Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In an effort to improve race relations I moved to Africa in 1997 and married a black woman.

I married her. She married me. We got married. Hitched, by a Justice of the Peace, in the city of Bulawayo, in the province of Matebeleland, in the country of Zimbabwe, in far away Africa.

The civil ceremony was attended by the bride's grandfather, Mr. Mataka, and the bride's cousin, Tanti. The groom was joined by Lieutenant Jones of the Zimbabwe Army who served as best man. A large reception was hosted at the bridal couple's rented home after the ceremony. 

I will post photos of the ceremony later. But we did get married, legally, in Zimbabwe, which is recognized by the United States as valid, and equal to any marriage in this country.

We made an effort to improve race relations, but it never got any better -- never got any worse either. Look at this photo. The wife is not too happy about being photographed in her morning dress. Or perhaps she is just being her naturally defiant self -- arms crossed, glaring, with a trace of a smile.

Now look at her slippers, soft blue slippers, much too large for her feet. Those aren't her slippers, they are his. She is wearing his slippers because they are married and that is what married people do.

He is standing there with his hands in his pockets, unsympathetic. The Great White Hunter, looking for big game, but likely to find only a field mouse scampering under the drying laundry.

Who do you think washed the clothes  and hung them to dry? I don't think he did it, although he might have "helped."

He came to Africa looking for cheap housekeeping. Did he? She married him because he was rich. Did she? They never loved each other. Except ..... this is only a small thing .. she is wearing his slippers and that is a sweet and tender thing and there was something real about how they felt toward one another....

Sunday, June 28, 2015

New flags and Old flags.

FROG HOSPITAL – June 28, 2015 – unsubscribe anytime

It Happened in a Church

By Fred Owens

President Obama got it right when he spoke about grace on Friday. The killings were about race, but it happened in a church. Obama did not give a speech, he gave a sermon. A Christian message of grace was coming down the road and it fell to Obama to deliver it. It was all or nothing and Obama gave all. Grace for the killer, and grace for all of us, unearned.  Such a prayer has not been heard from a President in recent memory.

The Confederate Flag. Obama called for the flag to come down from the South Carolina state capitol. I pondered this flag and what means it to me. I came up with three parts. The first part is a message of white supremacy and the history of slavery and segregation. This is what we abhor.  The second part is a symbol of Southern tradition, which for me is about literature, from Thomas Jefferson to Truman Capote, William Faulkner,  Harper Lee, Flannery O’Conner and so many others.  Tradition is the good part, and it is joined intimately with the bad part of racist brutality. How to separate Jefferson the writer from Jefferson the slaveholder?

But the third part came to me only yesterday. The Confederate flag represents sheer cussedness. Obstinance. Defiance. Rebellion. To hell with you. Take this job and shove it. This cussedness adds an abrasive texture to our American life.  To smooth it over with a bland corporate message from Amazon and Wal-Mart – this is not a good thing.

Those are the three parts.  You sort it out, I cannot.  

The Supremes, Nino and Ruth. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are unlikely friends, yet they have been “seeing each other” after work, having dinner together and going to concerts together. Of course it’s not a date, but isn’t it cute? I admire them both for being able to leave their differences at work. For Ruth and Nino the personal is not political.

It’s hard to hate Scalia knowing that Ruth is friends with him. He lost on Obamacare and he lost on same sex marriage, but as he said on his way home, “Don’t worry about me. I have nine children. In the long run, I win.”

Tanning for Tunisia. Sunbathing European tourists were slaughtered by an Islamic terrorist at a beach resort in Tunisia, 38 in number. It was an assault on civilization and decency. Being so far away from us, we barely took notice, but this is a very frightening situation. The people and the government of Tunisia have made such a good effort to develop a more modern society and they have welcomed Europeans to their country to relax and to see the sights. This crime is just too savage.

Would it be brave or foolish to take a vacation in Tunisia? You will get a good price at hotels by the beach. Lying on the beach with a rum and coke could be an act of heroic resistance….. Call It Tanning for Tunisia. Book your flight today...... Probably no one will go to Tunisia for years and that is very sad. I hear it is a beautiful country.

Avocado, a drought-stricken crop in Santa Barbara. Last year Santa Barbara farmers grew 26,000 tons of avocados on 7,300 acres for a market value of $59,000,000. That’s a lot of guacamole..But the harvest will be reduced this year. I can give you more numbers but the forecast is easy – scant rainfall and sky-rocketing water bills means fewer avocados.
 Local growers are searching for stingier watering techniques and looking for alternate crops on their hillside acres. It’s a tough situation. Growers can’t raise the price to reflect their costs, because shoppers will easily switch to Mexican avocados.

It’s a tough problem. Not that I feel sorry for farmers -- I don’t.  When was it ever easy?
The long-term forecast calls for substantial rain in November thanks to El Nino. Let us hope.

