Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Happy Birthday, Madiba...

  Nelson Mandela has long been my hero. 
In celebration of what would be his 100th birthday, I am re-posting a piece I'd previously written...

For eighteen years, Prisoner 46664 was locked up each night in a tiny cell that measured five square metres. The cell contained a bowl, a spoon, a plate and a bucket, and while there was a blanket, the only bed was a thin straw mat for the floor.
Situated in the middle of Cape Town’s Table Bay, Robben Island Prison lies just twelve kilometers off the stunning coastline of South Africa. Conditions during the early years in this maximum-security prison were bleak. Inmates were forced into hard labour at the island’s lime quarry. They were segregated by race, with black prisoners receiving smaller rations than white inmates. Additionally, political prisoners were kept separate from ordinary criminals and had far fewer privileges, allowed only one visitor and one letter every six months.
In 1964, Nelson Mandela was convicted of treason for his anti-apartheid activities. Sent to Robben Island, he became Prisoner 46664, assigned to Cell No. 5. He spent eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment on the island, eventually being moved to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, then on to Victor Vector Farm Prison for the last three years of his sentence.
Photos courtesy of Google
Mandela was released from prison on February 11th, 1990. In 1994, he and his ANC Party were pivotal in establishing South Africa as a multi-racial democracy. He was elected President of the country, retiring in 1999 when he was in his 8th decade.
There are few people whose wisdom, ideals and unshakeable sense of conviction I admire more, yet this is a man who remains humble, who says simply of his life…

“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth...but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise."
I feel blessed to share the planet with Nelson Mandela. His dignity, his vision and his quiet strength embody all that is good in humankind, and offer hope that we can each be better than we are.
Happy Birthday, Madiba...

Monday, July 31, 2017

They're Not Just Books!

     I've loved books since I was gifted my first one by a family friend on my tenth birthday. Books had played little role in my life until then. They were absent from our postwar Belfast bungalow, my parents not being readers. There were books at  school, of course, but upon grasping that  "Little Women" was my own to peruse as often as I wished, I was hooked on reading for life.
     After sixty years of collecting, my home library now numbers in the thousands.  I lend, give away and  donate frequently, even as bookshops and thrift stores lure me in to gather more, often on the same day!  A prodigious reader, I burn through many volumes in a year, in genres ranging  from fiction to biography, geology to true crime, and everything  in between.

     Books were what got me through a troubled childhood. However chaotic  my home life, however lonely I found myself to be, I had my books to turn to. They offered consolation when needed, along with the promise of a gentler  future, a reminder that was sorely needed amidst each day's ongoing drama. 

     To me, cradling a book is akin to holding a loved one's hand. Found there is memory, trust and the shared history of years. If it is a book given to me by a friend or is one equally cherished by them, then for a moment that friend is right there with me. That is a source of great comfort to me.

     I've come to realize that books are not just a part of  a home...books are a home to me. They have unfailingly provided me with respite, contentment and stimulation in varying amounts. I don't consider any book to have let me down, however mediocre the story or meagre the content. With every page read, I learn more about the world, and about myself. What more could I want?

     I am contemplating a move, and am trying to winnow down my possessions. I care little for such things as dishes, clothes, and furniture, but deciding which of my old friends to keep is a bigger challenge.

      I know I will never part with any book written by  the Bronte Sisters, who have inspired me to write since I read the first sentence in "Jane Eyre".  I have not a fraction of their talent, courage or the tenacity needed to achieve what they did, but their shared spirit continues to awe and inspire me.

     And how can I let Jeffrey Archer go, he of immense story -telling skills and fascinating life? My major collection of archaeology, history  and forensic books are must-have references and I cannot contemplate giving away my theatre scripts or my volumes of Shakespeare.  Harry Potter stays, as does Jane Austen. The stack of Irish writers I've amassed also remains as does a shelf of beautifully bound and weathered English Literature classics that have been read and reread throughout  the years.  As for my numerous art book so carefully sought out over decades..could I seriously let them go?

