Sunday, May 31, 2015


Amacimbi means caterpillars in the Ndebele language. We say "mopane worms" in English. Amacimbi are not grown commercially, but gathered naturally when they appear from time to time in groves of mopane trees.

Amacimbi make a favorite tasty treat for African people, and an acquired taste for the rest of us.

But I am writing about the language today. The "c" in amacimbi is a click sound. Like a Tsk-sound made without breath, with your tongue right behind your upper teeth.  Ndebele has a 6 or 7 click sounds which are difficult for learners to pronounce.  I will tell you where the click sounds come from in another post.

Ndebele is spoken in the southern region of Zimbabwe. It is considered to be a dialect of Zulu, or a related language,. Either way Zulu speakers and Ndebele speaker can understand each other.

You remember Shaka Zulu, the terrible African warrior chief. He had a top lieutenant named Mzilikazi and they fought many battles together, but after a time they had an argument, and Shaka Zulu said he was going to kill Mzilikazi with his spear.

Shaka Zulu was a great killer, as you all know, so Mzilikazi ran for his life and his regiment ran away with him. They ran all the way to Zimbabwe, far from Shaka Zulu's army.

Mzilikazi conquered or took over the local people in southern Zimbabwe and founded his own tribe -- the Ndebele people.

And that is why the people of southern Zimbabwe speak Ndebele today.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

ten thousand miles

By Fred Owens
Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe is over ten thousand miles from Los Angeles. That's a long journey to a far away place, a very different place -- exotic, mysterious, dangerous, and beguiling. You might go and come back wounded and ravaged by disease, or come back laden with precious jewels, or disappear without a trace and never come back at all  -- if you went on this journey of 10,000 miles.
But that's not what I am writing about today. I am writing about the sidewalks of Los Angeles, which have never been inventoried precisely. The best guess is that Los Angeles has 10,000 miles of sidewalk. Ten Thousand Miles!
The sidewalks are deteriorating badly, an estimated 40 percent are in need of repair. This is obvious to any casual pedestrian.
The problem is tree roots. The problem is good versus good, which is what intrigues me. Trees are good and sidewalks are good. Tree roots grow under the sidewalk and heave them up. That doesn't bother me as a walker, I can just step around and over the bad parts -- but it's a harm for the wheel chair or the baby stroller, or the grocery cart, or any impaired walker.
It will be hard to make the sidewalks level again without severely damaging the trees. Los Angeles needs a sidewalk genius to to solve this problem.
Ten thousand miles of crumbling infrastructure  -- another example of a failed civil society.
The Real infrastructure. Bridges are falling down, Water pipes are bursting. Highways rumble with potholes. Nothing is getting fixed properly.
But it doesn't matter. The real infrastructure is in your pocket. It's your smart phone and it connects you to the Internet, which is the highway that actually matters  -- if you're 25-years-old and ready to take over the world.
The kids don't care if a bridge collapses, they just download the Bridge Down app to find an alternate route. Every problem has an app that solves that problem. That is the  new infrastructure -- the one we keep in good order because it has become  essential.
Imagine Google being down for a day, or Facebook being down for a week -- that would be a total calamity. The kids would hurl themselves into traffic or jump off cliffs and die  -- their despair would be fatal -- which is why these vital systems rarely fail -- they are too important.
But ten thousands miles of sidewalk in Los Angeles  -- that was yesterday's problem and nobody cares.
America Needs a Nap. Napping would improve the quality of life in this country and do so cheaply. A well-rested country is a happy country, Go to bed! Now! People who use their laptops or smart phones after ten p.m. should be arrested for Disturbing the Peace. At ten p.m. you make herb tea and read a book  -- unless you're out having fun, which is permitted.

Internet usage is isolating -- and you are alone when you do that even if someone else is in the room. People tend to engage their laptops for a reason, and these reasons often resemble something we call work. Stop working! Go to bed!
Or take a walk. Or just just lay your head down on your desk for ten minutes.
If you don't get enough sleep you will gain weight. Poorly rested children are candidates for obesity -- they substitute food for sleep and get fat.
Teenagers should not be allowed to drink coffee or caffeinated soft drinks, none, not until they are 18.
Get some rest. Take it easy.
$15 Per Hour or Bust. I don't care how many small businesses fail -- I have no sympathy for Mom and Pop. The minimum is $15. If you can't pay that you deserve to fail. I've worked in small businesses all my working life, and there is no virtue in smallness, no inherent benefit that I can tell, no excuse for not treating the help well. Your small business may be your dream, but it's not my dream. If you want to work 60 hours a week to stay afloat in your little shop, then fine. But don't think you're doing the world a favor by sacrificing your life on the altar of free enterprise. Freedom is the freedom to fail and if you can't pay a decent wage, I hope you do fail.
I'm not at all sure I am right about an increase in the minimum wage. There are many sound arguments against this, but I am right, or at least convinced, that we ought not be sentimental about small businesses or make efforts to save them.

