Saturday, February 28, 2009

The road to Tonglen

is not for the faint hearted.

This is us, stuck. Note that it is a Landrover that is stuck. Not promising. But also worse than it looks, because the road had been badly chewed up by a logging company, who will fix this section. It won't be so bad in April.

Will it?

Surely the sheer volume of rain will have abated by then. Won't it?

Haha. Actually, the problem with this road normally is not mud but rockiness. High clearance vehicle needed. The mud is unusual.

We had fun though. When the wheels started spinning we jumped out to check which bit of road was safest - and A, battling the slippery slope, slid like a heavy ton of metal towards a deep donga. And so we paused, hovering on the edge of it. And phoned ahead to the farm to Louis who had arrived in the afternoon. Louis to call Jacob in the tractor to tow us out. Then we sat and marvelled at the milky way as it slowly emerged in all its finery. And slapped at mosquitoes and made bad jokes about the slippery slope and sliding to new lows and being stuck in a rut and such. Just the kind of chitchat you make with psychologists who own landrovers and are embarrassed to have to call for help. And when help arrived, B and I had that jolt of recognition in the dark, thinking, but we've met Louis before - where, where, when?

And later, when everyone was muddy and lighting the paraffin lamps to get dinner ready, we tried to figure it out -
B: was it Cape Town? Did you ever live in Cape Town?
L: Yes, for a while
[but no, it didn't seem like it was there]
T: did you ever spend time at the retreat centre in Ixopo?
L: no, never.
B: Durban?

And in the freshness of the morning the conversation idled from wedding plans and family to conservation to art and sculpture, and I mentioned my mom's upcoming exhibition and Paul said, what's your mom's name and I told him and Louis said, Oh I have one of her paintings. Oh! He went to Kapani.(my family lodge/home village) When? For the Millennium, that fabulous crazy party - Oh Oh Oh!!! B, this is where we know Louis from, silly silly! And of course! He was there, he was staying with Janelle, he's Janelle's mate!! Ha! That bad mad crazy rainy floody muddy season when everyone seemed to be sliding towards ruin - and that bizzaaaaaarre party when you had to go dressed as something beginning with M, and mother was a malaria patient (literally - but she still went to the party) and father was a motor-cycle accident victim (literally, with real bruises in all shades of purple and green). That crazy season when everyone was fighting and B coined the phrase "come to Kapani, where the houses are closer than the spouses"

Oh I love this tiny world, and the fact that A, who owns Tonglen, seems to have a silver thread linking him and us to all sorts of spidery webnesses. And Louis is an events organiser and gifted me with heaps of excelelnt advice and ideas. And another of the Tonglen guests on the weekend (A does have fabulous friends) was also a delight to meet - a lass who shares so many of my passions and obsessions that she could have been a parallel life self. An environmental writer whose 'favourite issues' are elephants and human wildlife conflict andandand - what a delight. Its not easy finding such kindred souls in Joburg, so - yipeee!

So I'm not going to post loads of pics, as I want it to be a suprise for guests who may visit here. But they do need to be reassured that the journey is well worth it. So. This is what you wake up to. Just one of several lung-expanding views.


Yes, it is going to happen there, and I am truly mad to choose this spot. Its not geared for this kind of occasion, and just about everything needs to be brought in. But its beautiful. There you have it.

I came away with a hefty to-do list, and then suddenly it was Friday and my Monday to-dos remain undone, and now its Monday again. I'm not sure how this keeps happening. Compression of time, and lots going on. Last year I had an excessive luxury of solitary time at the laptop, ambling from blog to blog at the sedate pace of a rose sniffer. Now I check updates on my phone in queues. New teaching job, crushing amounts of life admin (the tax return still glaring at me from behind the cupboard door) and of course its that time of year when proposals need to get written, and, and and.

Off I go then, into the new week. Have a good one!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Location, location, location

Geography has always been an issue in my life. Distance, between family and I, friends and I, loved ones and I. I love the landscapes that have created me, but for the most part they are far flung, and the spaces between them vast. Sites sewn together with with long knotted roads. From Chibembe to Mazabuka and back again twice a year, then Mfuwe to Blantyre and back again, with Monkey Bay detours. Grahamstown to Mfuwe. Cape Town and home again. Now Johannesburg. I love long car journeys, they lull me. Rough roads? Can't scare me.

My man is from Natal. Durbs. He's a Durbs boy. Like me he has ancestry in Germany, but unlike me, he wears this more confidently - mothertongue speaker, and lots of heritage coursing through the family customs. My father was a lone wanderer to these shores, whereas his parents came lock stock and Bible. His father was a Lutheran missionary.

To ask his family and our friends to trek all the way to Zambia would be - well, expensive. And it would be stressful, for the infrastructure that exists in my home village is... um... rustic. The thought exhausts me.

