Sunday, November 30, 2008

On plays and puppets and the like

Elephants and people. Seems to be the talk of the town at the moment. Well, with Val and Tam anyway.

So how does one make a play that shows the importance of conserving wildlife to people whose lives are threatened and whose crops are destroyed daily by elephants? To balance it out without sounding too preachy, to weave together all the different points of view and at the same time of course making it exciting and fun to watch?

Well, I think we did it. I hope so anyway. We spent about two months researching in all the villages where we'll be performing so hopefully it'll be based in enough reality to have an impact. It's a fun play. Serious but fun. Big issue of course. VERY complicated and political and controversial. The play is full of fun images and humour and great songs. They were still rehearsing when I left, finishing up making props and such, so I haven't actually seen how it will go down but I'll hear soon enough…..

Props. Simon has been working on this elephant. Simon has a special brain. He will sit and think of a prop, an image, a problem and come up with the most fantastic solution. Our plays are very visual while keeping the props simple and clever and Simon is a master at this. We had a fabulous Australian puppeteer, Sandy, come and spend a few months with us once and she taught us how to make various kinds of puppets. Everyone made fantastic and weird and wonderful puppets but Simon? Simon made this amazing, gorgeous COMPLICATED child with strings and pulleys and all sorts. And Sandy was gobsmacked.

We managed to scrape together some money to go and watch the Lion King in South Africa. This time Simon was gobsmacked.

Anyway, so we've had a few different elephant images in our plays over the years but this time decided to try something new. I didn't see the finished product but Simon sat very still and alone for a long time with a stick in a patch of sand, drawing, rubbing it out, drawing something else, frowning, smiling, enjoying the puzzle. By the time I left he had the head made, with a mechanism for the ears and the trunk as well as a sort of overalls thing for him to wear with a perfect elephant-knee movement.

So I'm back. Had a great trip and will write more on it soon soon....

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Babe in the woods

My mother got a phone call the other morning from Abraham saying “Miranda, Pam, we have a baby nkuku here please come and get it!” A nkuku is a chicken, so my mother was thinking, okaaaay, that’s weird. Oh well, I’ll go up and see what’s going on. Turns out it is not a nkuku it’s a PUKU. A darling gorgeous antelope that’s not found in many places in Africa.

This morning we heard a commotion in the bush out across the dambo. Elephants trumpeting and going crazy all morning. And then a few hours later this teeny tiny wobbly-legged puku came tottering across the dambo. Could be that there were lions across there that killed its mother.

So if you know me or if you’ve read this post you’ll know that I have had my fair share (and then some) rearing baby animals. And somewhere buried in the dark cobwebby recesses of my storeroom is a biscuit tin full of baby bottles, special teats, syringes, droppers and all sorts of baby feeding paraphernalia – ranging from stuff for the smallest mouse in the whole wide world (which occur here – the babies are the size of fat ticks!) to birds, to antelope to leopards to elephants.

So. Out came the trusty box, on went the water to boil, out came the milk to warm up in went the feeding kit to sterilize. My mother and I laughing all the while at how many times we had done this. The up every few hours in the night for feeding, the trying really hard not to get too attached for the first few days until the danger period is over. How many times our ragged hearts have broken over these small creatures.

So it has imprinted on us, following us around, has found a small little nookie in my mother’s kitchen where it likes to sleep. My mother has been renovating and the floor is out but that’s good because at least it is rough and it doesn’t slip and slide on the shiny cement floor. Although a worry is that there is no gauze on the windows yet and a leopard might jump in and steal it. I hope not!

Anyway, so there you are. Our excitement for the day. For the next few days. Hopefully for the next few years….
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Then and now - same same sugar same

Every morning at about quarter to five the baboons jump on my roof. There is about 3 millimetres of tin roof between me and the thudding of baboon, dropping from where they roost a few metres up in the tree above the roof. And I swear to god it sounds like they are dropping a piano or a cast-iron bath onto the roof. And then they spend the next 40 minutes full of the joys of dawn running up and down the roof. Right above my head. Up and down, up and down, wearing massive big cement boots. You know it’s coming but every morning its heart-leaping-onto-the-pillow fright at the sound. Man. So needless to say it’s been early mornings for me since I’ve been here.