Otherwise.  Otherwise I'm staying out of politics.
Frederick Winyard of Anacortes, shown here, about to take his out-of-town guests for a walk to view the Deception Pass Bridge.

Winyard wrote:

Your story about the drought tells it all. You live in a state with an
anti-industrial mindset. California greens drove
out timber, electric-generation, manufacturing,
agriculture is next. Return to natural-man, but
keep smart-phones and the media-industry.

The Pacific Ocean is an enormous reservoir of
water, just need to remove salt. Israel does it,
they bloom a desert by adding fresh-water. 

California loses population to states with more
economically-constructive politics. Your article
describes unimaginative morally-superior folks
fighting over the diminished remainder.
Frederick Winyard of Anacortes sent in this pithy rejoinder. His astringent style makes a good counterpoint to blind optimism. Fred has been my great pal and hiking buddy. He strides rapidly over the hills and mountains of Fidalgo Island, all the while talking as rapidly as he walks. He is a retired software developer with some interesting stories to tell about where he has been and what he has done. His wife Nora is a lovely woman -- warm hearted and cheerful. She is a talented seamstress. I have enjoyed many fine dinners in their Anacortes home. I have also been of some help doing their garden work and pruning.
African Dreams -- all the cool stories about Zimbabwe and the journey of Ten Thousand Miles can be found on my Frog Hospital blog

Eating Mopane Worms

Notice she's wearing a lion t-shirt and she's staring at me to see if I flinch, and I'm about to chomp down on my third or fourth fried mopane worm. I call them land shrimp. People in Zimbabwe love a plateful of plump fried mopane worms. They're going to stick a plate in front of you sooner or later and I knew that. My expression, hoisting this grub to my mouth, is brave and non-chalant. It's a rite of passage, and they will laugh themselves silly  watching you eat your plate full. You do it once and you don't have to do it again.

Mopane worms have a rich, full flavor. I could see why local people love to eat them. But they are an acquired taste that I did not choose to acquire.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Galloping with Zebras

We stayed in the cottage for one week. Then I went up north on the bus, four hours to Kwe Kwe Town. In that town I called the owners of the Kwe Kwe Game Farm, and they came to pick me up in their small truck.

They were a jolly couple, the owners of this large farm, white people. He wore shorts and carried a big German Shepherd in the back of the truck. She was a brassy blonde, coming into town for a few groceries, and then to pick me up as a paying guest.

He wore shorts. White farmers in Zimbabwe -- they may be all gone by now, but in 1997 there were several thousand -- the white farmers always wore shorts. They had legs tanned from the sun, and trim figures from plenty of outdoor exercise, although my farmer friend had a bit of a gut.

African men never wore shorts. They always wore trousers. Trousers make you a man, not a boy, so they never wore shorts -- unless they were quite wealthy and at ease in the upper reaches of Zimbabwe society. Prosperous African men might wear shorts, and their ladies might wear jeans. But the common African man always wore trousers and his wife always wore a skirt or a dress. I noticed things like that.

But you want to hear how I went galloping with zebras on the game farm. It was a large farm the white couple owned, some thousands of acres, and only a small part cultivated and plowed for crops, the rest was brush and fields of tall grass stocked with game  -- zebras, giraffes, impalas, kudus, gazelles, wart hogs and other creatures. All happily living on the farm.

Sure, the giraffes might have wandered off and broken through the fence quite easily, but why would they want to leave when they had a few thousand protected acres for roaming? And no poachers to kill and eat them.

I saw zebras racing faster than the sun. I got on the horse they brought out for me. I rode with the guide who stayed near me and knew how to ride. I asked for a gentle walker so that I might be comfortable and enjoy looking at the trees and grazing animals.

My horse was willing to walk -- for about ten minutes, but what he really wanted was to run with the zebras, so we had to let him run and me hanging on for dear life, a little scary but great fun, galloping and pounding across the pasture, zebras racing alongside, impalas making impossible leaps.

I stayed with the farmers for several days. They hosted caravans of backpackers and paying guests like me. They loved their big German Shepherd dogs. Picture them in the evening lounging in the living room in velveteen reclining chairs, watching satellite TV from South Africa, dogs at their feet, African help making dinner.

They kicked all the white farmers out of Zimbabwe a few years later. The Kwe Kwe Game Farm is in ruins. The wild game has been shot and eaten, the fences torn down, the irrigation equipment sold for scrap. The people go hungry now.

