Thursday, September 17, 2020

High Anxiety followed by an old story about Stealing Candy Bars

By Fred Owens

You can't even quote Woody Allen anymore but he was the master of high anxiety, defined as worrying about nothing, but worrying just the same and worrying because you're worrying. But I want to assure the readers that this is not the case for most of us right now. We are anxious about real troubles, this is not imaginary, this is not a drill. The sky is falling and the ocean is rising. Okay, that overstates it, but you can look out the window and see evidence. Evidence of bad air. Evidence becomes facts and facts have been disparaged by the right to a large degree, as you all know. The right (meaning Trump) has no use for facts, and they don't have any anxiety because they're all going to heaven. So what can we do? I'm not going to present a solution except to repeat my initial point -- your anxiety is about real problems. Please write back and share with us  -- how goes it at your house?

Seven Weeks To Go

Frog Hospital is published every Friday. There will be seven issues, including this one, until the election November 3. We are prepared for a rough ride. It could get a lot worse. The outcome is uncertain. But problems become opportunities  -- really, they do. Our selected leader Joe Biden has surprising strength and stamina. He is going the distance. He can win in November. He can overcome Trump because he is good at politics. That is his greatest strength. We at Frog Hospital have always admired our best politicians. It is the fashion to despise politicians, but why? The alternative to politics is war, dictatorship, anarchy and chaos. I'll take politics and I'll take Biden. He knows how to build a team that can get things done. His first important decision was choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate. She adds strength and character to the ticket, and she represents the beauty and power of the Golden State, which happens to be on fire right now. But do you think this fire storm will stop us or defeat us? Not on your life.

Old Story about Stealing Candy Bars when I was ten.

Where I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 1950s, nothing ever changed. From year to year it was always the same, incredibly stable. I liked it that way. The trees grew and the weather changed from one season to another. No drama. Here's a story from that time, 500 words, an excerpt titled Stealing Candy Bars from a much longer autobiographical sketch titled Why Was I Born.

I don’t know where I got this idea because nobody else did it. Or nobody told me about it, but I started stealing candy bars when I was ten years old.  And not from the Drugstore. I was dimly aware not to crap in my own sweet spot and leave the Drugstore for honest candy. Besides that, the tall, grey-haired lady was always watching behind the counter.  No, I stole from the grocery store over across Lake Street. I could put a couple of Milky Ways in my pants pocket down the aisle where no one was looking and just waltz right out of the store. Free candy. I kept stealing candy bars and I never told my friends, just ate them myself.

Charlie Swanson lived two houses down from the grocery store in a tall and narrow wooden house, lived there with his older sister and his parents.  He was an altar boy with an angelic pose. He had this kind of bland personality, not too much fun. I didn’t play with him. But there he was one day just standing outside the door of the grocery store when I came out with pockets bulging with Milky Ways, and I made the mistake of bragging – that’s how you always get caught – “Charlie, look what I got, and I stole them. Just took them. Do you want some?” 

If Charlie was shocked it didn’t show on his bland, angelic face. He said, “That’s wrong. That’s stealing. You shouldn’t take candy bars like that. I’m going to tell the manager you stole them.”

I turned red as a beet and got really scared. I knew it was wrong, and now he knew, and pretty soon the manager would know and then my parents. I was scared. I ran off, around the corner to the front of the Drugstore. I ate the candy bars quickly.  I never stole candy bars again after that.

It was not like Charlie Swanson was my best friend or anything. He was just someone in my class and I went over to his house a few times. But this kind of put a strain on things. Telling on me!

Two years later, Mrs. Swanson was getting out of her bathtub. She slipped and fell, banged her head on the side of the bath tub and died, just like that. We all went to the funeral. Charlie followed his mother’s coffin with his bland, angelic face. Of course he was sorrowful but it didn’t show.  I wasn’t mad at him anymore for telling on me.

My whole life changed because of Mrs. Swanson dying in her own bathroom, a perfectly healthy mom, and then she died. I became an adventurer and risk taker. I roamed the world as a man and took my chances, some very foolish chances and all because of Mrs. Swanson -- because why play it safe? Why stay home? You could die in your bathtub.

That's all for this week, but with any encouragement I can publish more excerpts from this story in coming issues.


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens

My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Calypso was her name


By Fred Owens

Calypso was her name -- the name of Laurie's horse, an Appaloosa thoroughbred cross. Laurie got her when she was 2 and kept her until she died at 34 -- that's a long time, 32 years, and Calypso was a good horse. Laurie kept her in the backyard and hauled in the hay and feed and rode her on the beach.

Laurie always wanted a horse since she was a little girl growing up in Manhattan Beach. She and her husband, Paul, bought the house in 1976 here in Santa Barbara, a comfortable three bedroom ranch house on a half-acre lot, with room for a good-sized corral in the back. They bought Calypso the  next year for $750. Laurie says she got lucky choosing Calypso, not having the experience of owning a horse. And Calypso was "green broke," that is, not well trained. But it worked out, and Calypso and Laurie became life long friends  -- they learned together.

This part of Santa Barbara was horse country back then. Lots of people kept horses and public/private trails wandered over the hill sides and down to the beach. Now horse ownership is less common because the area has been built up and many of the trails are closed. Still, our next door neighbor Alex keeps a horse in his backyard. We can hear the horse making shuffling noises in the quiet of the night.

Calypso enjoyed good health most of her life, but had trouble with her eyes in later years, finally going almost blind. After Calypso died in 2009 Laurie decided not to have another horse. In coming issues we will be telling more about Calypso and Laurie's life as a horsewoman.

My Car Might Be Totaled. I am distracted from post-car-wreck trauma. I am handling it well and know, and truly believe, that I will get another car and it will be a good one. But here's the story, skipping the details. My car, a 2004 Nissan Sentra which I have owned for 8 years, was innocently parked on the street in front of the house. At about 9:30 on Tuesday evening, Jesus Garcia driving his Lexus for Uber, sideswiped my car causing major damage to both vehicles. Jesus is a nice man with Mercury insurance. I filed a claim yesterday and they said they will come and tow it away today and arrange a loaner. We await judgment -- will they repair it, or offer me a cash settlement? I am not worried about all this. Cars come and cars go.

Smoky Air. As of Thursday morning, we are only lightly impacted by the raging infernos sweeping across the Golden State, only a slight odor of smoky air in the morning fog. I called my brother in Sierra Madre, a nice town just east of Pasadena. There is a major blaze too near to their home. Tom said he wasn't worried and the sheriff has not yet come knocking on his door. Tom and Marti have two dogs and do not care to leave their premises. But he did say, toward the end of our conversation last night, that they had several bags packed and ready to go by the front door -- packed with documents, prescriptions, and snacks for the dogs. Marti's daughter in Playa Vista, on the beach, has a spare bedroom and the dogs are welcome. Tom says they will leave if they have to.