The rains have started, the cicadas are so loud they sound like they’ll vibrate your ears off, and it’s the beginning of 5 months of rain rain rain. Mud mud mud.

My mother showed me an e-mail I sent to her in mid December 2002. It went like this:

“How is it that our poor little human brains always forget about the rains and all she brings. It surprises me every time. So everyone is gasping in horror that five cars slipped off Jake’s new road into the mud axle deep (to Jake’s particular horror – just as he fixed it up) and that salt doesn’t come out of the salt cellar and that Georgina got bitten by a scorpion THREE times in bed, and that mosquito bites are starting to fester and that the Chipata road has been washed away with the BP and Christmas supply trucks lined up behind the washed away bit and wondering what the bollocks to do NOW. And that the toilet seats are always wet and you’re never sure if its wee or rain water. And that the cat looks PERMANENTLY bedraggled and PISSED OFF. And the phones? Why on earth don’t THE PHONES FUCKING WORK??? Oh and the rotting flying ants in the light fittings. Oh, you know it all, you’ve been there too (but do you REALLY remember or is it blocked from your memory like it seems to be from mine.)

“…………everyone is discussing turkey carols over the phone constantly over the radio. Along with ‘so-and-so is stuck in the mud’ please send help.

“There is the hugest croc lurking in the mud in the lagoon. Eeeeee”

So compared to this year (one month earlier):

-Haven’t heard of anyone slipping off the road yet but will start happening soon, though. One more big storm.
- Salt – yes
- Scorpion. The Phiri family, who live a few hundred metres from us had scorpion encounter. Gideon came over to my mother’s house night before last in a small panic saying that his wife, Esnat has just been bitten by something, they think it may be a snake. We rush over - quick torch sweeps looking for hippos or eles in the path - and at first it looks really bad. Her foot is black. Shit. My mother dashes off to get the car so we can take her to the nearest hospital (an hour’s drive away) but before she goes I have another look and realise that’s it’s a combination of herbs and charcoal (“traditional medicine’, says Gideon) that’s been rubbed on her foot. We wash off the charcoal and look for fang marks; nothing. She is in SO much pain. “If it’s really really painful” we tell her “it’s a scorpion, not a snake. And if it was a snake the site of the bite would be higher.” She calms down a bit. We’d probably tell her this anyway to try and stem the panic. The family looks visibly relieved. They have 7 children and they’re all sitting in the shadows looking terrified. I go and see her the next day and she’s fine. But exhausted. She didn’t sleep and is breast-feeding twins on top of that. Ah, man!
- Rain on the loo seats. Uh huh. Big storm a few nights ago. Stood in the middle of my mothers house and got DRENCHED! Wind blew the blinds right off. And blew over a tree in my uncle’s garden – which we only noticed a couple of days later!
- And the phones? Well, there were no cell phones in those days so the land-lines must have been down. Now the land-lines work, I think, but not the cell phones. How quickly we come to rely on these things.
- Oh and power cuts power cuts power cuts.

Aaaaanyway, bla bla bla! Having fun but hectic crazy busy. Great to be reunited with the actors here for a couple of weeks although everyone porridgey and lethargic in this heat.

Miss ya’ll but don’t have much time on internet – stolen computer time – so will have to catch up properly on your lives when I get back.

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Friday, November 7, 2008


There is a change that happens here every year that is so determined, and so sudden that if you slept too long you’d miss it. And it is so ingrained in my soul that as soon as I stepped off the plane yesterday I nearly cried. In October it is hot. Hot.



And dry. The cicadas play as if for the London Philharmonic, to the extent that in some patches of thick mopani woodland (such as where our little family village is) you have to shout above the noise. And your s’s cannot be heard.

And everything is brown. And dusty. And when the wind blows it’s that convection-oven-heat that you cannot escape from. 40 plus degrees Celsius.

The trees are all bare, reaching up for the sky praying for rain. The animals, the insects, everything seems to be holding their breath. Waiting for those first big fat happy singing raindrops to spatter down onto the dusty earth.

