Monday, July 27, 2015

African Wedding

FROG HOSPITAL -- July 26, 2015 -- unsubscribe anytime
Zimbabwe, 1997
By Fred Owens

​An African Wedding. The bride and her brothers stand with the groom -- that is -- me. Precious has changed from her bridal gown to a festive red dress. Uncle Smiley is striking a pose by leaning with cousin Tanti.

It seems we are discussing the serious midlife question of marriage. Last week it was Kansas, 1976, and my first wife when I was 30 This week it is Zimbabwe, 1997, and my second wife when I was 51.
I was completely serious about marriage. In all my youthful rebellion against authority -- against the Church, the Corporation, the University and the Government -- in all that rebellion I never questioned marriage, but always believed it was just the way it was supposed to be, that a man and a woman should belong to each other and love each other their whole lives and have children, and if the man and the woman loved each other completely, then the children would be just fine.
I always believed that because that's how I grew up. My father loved my mother  -- things were as they should be. So some day I would do the same.
Twice. I got married twice. I had such an unshakable belief, but really a trust -- I trusted that I would choose the right woman. It could not possibly choose wrongly because my intentions were so good and true.
I'm tired of apologizing for this. It's what I did. And what I did was the best I could do. I got married. Completely, body and soul, binding, under the full force of the law, man and wife.

African wedding customs agreed with my own attitude. In Africa there is no concept of being single. It just doesn't exist. Everyone is married, and often. The idea of any solitary existence is simply too strange for Africans to understand.

Indoda is the word for man and the word for husband. A man is a husband and a father or he is not a man. Umfazi is the word for woman and wife. A woman is a wife and mother or she is not a woman.
People get married in Africa. It's as natural as getting out of bed in the morning.
I wore a suit with a red tie. She wore full-dress Western-style bridal gown, rented. We  had a cake and champagne afterward, a reception with lots of food and beverages.  Zimbabweans get married in a modern style and do not put on a tribal dance for the tourists.
Fifty Matakas came to our house on the wedding day -- all cousins and aunties, brothers, sisters, and a few friends. Precious didn't really have many friends -- just tons of relatives. Fifty Matakas and me.
I was so glad that Lieutenant Jones showed up, a neighbor, an officer in the Zimbabwe National Army. He was a colored man and he stood for me  -- the Best Man. Jones was half-white himself -- about the color of Barack Obama -- and had that same even temperament.
The Matakas came to the house and the rented car waited in the driveway and Precious put on her beautiful white gown and veil.
The wedding party was small. Lt. Jones drove the car. Mr. Mataka took the honored front seat. Precious and I and her cousin Tanti squeezed into the back seat.
We drove downtown, ten minutes from the house, to the office of an Indian travel agent, but he was also a Justice of the Peace and he kept a richly furnished wood-panelled court room upstairs, where the vows were spoken and the documents were signed.
And then we drove back to the house. I was in a state of shock.
Did we actually do that?   I was so glad Lt. Jones was there, otherwise I was all alone in a sea of fifty Matakas.
Jones' wedding advice was clear -- "You must move far away because the Matakas have a very large family. You cannot feed them, they will use all your money and you will become poor."
This is exactly what happened -- we did not move far enough away. The Matakas used all my money and I became poor, but it took seven years and I don't want to get into that. I'm trying to write a happy story -- the union of America and Africa -- a bridge of understanding and love.

The wedding day was marvelous. Everyone was happy and I was proud of my house and my new family. Finally everybody left, piling into Mr. T's overloaded pickup truck and Precious and I were left alone with a bottle of brandy to face the future.

And there was love, but the understanding never came.



--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I'm tired of apologizing for this. It's what we did. And what we did was the best we could do. We got married. Completely, body and soul, binding, under the full force of the law, man and wife.

In Africa there is no concept of being single. It just doesn't exist. Everyone is married, and often. The idea of any solitary existence is simply too strange for Africans to understand. You mean, you want to be alone?

Indoda is the word for man and the word for husband. A man is a husband and a father or he is not a man. Umfazi is the word for woman and wife. A woman is a wife and mother or she is not a woman.













Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It could be the weather -- hot and muggy and I am tired and I don't feel like doing anything except lie on the couch with the fan on, or go to some air-conditioned coffee shop and read a book.

It could be I'm tired of this story. When I look at these photos I see it was a happy time, our engagement party in February of 1997. She was happy and so was I, but now I cannot feel that happiness....... Who is she? Who are those people in the photos? I seem to not know them anymore.