Garden News -- the Gopher War Continues. Laurie ended the short but sweet life of the gopher that was gnawing off the main stem of her prized tomatoes and peppers. The gopher kills the whole plant that way. We welcome all hawks and owls. Come here and hunt. We encourage Sasha the cat to come prowling for fat little rodents. I will not bore you with garden philosophy and how growing vegetable teaches us life lessons. The hell with that. Those are our tomatoes. We did all the work and we're not gonna allow these welfare-chiselling gophers to get a free lunch.

Boredom. We are not bored, as so many people report. True, we are watching more TV than we used to. And it takes longer to find something good on Netflix. But we are not getting fat, getting drunk, abusing prescription drugs or fighting with each other. Laurie and I continue to enjoy each other's company. We will never run out of good books to read. I have a half dozen Dickens novels in storage. I could easily read them a second time. As it is  right now I am reading Million Dollar Baby, a collection of short stories by boxing writer F.X. Toole. Laurie is reading a Margaret Atwood's after the Flood.

Too much news. These are uncertain times. I am writing this on Thursday morning. It will be published on Friday afternoon. Who knows what will happen next. Don't be discouraged. I saw Democratic VP candidate Kamala Harris give an interview on CNN a few days ago. She is worried about all the same things that you and I are worried about, but she is doing her best to make it whole again. She's going to do her part, and we will do our part. That's all for today. Stay safe and stay healthy.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens

My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Thursday, September 03, 2020

At Our House


By Fred Owens

At Our House. Laurie has picked over 150 pounds of Concord grapes from the solid old vine in the back garden. These grapes are for juice and jelly or just to eat fresh. We processed seven gallons of juice for the freezer, and to enjoy on special occasions throughout the year. Then Laurie posted on the Internet to sell the rest of the grapes at $2 a pound. We also expect a bountiful harvest of passion fruit in October, some hundreds are green now but will develop that ripe purple color in due time. Last year Laurie sold her passion fruit at a dollar a piece and took in over $300. The almost ancient avocado tree, which has not had much fruit in the nine years that I have been present on this hacienda, is showing hundreds of ripening fruit which will be ready for harvest in March. So, in summary, it has been a good year for grapes, passion fruit and avocados, but the reliable golden delicious apple tree is taking a well-earned year off and not yielding much fruit.... Laurie just reminded me that the apple tree had a ton of fruit just last year and made many pounds of apple sauce.

We are sad realizing that the Thanksgiving party at her brother's house in Manhattan Beach will likely be  cancelled this year. Not this year the happy house jammed with loud boisterous relatives, not the table overburdened with food, not Uncle Sam sprawling on the couch in the den watching the football game the whole time. But it will be like this for many families and we will all get by.

The Cat Caught the Rat.  Laurie's cat caught a small rat the other day and brought it into the house to play with. She let it go and ran around and caught it again, numerous times as we sat on the couch. Laurie grabbed it with a pot holder and took it outside.Sasha is 14 years old, a brown-grey tabby of a shy nature. She is not known to be a hunter, but this week she is showing us that she can hunt if she wants to. Sasha loves Laurie more than anybody else. She always wants to sit in Laurie's lap when we watch TV. She will sit in my lap if Laurie is busy, but I am clearly her second choice. Laurie got Sasha as a kitten, from a friend, who had two cats from two litters. So Laurie picked Sasha and Ripple to take home. Ripple was the same age but from the other litter. Ripple died a few years ago and Sasha's life changed in a big way when she lost her life-long buddy. She became more needy, less distant, which was understandable. If you come for a visit to Laurie's house you are not likely to meet Sasha. She will hide in the bed room until you are gone. That is her nature. Sasha loves to go down to the garden and nose around, but she almost always waits  until someone goes with her. -- well, she isn't stupid, there are big creatures out there.

What was the Little Red Book?

Quotations from Chairman Mao and chanting slogans from the Little Red Book -- In 1969 I saw a group of students from Michigan chanting these sayings when I attended the SDS convention in Chicago that summer. SDS stands for Students for a Democratic Society. Anyhow I attended for one day and as fate would have it I was seated directly behind Yippie Elder Abbie Hoffman. Now Abbie was the weirdest guy I knew at the time, but he was within established parameters. He was an All-American weirdo, you might say. Anyway, at this SDS convention, groups were competing for the chance to be super hostile to established norms. The Maoists from Michigan chanting with Little Red Books were the most extreme. Abbie Hoffman thought they were round the bend and off the chart and if Abbie Hoffman thought they were too much, then you know they were really too much. Well, he got up from his folding chair and left the meeting. So did I.

Keep in mind that in the late summer of 1969, hundreds of young American men were dying every week in Vietnam.(242 in one week, according to Wikipedia) So who was being extreme?

The question coming from a small-town conservative friend was "Are these Maoists still around?' The answer is yes, Elaine, they are still here, still active in small numbers, kind of like small pox spores in a freezer. Avoid contact.

Political comment deleted

We are proud to be publishing our first cat story, celebrating the fabulous life of Sasha, our cat. Why disturb that peaceful passage with harsh words about the political climate? I did write something about the election a couple of days ago, but I looked it over this morning and found it depressing and fearful  -- we can't have that. So I shared this gloom with Roger Barcant, my old friend in London. He is more consistently cheerful than most people. I think it comes naturally. But he made it all better, so thanks, Roger.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens

My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Love with the Proper Stranger

FROG HOSPITAL -- August 28, 2020

Love with the Proper Stranger

By Fred Owens

Love with a Proper Stranger, starring Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen, 1963. This is the trailer. We watched it last week on Turner Classic Movies. Black and white, romantic drama/comedy.

She gets pregnant and finds him at work to let him know. They hardly know each other. Only one night, you see, but one night was enough. He is a musician living with Edie Adams, a dancer in a friends with benefits situation, although they did not use that term in 1963. But McQueen is willing to help Natalie find a doctor to terminate the pregnancy. They gather the $400 fee but the doctor proves contemptible and they both refuse to go through with the procedure. So, now what? Under pressure from her older brother, McQueen agrees to marry her -- to do the right thing, which is what some people did back then and some still do today. She refuses his dutiful proposal, it's not love, she says. Anyway, through this and that they actually do fall in love and he woos her with bells and banjos. Great movie. I've seen it several times. McQueen's only romantic movie. He plays a guy who is not used to traditional romance. In other words he is playing himself. She plays a young woman who wants to get away from her traditional family. Natalie Wood is the all-American girl in every way -- she reminds me of my big sister who was 24 when this movie came out and going out in the world with her own job and her own apartment and in no hurry to get married, which was a bit unusual at that time. McQueen plays it well too. He had just finished the Great Escape with the fabulous motorcycle chase and he was up to the challenge of a romantic lead -- but he is so much better than Tom Cruise in action or in romance. Natalie Wood is everyone's big sister even if you don't have one. She was just how it was supposed to be in 1963, before it all changed. She is what America looked like in 1963.