You see the challenge I face. Books have provided one of the true constants in my life. I do own and eReader, have books on CD and book apps on my  iPad and iPhone, but the  hard-covers stacked beside my bed offer a comfort nothing electronic could ever give  me. 

           Books influence everything I do. Going into a strange house, the first thing I look for are the bookshelves...and the dogs.  If I find neither books, nor dogs, I begin to wonder why I'm there. And I both love, and hate, knowing that no matter how many books I read, I will never get to them all.

 That said, I mean to give it my best shot.

 Must run... literary places to visit, characters to meet, old friends to check in with, and many unread books to devour before I part with them.

  I'll be in my library, should anyone need me. 
 Just ignore the Do Not Disturb!

Friday, October 14, 2016

California/Nevada Trip

Mike and I just got back from a quick road trip that let us spend a couple of days in Nevada, and a few more in California. The main goal was to see Death Valley -which is indescribably beautiful and simply stunning- but as a lover of topography, almost every turn in the road provided me with some new feature to look at as we wound our way through the wide open spaces of the high desert.

 Of course, I took many pictures and am posting a few of them now. I shot this photo of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam from the walkway on the new bridge. We later learned that the water level was down 150 ft. after a scorching summer, as evidenced by the waterline.

The Kelso Dunes in California were lovely, nestled among rugged hills in the Mojave National Preserve. We had the dunes to ourselves, to enjoy with a hot sun, the slightest ruffle of a breeze and the soothing sound of silence

A few brave lizards were to be seen scooting about, but most wildlife knew to stay cool in the many burrows we saw dug into the sand.   
California's Red Rock Canyon was breathtaking, the scale and colour of them a delight to investigate.

Oddly enough, I feel more relaxed in the desert than I do here at home.

 There is endless space to breath in these wide open spaces, not always an easy thing to find in our busy lives.

Again, I can't find the words to describe Death Valley. It is huge, untamed, colourful and endlessly fascinating. Mike and I tend to cover as much ground in a day as we can when away, and we didn't leave enough time to enjoy every stop in the park.  Guess that means we'll have to do it again....

The picture above is Zabriskie Point. I'm going to look up the movie of the same name from years ago and see if the scenery plays a significant part in it.

Artist's Palette is one stop no-one seems to neglect. We spent a lovely hour watching the sun go down and the shadows weaving their evening magic. 

A huge arroyo had carved it's way into  the hills where we stood, and we could imagine how thunderous the water would sound roaring through it in a rain storm.

As daylight neared it's end, we found ourselves in Badwater Basin, a salt flat that covers 200 square miles. It is also the lowest point in the USA at 282 feet below sea level.

I have neglected my blog shamefully, but will return with more trip pics soon. Thanks for stopping by...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

April Tulip Festival in BC

As my husband and I made our way home after a trip to Chilliwack last week, we spotted a dazzling field of tulips field off to our right. Mike turned in automatically, knowing this was our kind of stop and was surprised when I objected in a most uncharacteristic way.

It was actually more of a whine than a polite demurral. The long day had been scalding hot, I was thirsty  beyond measure and was dismayed to see literally hundreds of people on the property to navigate through, many of them also drooping in the blistering temperatures with no shade in sight.

Throw in ten acres to explore, and what would thrill me on a cool day, seemed daunting to the extreme.

Of course,  my spirit of artistic adventure knew better and kicked into overdrive. I should have known I could never resist this photo op..impossible to pass the chance by.

Unfortunately, I got no brilliant shots like the panoramic vistas of tulips I've seen so often in magazines. My efforts were lack-luster at best, and it was difficult to get a wide shot as every row seemed to be peppered with people and their selfie sticks! Being one who dislikes having her picture taken, this is a trend I will never understand...

In the end, I lasted for an hour, and got a few good shots, after which we scurried off to the nearest Dairy Queen for beautifully chilled milkshakes. Though seriously dehydrated and a little sunburned, I was glad my instincts had not allowed me to wimp out.

I will look for this event next year, but will bring my own water and snacks in case the organizers still don`t realize they could as much money having a snack booth as selling flowers!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Stoning of Soraya M.

