Thursday, March 24, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

foreign shoes

The kid is a magnet to foreign shoes
He picks them up, shakes them, and teethes.
He doesn’t mess with the “Smaltos,” the “Abibis”
and the other fake, plastic Chinese varieties
He quickly picks through those and crawls over them to inspect the finer varieties.
The adults are inside at the meeting,
All eyes and ears focused on money
but thanks to mother’s milk he’s full of energy, and kicking
So the kid’s been placed out on the veranda for the moment - out of sight, out of mind -
Where he has full range of the colorful, door-framing array
In his shoe heaven.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One presence, in passing

The ancient woman
Hobbles up the road
Carefully placing each step
And pausing every three
She greets and is greeted at every courtyard
She’s given life and gained respect
Her robes are long, draping and colorful –
Like layers of experience
I look in her eyes as we pass
Her gaze is soft and airy
She smiles as if I’m a long-lost friend
A refreshing welcome, in contrast to a face hardened and calloused by age
We exchange greetings and smiles and part
One presence, in passing, can change the day
I’d like to think her steps are lighter as she continues on.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ode to the Mamba

The kids scream ‘snake’
and we run closer to investigate, as they scatter
our curiosity is hidden behind rocks
we wait, and go back to resting on the trees.
“Snake” the kids scream again
and we arrive at the scene quicker,
to no avail
our friend is a master of the nooks and crannies
but at last we spot him,
and how could we have missed?
flamboyant lime green ribbon, snaking through the undergrowth
the kids stand high and far, and we approach
the green mamba is captivating and beautiful
yet we are warned to stay back.
sliding along on his own path, not bothering those at play,
gracefully, slowly, back forth back forth-
he then turns and looks
what does he smell, what does he see? I want to ask
but it’s too late.
I protest the barrage of rocks, but the kids have taken matters into their own hands
Relieving us needlessly of another one of nature’s innocents.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

creative afternoons

An afternoon of fabric dying, batik with wax stamped patterns.  Mariam brought over the paraphernalia of supplies stacked on her head:  wax, white blazen cloth, two different chemical substances for fixing the color, the dyes, wooden stamps, plastic to cover the table, pots, tubs, wood, and a big stick to stir…..I didn’t realize it would be this intensive!  We set about covering the table with plastic (so the stamps come through and don’t run) and heat the wax in a metal rustic pan over the wood fire.  We built this fire on the clay tiles in my courtyard – “for art’s sake” I will say if the director comes and asks what the hell I am doing making a mess in the courtyard (no one asks though). I am partial to the pineapple stamp and the one with the woman with a baby tied on her back, pounding millet.  Once the wax was hot and the first fabric in place on the table we began stamping.  I’m not sure it if has something to do with the physics of melting wax on a large, rustic wooden stamp, but, I observe that its real hard to get the stamped impressions to come out more than blobs.  However, with a little finesse we finally get some to come out a bit more recognizable than the others.  I had the idea to get Qtips and start painting with the hot wax on a few of the cloths that were a bit ‘messed up’ already – therefore I could do no more damage.  This seemed to be a good idea (and in retrospect I think I will do it all this way next time…much more creative and individualistic too). 
            Meanwhile, Mariam continued stamping and a stream of neighbors came into the courtyard to draw water and crows have perched on the roof to take in the action too. What a circus.  Once we had all the clothes stamped, we mixed the blue dye. Unfortunately, it was not natural indigo but some chemical shit – never again, what a smell! What a violation of nature! Ok, earlier Mariam had lit our fire with a piece of plastic from a broken bucket, also the melting wax had been giving off its own fumes, and now this chemical dye – too much for me!  The white substances we poured in to fix the colors gave off fumes that smelled so bad. I instinctively jumped back away from the vapors and felt my stomach about to retch.  Mariam, used to this work, wore no mask and continued stirring.  I told her breathing these vapors can’t be good. She shrugged knowingly, pride in her work kept her from any criticism.  We laid the wet, dyed fabrics out on the tile to set – which takes mere minutes. Then we had to boil off the wax.  Stirring with a big stick in the cauldron we plopped the fabric in one at a time and dowsed it in cool water from the well.  Now we had before us our finished products.  We hung them to dry on a line out in the sun and watched their bright colors flap in the breeze. I will say the blue-dyed fabric was radiant – but at what cost? I had voiced my environmental concern before she even bought the materials, but she said it wasn’t a toxic process. There really isn’t the concept here that some products can be harmful to health. People do not question the negative impact of products (that applies not just to chemicals but added sugars and fats in foods too). Next time I am determined to look for someone specialized in the 100% natural dying process.    

Sunday, March 13, 2011

what lessons have we really learned?

Forgive me for making comparisons:
As we sit in this village meeting, I look round at all these people and faces in such a small space.  Who chose to meet here, and like this??! We’re crammed into this box room, its heating up, and there are so many people that wall and floor have disappeared and I resort to looking at the ceiling.  I’m somehow led to think of the diagrams of the slave ships, with all the bodies crammed together.  Didn’t we get past this stage in history? Really?! There isn’t much difference in the configuration here, just the context has changed – and this one is self-imposed!  Similarly, I’m sure if you diagramed a ‘typical’ African bus or taxi nowadays, some people would be even more appalled at the tight, stifling conditions:  bodies sitting on-top of each other, sideways, and the like, for hours, and sometimes days on end --  Allah, Jesus, the great spirits, somebody help us! The conditions humans can consent to live with.  Hmmm….anyway, back to this meeting.

T-shirts from America

T-shirts from America
dropped by container at the shore
sold en gros and shipped out –
sold as dead white man’s clothes.
In market, women in bright pagnas and
shirts with phrases like, “Johnson Reunion,” “Copperhill Little League,” and “I’m like you, Only Better!”
sort through the piles laid out on sturdy tarps (courtesy of aid organizations come and gone)
the keepers are soon gotten –
but there are mountains more where what came from.
Ironically I once even saw someone wearing my Alma matter.
How far it and I have come in the unpredictable transformations of life.
A man walks round with jeans folded on his head,
 and men’s shirts dangling on hangers in his hands -
Any takers?
A woman holds a bucket stacked like a giant Christmas tree of layered, flopped over socks –
 the world’s repository for missing socks?
Mobiles of sneakers,
hung by their laces from the tin ceiling,
decorate one shack - and another two doors down.
Articles of clothing, used, discarded, and forgotten
have found new, extended life on African shores.