I have been writing this story for several months now, planning all the time for this crescendo at the end --- the engagement party, then the wedding itself six months later, and then the journey to Malawi to visit her ancestral village.

I plan to end  with her coming to America, to conclude with a photo of her standing in a field of tulips outside of LaConner, joined by Pat and Kevin Paul's daughter. That is where the story will end  -- when Precious arrives in America.

But I feel like I am hurrying through it, just to get the story finished.

These photos, these people -- this was her life, and my life. Every day was valuable and we squandered so much time doing nothing.

I remember I used to sit on the front steps of our rented home in Bulawayo -- the concrete steps were so smooth because they were frequently waxed and polished.

Precious  often waxed and polished the floor, and then swept the hard-clay yard with a twig broom. She was proud of her cleanliness, and I loved it.

I would sit on the front steps, with a cup of coffee during the day, just sit there and watch the street, although nobody ever came down the street, or seldom came down the street and always walking slowly.

There was a way people walked slowly in Africa. Mr. Mataka explained it to me. He would say -- see that man walking quickly, he has a car, he only walks a little way so he walks fast. But see that other man with the long legs and walking very slowly. He has no car. He walks all day long, so he walks slowly.

Instantly I could see the difference, so I would sit on the front step of my rented house in Bulawayo and watch people walking by, wasting my life that way, thinking about things I would never do.

I could never stop thinking. I did not have that exalted ambition.

That was 18 years ago. Today I write this in the living room of my girl friend's home in Santa Barbara wondering who these people are and why they are so happy.




































Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kansas, 1976


Kansas, 1976
By Fred Owens


The car broke down and we found a campsite on the Smoky Hill River just outside of Lindsborg, Kansas. It was July, 1976, and we were newlyweds. The Travel All was not a reliable vehicle, as we found out, and it broke down. So there we were in Kansas and it was hot.
I had a world view that all the earth was sacred, not just the pretty places. Not just snow-capped mountains and towering trees, lush landscapes, rushing rivers and beautiful islands  -- all that from the Skagit Valley in Puget Sound where I had spent some time, but now crossing the Plains and seeing the flat, featureless landscape, not pretty enough for a post card, and never going to be "saved," or cherished as it should be cherished. 

My father taught me to dance with all the girls not just the pretty ones, and don't act like you're doing anybody a favor either, he said. I transferred that thinking from girl friends to landscapes  -- to see the beauty in all things.
That made Kansas in July all right -- hot, flat and square as it was.
So when the Travel All broke down we camped by the river, and then we walked into Lindsborg, about 3,000 people surrounded by wheat fields, sunflowers and a big blue sky. Lindsborg seemed good enough and we found work, first at a diner. We spent three days scrubbing grease off the walls and going under the counters, as the owner of the diner was glad to find some awful chore that we might do for him and we got a bit of cash to hold us over.
Then we found jobs at a small factory that made aluminum windows -- about twenty people worked there. They had a simple foundry that melted the aluminum ingots and then squeezed the lava into an extruder that made long lengths of window frames.
The outside air temperature approached 100 degrees on most days, and it was very hot inside the factory, but it was a spacious facility with tall ceilings and wide garage doors that let in the fresh air. It was tolerable and not toxic.
There were maybe 10 people on the assembly line. We made windows for apartment projects in Wichita and other big cities. so we would make like 50 of one size, then 100 of another size, and so on, filling orders. They cut aluminum lengths into the right size and stamped them into a frame, then sent them down to me. I was the glass cutter.
That's where they put the new guy because you could get hurt handling large panes of glass, although I never imagined I would get hurt and I never did get hurt. I didn't even wear gloves. I handled hundred of panes of glass and broke a lot of glass doing so. I found out quickly that they didn't care if I broke any glass. All they cared about was could I speed up and stay with the line as the frames came by.
I worked on a big table. Grab the frame off the line, then grab a pane of glass to fit over the frame, then scribe it twice by hand and break off the overlapping part of the glass. Then put the frame with glass back on the line and grab the next empty frame. Do it fast a thousand times, and if you break any glass, just toss it in this bin. Fast is all that mattered.
It was the most boring job I ever had in my whole life although I can't complain about the people. The supervisor was a nice guy. We had coffee breaks and lunch breaks  and we sat outside on the grass in the shade of a tree. Got paid better than minimum wage.
Writing this 39 years later, I think it was easier to get started in life in 1976. We camped. We found jobs. We got paid. Then we rented a small apartment. Just like that. Instant family. Mom and Dad.
I paid money to get the Travel All fixed. I liked that vehicle but it did not like me. It would not serve, but we drove it as we could. Sometimes in the evening, when it was cooler, we drove out to Coronado Heights -- a small hill, but in Kansas this was the biggest hill for a hundred miles and when you drove up to the top you could see a long way in every direction  -- solid wheat fields and a big, big horizon. Soft breezes on a summer evening. It was said, not proven, that Coronado, the Spanish conquistador, came here in his journey across Kansas in 1541.
We rented an apartment in back of the Swedish Bakery. It was a red-brick  building, had been a shop or a garage, converted for living with a functional bathroom, a kitchen area and a painted cement floor. It was like a large studio apartment with a high ceiling. It kind of looked like the factory where we worked, only smaller. The alley was clean of garbage but full of weeds and tall grass. This was actually a good feature -- the lack of garbage and the tall slovenly weeds -- made it kind of homey.
And we could walk into the back door of the Swedish Bakery, through the baking area, up to front where people had coffee and bought their sweet rolls. It always smelled nice from the bakery.
Lindsborg was founded by Swedish immigrants and so much different from your mythical redneck Republican hard core farm town in Kansas -- different in its pronounced Scandinavian flavor and its civic concern for the average resident. Lindsborg had a municipal swimming pool of grand proportions, a park with a band shell for summer performances, a four-year liberal arts college with a Lutheran affiliation -- that was Bethany College. Lindsborg had its own electrical power plant and a proficient, small industrial area -- that's where the small factory was where we worked. To cap it all, they promoted their Swedish heritage with trinkets and festivals and that made for a prosperous downtown retail center. Lindsborg was a small town just waiting to be "discovered."