The people of Zimbabwe would rather starve then take directions from white farmers. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I am skipping ahead. Another story is how Precious and I met. People asked me that many times, "How did you meet her?"  Sometime soon I will tell that story. For now I will say that our meeting was arranged, quite informally, by a man named Joseph. Things happened quickly after that --- but I will tell you later.

This was our cottage on Airport Road, in the back of the big house. It was one room, with one electric light on the ceiling and a hot plate for cooking and ironing. The cold water tap was outside. The flush toilet was in the back. It was very simple.

I mentioned the hot plate for cooking and ironing. For cooking you understand how it is used, but in Zimbabwe people place a heavy non-electric iron on the surface of the hot plate until it is warm enough to use to remove the wrinkles.

Zimbabweans do a lot of ironing. It is a national past-time. They like to look sharp.

We talked about the Ernest the Garden Boy -- you can imagine him nearby moving slowly. You can imagine the mistress and her young daughter in the big house in front of the property. And now you see this photo of our little romantic hideaway, where we stayed in the first two weeks of our relationship in February, 1997.

There was only a double bed for furnishings, plus the table and two chairs as you see them placed outside the door during the good weather.

Precious showed me the typical domestic arrangements. She cooked and ironed and washed from a kneeling position because there was no table, except the one outside. I think she was used to that, although her grandfather's house, where we visited later on, had a more complete kitchen with tables and shelves and a refrigerator. Her grandfather's living room had a set of furniture with a couch and love seat.

But this cottage had none of that and Precious seemed accustomed to it -- kneeling. I had been traveling for a month and I was not clean. She fixed me a bath with hot water heated on the hot plate, and then poured the hot water over me in the back of the house where the cold water tap was. I scrubbed all over so I no longer smelled or looked so dirty.

Then she washed my clothes in a bucket. This was using cold water and just scrubbing and rinsing, and then hanging the clean clothes to dry on the barbed-wire fence next to the cottage.

There are no washing machines in Zimbabwe. Women -- sometimes men -- wash all the clothes by hand. People with money do not buy a washing machine, they simply hire a poor woman to wash the clothes for them.

Precious was neither rich nor poor by Zimbabwe standards. She did for herself and her family.

The clothes dried and she ironed them to a stage of wrinkle-free perfection. This took hours, with heating the iron over the hot plate and then ironing on a towel folded on the floor.

African people -- at least in Zimbabwe, as I met them -- are very clean. Precious even told me once, in confidence, that white people were a little smelly to her.

But I never saw such ironing and cleaning in my life, and my clothes, as they came off the barbed wire, all sun-dried, felt like royal garments. I felt like a new man. Re-born. I asked her to marry me. Or it was more like we agreed that we should get married. And not right away, but we were closing the deal and things like this happen quickly in Zimbabwe.

I would never have done it -- become engaged -- if I had stopped to think about it.  But I felt so good. Nobody had ever looked after me so well  -- and there was what I could do for her too, being a good man who would not beat her or cheat on her but would treat her kindly and I had money.

Love can flourish in poverty. Add money and it can still flourish.

And she cooked too. On that hot plate, in the morning, she made fried eggs with fried potatoes and a big slab of white bread from the bakery smeared with margarine, served with hot tea with sugar.

At night, dinner was sadza and meat. Sadza is a stiff cornmeal porridge  -- it is the staple of Zimbabwean cuisine, but there is no cuisine in Zimbabwe, no cunning, no subtlety. The old tribal people -- the Shona, Ndebele, Kalanga, Tonga and others -- they ate plainly. and any culinary sophistication was stamped out of them by a hundred years of British occupation.

The British built a beautiful infra-structure in Zimbabwe -- bridges, railroads, sewer systems, electric power plants, and the like -- but they ruined the cooking.

Go to the old French and Portuguese colonies for good food in Africa.

She cooked, I sat in the chair by the front door, as you can see in the photo. Six months later we were married. A year later we moved to America. Things went badly after that in America, but the first year in Africa was very good. And we were good to each other. It was easy to be good to reach other in that little cottage.

Even when we rented the nice house later on, she kept doing the laundry by hand. I said we can hire somebody. She said no, she said, "I won't have some other woman in my house."

There is so much more to tell. Like how we met. And I will tell you about the Aunties. Precious had very many aunties, but it was Aunt Winnie and Aunt Janet who smiled on us and wished us well -- another time for that story. I have a photo of them.

The truth? I wish I had never gone to Africa. It was a disaster. To marry an African woman so different from me was stupid to a high degree. I just got tired of regretting this incredible mistake, so I have decided to tell this story, which includes and amplifies all the good parts, and this way I do not feel like such a foolish person.