And 1963 was the last year you could say that. The civil rights movement was looming. After 1963 if the cast of a movie was still all-white, it wasn't supposed to be. You could either give Sydney Poitier a serious part or else prepare a good excuse why he wasn't included.  Integration was the goal. We were all going to mix together. It was inspiring.

Seeing to these changes was James Baldwin among other luminaries. He is shown here in a famous debate with conservative ikon William Buckley at the Oxford Union in 1965. Talk about crisp diction. These two fellows outdid each other on presentation. Buckley, and I'm being charitable, represented the brakes on the train of progress. Both of these fellows had been through this dance on other stages, using well-worn yarns and words pronounced so carefully they were almost chewed.

Baldwin made his point -- that the goal was that men like Buckely, although probably not Buckley himself, but some white men in any  case, might rise to the level of power and vision that was already in the possession of Baldwin and his fellow Negro advocates.  It was not, and Baldwin said this in a dozen different ways, an equality where he was to rise to Buckley's level, but the other way around. Such a bold stance was shocking in 1965 when Baldwin addressed the Oxford Union. Such pride and ego! And yet one can find in his writing and speeches, without too much trouble, moments of humility and the humor and smiles that come with that humility. One prayed, almost hopelessly, that Buckley might some day achieve that same humility, but he only became uncomfortable. You can see him squirm in his chair when Baldwin was speaking.

Notice the archaic language, Negro where we would say African-American. And he, where we would say he or she. It was the grammar of integration and the proper thing in 1965

Maybe this isn't useful, reviewing a movie from 1963 and a civil rights debate from 1965. It could be that I am just more comfortable with these words and these actors from times past.

Fire and Flood. Stuart Welch, the former owner of the Rexville Store in LaConner, helped me to make sense of the current disaster. We have multiple connected disasters all caused by climate change. Fire in California, flood in New Orleans, pandemic  virus globally, economic dislocation, and a President who is clearly unhinged  -- all connected and related, said Stuart in wise reflection. It is one great big problem and to know that and describe that is more than half way to a solution. so let us keep connecting the dots.

At Our House. Laurie has picked over 100 pounds of Concord grapes from the solid old vine in the back garden. These grapes are for juice and jelly or just to eat fresh. We processed seven gallons of juice for the freezer, and to enjoy on special occasions throughout the year. Then Laurie posted on the Internet to sell the rest of the grapes at $2 a pound. We also expect a bountiful harvest of passion fruit in October, some hundreds are green now but will develop that ripe purple color in due time. Last year Laurie sold her passion fruit at a dollar a piece and took in over $300. The almost ancient avocado tree, which has not had much fruit in the nine years that I have been present on this hacienda, is showing hundreds of ripening fruit which will be ready for harvest in March. So, in summary, it has been a good year for grapes, passion fruit and avocados, but the reliable golden delicious apple tree is taking a well-earned year off and not yielding much fruit.... Laurie just reminded me that the apple tree had a ton of fruit just last year and made many pounds of apple sauce.

We are sad realizing that the Thanksgiving party at her brother's house in Manhattan Beach will be cancelled this year. Not this year the happy house jammed with loud boisterous relatives, not the table overburdened with food, not Uncle Sam sprawling on the couch in the den watching the football game the whole time. But it will be like this for many families and we will all get by.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214
My gardening blog is  Fred Owens

My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Fire Next Tiime

By Fred Owens

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!

Eugene asked me what I wanted for my birthday, June 25. I said James Baldwin. I had read several of his novels when I was a kid and I thought it might be worthwhile to read them again. So Eugene sent me Collected Essays, which includes The Fire Next time. I read a few pages as a warm up to see if my serious reading brain still worked. I often read challenging works during the sixties when I was in college, but these days I often look for something easy and I'm afraid Baldwin is not too easy. But worth the effort.

Baldwin is rich. Here is one section from Down at the Cross, written about his coming of age when he became 14.
"Negroes in this country -- and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other -- are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means they are superior to blacks ...." 

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, was published in 1963, about 50 pages, 2 essays. This is difficult for me to write because it is a serious book and I have never, in all my years writing, written a book review. So I'm going to ask people to work with me on this.
I asked Eugene to find a public domain photo of Baldwin that we could use to illustrate the essay. "Whatever looks good," I told him, figuring he would choose one of those deadly serious author poses so commonly placed on the back cover of a book. Instead he selected Baldwin smiling in sun glasses standing next to Marlon Brando. They were friends, it turns out. They even roomed together for a period. And Baldwin is showing a Hollywood smile with lots of teeth. Not that he had good teeth, because he didn't, but you know he had his moments when he knew he was as good as Marlon Brando. Viva Zapata was my favorite Brando film, followed by On the Waterfront. "I could have been somebody. I could have been a contender, instead of a bum, which is what I am."

I could have been somebody. I know exactly what that feels like. Brando I understand. Not James Baldwin.  I don't understand him. No, that's not right. Let me try and say it another way. Baldwin describes his life and his options as a young black man in Harlem. I know I don't understand it.  I got the book out on Monday and raced through the fifty pages in two days. It was intense. But I didn't get it, so I'm reading it again.

In 1963, that was the year of the big civil rights rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Baldwin was there, of course. Brando was there. That's when the photo was taken. It was a tragic time, August, 1963. Kennedy was assassinated in November. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. MLK in 1968. In 1963, when Baldwin's book was published, I was a senior in high school. I didn't have a clue. But I read his books, The Fire Next Time and Another Country and Giovanni's Room. That was a world I didn't live in.

Now I am reading a short story by James Baldwin titled Sonny's Blues. Sonny is the younger brother by seven years of the narrator. Sonny plays the drums and piano in various pick up groups at jazz clubs around Harlem, but doing heroin, which concerns the narrator who wants to help his younger brother find that thing that matters. I am on page 30 of the story which goes to 36 pages..... I don't think I have ever been to Harlem. I was at Columbia University for a Tikkun Conference in 1994 -- from the campus you can look down the hill to see Harlem, but I never went down the stairs.

