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.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Gravity's Rainbow

By Fred Owens
ducks geese and rice  Rice fields use water  -- we could force California farmers to stop growing rice and wasting water because of the drought. But it's not so simple -- where will the ducks go? Migrating geese and ducks depend on California rice fields as rest and feed stops.
Rice acreage has been cut 30%, down to 375,000 acres. This is bad for water fowl. Not good for rice farmers either.
My friend Warren, a ten-year veteran of the Santa Barbara Rose Society lives on one acre abutting the Santa Barbara Arboretum. He had 35 rose bushes. Now he has only 7. It was the water bill, he said, up to $400 a month.
Lake Cachuma has been the principle source of water in the Goleta Water District. The water flows by gravity from the reservoir to farms and homes. But the lake water is almost gone and the groundwater is being used more extensively.  Goleta is reasonably well-supplied with groundwater -- not facing problems of subsidence, not having to dig deeper and deeper wells.
But groundwater takes pumps and pumps cost money. Groundwater is more expensive than lake water, which flows by gravity. That's one reason the water district budget is going from $32 to $39 million this year.

Redwoods are dying in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Not dead, dying. The park ranger said they might just hang on for another year. And there is strong hope of a good El Nino year, to bring rains in November and the redwoods might not die.
So we're just hanging on here in California.
Drilling Down. They say follow the money. Look in the really boring places where things happen with little notice. The Goleta Water District spends $123,285 per year for liability insurance from the ACWAJPIA, a government agency no one ever heard of. That stands for Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority.
It simply means that the water districts pool their money for insurance costs  -- which makes sense, but with too many initials.
I am drilling down into the data as a public service, sure, but also for networking purposes. I want people to know I can understand this obscure but necessary agency.
Everybody Wants to be Lady Gaga. Too many nasty people in the news these days -- Dennis Hastart and Bruce Jenner, Miley Cyrus and the mattress girl, the white woman who thinks she is a black woman. I'm getting creeped out....

People don't seem to know who they are anymore. Who am I? Really, that's not such a difficult question, but it  seems we need to review the basics.
Your life is composed of three parts. The first part is the cards you are dealt  -- birth date, eye color, sex, and various physical characteristics. The second part is also fixed and that pertains to culture, upbringing and language -- you didn't choose that. If you grew up speaking English then that is your birth language  -- not changeable, no matter how well you learn to speak other languages.
The third part is what you make of it. This is where you are free to choose.  You can move to California, but you still come from a suburb of Chicago. You can become an ex-Catholic, but you can never become a non-Catholic. You can change your name but you can't change your pronoun.....
It's all about gravity. Gravity is crucial and relentless. Gravity is the law of nature. You can fly to the stars above, not in defiance of  this law, but because you obeyed it.

I am bewildered by this identity discussion and what manners we should use and how we should speak. I am in a strategic retreat. I am going wherever Tim Hunt is hiding out these days. He's the British scientist who said, "women, you can't live with them, and you can't live without them," and then he smiled and shrugged.
He resigned after that. I would resign too, if I occupied a position that I could resign from. But I'm already pushing a broom, and my speech is never recorded.
Maybe Hunt plays chess. He and I can get up a game wherever they put fellows like us, we have much in common. I have done poorly with women in the workplace. I flee, I hide, I stammer, I bow,  I let them win, and I often say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I have not managed to do it properly.

Balzac. The antidote to the current madness is a good 19th century French novel. Cousin Bette  was written by Honore de Balzac and published in 1846. The story illuminates the variety of gender roles in the prosperous levels of Parisian society. I use this book as a guide for manners and personal conduct. If it's all right with Balzac, then it's all right with me. The tone of the book is generally good-natured. Persons who fall from grace are often resurrected in subsequent chapters.
But there is no point in learning the current rules because they will change tomorrow. 
Gravity's Rainbow. Water flows downhill and seeks its own level, according to the law of gravity. Gravity is immutable and water is life. Water unites us. Every living creature needs water. All people. Think of all the people you know. Judge them well or judge them ill, but as they live they need water as much as you and I do.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

 In Zimbabwe, we often enjoyed the fantastic rock formations in Matopos National Park.