At night you have to sleep with a wet chitenje cloth over you and within seven minutes its dry-season-leaf dry again.

And everything shimmers. Mirages everywhere. By 6 in the morning it is scorching, animal bones seem to whiten and desiccate within hours.

And then.

The trees dream up some moisture from somewhere and suddenly, unexpectedly (even though you know this is coming) they sprout the greenest freshest cutest little transparent looking leaves you’ve ever seen (except last rains, of course). Within days, like whispered gossip, word has got out and almost all the trees are proudly wearing their new lingerie – see through, sexy and oh so tantalizing.

You start to hear all the different bird-calls. The migrants. Distinct, rainy season birds. That sound just opens up my heart, dissolves it like a sunny blue sky in the winter.

And then the air changes viscosity. And the bated breath-ness tension in the air hovers.

And hovers.

And then she comes. That first storm. Never just a sprinkling, a spitting. Always a massive theatre production – a musical – the black black backdrop, punctuated by thunder, lightening, towering clouds.

And the clouds tip upside down and dump their heavy load.

And this makes my heart sing.

Until February comes along and we’ve had three months of solid monsoon type rain. The mud is ankle deep, every little scratch turns septic, you’ve had malaria 4 times already. The rain blows sideways and comes into your house, soaking your bed. The blinds get blown off the windows so your house is permanently drenched. Everything is mouldy; nothing dries.

And then you dream of a gentle European spring with gamboling lambs and pretty bluebells nodding in the gentle breeze.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dear Mr. President

In the past week there have been two presidential election results I’ve been holding my breath for and mighty relieved at the results. The US one I exhale deeply, dance a little jig, clicking my heels mid-air. And the rest of Africa is doing the same. Really. I bought a paper in Arusha on my way to the airport and two thirds of the paper was about Obama. In America. In Kenya. Everywhere. A little town in Japan called Obama, hoping to ride the wave. My sister wants to start a Facebook page called “I am Obama’s distant Kenyan cousin”. Heh. Every other word on the streets of Lusaka today is Obama. I cannot find the words for this victory.

And the other election results that I click my heels about are the Zambian ones. P.H.E.W. Phew. As you may or may not know our president died in August after a stroke. He was considered a good man, and did much for the country and it was sad for him to go. So elections were held again and Rupiah Banda, who was the vice president and who is from my neck of the woods, won. It was very very close. The opposition is a staunch Mugabe supporter and I shall not detail my opinion on this here public forum. You can’t be too careful. Anyway, it was a close call. The country is fizzing with election buzz. Zambian and American.

Last year I was in Chipata, a small town in Zambia attending the Ncwala ceremony for the book on traditional Zambian ceremonies that my sister and I were working on. I was staying in a little hotel just outside of town and was chatting to a few people in the dining room over breakfast. I had been on the TV a few months before and for some reason the interview had captured a lot of people. It was quite bizarre. I had brought a play to a small festival in Lusaka and we did a short skit for the TV followed by an interview. It was done in one of the local languages, which I speak and do not think is a big deal. But for some reason everyone else thought it was. Very funny. So everywhere I went around the country people would stop me and say “ah! We saw you on the TV. You were speaking Chinjanja!” Anyway, so I got chatting to these people in the breakfast room (hey, we saw you on the TV etc etc) and it turned out they were the entourage of the then vice president (now president) Rupiah Banda. And then he came in for breakfast and I was introduced to him and he said “Ah yes, I know who you are. You are Norman Carr’s granddaughter. You do the drama.” Eeeee. Spooky!!

So dear Mr. President(s) I am very very pleased that you both won and I am sure you shall both rule well and wisely. I would like to give you good words of good counsel but presidency is not really my field, and anyway I’m sure you have lots of advisers and everything who can do that for you, and tobetter effect than I. So good luck and be true.

Ah, I had hoped to write a profound stirring post about winds of change and all that bla, but I shall leave that to the professionals (such as Obama himself).

Congrats all.

Monday, November 3, 2008

To be continued...


I'm heading to Zambia for a month-ish. So since Husband will be in the Serengeti for most of November too, the kitty is going back to Janelle's and his mama for a wee while (thanks J!).


Will try and post from there. Miss you already...