Monday, July 07, 2008

Love and Yellow Teeth

My wife left me recently, and took my daughter with her. It was an emotional time all round. I had not long since arrived back from my holiday in Morocco when we received a phone call that left my wife with no other option but to go.

Her mum died suddenly after suffering a massive stroke. She hadn't been well, but at 66 was still young. Zimbabwe, the land of wife's birth, though, is currently a difficult enough place to live in, far less be ill in, never mind have to die in.

Within 24 hours of getting the call Toni and Kumali were off to Zimbabwe. Kumali was very philosophical, as only a child can be, when she was told she was going to Zimbabwe with her Mama.

"Are we going to see Ya-ya*? *Granny in Ndebele

"No, sweetheart. Ya-ya has gone to the angels and we're going to say good-bye."

"Oh, do you mean she's died?"

"Yes, that's right. Ya-ya has died."

"I love Ya-ya. I'll miss her."

Despite the multiple difficulties involved in trying to navigate everyday life in Zimbabwe the funeral took place without a hitch. It was a sombre affair for the few surviving members of Toni's family who attended. Many have long since gone to other countries as part of the economic diaspora; many others have gone the same way as Daphne.

Toni and Kumali spent 3 weeks in Bulawayo in total. Kumali was in her element. She loved playing with her 2 big cousins, Kimberley and Russell, and their 2 dogs, as well as being (weather and space) able to play outdoors for hours on end in the garden. She also met many other people who first met her 4 years ago as a 10 month-old baby, and did lots of other wonderful things, like see lions being fed and help feed monkeys and deer at Chipangali Wildlife Orphange.

Toni helped her brother, Conrad, start the process of going through their mother's affairs and estate. She also found time to chill out, taking stock of Zimbabwe and the passing of her mother, following her father's death just over 7 years ago.

One of the most philosophical of people I know when it comes to death, Toni felt at ease at her mother's passing. That was no surprise, what was a surprise was to hear her say she nearly phoned and told me to pack up and come over and join them.

She has spent 6 years out of Africa, ten out of Zimbabwe, 4 of those years having being spent in Scotland and England. 85+% unemployment, inflation out of control (£1 worth Z$15m on arrival and Z$35m on departure - and they've already taken 3 '0's off the currency), food, power and petrol as scarce as gold, disease, violence and intimidation ... the negatives go on. And all that going on hand-in-hand with the complete collapse of around 10 million people into desperation. Despite all that Toni'd rather be there than in the 'United Kingdom.' Food for thought.

Kumali would love to live in Zimbabwe. She loved her time there. As always when we are apart for more than 2 0r 3 days she has 'changed' during our absence from one another. A new development, edge, side, complexity, character trait, et al.

She's come back noticing my physical failings more than before, or not being afraid to mention them. The best line of all to remind me of my own gradual demise?

"Papa, you've got yellow teeth. But I still love you."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dogs on heat, cats on pizza and bees back in town

I have just returned from a holiday to Morocco, via Spain. The idea was to drive through Spain and into Morocco, then head for the Atlas mountains. The VW Syncro camper van my friend Andrew and I were travelling in had other ideas. It broke down outside Granada, leaving us no option but to be towed to Malaga where we spent 4 days trying to get the engine fixed. On day 5 the prognosis was that a new engine was required. Arrangements were made and we then set off for Morocco on foot, time and Atlas mountain plans severely hampered.

Bummer. But it wasn't all bad.

Being stuck in the heart of the Costa del Sol coastline comes a close second to my idea of ultimate hell - being stuck in Las Vegas. But by taking the attitude that we were determined to make the most of the situation and stay positive, all was not lost.

As two British men with mixed race African partners, our partners are cousins, and each with a mixed race daughter, also cousins, we felt relaxed about observing and commenting on the many wonderful mixed race combinations that thrive in harmony in southern Spain. Being fathers to ladies in waiting, we were particularly interested in the many female beauties of mixed race that proliferate in the region. All research strictly from a father/daughter perspective!

The other bonus in Spain was the warmth and kindness bestowed on us by the locals. We were aided by Fedde, an aeroplane mechanic with good English who has a passion for VW camper vans. He took us to the workshop where he spends his free time rebuilding cars, and the owners, Paco sen and Paco jnr, made us feel like family. They catered for our every need with grace and courtesy and went out of their way to help get the engine fixed. Paco jnr also introduced us to his 15 cats and let us help him feed them their daily dose of pizza.

I've never spent time in Spain with Spanish people before, or needed their help and assistance. I can't fault them. The Spaniards we encountered were kind, witty and caring. What a marvellous race of people. I love Spain and Spaniards.

Not having the camper van, and with less time, options to explore Morocco were reduced. We opted to stay in Chefchaouen, on the edge of the Rif mountains, and explored the countryside around and about every day. The Rif seem to get overlooked as the Atlas mountains dwarf them, and because it is the region where all of Morocco's cannabis is grown. Sure, we saw plenty 'kif' growing boldly yet privately, and got a tour of a farm by the owner, a former French teacher. But we also walked and drove through endless beautiful scenery of hills, rivers and valleys and could easily have stayed for much longer without leaving the region.

Thanks to the openness of the Moroccans we learned a lot about the country, too. While being slowly surrounded by what I though were wasps as I sipped on my sweet mint tea and tried to remain calm, I was relieved to the point of spraying my mouthful of tea all over the place when I was told they were actually bees. I had been at the point of dropping my tea and bolting as Moroccan bees look just like British wasps and my nerve was cracking. Of all the many things I learned, that was the most personally satisfying facts.

The bees had been killed off by a tree spraying regime a few years ago, but they were making a comeback and that was something for all Moroccans to rejoice. Bees are important to all humans for their ability to pollinate, but especially important to Moroccans as honey is a staple of their diet.

I also witnessed the 5 times a day call to prayer for the first time, and experienced watching a football match (Champions League Final) in a bar full of men of all ages without a drop of alcohol being consumed. A far less intimidating experience, and, ironically enough, a very sobering one.

And the food! Tangines, keftas, cous-cous, yogurt, honey, fresh orange juice .... all of it wonderful, wonderful food.

I've heard places like Fez and Marakesh can be a hustle and hassle too far, and while I'd like to visit them when I return to Morocco, as I surely will, I'm glad to have missed out this time round. I got an easy, gentle introduction into life Morocco style where basically everyone is happy so long as they are huckling you and getting you to part with your money. A little for everyone makes life far less complex! Yet I still got stung several times, every time I made a purchase probably.

And why not? Moroccans are fascinating, Moroccan men anyway, I never spoke to one Moroccan female. They are bold and brassy, proud and sure. They and their country captivated me, charmed me and convinced me to return again one day.