Amen. In the spirit of President Obama’s sermon, let us accept the grace God gives us. Join me in singing this old gospel tune:

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Waiting for the Bus


Waiting for the Bus

This photo illuminates my experience about Africa. It looks like we were waiting for the bus. We were not. We were looking across the road at the world's largest baobab tree, located near Victoria Falls and discovered, that is, first brought to the world's attention, by the explorer David Livingstone, whose statue, alone among all colonialists, still stands in Zimbabwe.

Whatever you see or hear or think you know about Africa is probably not true. They are such liars. People told me almost anything.

She told me her name was Precious Mataka. Then she told me her name was Precious Sibanda. Her family called her Ntombi-Zodwa. She told me she was Catholic. Then she told me she was Moslem. She was a citizen of Zimbabwe. She was a citizen of Malawi.

Then she said she loved me... And did not love me? 

Everybody spoke three or four languages -- at the same time  -- and belonged to five or six tribes. "We hate those Shona people, they are killers and thieves, except for Mr. Dhlawayu who married our sister. He is a fine fellow."

Yes. What time does the bus get here? Yes. No. There is no bus, so  it is hard to tell when it will come.  Once there was a bus ...... but that sounds like a story.
And I have already heard too many stories, I want the facts. Facts. Facts. Something solid to hold on to, something dependable, something that will stay put. Facts. Can I have just one -- please -- just one fact?

There are no facts in Africa. There is no bus. It will never come and there is no baobab tree. And those two people sitting on the log  are whoever you want them to be.

Except for the sun. The sun is so much more than a fact. The sun rises and sets all over the world, but the sun lives in Africa. Home. God. Sun.

See the photo. You see sunlight and shadow.  The sun is something you can count on. It is real. The rest of  is imaginary. People come and go. Trees sprout from seeds and die. Animals eat and are eaten. But you can't be sure of anything. You can't trust the people and you can't trust your own senses.

I saw that! But are you sure? Look again. Keep looking.








Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Uncle Smiley was a good man.

Smiley, the younger brother of Mr. Tea, was a householder and working man, a father to his children and a husband to his wife.

We lived near him in a rented house in Southwold, a suburb of spacious homes built for white railroad workers in the days of Rhodesia. These were ranch houses that would not look out of place in the San Fernando Valley.

Southwold, since the end of apartheid in 1980, was no longer exclusively white. In fact, it was almost all-black, but middle class black -- there were people who had swimming pools and garages. And they kept cars in their garages. This alone astonished me -- keeping a car in the garage -- because even middle class residents of Southwold did not accumulate the mounds of stuff found in American garages.

Smiley and his strong and healthy small family lived a mile away, an easy walk if we felt like it, down a wide road that dead ended on the railroad tracks, then across the railroad tracks to the township of Nketa Nine.

Nkleta Nine and the other townships had been exclusively black under apartheid, and still were all-black to my knowledge, but not by law, only by custom.

The homes were small cement block buildings and quite decent, each with a cold water tap and a working flush toilet. Each with electricity and garbage pickup. There were no hovels or shanties. As I said, it was decent. Mail was delivered every day.

And some few people had telephones. Well, you see, the government owned the phone company and service was spotty. You might wait months for service or you might pay a healthy bribe.

Uncle Smiley did not have a phone nor a car, nor a garage to put the car in. He had five small rooms  -- living room, bathroom, kitchen, and two bedrooms. One bedroom for Smiley and his wife and his daughter Grace, the other bedroom for his younger brother Ronnie, a hapless young man who worked for an Indian family stocking shelves at their grocery store.

The Indians were the merchant class in Zimbabwe, owning many grocery stores and appliance businesses.  They were pretty tough people to work for, mean and stingy with wages. It was considered much better to have white employers. Ronnie complained softly about his Indian employers, but he seemed to lack the fiber to do anything about that.

Ronnie had a girl friend but he could not get married because of his poor wages at the grocery store. How can I pay lobola? he said. Lobola, the bride price,  once paid with cattle, and now paid with cash, is a complex negotiation. If Ronnie had been enterprising, and if people had praised him more, he could have arranged loans from various friends and relatives and made a down payment on the lobola  after conducting equally complex negotiations with his bride's family. Payment would continue in small pieces over many years. It was a contract that bound two families. The modern bride might squawk about being sold, but then she might feel proud of commanding a large price. College girls, with their ability to earn salaries, wanted top dollar, if they could get it, while ritually proclaiming feminist goals against the bride price.

I called Smiley's wife mamazala,  which means mother-in-law. That is not her in the photo. Mamazala was a comely woman, a good housekeeper. She baked scones in her oven to sell to her neighbors. With that small money she paid school fees for her daughter Grace and bought other things.

Smiley rode his bike to work every day, some five miles to a factory that made enameled cooking pots  -- never took the bus, but saved his money, and had a few extra dollars to take to the beer hall on weekends.

Look at the photo. Smiley was kind of an odd name, because Smiley was no happy-go-lucky character, he was a pretty tough little bastard, you wouldn't want to mess with him.


The photo was taken at our house on our wedding day, September 1, 1997. The woman sitting next to Uncle Smiley is unknown.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mr. Tea

We called him Mr. Tea because he only drank tea and never drank beer.

