we can look at her home, and see how quiet and still it is. Notice the bare earth, ye drought-stricken Californians. No lawn, no flowers, only the bare and swept earth. There was a patch of corn and vegetables in another place, and some chickens, and too many goats.
I had a farm in Africa. It was really more of a small plot, and to say I owned it would be saying too much. To say that I presided over it for a season or two -- that would be right. Here I strike a pose of sovereignty in the front yard. Notice -- you drought-stricken Californians -- that there is no lawn, only the bare sun-baked red-clay. The lady of the house swept the yard with her twig broom every few days, while I tended to the geraniums and poinsettias. Our address was 21 Shottery Cresecent, in the district of Southwold, in the city of Bulawayo, in the country of Zimbabwe.

This was a very sturdy house, with excellent plumbing and hardwood floors. We grew vegetables and herbs in the back yard. The telephone worked, most of the time.

Los Caballeros, the singing gentlemen of Mexico, lead us -- lead me, anyway -- to our revered guide and mother, Frida Kahlo, and her fantastical journey to Africa, sometimes known as the Dark Continent. There, in Africa, she came to explore hidden regions of her psyche, regions that were not made explicit in her renowned self-portraits, but are known to us few Cabalistos, and now made known to you, if you have the eyes -- no, not the eyes, you cannot see them with the eyes -- if you have the sense to see them in their own light.

La Golondrina

La Golondrina  sung by Los Caballeros

Part 17 in a continuing series -- "Men Don't Know How to Express Their Feelings"

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Quietly, in the country

Quietly, in the countryside, built of earth, here is Aunt Jennifer's shebeen. See the cow horns over the door  -- part of some magic tribal ritual? Or maybe she just put them up there because they looked right. You have to ask her about that.

See the remains of a fire in the middle of the court -- when the men gather at night under the stars to drink corn beer, they build a fire.  This hut is Aunt Jennifer's brew house. Out in the Reserve, some 70 miles from Bulawayo, down a dirt road, out past all the modern ways........ See the shadow in the foreground of the photo -- that is the entrance....Come in and have a drink of corn beer. Aunt Jennifer will serve it to you, and when the beer is all gone, everybody goes home..... This is such a quiet place. Look at this photo and what do you hear? No more than the sound of the wind.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

I am white, from the islands of Spain. There came my mothers and fathers to Mexico.

I am Aztec, Toltec, Mixtec, I descend from the ancient pyramids.

I am the conqueror from across the sea with my sword and my stinking beard.

I am the native born, my ancestors came from the steaming vents of a volcano, spit forth like molten rock.

I am the Pope's servant.
I am the goddess herself.
I am all that you see.
I am invisible.
I am white, a princess from the misty isles with a crown of jewels and diamonds. I live in a rain swept castle by the stormy sea. My touch is golden. I heal the sick and give alms to the poor people. My skin is soft like milk. I give fat sons to my kingdom. I will always be young. I will never die.

I am black, from Africa. Some days I look in the mirror and I wish I was white. I wish my skin was not so dark. I wish my nose was fine and my lips were thin and my hair was lanky and soft. But I am not a princess. Who will love me?


Princess Diana was loved and adored in her visits to Africa.  She was wildly popular, and her sudden death in 1997 was a moment of deep tragedy for African people. She will always be young.

Frida Kahlo, since her death in 1954, has been a spectral presence in the land of Meso-America, but of recent memory she has been seen in grottoes, in ancient caves dripping with cool water, in magical places throughout the mother of all lands -- Africa.

Precious Mataka, the African woman,  in her own way a princess and spirit figure, looked in the mirror one day and saw her doubts and saw what she was not and saw what she desired but did not have. In that way she is like all the rest of us, having a moment of weakness.