It has often been suggested that Matopos is the site of King Solomon's Mine. Certainly there are caves, and hidden caves, and caves never seen by anyone living. It is a very mysterious place, haunted with magicians who hold ceremonies in moon lit evenings.

The leopards are everywhere in Matopos, but you never see them. You never see the leopard, but he sees you. The leopard comes at night, moves in silence and takes your goats.

In the ancient caves a thousand diamonds, rubies, old bones, and scattered parchments. King Solomon sent his people here to dig the gold for the Temple.

The magicians still come in the moonlight. And tourists like me pose for pictures.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Out of Africa

The Myth and the Reality

Out of Africa is a lovely, romantic story. Everyone is so nice and pretty. It's a fairy tale.

The reality is thousands of people crowded on decrepit vessels bound for Italy. Refugees who will risk their lives to get Out of Africa.

I have been writing the fairy tale version of Africa in my blog and Facebook postings. You will see the good side of it -- the spectacular sunsets and the warm-hearted people. The brutal facts -- disease, corruption and violent savagery -- will be swept aside.

People love the Africa of their dreams. Go on a safari in Kenya -- meet the noble Masai. You will love it. And don't you wish it were true?

I write about the Mataka family, the several generations -- the grandfather, the aunties and uncles, the cousins, and Precious the woman I married. I write about Zimbabwe, the land they came to, and I will soon be writing about Malawi which is their true homeland.

The Matakas came from Malawi in the 1930s. Came to Zimbabwe -- then called Rhodesia -- to find work.

But, in a larger sense, we all come from Malawi, for the human race was born in Central Africa. We were all born there. And the people who live there still are truly the most indigenous people on Earth because...... because they never left. They stayed behind  -- happy and resigned to be who they are.

But the rest of us evolved, and became restless, and wandered, Out of Africa, to Europe, Asia and the New World.

We escaped. We're the ones on that overcrowded boat heading for Italy. But a piece of our heart stayed behind, unconscious, unremembered, calling us home. This is why the people of Malawi don't say welcome, they say welcome back.

We visited Malawi and the Mataka ancestral village, and you will see a few photos and stories about them in future postings.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Eva with a chicken

Eugene got the headline last week, "My Son the Librarian."  First born and all that. Eva only got an honorable mention, a tag along kid.

But I used to tell her, "You always be grateful to your older brother. He was the one who took the blows. He ran interference for you."

Mother and father work out their theories of child-rearing on the first child, until they get exhausted and give up. Then the second child comes along and they just do what comes naturally. It gets easier for everybody.

So being first born you get more attention, but how good is that?

Here she is about 11 years old holding a chicken, a Rhode Island Red. We lived on the old farm, 3325 Martin Road, Mount Vernon, 20 acres of overgrown pasture and alder wood. Probably 1990 when this photo was taken. Eva was born not far from this farm, at Skagit Valley Hospital, March 4, 1979. She was a pretty baby and the nurse combed her black hair into a curl.

We took her home from the hospital. She was energetic but not cranky. Didn't need too much sleep, always healthy, liked to play, had a good appetite, grew up strong and true.

I need to dig out a photo of her when she was a teenager and tell about those years. But I will leave you with this image of her embracing her hen friend.

These were magic chickens.  The coyotes were always coming around the house at night, but they never got a chicken. We never penned them either, they spent the night in a tree, I guess.

We had  three goats, but that didn't last long. One day we came home and one of the goats was inside the house, standing on the kitchen table, looking like she owned it. They were too smart for me, so we gave them away to somebody.

We cut all our firewood off the alder wood in back of the house. Lived there almost five years. Until January, 1991, when we got up and moved clear across the country to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to a furnished apartment with off-street parking in the fancy part of town  -- Cambridge is where Eva matriculated as a  teenager, so I will tell that next.