I've never written about race, couldn't do it justice. We watched the 2016 documentary on the work and life of James Baldwin, titled I Am Not Your Negro. Baldwin has a very expressive face and an elaborate diction. Where am I taking this? I was in Africa for a year and married an African woman and we lived together for seven years. What did I learn? I must have learned something, just not much to write about now. I might do better writing about the time Jim Smith and I went fly fishing in Montana, right outside of Yellowstone Park, on the Madison River, full of hungry trout and easy to catch. Now I'm comfortable with that. But the Fire Next Time is not approachable. Well, Mark Twain could not write that story either. He would put Baldwin on a raft and call him Jim, but without the humor. Mark Twain would rip up draft after draft trying to write about Baldwin. He would curse a lot, puff on his cigar and give up. Norman Mailer would put Baldwin in a boxing ring fighting at the welterweight level and the result would be embarrassing. So if I screwed it up I would be in good company.

To be Continued .....

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens

My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Precious Comes to America

By Fred Owens

The photo shows Precious shivering in her winter coat but obviously enjoying her first glimpse of the daffodils in the Skagit Valley. This was in February, 1998.

"It's really cold in America and there are white people everywhere, you sure you want to go?"  I asked her and asked her again. "Yes," she replied with no elaboration and no declaration of goals about how America was a dream of Disneyland, wealth and freedom. For her, life in Zimbabwe was not only harsh, it was boring. To me life in Zimbabwe was exotic. To her it was like New Jersey. A question I never asked, because I didn't want to hear the answer was  -- did you marry me to get a visa?

We got her a visa, it took four months. At one point I had to call Ed Burke, the attorney, who lived in Framingham, Massachusetts. Ed had recently retired from a position as state senator in Massachusetts and began a private law practice. He was the widowed husband of a college classmate, that's how I knew him. I left him $5,000 on retainer before I went to Africa, figuring he might have to bail me out of jail or get me out of the hospital. He didn't ask for the retainer, but I thought paying him in advance like this would simply guarantee faster action and greater conviction. Because what if I did end up in jail or in hospital in Zimbabwe, who would get me out? Ed Burke.

This turned out not to be a problem, but we needed to jump through some immigration hoops to get her visa, so Ed took care of that.  A funny thing is that she needed a criminal background check among other documents. We had to drive four hours to Harare to get that document because the issuing agency had run out of stamps and could not mail it. This is Africa, waiting for stamps. But we did not want to wait for the stamps so we drove the four hours and there was Precious's criminal background report sitting on the bottom of a stack of un-mailed letters.

We collected the document and looked it over. "Precious, it seems you were arrested for assault a few years ago, how did that happen?" She immediately launched into an elaborate fabrication of events. The boldness of her dishonesty astonished me. There was a fight. Somebody hit somebody else. Somebody called the cops. Somebody -- that would be Precious -- got arrested, but it wasn't her fault. 

This situation did not disturb me. I knew her to be very feisty and strong. I had seen her look out for herself. Sometimes an African woman has to do that. And how much safer and easier would it be for her being a black woman in America?

We drove again to Harare for the interviews. Separate interviews were held at the American embassy to determine if our marriage was a matter of genuine affection and not some pay off for the visa. The embassy staff was charmed by our mutual appeal and gave us the thumbs up.

We got the visa in late February, 1998, and bought plane tickets to the Promised Land. Precious was never one to show excitement but we did get to the airport more than two hours early, her first time on a plane. We landed in Jo-burg for a four-hour layover. Precious did not fear flying but the escalator scared her to death so we took the elevator, which did not scare her. Whatever.

A long plane ride to NYC, a hop to Logan Airport in Boston for a short visit with my son. It was very cold and there were white people everywhere. Precious did not admit to being afraid but her face broke out in pimples, because she was afraid. But she was strong and there was no going back. We flew to Cleveland and visited my daughter at Oberlin College. Then we flew across the country to Seattle and took the bus to LaConner, just in time to see the daffodils blooming. It was very cold. She never complained. I think she liked it.

We bought a house. I made sure it was what she liked and I put her name on the deed alongside my name. We lived in that house for six years and then got a divorce. I guess you might say we ran out of things to talk about. I don't want to criticize her behavior or mine. It just didn't work out. And truthfully most people who knew us were not surprised. We didn't look like a couple, didn't fit in the grand plan. Except there is no grand plan.

For a long time afterward, I wished I had never gone to Africa and I wished I had never married Precious, but I got over that. I did get a good story. Precious lives in Pennsylvania now and works as a nursing aide. She returns to Zimbabwe every few years to see her family.

The End.

The Fire Next Time. Eugene asked me what I wanted for my birthday, June 25. I said James Baldwin. I had read several of his novels when I was a kid and I thought it might be fun to do it again. So Eugene sent me Baldwin's Collected Essays, which includes The Fire Next Time. I will read a few pages in coming days and let's see if it still works -- my reading brain. I often read challenging works during the sixties when I was in college, but these days I often look for something easy and I'm afraid Baldwin is not too easy. But worth the effort?

Baldwin is rich. Here is one section from Down at the Cross, written about his coming of age when he became 14.
"Negroes in this country -- and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other -- are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means they are superior to blacks ...."

The Election. ..... Current events can be overwhelming, but the news about Kamala Harris is uplifting...... Harris, quoting Biden, said "There is room for everybody." That is a hopeful mantra. The African story comes to a close this week. There are many more stories coming out of Africa, but who will write them? The entire text is about 35,000 words and could be worked up into a proper book manuscript. That is possible. But my energy, for the next few months, is getting Biden elected in November, so we are giving Africa a rest for now.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

waiting for the bus

FROG HOSPITAL -- August 7, 2020

Waiting for the Bus

By Fred Owens

I have these moments when everything is just right and this was one of them. We were sitting by the side of the road waiting for the bus. It feels calm, I mean who knows if the bus will ever come or if it ever has come, that's not our problem. It's for us to wait. And she was being kind to me, as you can see in the photo. She gave me the shade, me being fair-haired from northern climates and not used to the hot African sun, while she was at home in it. So she gave me the shade.

Waiting for the Bus is what people do in Africa. You can buzz right through it as a tourist, or sign up for an NGO and do some decent development project like teaching children to read, or helping to re-build the well in the village that goes dry half the year. But you don't become Africa, you don't be Africa unless you're waiting for the bus. That's hope and no hope. I got to be Africa, waiting for the bus after many false starts. They could tell I was trying to get somewhere, until I finally realized I was already there. That's Africa, when you be Africa.  But by then my time was up. That's what I said at the beginning of this story. It doesn't matter if you love or hate Africa, or if you want to stay forever or leave tomorrow. You are given so much time and given by whom I cannot say but you are given so much time, and when that time is up, you better heed the signal because it's time for you to leave, and you should be mighty grateful that you got to stay here at all. I got to stay for a year and sometimes she gave me the shade.