And besides, what if I had stayed home? At least I have a story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ernest the Garden Boy

I met Ernest 18 years ago. He was standing under the African sun with his feet on the African earth.

He was standing with a hoe in a patch of corn by the side of this house on Airport Road in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

He was standing almost as still as a statue, moving ever so slowly, lifting the hoe with infinite effort and letting it fall at the base of the row to break up a clod.

The rainy season begins in October and I met him in February when the corn was man-high. That was in 1997.

Would he remember me 18 years later? Of course he would -- I remember him, don't I? so he must remember me. I was the kiwa who came out to the garden to join him  -- not to watch him, but to join him. Not that I picked up a hoe and worked along side, but I was with him in the way that two men of common labor are with each other in silcnce.

Is he married now? Did some plain-looking garden girl look him over and say he'll do. After all, he works, he has a position, he's not a bum. He's a quiet man and steady -- a girl could do worse than to marry this garden boy.

He got drunk one night at the beer hall, and his rage, simmering in him for years because of his lowly position, all come rushing to his head in red-hot anger. After so many years of bumbling, he shouted. He stood up and pitched over the table and began fighting anyone near him, until they wrestled him to the ground and the police came and took him  to the tank and beat him. 

Ernest didn't lose his position at the house on Airport Road. The mistress understood how things were with him and she was kind. He stayed away from the beer hall after that raging night and went back to tending the corn patch.

I suppose he is still in Bulawayo and still working like this in a patch of corn somewhere,  near to fifty in age now, with several children and grandchildren, and no better and no worse than when I met him in 1997 at the house on Airport Road.

Maybe they don't call him a garden boy anymore . One hopes this occupation has been dignified in Africa.

Note. Kiwa means fig in the language of Ndebele and Shona people. A fig is pale pink on the inside, so a white man is sometimes called a kiwa.....this is a friendly nickname.

Note on Corn. Corn was brought to Africa from America by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. Corn farming quickly spread across the continent because of its superior yields, replacing native grains such as millet. Cornmeal is now the staple of most African diets. In Zimbabwe, every farmer and every gardener plants corn in late October, hoping for enough rain to bring in a good crop. When the rains do come, people eat well and the farmers make money. Some years the rains do not come, and there might be hunger and privation.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Drought and the Oil Spill -- another Weekend in California
By Fred Owens
Santa Barbara oil spill news.

I got tar on my sneakers yesterday -- on a beach walk. Little tar balls are common on Santa Barbara beaches because of natural oil seeps. It's been that way for as long as anybody can remember, but yesterday it seemed to be worse. We're about ten miles down the coast from the oil spill, so it would not surprise me if there is more tar than usual coming our way.
We saw the pelicans flying around a lot -- one flock going up the beach, another flock going down the beach  -- they seemed to be at sixes and sevens like they were disturbed about something, and that could be from the oil spill.
And we have a drought of epic proportions. It's another weekend in California.

We don't have special plans for this weekend, but we are heading down to the harbor in a bit to hear the ukelele players. They are a local group of ukelele players who meet every Saturday at 1 p.m. under the flame tree next to the Harbor Master's office. Maybe a dozen faithful players and singers. We don't play, but we like to listen to them and sing along.
This is how we deal with serious problems in California. And it works.

Big Farm, Small Farm. Size doesn't matter. Some farms are big, some farms are small. Some farms are good places to work, some farms are not. I have worked at three small organic farms since moving to California five years ago. They were okay. The pay was all right, and the product was good -- we grew some good, honest veggies and bodacious flowers and herbs of good quality.
But I am not in the movement. I am not a believer. The trouble with organic people is the high incidence of wing nuts, airheads and conspiracy fanatics on these farms -- okay this is California and we do grow a lot of fruit, so I guess it's going around. They breed here -- bio-dynamic ghostbusters, psychic healers, aromatherapy zealots. An organic farm is a rural homeless shelter for folks who are a little bit strange. But you need to humor them. Don't say Roundup out loud -- they start screaming and falling faint. They pull crumpled citations out of their pockets and insist you read the research. Outer space beings are coming to save us soon! In the meantime place these heirloom seeds in a corner of your cheek and suck on them slowly..... Seriously, I'm glad these people have a place to go. Modern life can be daunting and we all need shelter.

These little farms got me settled in California and I am grateful, but, as I said, I am not of the true faith.
I'm looking for another job, probably a farm, a greenhouse, or a produce stand. My intention is to work with rational people, people with common sense, folks who know how to tell a joke, who know how to laugh at themselves. Working with good people is my goal.
But whether it's organic or not, whether it's big or small, doesn't matter.