When we lived on the old farm on Martin Rd, Eugene helped with the firewood.

Looking for Work. I finished working at the greenhouse at Healing Grounds Nursery in Goleta and I am looking for another position. It's very discouraging. I have a dismal employment record and few marketable skills. If esteem depends on accomplishment in the world of work, I come up zero.  I did enjoy working at the Wilson County News in South Texas -- the publisher of that newspaper reads Frog Hospital, so i want her to know that -- and I liked working at the Hedlin Produce Stand in LaConner.

That's two bright spots in 50 years of labor, but I'm not done, I will find something. The only thing worse than working is not working.

Important Events in the Lives of Famous People

Frederick Winyard and his wife Nora -- their home is in Anacortes -- traveled to Portland, Oregon for the 50th class reunion of Reed College, class of 1965.

Fred denied rumors that he served as a mechanic on Ken Kesey's Magic Bus back in those days.

Patricia Paul, LaConner attorney and almost famous cook, is re-considering her plans to visit El Salvador -- too much violence.

Alan Archibald, prolific left-wing blogger from North Carolina, is spending five weeks in Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Alan has sent me an email almost every day for the past ten years. I read most of them and often answer back. His blog is Pax on Both Houses.

Harvey Blume of Cambridge, Mass. and Andy Boyer of Columbus, Ohio are hoping the Cleveland Cavaliers can finally bring one home. Me too.

Monica Guzman, cutting edge blogger from Seattle, has been awarded a one-year fellowship at Harvard  -- you know, that school in Cambridge. She posted a link to a story about Digital Journalism -- her field -- that was published in the New York Review of Books.

The story is about news websites such as Buzz Feed and Vox, and how prominent journalists like Nate Silver are breaking away from the mother ship -- in Silver's case, it's the NYTimes -- to found their own news websites.

All this new news stuff goes right past me, but one thing remains the same. The article reports that sites like Buzz Feed are pressured by their advertisers to promote certain stories and kill other stories. Yes, that is the eternal struggle for integrity in journalism, in all formats. Advertisers pay the freight and want to have their say. Some things never change.

The Drought.  In the Goleta Water District north of Santa Barbara, water rates are going up by 50%. It's really quite simple -- when people use less water, the costs to the district do not decline. They still have to maintain 270 miles of pipes and pumps and service 16,000 meters.  Ergo, they need to charge more money for using less water. Makes perfect sense to me. But a lot of rate payers are simply not paying attention and will be rudely shocked come July when their $100 monthly bill comes to $150.

This is called a drought surcharge. My question, before the board at the June 9 meeting, will be, "When the drought is over, will the rate go back down again?"

Other Drought News. A square patch of lawn, 10 feet by 20 feet, in Laurie's back yard, looks brown and dismal. No watering. We can replace the grass with a drought-tolerant ground covering called dymondia, but it makes little sense to do this in June, when the ground is hard. We will wait until November, when we can expect at least some rain. That will soften the ground and make lawn removal much easier. Really, summer is not a good time to dig up grass and re-plant. I'm afraid we will have to kindly gaze on the brown patch and let it stay dormant.

Life in Santa Barbara. Life in Santa Barbara is a peach.

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I love this photo. It costs me seven years and a $150,000, but it was worth it. This was our wedding day, September 1, 1997, the day after Princess Diana died in a car accident.

Precious changed into this red dress for the reception after the ceremony. She loaned her flowery print dress to her cousin Tanti on the left.

Tanti was a free spirit -- notice she is not wearing shoes. Tanti had six children, "She likes men too much," Precious explained. And she was always happy and smiling -- I mean Tanti.

Precious was more reserved. The only time I ever saw her cry was at Aunt Janet's funeral when she threw herself on the grave and wept.

I said why do you never cry, and Precious told me about the time when she was ten-years-old and the soldiers came to Entumbani and made it a killing field. Precious took her younger brothers into the bushes and they hid for several days. She can't remember how long, but there was no water or food, and if they cried they would be found and killed.  So she never cried, and not since then never cried.