We got back from Malawi in early November.........Mr. Mataka and his two daughters, Marji and Winnie, stayed behind to share  secrets with Amina, to tell old stories around her small cooking fire, and she laughing the whole time. But Precious and I headed back to Blantyre, the big city in Malawi and there I almost got killed by an angry mob. This man accosted us. He seemed to know Precious very well. He began to shout that I had stolen his wife and I must give her back. Quickly a crowd formed and the language became more heated. I was frightened. But Precious rose to the occasion and confronted this pig. She said to the pig, You do not own me. I am not your slave to order around, I go with this man now and we are married. You were a pig to me, but he is kind. So shut the fuck up and go back to your lemonade stand. You are bothering me. I will call the police and you will go to jail........ so she said to this man speaking in Chewa, which is the language of Malawi. She was very calm. The bystanders drifted away. Some old boyfriend I guess. 

This reminded me of how little I knew about her. She had two passports. One from Malawi said her name was Precious Mataka and that she was 25 years old. The other passport was from Zimbabwe and said her name was Precious Sibanda and that she was 32 years old. I did not believe either one. I figured I would never get to the bottom of the common African practice of multiple identities. She was who she said she was when she said it.
Well, I said, I guess you are.

The photo was taken right near Victoria Falls and we had come out to this road to view the world's largest baobab tree, called the Livingstone Tree, named after Scottish explorer David Livingstone. They never tore down his statue when they kicked out the colonial govt. in Zimbabwe. They tore out all the other statues of European heroes, but they left Livingstone standing because he did no harm.  He just wanted to find his way.

Who took the photo? It must have been my daughter Eva who came to see us that summer of 1997 in the few weeks before we got married. Eva stayed with us  before starting college in September. She took the photo. Then she got on the bus and saw her own adventures in the cold mountains of Chimanimani, which lie near the border with Mozambique. The guerilla partisans used to pass through there into Zimbabwe from their training camps in Mozambique but that war ended in 1980. Still it was wild, rugged country and I can't believe I let Eva go there all by herself having just turned 18.

How the Pandemic Defeated America  Defeated, yes, but it's not over. This matter of fact story in the Atlantic does not hide the truth but just lays it all out. I accept this judgment and say we can fix this if we first make a ruthless explanation of how it happened. Trump and the attitude that elected him is the biggest problem. But the whole notion of private health care and insurance by means of employment needs to be challenged. The last paragraph reads, "The pandemic has been both tragedy and teacher. Its very etymology offers a clue about what is at stake in the greatest challenges of the future, and what is needed to address them. Pandemic. Pan and demos. All people."

If You're Not Happy Today, That's Totally Normal. Barton Goldsmith explains this in Psychology Today. More than a thousand Americans are dying every day, plus many more thousands are dying around the globe. The human family is under great duress. So, to put it bluntly, these are not happy days. He writes, "Right now, I don’t think there’s any way to manufacture happiness when there is so much going wrong in our world..... your job is to survive—having a good time and feeling happy again will come later if you just do that."

Africa Knows How to Survive. Africa has survived every disaster since the beginning of the human race. Africa can say, better than anybody, that we're still here, we've always been here, and we always will be here. Africa is the place where herd immunity was invented. Individuals may die but the tribe lives on. This is something I neglected to mention in my quest to visit Chembe village and meet with Amina, the wise sister of Mataka, because this is where the human race originated. Somewhere around here, many thousands of years ago, a young creature stood up on her hind legs, looked around and realized that she was different from all the other creatures. She realized that she was a human being. And she began the process, taking many thousands of years, of finding out what it means to be human, a process that began somewhere near Chembe Village and continues to this day, to this pandemic. So tap into that life force and survive. And when it's time to be happy crack open some cold beers and smile,  because that's what they do in Africa.

In the Next Issue, Precious and Frederick Begin Their Migration to America. Leaving Africa, Coming to America. They got married September 1, 1997, the day after Princess Diana died. They made a honeymoon homecoming journey to Chembe, Precious's ancestral village. They came back to Bulawayo and began the visa process. Precious is about to take her first flight in an airplane.

See you next week,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens

My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

hey dude

FROG HOSPITAL  -- August 1, 2020

Hey Dude!

By Fred Owens

I don't know about that exclamation point in the title, but hey Dude, I'm the Dude, a slovenly white man who takes advantage of his dwindling privilege to go to the liquor store in his pajamas. He can get away with stuff like that. I was thinking of myself, reviewing crazy, stupid things I've gotten away with over the years. Like why didn't I get arrested, or scolded, or kicked out? Because I 'm smart and good-looking? So I thought. Actually it was just privilege.

Or this nice neighborhood where I live with Laurie in Santa Barbara near the beach. Having few funds amd fewer marketable skills, how did I get included here? Because I fit in. Because I feel comfortable and people don't wonder what I'm doing here. I belong here. That's privilege. Privilege doesn't explain everything. The term is currently being over-used. I'm using it now but I am usually at the tail end of these trends.

The leaders in language reform are way ahead of me. Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC. She is a definer. She gives new meaning to current vocabulary. Her judgment is impeccable, in my view. I liked very much the way she handled Congressman Bloho. And you know he said it sideways, not to her face, but going away, close enough so she could hear it, but far enough away that he could deny saying it. Trump is the master of this sideways slur. What me? I didn't mean it.

Her speech in defense of good conduct was very good. Every word and every phrase held my attention. Not rehearsed, but prepared. The Congressman gave her the set up she was waiting for and she hit it out of the park. The wrong man said the wrong words to the wrong woman at the wrong time. And the world changed. You could feel it. I'll use that word again -- impeccable.

He used the b-word. The vocabulary of nasty pejoratives aimed at women is extensive. That's the low ball. Matched by an often phony high range -- the lady madonna phrases. Her purity of spirit! Her angelic beauty! Good grief.

What is missing is the mid range, the tone of equality. Men have neutral words like dude, buddy, fellow and guys. Some of these words could cross over and become gender-free. Gals doesn't work. Not Babes. Not Dolls. Woman is always right and it is the safe choice. Young man works better than young lady as a term of address. I use Sir or Ma'am a lot. You won't get in any trouble saying those words. All I'm saying is that I deserve to have a place on the committee. AOC can be the chairperson for new usage. I just want to have a say in it.  Race is also getting the overhaul, but I am not talking about that today. Like Thug, being ruled racist. I go along with this, but reluctanly.