Anyway, it was better than your average bozo small town, at least to our liking. And that's where the car broke down -- the Travel All  -- worst car I ever owned, but at least it broke down in the right place -- could have broke down in Oklahoma and thank God we got out of there.
We camped by the Smoky Hill River. As I said, we were newly weds and we had gotten out of Oklahoma. We cooked our dinner over a fire and after that she waded into the river to wash the dishes in the stream. She lost her wedding ring doing that. It just slipped off. It was a simple band, no big dollar loss, but I took it as a bad sign -- not like it was her fault or anything like that, but just bad luck.
I was 30 years old that summer and we had gotten married, expecting to have children and get jobs and buy a house and do all that regular kind of stuff. No more hippie stuff. No communes, no fantasies, no hitchhiking, no riding freight trains, no making shelters out of plastic sheets, no organic wonder gardens. None of that. Not like a rejection or a feeling that we had done anything wrong. No, it was just we were finished. Had gotten ourselves certified with a Ph.D. in advanced Hippie Studies and it was time for whatever came next, which for us was a big dose of normal.
It didn't help at all that I had decided to become a writer three weeks before the car broke down. Not a good career choice if I was looking for normal. I wish somebody had talked to me about that. I wished my Dad was still alive. He would have liked my new wife a lot. A pretty one, he might have said. And settling down to start a family, yes, he would have liked that a lot, and said so, and backed me up on things, even if I wanted to be a writer -- he might have cautioned my about the uncertainty of that income.
I'm thinking all this many years later, but not at that time. All I knew is that I had turned 30 and gotten married and I needed to become something, so all I could figure out was to be a writer. I bought a portable manual typewriter while we lived in the alley apartment in back of the Swedish Bakery and I began to write -- probably ten words a day at most. It didn't flow.
This is a short story, so I will wrap it up. Susan became pregnant and this baby didn't want to be born in Kansas so we left after a  few months. We moved to Chicago and I got another job, but I will tell that some other time.
Kansas, to this day, remains unappreciated.
What Prompted This Story. A young woman I know in Bellingham, Washington, talked about the incredibly high price of real estate in her area -- she said you just couldn't buy a home unless you have family money.  That's true on the West Coast, the sky high prices. But you're paying for the view and good looks are superficial. If you want value, you might consider Omaha, or Wichita, or St. Louis, places like that, less trendy, but you can have your own place.

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--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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



Friday, July 17, 2015

Always Africa

June, 1997. sunrise at Matopos. Winter. Yes, winter. I am wearing a sweater because it is cold.
In Zimbabwe, in lands of elevation above 4,000 feet, there is winter weather during the cold months of June and July. People wear jackets and sweaters. Everyone gets the flu. The wind blows harshly and the Africans shiver.
But winter doesn't last long. So no one really cares. you just get cold for a while and then it's over.

I am at the Matopos Hills at sunrise. A time and place of magic. The home of leopards. Oh yes, if you had magical eyes you could see the leopards crouching behind these strong boulders. Coming home from their night hunting, with a goat or a wart hog or nothing at all. Coming home to their lair to sleep the long day. You will never see them, but they will see you.