I don't hate Monsanto. You would think Beelzebub, the devil himself, runs a chemical company out of St. Louis, with a plot to take over the world and destroy all life.
I don't think so. My own associations go like this -- Monsanto? from St. Louis? Oh, they must be nice people. I have cousins in St. Louis, and they sure have a great baseball team. I love those Cardinals. And the Clydesdale horses at the Budweiser brewery -- you never saw such pretty horses.  Now, what were you saying about Monsanto?

Gulley Report.  The coyotes in the gulley in the back of the house are howling a lot. We don't know why. But we hope they kill all the gophers, because the gophers are running rampant. Kill all the gophers, but leave the cats alone.Our cats aren't stupid. They stick by the house and they come in at night. Good kitties.
Skunk News. Unbelievable, but we just today discovered a mama skunk and six baby skunks emerging from the culvert under the pepper tree very near to the house, and we have noticed an odor these past few days. The baby skunks wrestle and prance around. Don't tell the coyotes about this.

Tree Report. The eucalyptus trees, across the gulley and up the other side, look weather beaten and water-starved with poor leaves. The drought might kill them. The big sycamore, growing right at the bottom of the gulley, has old deep roots and plentiful green foliage. It will survive.  The Valencia orange tree in the back yard died, but it was more than 30 years old, and it may have just been a natural finish. The camelias in the front of the house have not been getting any water and they look to be suffering. The roses get the dish water, carried out in a bucket, but I am diverting some to the camelias out of compassion.

Water Issues. Okay, I made some wisecracks about the organic foo-foos. I hope they don't mind. I care a lot about these things, I just don't care to give evidence of my concern.
I am getting involved in water issues. The Goleta Water District where we live is just outside of Santa Barbara -- 89,000 people on 27,000 acres of foothills and ocean-side flatlands. The water comes from Lake Cachuma, a fast dwindling reservoir, plus the state canal which is getting parsimonious in deliveries, plus ground water.
Goleta has 8 producing wells, which were wisely re-pumped with surplus waters during past rainier winters. Still, the situation is dire with not a gallon to spare, and every gallon to fight over.
Comes now the wealthy enclave of Montecito to the south of Santa Barbara with billionaires and polo fields and wealth beyond your imagination. But no groundwater -- no groundwater but tons of money.
Comes now the Slippery Rock Ranch adjacent to the Goleta Water District. The ranch has 750 acres of avocados and pasture and a recently discovered aquifer of enormous proportions.
"We're sitting on a gold mine of water!" the ranch owners shouted with glee. Indeed they are.
Well, it only took a few morning coffee conversations at Jeanine's Cafe in downtown Montecito  to come up with this idea -- pump the water out of the ranch and sell it to the mansion millionaires.
Comes now the Goleta Water District saying the water on that ranch is from the same pool as the Goleta Water District -- you pump one, you pump all and they sued the ranch.
I studied the law suit, Goleta Water District v. Slipper Rock Ranch, all nine pages, and clearly written. The summons declares that the Goleta Water District is suing the Slippery Rock Ranch for stealing the water that rightfully belongs to the district. The Ranch replies that "water under our ranch is ours and we want to drill it out, truck it down to the rich folks in Montecito, and thereby profit." But the Water District claims, and will prove, that water flows downstream and is thereby influenced by the law of gravity and since the Slippery Rock Ranch aquifer is some what above and adjacent to the Goleta water district, it is substantially in the same pool and YOUS CAN'T HAVE  IT, ipso facto.

I am on the side of the district, but first I will need to be convinced, so I spoke with Brian Trautwein, the resident water expert at the Environmental Defense Center, who rattled off facts and figures that support a writ of condemnation against Slippery Rock, that they are water thieves plain and simple.
But I have decided, being prudent, to also talk with the ranch owners who have enough money to hire their own expert.
I found the name and phone number of their attorney, Steve Amerikaner. I researched his legal career, which is long and distinguished, and I read some of his common pleas and found him to be intelligent and fair-minded. In short, I set out intending to hate him, but I like him instead -- which doesn't make him right.... I will call him this week.
Are you interested in hearing all this? Water rights and water usage are of vital importance. The conflict between Goleta Water and Slippery Rock is just one piece of a larger struggle. My intention is to study this particular issue and so to be of some use to the greater good -- while we wait and pray for rain.

Stay tuned. And be happy. And keep an image of those ukelele players making pretty music by the Santa Barbara Harbor -- that's California.

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Fred Owens
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Santa Barbara, CA 93105

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Fred Owens

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
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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.