I forgot Dame. Dame is  just right, informal but not pejorative. It was common usage back in the day. Let's bring it back. Like in a detective novel, this dame says to me.....

Batchelor cannot be salvaged. Spionster is much too sad. But we are stuck with Single, a word devoid of color. Are you single? I hate it. Let's come up with something better than Single. 

What's wrong with old? Like Old Man, that sounds okay to me. Old Lady  doesn't work however. See the problem? But in  any case old is good, in my view. I'm old. I was young once, then I got old. Does that bother you? Kiss my grits. 

Good Morning America.
Watching Good Morning America with George Stephenopoulis -- it's my favorite TV show. I made the effort to learn how to spell Stephenopoulis. This is a good way to start the day. The news, the weather, a bit of cooking, fashion, sports, adventure. Not too cheerful. They smile, but not too much. And the ads are good too, mostly local businesses in Santa Barbara -- arborists, garage door installers, carpet salesmen --- businesses I support.

Massive quarantined boredom is creeping across the land. I called my brother last night -- we had nothing to discuss. Folding laundry and stuff like that. We're going to need a pandemic pep rally, because people are down, with the serious matter of knowing this will last until Christmas easily, and knowing we might likely lose family and friends.

Cheerful news will happen. Biden will win. We will begin to smile again and have a little zest. Let's get through this.

That's all for this week. Remember, Precious and her family are still in Chembe Village in Malawi. They are communing with their ancestors, so let's give them some quiet. We will hear from them later.

Bye for now,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

FROG HOSPITAL  -- July 24, 2020

Amina Was the Younger Sister of Mataka

By Fred Owens

Amina was the younger sister of Mataka. She had lived her entire life in Chembe Village. She was the happiest person I have ever known and she had such pretty feet. I doubt she ever wore shoes. I would encounter her as she walked the 200 feet from her cook shack to the small mountain stream that provided water for the village. She pittered and pattered in light steps carrying a clay jug for the water. She would stop to set down the jug and talk to me. Her smile dazzled me and she told me many stories and gave me much courage in my endeavors and said she hoped we had come to Chembe to make it our home. She spoke to me in her language called Chewa, which I did not understand, not a word she said, except for the smile and the wonderful life-affirming energy.

But  she put her smile away for the camera when I took this photo. It was at a village wedding and hence I had permission to take photos and it was expected. We see Mataka on the left with his Muslim hat. We see Precious in her pretty dress which I had bought for her in Pretoria. We see Amina looking down, wearing her festive wrap skirt. And finally we see Lysson Rashid, a young man of the village, looking quite at ease.

Chembe was a quiet place. It was a Muslim village and hence had no dogs, no barking or growling at night. In the first light of dawn, the imam would sing the first call to prayer. To hear this prayer as it was intended, without electric amplifying, in a village without electricity was a haunting experience. The  melody is so peaceful. The mosque was a simple adobe-brick structure, and the imam carried his tattered scriptures under his arm. The women did not cover their heads as they would in more religious environs. Here it was simple Islam, as it should be, taken lightly.

Mataka and the two aunties bedded down in Amina's cook shack, warmed by the last coals of the cooking fire. Precious and I were given the more honored position, to sleep on a hard, dirt floor in one room across  from the mosque and the chief's house.

Chembe was the chief. It was his village, He was most at ease, treating me as an honored guest and quite his equal. Although I was more than a guest, being married to Precious, I had pledged my life to the village and Chembe, the chief, might show me a plot of land where I might build my home, if I chose to do that. But an equal to Chembe in the sense that he admired me but did not envy me. I had my college education and world travels, he had two wives. He quietly brought out and served a bottle of rum. Of course there is no open consumption of alcohol in a Moslem village, but a quiet drink now and then never hurt anybody. So Chembe and I talked into the evening, seated on chairs, what I suspected were the only two chairs in the village. Hard-wooden chairs. I got tired of that and we went to bed early, to sleep on the hard earthen floor of the hut. I could begin to see that I was not built for long-term occupation of such environs, to live without modern facilities entirely, to grow your own food entirely or not eat. And do this by hand for there were no tractors or other machines. No, not for me.

We stayed one week. Any longer and they would have put us to work. As it was, we had brought many pounds of groceries with us to spread around as guests. And they killed a goat for us. Goat meat has never done much for me, but I appreciated the gesture.

Fathers and Sons. My father published a  fishing magazine and he was moved to get one of his two sons involved in the business and to eventually take it over. I can understand that desire. I feel a special thrill knowing that my son Eugene is helping me out. My Dad was quite disappointed that neither my brother nor I want to get involved in his business. We simply had other interests. The funny thing is that my Dad never thought to ask one of my three sisters if they wanted to take over. His bad.

Back in Zimbabwe. One reader's  request to input stuff about the culture and politics of Zimbabwe is reasonable. But that is not what I can do.. I stick with what I actually saw and heard plus my immediate reaction to that. But I can make a short exploration of that topic. I noticed the utter lack of political talk when I was there in 1997. Robert Mugabe was the unchallenged president for life at that point, and people kept their mouths shut about his rule. You were free to come and go and go about your business. But to wear a political slogan on a t-shirt was ill-advised. Better to talk about the football game or the weather. Mugabe's rule was authoritarian and that was understood. And still is today, even though Mugabe himself is gone.

Back ground. Zimbabwe used to be Rhodesia. From Wikipedia. Cecil Rhodes invaded the Shona kingdom with his private army, took over all the territory, and founded a colony named after himself. Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe. When I lived in Bulawayo I often visited Rhodes's unmarked grave, high on a granite outcropping in Matopos Park. They tore down all his statues, but it was too much trouble to dig up his grave.

Cecil John Rhodes PC (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British mining magnate, and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), which the company named after him in 1895. South Africa's Rhodes University is also named after him. Rhodes set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate.

One of Rhodes's primary motivations in politics and business was his professed belief that the Anglo-Saxon race was, to quote a letter of 1877, "the first race in the world". Under the reasoning that "the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race", he advocated vigorous settler colonialism and ultimately a reformation of the British Empire so that each component would be self-governing and represented in a single parliament in London.

There you have it, baldly stated. The English folks who settled in what is now Zimbabwe, believed they were doing the local people a big favor by demonstrating the superiority of their own way of life, what was called Commerce and Christianity. 

Back in the USA. As I said on Facebook this morning, the pandemic and quarantine is getting to be a solid drag, like it will never end. We are in the endurance phase, being tempted to cut corners and ignore basic commands. But we must not slack off. It will end, some day.

Please make a contribution to PayPal, your donation of $5 or $50 will be greatly appreciated. Otherwise we are especially glad to hear from readers. We need the feedback. Your comments can lift our spirit and help us do better. Please write to us and say what you think.