But our wedding day was happy for everyone.

You can't get a photo like this, of an African woman and her cousins on her wedding day. This natural, simple beauty. So relaxed, yet so proud. So sweet, yet so intelligent. Just as they are. You can't get this photo unless you truly belong there. So that's why I said it took me seven years and $150,000. You can't just get on a plane and fly to Africa and get this photo. You have to fully be there, as I was, for a time, 18 years ago.

Friday, June 05, 2015

God Bless Africa

Too many beautiful women. I will tell you about this some other time -- who they are and why they are gathered under the pepper tree at our house on Shottery Crescent.  But it relates to today's topic, the African National Anthem, because this is their song.

God Bless Africa is the African National Anthem

This moving rendition is sung by Paul Simon, Ladysmith and Miriam Makeba.

I searched the Internet high and low for the lyrics and translation, but I could not locate them. Perhaps it is better to simply meditate on the opening line -- God Bless Africa -- yes, may God Bless Africa  -- Nkosi Sikelele Africa.

A man with an orderly mind might question this phrase -- "African National Anthem."  This orderly man would ask, "Africa is not a nation, so how can it have a national anthem?"

I can explain this. Of course Africa is a continent composed of many nations, but the idea of a nation, firm and compact within its borders, with a certain culture and language distinct from other nations -- this notion is somewhat foreign to Africa. It might seem confusing to the orderly man. Surely it was confusing to me.

When I met Precious and her friend Nellie one evening in February of 1997, in the patio of the Palace Hotel in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and she told me her name was Precious, I was amazed at her forthright beauty and dazzling smile. But I am a man of a restrained and modest nature. Precious, as a name, seemed so over the top  -- I almost blushed.

In time I found out she had other names, at least two that I knew of. She showed me her two passports. One from Zimbabwe that gave her name as Precious Sibanda, born in 1967. The other passport was from Malawi and said her name was Precious Mataka, born in 1971.

This was not orderly. This was fantastic.To my credit, I never asked her what was her real name. "But, what is your real name?"  People with questions like that don't last long in Africa. That is like asking "What time does the bus get here?"

You just have to go with it. And sing with gusto, "God Bless Africa, Nkosi Sikelele Africa,"  the words of the African National Anthem.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Elephant

Their name is Ndlovu which means elephant. This is their wedding portrait on that special day in 1997 -- Mr. and Mrs. Elephant.

Commonly in Ndebele culture people have the names of animals, so you will meet Mr. Monkey, Mr. Cow and so forth.

You see the woman in the red blouse -- that is Precious, a cousin of the newlyweds. You see the the bridesmaids in procession in their rented gowns. I had seen them at the hall rehearsing their wedding dances the day before.

Amina was one of the bridesmaids. She has a half-sister to Precious, having the same father, but a different mother, as Precious's father seemed to go through wives rather quickly.   Amina's mother was a Tonga woman and the Tonga people from the Zambezi Valley are the blackest people of Zimbabwe, black as coal, black as midnight, black as velvet, a richness of pigment and a poverty of soil. The Tonga people are very poor in their hot country where the rain is scarce and the corn grows scarcely.

Amina was blacker than Precious, and younger and not as pretty. I liked her a lot because she was easy to be with.... Precious was the oldest of her brothers and sisters and the oldest of her cousins being the first born of her father who was the first born of her grandfather..... it gets complicated... she was related to the Ndlovus in some way..... After a while I just called them all cousins.... and they called me umkunyani which means son-in-law or "he who pays for everything."

I have to explain that in another post --  the lobola -- how a man pays for his bride.

Back to Mr. and Mrs. Elephant on their special day, seen here in procession in the township of Nketa Nine, at the home of our Uncle Smiley and his wife, Mamazala.

The blessed couple had six children and had been living together for 12 years, but the government had launched a new program of giving low interest mortgage loans to married couples. This program prompted the ceremony. Mrs. Elephant  would have her dignity at last and well deserved too, you would admit. She would have her proper home and she would have a proper wedding, complete with gown,  bridesmaids, cake and wedding feast.