I've written about that crossroads moment we had, the two of us. When B fled to the Buddhist Retreat Centre in the singing hills of Ixopo. When he was there, he made a friend. When I met this friend later, we too became friends, realising we had all sorts of Zambian connections - a lovely small world story. Now this friend owns a farm near Dullstroom, in Mpumalanga, the land of the rising sun. The farm is called Tonglen. Its a very beautiful, magical, spirit-enhancing spot. And we have decided to get married there. More rolling hills, and craggy ravines, and a dharma centre built from the stone on the farm. So far so good. Spirit, beauty, and it means something to us both.

The place, however, is at the end of a very rough and rocky road. So, well, there are logistics. Guests must gather at a central point, we need to rally together all the 4x4 owners in the family and ferry people up the hill to the Event. The last stretch is about 20 minutes, and is nasty. Rocky and shale and really steep. Ok, so a bit of coordination needed. But still, in my minds eye, it's perfect, because once we are up there, we have the place entirely to ourselves, and its not a wedding venue 'sausage factory', if you know what I mean. Rather than pay ridiculous fees to some lurve farm, we can give something back to a place we care about, and contribute to the upkeep of Tonglen. That of course, and it's name - the beautiful practice of exchanging self for other. More on that another time.

But how did my guest list get so huge? My ideal number was 50. We sat down together and made a strict list. But people seemed to creep on, and it grew arms, legs, sidestreets... one person couldn't come so I invited another, and then the first person made a plan... and so it went.

When I tallied up all the rsvps and saw the final number, I think the whites of my eyes must've started to show. 70 people? Really? Ok, some of those are kids, but... really?

Then the late night qualms came. The kind where you visualise the caterers broken down at the bottom of the road and walking up the main courses in the sweltering sun. The kind where I have to bring in a porta-loo. Where the minister is stranded on another farm...Oh dear.

Think of the views, Tamara, think of the views...

Well, we are going to check it out this weekend, so pics will be forthcoming next week.

In the meantime, a wee something that I scribed when I was there some time back. I'm no poet (seriously), but it may give you a mood of the place.


Tonglen 2003

We’ve come to the palace of the kings.
The shy gatekeepers
let us in.

Laughter from the temple
shining hills
this gleaming floor.
The shades are playful
against the glass
and in the valley,
ducks chiming.

The page squeaks as it turns.
I didn’t bring a notebook this time.
I’m using his.

Those girls walking on the slopes
flowing in white
blessing the path with their treadsteps
and filling their breath with
the earths own blessing.

Bees vibrate the air.
a wind chime records a passing thought.

I’d write a love poem
on the flesh of this tree,
on its silver skin.

I’d record my heartsong
on this rock
soft with afternoon heat.

I’d weave these sounds –
the girls in the distance on their walk
the boys worshipping
with laughter. The steady bees.

I’d dance a thin tune
in the weaving air,
stamp my quiet feet on this
resting floor.

I’d measure my heartbeat
and distil these growing thoughts
in a trickle of melody.

I would,

but I don’t want to hurt
the silence.


[and what am I going to do to that silence now?]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

zen bride meets ms scarlet harlot

Two sides of my nature square up against each other. Make that three. Well, its not that they're flexing muscles or anything. No, they just sit across the table and flirt. Making bashful eyelashes as each tries to seduce the other to her point of view.

I see it for the consumer folly it is: the magazines, the venues, the must-haves. Its a massive industry, a money making racket. Your day won't be perfect without a frothing of flowers, without special little confetti baskets to hang on the back of the chairs, hair like this, eyelashes like that, more swarovski crystal than falls out the sky in a typical Joburg hailstorm, and then of course, The Cake.
Not to mention, above all, The Dress.

I'm not into All That, she insists. When I was 13 years old I knew the perfect wedding was under a canopy of cathedral mopane*, barefoot, with a combretum pod circle around us, and me riding in (and off) on a motorbike.

Its about the words, she says, and getting that right. The sacredness of a simple declaration of where we are now, after all this time, with our nearest and dearest blessing us. Those who have already helped us get as far as we have. And thanking them, and having a big celebratory slap up meal with lots of dancing.

And yet, and yet...

Somehow, somewhere, the canonical bridal mythology has seeped in. Watch out. That archetype will get you.

No, no, horror - not frills and merangue. Believe me, not that.
I seek a streamlined, minimal profile. You will not catch me looking like one of those crocheted doily dollies they put over the toilet roll. (Zimbabweans of a certain era - you know who you are). Bustle schmussle. Not me.


So we think of the clean lines, and yes, a simple silhouette - white, or ivory. No fuss, no beading or sequins or satin roses or tulle or diamante tiaras. (and I swore I wasn't even going to look at those magazines).

So I go to Lunar, because they are by far my favourite clothing designers in the city, with a clean, grounded aesthetic and an environmentally friendly outlook. I try on a simple linen affair, which is lovely. (or is it too austere?). But like the good saleslady she is, the designer asks me to try on something else - a luxuriant waterfall of duchess silk. Not frothy, not merangue. But definitely sensuous (nay, delicious). Still, feels wrong for the venue, the occasion (which is outdoors, on a farm called Tonglen, with bristling bushes underfoot). It will no doubt be expensive. And the practical girl in me says get a dress you will wear again. Come on.