Back to Chembe Village. This week's issue is long enough. We will be back next week with more photos from Chembe Village, and more stories from Amina,  the wise woman.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

grace's music

FROG HOSPITAL -- July 15, 2020

Grace's Music

By Fred Owens

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Grace Sibanda is the cousin of Precious Mataka. She lives in Bulawayo in a modest neighborhood named Nketa Nine. In 1997, when we lived in Bulawayo, we often took the 20-minute walk to Grace's house. Smiley Sibanda was her father. Smiley was uncle to Precious. To me, he was "baba-zala" or uncle by marriage. I liked him. We had many reasonable discussions while drinking tea in his cozy living room. I once helped Smiley plant a fig tree and an orange tree in his yard, Grace tells me the trees are still living and producing great amounts of fruit 23 years later. I asked Grace to describe her taste in music. People younger than me will recognize many of the names. 

Grace's Music. I love reggae, Rnb, a bit of south african hip hop, and gospel music. My all time favourite artists are luther vandross, joe thomas, westlife, ron kenoly, adele, brandy, mariah carey, christopher martin, ub40, bob marley, lucky dube, the gentleman, hillsongs, don moen, don mcclurkin, kirk franklin, black diamond. Local musicians of my country are legendary... Oliver mtukudzi, JAH prayzer, ammara brown.

Rugby. Watching a 2017 Rugby match between New Zealand and South Africa. Rugby is like playing football without any rules and no helmets. It is very popular in South Africa. Cricket is also important.  I watched a cricket match once. It is a very silly game I thought. It has that British silly quality that this mother nation spread to all her colonies. The British also built good roads and train tracks. But it became time  for them to move on, so the people took over the governance of Zimbabwe in 1980. They are not doing too well at independence in my opinion. But, being independent, they never asked for my opinion. Good on that. I only write about what I see, and very little about what it should be.

God Bless Africa. God Bless Africa is the South  African National Anthem. Nkosi sikelele Africa goes the lyrics. Such a lovely stirring song.

Back in the USA. The African story, as told in Frog Hospital, was interrupted last month by personal business. That is, I had back surgery on June 15 to relieve the chronic pain of sciatica, followed by three weeks of intense physical therapy.  This procedure worked. I am now pain free although the surgeon carefully advised me that nothing lasts forever.

Three weeks in rehabilitation at the hospital. No visitors. No wandering the hall, no communal dining. I was isolated except for the nursing aides who quickly became my new bosom companions. We talked in Spanish. I called Laurie on the phone and several times she came to the window of my room and we talked across this barrier. It was hard at times. I read a lot of books. I watched Good Morning America for national news. The aides made wonderful friends but the food was terrible. How could you ruin macaroni salad?

All this put Africa way in the background, but one or several determined readers reminded me that
I had not yet finished the story and they were patiently waiting for the next installment. That is why we have my picture this week with my lush Covid hair and beard. Next week the photo will be of African life.

I also remind everybody that this story serves as a pleasant diversion from the current double disaster of Pandemic and Trump.

So without further ado, let us return to Zimbobwe where a warm September evening at our rented house might find us lounging on the couch while watching re-runs of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It is 1997.  The newly weds are getting ready to go to Malawi.

"We can bring Mataka. He is the grandfather of all to us, and Chembe village in Malawi is where he was born," I told this to Precious."We can buy a train ticket for first-class treatment. We will have our own suite for the journey. Mataka will like that, to have his own bed." Precious agreed, but she added, "What about Aunt Marji and Aunt Winnie?"

"Marji and Winnie can come. I will buy them a second-class ticket. They can sleep in their seats. They are used to that." I said.

to be continued

Thursday, June 11, 2020

my name is grace sibanda

FROG HOSPITAL -- June 12, 2020


This week, brought back by popular demand, we can read the rich and meaningful story of Grace Sibanda, written in her own words. She is the cousin of Precious Mataka, and the grandchild of Mr. Mataka. She works in the hotel industry in Bulawayo, her home. She has a husband and two children. But I'll get out of the way now  and let her tell her story ........

Photo credit: Fred Owens. I took this photo in 1997 when Grace was seven. She is on the front porch of her grandfather's house in Luveve.

my name is grace sibanda

By Grace Sibanda

My name is grace sibanda, I was born 15 may 1990, my parents are simile dick smiley sibanda and cathrine phiri. I stay in nketa 9, bulawayo in Zimbabwe. In my family I am the only girl. I did my primary education at mgiqika primary school, my high school at Maranatha adventist high school which was a private institute. I obtained 8units at primary and at secondary I passed 5 subjects. Tertiary I did my certificate of hotel and catering at metro institute and diploma I did at speciss college where I got 5distinctions in all my subjects. My dad pushed me to where I am today through his encouragement, he always told me that he was not learned but he wants us to excel and be successful busines people.

I love my job fred, I got my diploma in hotel and catering in 2015, lv meeting new people even though it keeps me on my toes all the time.
Am renting nearby my parents place, but we building our dream home at silobela where my husband comes from.

Life was hard for my family during my high school days, the economy in my country had inflated to the highest level, my dad's salary was now peanuts, we could barely make ends meet, at that time they were earning trillion bearer cheques which were useless. What used to happen in those days you would go to the bank and collect your salary but after collecting you find prices have gone up and that money will be useless to buy anything. Prices would go up 3times in a day it totally insanity. But my dad and mum would take loans and pay my fees which were very high since it was a private school. In the morning before school I would eat left over pap and cow heels /vegetables from our previous supper and go to school because I had no lunch money. I would not bother asking my dad because I knew he was also struggling even at work too. Life was so hard my mum had to resort to baking and selling scones, doughnuts and plain buns to help the family.

I loved my grandfather, I adored him, he used to call me nkosikazi wami meaning my wife. Whenever I would visit him he would put me in his lap and tell me he has been busy the whole week planting sweet potatoes and that soon when I visit him he will give me some, and he loved 2 come 2 my home. Whenever he would come my mum would cook him his favourite meal which was chicken and pap and before he would go he would have a cup of tea accompanied with scones, kkk and my dad will give him some money, he would be so grateful to them both, and he would use his chewa language to bless them. He loved his home language chewa but I only learned 2 use the 2words 2greet only which were murimbwanji meaning hello and murimbwino meaning how are you. He came from Malawi but that time before he passed away I was young so he never spoke 2 me about it.