Leopards are watching me. Even today, even 18 years later and across the world, the leopards are still watching me because if you ever go to Matopos that is what will happen.

The leopards do not guide or protect me. They do not intercede with my fate for better or for worse. They are only watching me.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

 It wasn't like giraffes dancing under rainbows, it was just quiet. People walking, a car going by every now and then. Puffy white clouds, temperature in the low 90s on most days, dry heat.

The second photo is from the front of our house on Shottery Crescent. Not a lot of traffic, as you can see.

There was a white couple that lived down the block. I used to visit them, being lonesome for white company at times. They were a pair of stubborn old Rhodesians. Most of their white compatriots had left the country after the revolution of 1980 when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. The Rhodesians had gone back to England, or moved on to South Africa and Australia where the white man still ruled..

But Bill and Mary Collier were too stubborn to leave.  They eked out a living somehow. Mary grew and sold nursery plants in her backyard. I don't know what Bill did. I would come by of an evening to watch TV and have a drink in their living room.

Precious didn't like them --  she wouldn't come with me.

The Colliers complained about things and their phone didn't work because they refused to pay a bribe to get it fixed. They said that rules were rules under the old system, and they had a point. They did not make derogatory racial remarks and nasty language and all that. After all, they were totally surrounded by black Africans and must make do as best they can, and what life would they have if they left? It's too easy to call someone a racist.

One white woman I knew at the secretary's office downtown where I made copies and sent emails, she said, "Zimbabwe is my country. I was born here. I am African just as much as anyone else."

But she is likely gone by now. Bill and Mary Collier down the street from us are likely gone or passed away by now.

Zimbabwe is hostile to white residence these days and I think that is a big loss.

If I had a few thousand dollars to spare, I would hop on a plane tomorrow -- and go to Europe, to visit France and Italy and Greece -- places I've never seen.

Africa can wait. It will always be there.






Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Engagement Party

The Engagement Party

The party was at Aunt Winnie's house in Lobengula in late February, 1997.

At least I think she lived in a township called Lobengula.

Perhaps someone can correct me.

Lobengula was the last king of the Ndebele people. His kingdom was taken over by Cecil Rhodes, the English conqueror who had such an ego -- Rhodes named the entire country after himself!

It became Rhodesia. And we think Donald Trump is a big head. He is nothing compared to Cecil Rhodes.

Rhodes brought the railroads and the English language and the Christian religion to this country -- named after himself.

His colonial reign ended in 1980, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, and an Africa tyrant, Robert Muhabe, became the new ruler, a man of great cruelty.

Now, I ask you, who was the best man, Lobengula the king, Cecil Rhodes the conqueror, or Robert Mugabe the life-long dictator ?

But we are talking about the engagement party in 1997 of one American man, Fred Owens, and one Africa woman, Precious Mataka. In the photo, I think you can spot which one is Fred Owens. He is the white man standing in back of the two aunties -- Aunt Janet and Aunt Winnie.

There are not too many white people ion Zimbabwe, so it was often thus -- Fred Owens being the only white man at the party. I got used to it. No one molested me.

I have more photos of this party and I will have them scanned and then I will post them and talk about it.

Home in Africa



I had a home in Africa, a real home, with a garden and laundry drying in the back yard and friends who came over and stayed for dinner.

The little house that you see in the backyard, that's where Jerry Thebe lived. He was the son of the landlord. Jerry was a very happy young man who went to school every day to study computers. He often went to church and Bible study too.
Sometimes we invited him into dinner.

The twisty tree is a classic African acacia. Why go to a national park when I could see this tree in my own backyard?

My backyard  -- sure I paid rent and I was a guest in this country, but at least for a time it was mine, and I could feel the peace and quiet.

Drying laundry meant domestic bliss to me  -- something about the movement of sun-dried clothes in the afternoon breeze meant home to me more than anything.

And friends, sitting in the shade while dinner cooks over a fire. We had a proper electric stove in the kitchen, but this was a party, our wedding day, so we cooked the sadza in the backyard.

The man in the white shirt, sitting in the shade of the small tree, was a special guest -- Joseph was a waiter at the Palace Hotel and it was Joseph who introduced me to Precious that fateful evening in February, 1997.

You know, honestly, I have white-washed this story and taken out all the bad parts. This is a work of fiction and selective memory. Maybe the wedding and marriage was not such a good idea, but you can see this backyard and how undramatically lovely it was, and you can see how a fellow might convince himself that it would be all right. And it was all right, for a while.