And then there's that other lass, the one who woke up this morning and said, no, no white wedding for me. Give me blood red robes, and a trashy hit-list and the motor bike.

I have constructed an entire mythology around my red dress chronicles, it seems. Stories that are all based on real events involving several red dresses. There was the skinhugging one of Yeoville days, circa 1994. There was a long flowing one of simple cotton that I wore day and night, to lectures, rehearsals, parties. I slept in it and woke in it. It was a damn fine dress. I've warbled on about the red dress stuff before. Its about sexuality and wildness and freedom and life force. All issues that have surfaced with B and I at various points in our journey. Maybe the unfinished business here is really that I need to compile that collection properly and put it in print.

In the simple terms of nineteenth century literature, and whatever other Jungian and Myssian and what have you ideas that came after, I suppose the archetypes that square up across the table are these: the virgin, the princess and the whore. I am none of these, but there they are: these three fine ladies, sitting across the table from one another, with their cool aloof smiles.

What fun. I wonder who will win?

Cathedral mopane: when mopane trees in forest reach a certain maturity they form a canopy of vaulted arches like a cathedral. I couldn't find a picture.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

the beans, spilled

Ok ok! I didn't mean to start something.
Here it is then.

We're getting married.

Thank you.

Aah, sweet, isn't it?

Truly though, its been a long road to this point. For those of you that know me, or who have been reading at this address for a while, you may have picked up that this is not a whirlwind romance that has resulted in the sudden flowering of nuptials. Oh no. Me and this boy, we bin at it for some time. We met, oh, about 13 years ago, and yes, I 'knew' instantly that this one was different, this one was worth fighting for. And boy did we. Oh yes. We have already been through sickness, health, riches and poverty, better and worse. We have done the break-ups and the make-ups and the separating out of books and photos and the merging of them again. We have lived at ten different addresses. We thought its about time our mums met.

Seriously. I never thought of myself as the marrying type. Perhaps I defined myself too strongly as the opposite. Fiercely independent and all that blah. Perhaps I didn't have any really good role models for successful marriages. But then again, I think we have transformed our shit into something golden. Something quite workable. And we wanted to celebrate that. And then we realised that we actually both believe in rituals and ceremonies, and so it grew. And grew.

So we've set a date and its bloody soon, and I am being asked questions like “what's your colour scheme?” (er... its white innit?). And the guest list grows tentacles. And I will no doubt write more on the matter. (Please, tell me if you feel nauseated by it all.) But I have discovered that everybody loves a wedding. And so it goes.

There. That's the beans.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


There are weeds growing up around this url.

The screws holding up the sign have rusted, and it's hanging lopsided in the rain.

The post has not been collected in days.

Are the owners home?

Numerous attempts to ring the doorbell have yielded no answer.

The whole place needs a coat of paint, really.

But early this morning I saw someone zooting off in a little red car. She looked harrassed. She waved a little red diary and said something about the diary being too small for the year. She said it was overflowing already. She said, economic crisis? What economic crisis, I've never been busier, she said. She said she was starting two new part time jobs, one teaching at the University, another doing corporate training. She said she was also starting a business. She said please to do some weeding and to water the plants. And then she was gone.

There was something else she said - I'm not sure if I heard her right, though. Something about - no. I'm not sure I can say it here. I'd better check with her first, before I start any rumours.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Poem and Award

Interviewed, decorated, blushing, bowing, scraping. Kind compliments from all of you, and then this glorious award from Tessa, whose glowing blog really does light up the soul. I feel utterly humbled to have received this. I don't often win things. Although I did win a sheep when I was ten, but that's another story.

I must pass it on, yes? To those who have light in their souls.

It goes to Chimera then, of Holey Vision whose wit clinks and sparkles like ice in a gin and tonic. To Chimera I'd like to quote Leonard Cohen - "There's a crack, there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."

It also goes to Reya of the Gold Puppy, whom I have never met in the flesh, but who seems to be surfing the same bit of wavelength as me. We're plugged into the same galactic thought source. So often I visit her page to find she has articulated something I have just said to someone, or just thought, or just written about. Its like finding a piece of treasured jewellery that you didn't know you had lost. Or a sister you didn't know you had. Or something.

And on her blog, I am advised that today is the Fourth International Bloggers (silent) Poetry Reading. So this, by Yehuda Amichai.

In This Valley

In this valley which many waters
carved out in endless years
so that the light breeze may now
pass through it to cool my forehead,
I think about you. From the hills I hear
voices of men and machines wrecking and building.

And there are loves which cannot
be moved to another place.
They must die at their place and in their time
like an old clumsy piece of furniture
that's destroyed together with
the house in which it stands.

But this valley is a hope
of starting afresh without having to die first,
of loving without forgetting the other love,
of being like the breeze
that passes through it now
without being destined for it.

(translated by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes)