Bones, Branches, and a Lemur

Winter in the southern hemisphere gets down to the brass tacks of nature. The cold in Swaziland isn’t too harsh, but dry fields burn bright orange as wild fires blaze, scorching the earth to regenerate the soil.  Leaves are brittle and dry. Roads are dusty. Winds howl through the naked trees.

The heater in our old Landy works pretty well. It was not love at first sight, driving this old beast, but she has become a symbol of road trips and African adventure for our family. We recently journeyed to Ndlovu camp in Hlane Royal National Park. It has no electricity in its thatched huts called rondavels.  When you check in to get your key (that has no door number, just the name “Big Hut,” ) you see bones and skulls displayed of hippos, crocodiles, deer, and lions.

As we settled in, the late afternoon sun waIMG_0682s setting behind brambles, the light resembling stained glass. Encroaching darkness cast elephant-sized shadows all around, diminishing the details of our ambient room. A woman came by to light our kerosene lamps.Nightjars called, and a bright white crescent appeared with a billion sparkling stars. A bare tree, starkly silhouetted against the moon-lit  sky, had branches dotted with so many stars that they looked like snow flakes.

IMG_0759In the absence of electricity was a gorgeous quiet; no usual house hums of fridge or gadgets. It was so silent, in fact, that I heard a faint ringing in my ears.

I piled on the blankets and read a book by flashlight.

Close to midnight, there was rustling in the living room. I walked toward the noise with a lamp and saw a wild cat staring at me with big ears, a long, ringed tail, and spots. This was no kitty cat. I sort of scream-whispered, “Brad, wake up! There is a wild cat in here with spots!”…(One of those sentences in life you think you’ll never say) . “What IS IT?” Will it bite the baby?!“ is all I could squeak out.

After some harried discussion, we decided there was a lemur in our rondavel. (Techinically, this animal is called a genet, as we later learned). As my husband says, he “thought when we closed the door to our hut, we were keeping the wildlife out.”

In the end, our furry visitor was harmless and crept his way back out into the night through a hole in our thatched roof.  And the rondavel was peaceful once again.

Be Illumined this month, and may nothing dim your light,

Tracy

 

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A Swaziland Season: Things to Remember

IMG_9167Our family has six months left here in Mbabane. There are so many things I want to remember. “There is such vibrancy of life here,” my husband says. I nod my head.

IMG_5972Swaziland can be so beautiful that it makes you stand still in awe. I never tire of taking in the sight of lush green mountains and big, beautiful flowering trees that surround us, or watching the way light filters through wide banana leaves.

Life here is slower, and teaches us to be more patient. I am grateful for the stillness of early morning, when I can see both the moon and the sun, and dew glistens on the flowers.

IMG_7093Sometimes, rain falls so hard it sounds like drums on the ground, blurring the lines of the mountains and landscape. It washes out roads. Fog envelops our house, its milky swirls obscuring the windows.  Then, skies clear to reveal a gorgeous rainbow, followed by bright, burning sun.

IMG_7865In Malkerns, I overheard these directions: ” Just go down Rainbow Road until you pass all of the chickens where the pineapples are.” I don’t know where that leads, but the description made me want to go there, too.

I’ve discovered how colorful (and funny-looking) birds, lizards, butterflies and grasshoppers can be, right here in our yard (and sometimes in the house). And how animals are cheeky, like the time a monkey took our toast.

And how a stick is not just a branch, but can be used to stir a pitcher of juice, to start a fire, build a home or a market stall.  A stick can become a child’s toy, assistance for walking up hills, or provide protection from wild dogs.IMG_7388I want to hold the images in my mind of:  The emanating smiles and joy of people here, who have so. very. little. Women in dresses working in the fields, babies blanketed to their backs. Hope House_MacdonaldBarefoot cyclists,truck beds crowded with workers braving the elements, children herding cows, wheelbarrows so full of logs, children and heavy loads, one wonders how it doesn’t topple over. Men wearing ski hats in very hot weather. Earth and stone houses with corrugated tin roofs. Tall, spindly Century Trees, and flat, spreading umbrella Acacias. Bone dry river beds, til the rains come.  Men sitting in the dirt by the road, wearing animal fur headbands and loin cloths.  Grilling corn and meat on the roadside- the fire even burns in the rain- not sure how they do it. Burning orange sunsets. And the popping colors of markets.

IMG_4898Hearing the clicking sounds interspersed in lilting siSwati language. Listening to our son speak Zulu. Roosters, peacocks, songbirds, crickets, people singing in the distance, horns and happy cheers at football (soccer) games.  The silence.

I love that our gardener eschewed a mole in our garden by smashing fresh ginger and garlic into a paste on a rock, mixed the paste with water, and poured it into all of the holes. ( It worked!  Who needs pesticide and chemicals)?

I also love that we can pick bananas, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, and avocados right outside. And how delicious the mangoes are here. The salty taste of biltong and the rich, melting flavor of braised oxtail.

We don’t take it for granted that we drive 15 minutes from home and see Zebras. And check the hot springs for crocs before going for a swim.IMG_9146IMG_3985

 

 

 

 

There are so many bits of magic that I hope we can remember to hold in our hearts.

“Let yourself be living poetry.”  -Rumi

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ngiyabonga,

Tracy

Your Time Here Has Expired…

gratitude

Frustrated from an afternoon of struggling with back-to-back “terrible two’s” episodes with our toddler, I enlisted the housekeeper’s help and left to get groceries. I didn’t need much at the store, actually. It was more just to get out; a motherhood break to catch my breath and re-gain composure.  (Do other people run errands when they don’t need to)?

Driving down the highway, I glanced left to see what I thought was initially a bundle of clothes, but then did a double-take to see a man face-down, dead on the side of the road. My mouth agape in shock and awe, I could hardly register what I was seeing. Relieved to see a cop behind me (we were the only cars around), I watched him drive right by, not slowing or turning on sirens, or even turning off on the next exit, as if he had seen a dead deer on the road instead.

I re-played this over and over in my mind all day. When I recounted this to a Swazi friend, he simply said,  ” You are in Africa. This is not a humane place,” which did not put my mind at ease. 

On the last morning of that man’s life, I wonder if he did anything out of the ordinary? If he knew somehow that his time would expire that day?  This quick shift of perspective certainly made me stop and realize how much I take for granted, and erased any complaints and negativity in my head.

I retreated into my thoughts for a few days, formulating question after question. If this were my last day, what would I do differently? Am I leaving anything left unsaid or undone that I would regret? Why do I fritter my time away? There is so much I want to accomplish and learn and explore in this life- what am I waiting for? Why do I pick up toys when I could be squeezing that baby more and doing fun things instead?

And, ultimately, why does it take such a rude awakening to refocus on the important things?  Time seemed to stop that day. In a pondering daze, I sought solace in being outdoors. I watched birds perched  gracefully on a thin branch, bobbing in the wind; a metaphor for the delicate balance of life.

When my internal compass gets thrown off, I try to:

Remember to Breathe. Surrender. Let Go.
Find quiet time for creativity to incubate.
Practice Gratitude.
Spend more time connecting with friends and family.
Play music and do some yoga stretches or dance.
Seek out the beauty in the small things.
Be still and listen.
Take a bubble bath.
Bake something to make the house smell good.
Sit outdoors in the sunshine.
Make tea and read something inspirational.
Start an art project.
Focus on the fun, not the fear.

What do you do  when life throws you off-kilter?

Carpe Diem, friends. Go and enjoy THIS AMAZING LIFE.
Tracy