He loved his family alot and he used to perfom his home rituals whereby he would invite all his kids and their family and perfom sadaka(its traditional appeasement to the ancestors). My aunties would make traditional beer which would be brewed for 7days before being served on that, and they would slaughter a goat and cook the blood of that goat without salt and braai the meat, they slaughter chickens too, and cook them. These would be served with white rice only. Then before people feast my grandfather will go in centre and kneel and talk to his ancestors asking for blessings and guidance on how to guard his family, he would then pour some of the traditional beer on the ground, and the feast will start, it was a joyous celebration all the families together in his home.

Donate. Please make a donation into the PayPal ikon at the end of the newsletter. All donations this week will be given to Grace. We hope Grace will write for us again. Her writing style is so personal that you feel she is somebody you already know.

That's it for this week. We wanted to give the whole show to Grace, so I will display my own pearls in the next edition. I am having back surgery in a few days -- Monday. Recovery from that procedure means that another issue next Friday is unlikely  -- unless Eugene wants to do it. Eugene will be in charge. He has been a great help to me with this changes we have introduced, such as photos and a semi-firm weekly schedule.

Not forgetting the further adventures of Precious and Frederick and their fabulous adventure to Malawi, to Chembe village where Precious's ancestors are buried. Every urban African has a home village and Chembe is her true home, for her first visit, with a brand new rich, white husband in tow. She will make quite a splash.

People of Chembe speak Chewa, which goes Mulibwanji --- or hello. Mulibwini  -- how are you? I am taking my kasu -- hoe-- to the mindu --field and I will cultivate the cassava crop which is nearly ripe.

Please contribute to the fund in PayPal and we can make a nice cash gift to Grace Sibanda. I will ask her to keep writing for us. Perhaps she can share her hopes and dreams  --- for herself, for her husband and children, for Zimbabwe, and for all Africa. Grace, is there hope for a better world? She can answer that question, or write about something else if she chooses.

All my best to you and yours, Fred

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Part Two, Domestic Tranquility

FROG HOSPITAL -- June 5, 2020

Part Two, Domestic Tranquility

By Fred Owens

This is the beginning of Part Two of the African Story. Part Two will describe the incredible journey to Malawi, going way back into the mountains, to the little village of Chembe, where Mataka's ancestors are buried and where he grew up. Precious and I took him there, but also we took Aunt Marji and Aunt Winnie, to make a jolly family expedition back to the roots. I myself, being fully and legally married into this family, was welcomed to Chembe village as a long-lost relative come home.

But let's go back to the wedding on September 1, 1997, when Precious and Frederick became united. Very quickly after the wedding, an atmosphere of deep domestic tranquility descended on our rented home at 21 Shottery Crescent. We simply enjoyed ourselves. Our spirit is displayed in this wonderful back yard photo, showing Precious and me in a standoff. This pose tells the entire history of man versus woman. She is in her bathrobe with her hair done up and wearing a pair of blue slippers --- my slippers, in fact, feeling free to borrow them. She has her arms crossed. He has his hands in his pockets. Nobody is giving an inch. These are very stubborn people. Yet it seems playful, and it was. So our life unfolded in our rented castle, as we planned the honeymoon homecoming journey to Malawi.


I told you last week that we would interrupt the narrative with other things, like an opinion. I try to keep opinions out of the story and to just let things unfold. But this interlude is a good place for such argument.

I have not studied the problem in an academic sense, but I did live in Africa for a year and did marry and live with an African woman for 7 years, and I might have learned something. So here's my opinion on the whole situation. African men live like kings, they get waited on hand and foot and so they have no incentive to improve their circumstances, why give up such a good thing? At Mataka's house the ladies sat outside the kitchen door on woven mats on the ground. The men sat in chairs on the front porch. I never saw a man sit on the ground on a mat. I never saw a woman get preferred seating on the front porch.
The men aren't going to upset the mango cart. They drink their beer and let the women do all the work.
The best way to change that is to make sure that the young girls get good schooling. If they get those learning tools from good instruction then they can turn the entire continent upside down and make it a better place.
The men would have a little less leisure time, they might even have to fetch their own beer, but you know, c'mon guys, it won't kill you.
How A Daughter Loves Her Father
Grace Sibanda, a cousin to Precious, wrote this memory of her father, Smiley Sibanda. Smiley was uncle to Precious and we often visited his nice home in the Nketa Nine neighborhood. Grace writes in the local dialect of African English. I found it easy to understand and had no desire to correct her choice of spelling and grammar. I found her writing to be powerful and heartfelt. Grace is a young woman who lost her father and she expressed her admiration for Smiley and the grief she has endured since his passing.
Smiley dick sibanda, 3born of patrick mataka. My dad was a down 2 earth father, he was a go 2 guy, most reliable, trustworthy and a wonderful counselor .Smiley worked at the Kango factory as the machine operator. He started work there at an early age of 18. He worked there till the time of his passing. Smiley was married 2 Catherine Phiri (my mum) who is a Zambian. Together they had a small family, Grace and Duncan. My dad had no car but he had a bike which by that time was the best mode of transport given 2 workers by their employers. He would go to work and knock off 4pm, get home freshen up and go to tavern to have a beer or two with his friends. He never liked the traditional beer but he enjoyed his Castle, and he smoked Kingsgate cigarettes.

After whiling time with his friends he would come home watch tv and spend time with us, and he never missed supper with us. His favourite meal was pap and cow heels, cow insides and vegetables.On weekends he used spend most of the time with the societies he had formed, several clubs and burial societies. He was the secretary and in some he was the treasury, and when his favourite team played he would go and watch his team play. His favourite club was highlanders club. In his family he was one man they relied on be it wedding, funeral, parties his input was essential, a very smart man he was, and clean, he loved his formal suits, weekends he wore jeans and t-shirts.

My dad was a loving man who showed me so much in life, he valued education and he always strived for us to have the best in terms of education and life. I was daddy's girl. Smiley never got sick he just complained of feeling cold. We went to the hospital they took some test and gave him some pain stoppers. We went back home and there was no change. On the second day he passed away. I spoke with him on that day. I left the room and after he spoke to my mum, then he passed away peaceful. Smiley had a good fight in life. He might have passed on when we still wanted him but he had an amazing life which he enjoyed.

(Then I asked Grace if she remembered my visits to her home in 1997)

Yes I always loved to see you, back in the days seeing a white man close to blacks was a rare experience, and I know my parents loved to host you. Remember the two trees you planted in our home, mulberry and figs, they still standing and my mum has memories, wonderful memories.

So that is how a daughter loves her father, as Grace loved Smiley. She can tell more stories  about her life in Zimbabwe -- her husband, her children, her mother, her work, her happiness and her sorrows. Write back to us and tell us if you liked her story and we will pass this on to her.
I would like it if Grace told us more of her story.