Mr. Ndlovu had approached me several days before the wedding.  Would I give him a ride to Filabusi in my truck to pick up the the meat for the wedding feast? -- they had slaughtered a cow, he said.

Of course, I said, knowing it took an hour to get to Filabusi, and this being Africa, the arrangements of picking up the meat might take most of the day.

"So the beef is ready to be delivered?" I asked. He hesitated, looking at his feet, well, they have not yet slaughtered the cow.

Oh boy, this will be a long day, to find the cow, slaughter the cow, load the beef in the back of the truck and deliver it somewhere -- had Mr. Ndlovu arranged a cooler to store the beef?

Not exactly. In fact, he kind of wondered if I could loan him the money to buy the cow -- please?

Go the Barclay's Bank, withdraw enough cash to buy a cow, drive to Filabusi, find someone who wants to sell a cow, negotiate a price, then slaughter the cow, load the beef, drive back to Bulawayo, and arrange for storage in a cooler.

That was too much for me. I knew he had a job as a heavy equipment operator and was not poor, but he had spent all his money to rent the hall, and rent the bridal gowns, and buy the cake and other things. He had no funds for the beef.

I think I gave him the money in my pocket and wished him the very best.

But there was no beef at the wedding. Look at the photo again. notice the bowed head and sheepish expression on Mr. Ndlovu's face. Notice the fierce anger of Mrs. Ndlovu. No beef, and the meat of the cow is everything in Zimbabwe. The cow is prized above all other animals.

I wanted to laugh, but it was too sad. I took this photo from where I was sitting -- I had brought two chairs out to the yard to sit in the shade -- one for me and one for Mr. Mataka, the grandfather.

Mr. Mataka, approaching 80 years, was a happy man and always smiling. But this one and only time he was angry and he did not smile. "There is no food!" he said.

But, to my knowledge, Mr. and Mrs. Elephant got their mortgage and got their home and maybe they are happy together today, 18 years later.

I feel rich and thankful that my memory recalls so many of the details of this wonderful day in 1997.


My Son the Librarian

By Fred Owens
My son Eugene got a full-time job as a Librarian at the Exposition Park Regional Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. His specific responsibility is "Adult Services." We have teased him about that job title.
The Exposition Park Library is a 90-minute bus ride from Eugene and Erica's apartment in the Highland Park neighborhood  -- a long commute and quite common in LA. Eugene has been a bus rat for years -- he doesn't drive or own a car, and you can live quite well without one as he has established. He is a Man About Town. Living well in a great city like Los Angeles is about as good as you can do.
Eugene worked several years as a substitute Librarian before getting this permanent position. As a sub he got to know almost every branch of the library -- they posted him all over town.  And he got good at bus navigating .
At the library, Eugene often occupies the Reference Desk. In that capacity I picture him as Captain Kirk on the Enterprise, boldly going forth,  calmly assuring troubled library patrons with "How can I help you?" and "Where do you want to go with this?" and "What do you hope to accomplish?"
Happiness is children doing well in the world. I used to  tell him this when he was a teenager, "Just do something I can brag about, that's all I ask."
The daughter is doing well too. Eva has been at Boeing for a few years now. She recycles airplanes -- not by herself, of course, but she works in that area. They don't just throw the old planes away -- if you think about it....... She and Lara live in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle with their dog Odie.  I got a FB post from her today -- she has camping on Mount Baker. Ah, the great outdoors.
Tragedy. Maybe I am cherishing my kids a little bit more today because of Joe Biden's loss. I can't imagine anything more difficult.

Katcho Achadjian for Congress

You cannot look more Armenian than Katcho Achadjian,  Such a mustache and such a smile. This is a face with great character and depth.  He is running for Congress in our California district. I will vote for him surely, unless I discover something in his character or in his political record that indicates a defective nature. He currently serves in the California Assembly and he is used to the long commute to Sacramento and used to endless  meetings with fellow legislators. We could do worse to have such a fellow in Congress.

Helene Schneider for Congress. 

 Helene is the mayor of Santa Barbara.  She has such vigorous, life-affirming hair. She gives a California meaning to the word zaftig.  She declared her intention to serve in Congress, but she is making a big mistake. Being the mayor of Santa Barbara is the best and happiest job in American politics. Life is beautiful here. We are rich and we live near the beach. Helen presides as mayor over this feast and she comes home to her family every night.
But put her on the red-eye to Washington every week, staying in some dreadfully expensive and dreary apartment, squabbling in vicious and pointless committee meetings.She will hate Congress. She will become very unhappy. "Helen, you've got it good right here in Santa Barbara, and I want you to stay with us." So I will not vote for her.

Presidential Politics.  It's kind of a weird race for President with so many on the Republican side and Thunder  Pussy standing alone for the Democrats. See? That's why I don't write about her -- it's too easy to be insulting.
The race in  2016 could be the first contest with no White Man on the ballot. Put Marco Rubio with Carly Fiorina on the GOP ticket, and put Hillary Clinton and Julian Castro for the Democrats. There's nobody who looks like me.
Carly Fiorina is not Italian! She just married some guy with that name. I just looked that up. I am so disappointed. I was hoping for a First Italian President, but she has little chance of winning anyway.  What I Iike about her is that she is capable of filling the office. I have a broad perspective on this. I believe there are a fairly large number of Americans who might serve well as President, and I am vigorously anti-dynastic. She could do a better job than Texas Governor Rick Perry.
The most experienced candidate by far is former New York Governor George Pataki, a three-term Republican governor in a very Democratic state. You never heard of Pataki because he never screwed up too badly. And that is almost inspiring.

Ted Cruz is Hispanic. Can you be white and Hispanic at the same time? He could be really good in the debates. Can we just have Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders debating? They are the only two candidates of any interest.
Let's all vote for Bernie Sanders and put  the first Jew in the  White House. I love him. He's from Brooklyn. Just to hear him talk is a blessing. If the election were held today I would vote for Bernie.
Question. Is America going to hell or are we on the path to a golden future?

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Cruising on the Zambezi River

I was going to tell you about the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Elephant. And I was going to tell you about the quality and nature of African hair.

And I will tell you -- and I will tell you about all the Aunties, and our trip to Malawi and so much more. You will love to hear these stories and look at these photos.

But today I am relaxing on the evening Booze Cruise. Notice I am wearing a cotton sweater -- because it is not always hot in Africa. And notice the smile on my face and the relaxed posture of my folded hands and the cold beer on the table, drifting down the Zambezi River, where the river is broad and deep approaching Victoria Falls. There is an awesome geography as the water boils over the falls into a cauldron of furious white water, but above the falls, it is blissful as you see it.

The only danger are the hippos. Hippos live in many rivers in Africa, along with crocodiles, and many Africans cannot swim and fear the water for this reason. Of the two, crocodile and hippo, the hippo is the most dangerous -- so big and strong and angry. They will kill you and sink your boat, so we kept close enough for a look, but not too close.

As for hippos and other wild game, the big fearsome animals -- the lions and leopards and rhinos and buffalo and elephants,  all the big game, I have never heard an African say a word of encouragement except to say kill them all and eat them for they are too dangerous. All conservation efforts come from white Europeans. But the people who live in Africa love cows, because they are gentle and can be herded -- they do  not love elephants which can crush any fence and trample any cornfield. And to live near a wild lion? And not have a powerful rifle to protect your home?

I am afraid to say that African people have no romantic notions about wild game, no ancient traditions. Except for the cows. They only love the cows and fear the rest. Lions and elephants are good for the tourist business, that is all.

You may disagree with this notion, but you do not live in Africa.