Lovemore Peter Mataka was his name, the first son born to Mr. Mataka, the first of nine children, and father to Precious. He was a bad man -- pinched, mean, dark and brooding. When he smiled he scared you. He kept two scrawny half-starved dogs in his back yard -- vicious animals. He was a womanizer, his wife served us meekly when we visited. She gave him two sons and sat at his feet in his cramped un-homely cement house.

I would have felt sorry for him if he had not harmed so many people. The Mataka clan might have amounted to something without his damaging leadership. He was dominant and abusive.

Precious spent the better part of her childhood with her grandfather Mr. Mataka and her grandmother Grace. They were loving and kind and welcomed many grandchildren to their home.

But Precious was scarred and damaged by her father. She had a kind of numbness and lack of feeling -- feelings she could not show, feelings she could not put aside or ever resolve.

Lovemore Peter Mataka worked at a metal fabrication factory, but he got fired for stealing  -- one of his schemes that failed. He always had another scheme, would I loan him money to open a bottle store out by Matopos, would I pay him lobola for marrying his daughter.

He was an intelligent man -- this is what bothered me. He was surely the most intelligent person in the Mataka family -- you could see a fine intellect in his eyes. Yet he was cruel.

Did he hate me? "You came to Africa with a smile, but you will see the terror," he said because he had those kind of eyes, and with his intelligence I know he could see right through me. Like he knew me well and I was going to pay and pay until I had nothing left, and not pay for the benefit of his family because that would have made sense. Never for his own family. Dirt for them. Let them drink their foolish beer and die.

 I never saw any good in him. He came to our house on our wedding day, sitting on our good furniture in the living room. Precious's cousin Patricia sits with him in this photo, and an unknown man on the other side. He was there for the reception, not the wedding itself.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Aunt Janet Died

Aunt Janet died six weeks after this party.

This was our engagement party at Aunt Janet's home in Entumbane, in February of 1997.

You see her intensity and her dazzling smile. She was a small women of great vitality. She was Precious's favorite auntie.

Aunt Janet made many journeys to Malawi, to the city of Blantyre where she owned a store. She was an enterprising woman  -- she had many dealings of small prosperity, carrying shoes from Zimbabwe to Malawi, or coming back with bicycle parts to sell, or dealing cabbages in Francistown in Botswana -- she always had the energy for dealing merchandise.

Six weeks after our party she was dead. What did she die of? What disease? No one said. No one ever said. So many young people died in the Mataka family, 20, 30, 40 years old and dying. but they never said what it was and I accepted that because it gave them dignity.

You may think you know  what killed them, but you don't know, and you have no right to speculate. It was their death and their privilege to explain it or not.

Aunt Janet was waked at Mr. Mataka's house in Luveve. The small coffin fit her small body. She was dressed in white with a pretty lace cap. The coffin was laid on trestles in the living room -- where all the couches and dressers had been removed for the wake. She looked so calm in her pretty lace cap tied under her chin.

The couches were laid out around a fire on the one said of the house where the men gathered and sat the whole night. The women sat on the other side of the house.

In the morning we took her to the Luveve Cemetery and buried her. Some months later I paid for a small cement marker on her grave.

I only met Aunt Janet a few times, but she was my favorite. When I was courting Precious I knew enough to please her aunties. I rented a good car and we drove them around town  to see the fountains. Aunt Janet and Aunt Winnie were riding in the back seat, eating buckets of fried chicken and drinking ice-cold beer. They thought I was just a fine fellow to marry their daughter Precious.

That's Aunt Winnie on the right in this photo. Her head is shaved because she was mourning her departed husband. Aunt Winnie herself died a few years later.
So many people in the Mataka family died, and not reaching old age. Mr. Mataka himself, the grandfather, lived into his eighties, and one day he made the journey back to Chembe village in Malawi and he died there, buried next to his sister, and next to his mother and father.

But the others died young -- Aunt Janet, Aunt Winnie, Aunt Marjie, Uncle Milton, Lawrence, Patrick, Francis, Maphuto, Christopher and several others -- too many. I think African people die too easily, like some kind of spirit sickness, they just lay down and die. It makes me sad.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Aunt Jennifer's Kraal

Aunt Jennifer sits in her kraal outside of Kezi town. She sits on a mat, as women are accustomed to sit. She is very happy to see us, because she loves us and because we brought her ice-cold beer from town.

Standing behind her is Uncle Smiley. He came with us that day to see his sister Jennifer. He is standing because African men do not sit on mats on the ground. They must have a stool for sitting  -- or else they will stay standing.

"Kraal" mean corral and refers to this yard-home where each hut is a room, one for sleeping, for cooking, one for brewing corn beer, and one for the husband.

Aunt Jennifer's husband never emerged from his hut while we visited, so I cannot say what he is like.

No one will believe this because it is too, too classic, but that day we carried in my truck an enamel kitchen sink to give to Aunt Jennifer  and we carried back an old billy goat.