Excuse me. I was distracted from my reverie. Forget my cynical sermon. Leave your cares behind and picture me floating down the river, with my cold beer and the beautiful woman who took this photo. Look at my face and see her reflection in it, and see how beautiful she is. African bliss.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Riding the Elephant

Precious was having a wild hair day so she went for a ride on the elephant.

African elephants are very hard to tame. They are not used as work animals like the elephants of India. I asked the driver on the elephant I was riding. "How do you get them to do what you want?"

He said, "I can't get them to do anything."

"But we seem to be riding safely," I said.

"Until we run out of peanuts," he said.

The elephant would twist his trunk up and back to the driver and be given a peanut.

This was in 1997 in Chihvu, which is on the road between Bulawayo and Harare. The elephants were kept at a game farm called Denise's Kitchen. We stayed there overnight and rode the pachyderms on a whim.

By the time of this outing we had been married for several months. I was getting homesick and missing my kids and the money part was impossible. I could see other white people becoming established in Zimbabwe and making a living, but the ways of the African economy were too mysterious for me.  I had hoped to buy farm property and grow some vegetables and manage a backpackers hostel near Matopos National Park. That was impossible. I wanted to go home.

I said to Precious, "Do you want to go to America?" She said, "Yes." I figured if she was brave enough to ride the elephant, she could be brave enough to come to America.

"Do you want to come to America?"


This is the full extent of the conversation we had on this topic. It was typical, in our relationship, to have very short and compact dialogs. She spoke English poorly and she had no patience to teach me her language of Ndebele. And she had the very attractive quality of getting right to the point. She said yes because that's what she meant.

This was a woman who would go shopping in five minutes. Like walk into a store -- this actually happened and I saw it -- walk over to the dress rack, spend about 30 seconds scanning up and down, and then say "I'll take this one."

But we have more to say about elephants. The next post will feature the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Elephant.

Also, at a later date, we will answer questions white people have about African hair.

Monday, June 01, 2015

We Were Here First

Yah, you were here first and $2 will buy you a cup of coffee.

Bushmen, or San people, drew the cave art resplendent in Matopos Park, as you can see, wonderful drawings in red ochre, drawings made thousands of years ago.

We used to drive out to the park and stand in the cave to look at the drawings. We pretended it was our home. I said to her, "We could live in this cave, fix it up nice, have a fire, stay warm and dry and the leopards could not attack us at night." I said that because it made sense to live in a cave, and to make drawings is a natural urge, common to all men at all times.

My African wife, Precious Mataka, was afraid of the Bushmen, or San people, as they are also called. "They are thieves and witches. They will play tricks on you. Stay away from them," she said. What could I say to that?    The Bushmen, or San people, are still remnant in far away places, but almost none are in town, so I never saw them.

I don't think I saw them. But maybe they saw me.

Who was here first? Not me, that's for sure. And how much does that matter? How much respect is due? Maybe a little, in my opinion. It much more matters what you are doing now.

I said I would explain the click sounds in the Ndebele language, also found in Zulu and in Xhosa.   The click sounds came from the Bushmen who have many click sounds.

They have been the sole occupants of South Africa for 10,000 years -- no, for 50,000 years -- no for 100,000 years -- and they speak with clicks.

But, maybe 2,000 years ago, at the time of Christ in Palestine, the Bantu peoples made a mass migration. The Bantus  -- all these tribes of Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Shona, Tswana, Tonga, Kalanga and others -- originated in the central highlands of Africa -- in Rwanda and Burundi and the Congo and Cameroon.

They came migrating southwards with their cattle and crops, moving slowly, over generations, but taking over from the Bushmen who were pushed aside and conquered and enslaved.

Now the Bantu live and rule in South Africa, but they adopted the click sounds from the Bushmen in their language, and that's why the Ndebele language has click sounds -- a Bushmen heritage.

So my African wife spoke Ndebele and made click sounds which  I learned to imitation  -- but here family was not Ndebele. Her name, Mataka, was not Ndebele.  Anyone who heard that name would know her people were new comers.

I will tell you where her family came from in another post.