A serious word of caution:

            This is not  a "nice" post…I offer no pretty pictures or poetry for International Women's Day. What you will find is graphic depiction of violence in words and images to tell a story that is ugly beyond belief, but is a story that needs to be told until such things never happen again. If you choose to skip my page today, please know that I very much appreciate you stopping by. 


      Most of us are neither naïve nor ignorant of world affairs. We know that life is harsh and that we humans are frequently less than our best selves, yet we doggedly seek out goodness in life and cling to optimism even in the face of adversity. This can be easy to do for those of us sustained by the bounty of lush lands and bolstered by the love of family and friends. Other realities are far more horrific.

      My comfortable life was dealt a visceral blow recently in the guise of an ordinary TV movie, stumbled upon while I ate my gooey dessert and idly flicked through channels. I caught only the end of this film, but in that half hour, the savagery of the story stunned me and quickly turned dessert into bile.

         Based on true-life,” The Stoning of Soraya M” is the account of a tragedy that took place in 1986 as Khomeini was coming into power in Iran. Within a marriage arranged in her early teens, Soraya and the nine children she bore suffered repeated abuse under the heavy hands of husband and father, Ali. When Ali requested a divorce in order to wed a 14 yr old girl, Soraya protested, knowing her family would starve to death without the support of her husband.

            The devious and tyrannical Ali was undeterred…as adultery is a crime punishable by death under law he simply bribed a local man to testify to Soraya’s infidelity. In a cruel twist, her paid accuser was the husband of a recently deceased friend, for whom she’d helped daily to cook and look after his children, a fact that was conveniently twisted to help condemn her. With no means of defence, and no offer of aide, Soraya’s fate was sealed. To her husband’s demand that she be stoned to death to cleanse the village of her, the village officials with whom he was colluding responded enthusiastically.

            It is said that 1,000 women have been stoned to death in the last two decades. I have read accounts of these brutal punishments, described briefly in a paragraph or two posted in the local paper…I wonder now how I remained emotionally removed from them for so long. A few minutes into this film, I began to shake, and was unable to control that shaking all evening, so great was my distress. I am beyond horrified, and can find no words to convey the hole this story tore in my heart.

            How have we gotten to a place in life where burying a bound and defenceless women up to her chest in sand, then systematically pelting her with rocks and bricks till she dies is an acceptable thing to do, indeed an honorable thing to do in the name of God’s will? No God I know -or want to know- would advocate the inhumanity this story depicts.

            I watched the film in horror, as Soraya’s own father stepped to the front, exercising his right to take the traditional first shot. A respected village elder, he would thus claim revenge for the shame his adulterous daughter had brought down on his head. The first heavy stone he aimed at Soraya’s face missed its mark, but at his feet were left three of the four stones each man in the village was allowed. Angry with the miss, the father picked up a larger piece and threw again with more force. When that also went wide, he impatiently grabbed a third, not stopping until he’d cut through the skin of this daughter to whom he’d given life.

          As is the custom, Soraya’s husband was next to hoist a stone, hurling it unprompted with eager excitement. When it did not hit her, his smile slipped and he quickly shot again, this rock barely glancing off a shoulder. Now becoming enraged, he hurled a jagged rock with such force that it bounced wildly off his wife’s head, and snapped her backwards. Forehead split open and bleeding profusely, Soraya still managed to right herself and raise her head once more.

            When I thought the story could not get more abhorrent, I watched the husband pull his two oldest sons out of the crowd. Roughly, he placed rocks in their hands and pushed them to the front so they might fulfil their duty of glorifying God and the Iman by ridding their village of the wicked infidel who had borne them. They did as they were bid with swift and simultaneous throws. I have never been impacted by a movie to the extent I was upon watching these young men stone their innocent mother and be lauded for it by the frenzied mob of villagers. Rocks began showering Soraya, occasionally making contact, but when she still refused to die, the enraged men circled the bleeding woman and threw rocks with such force that her head split wide open.

              If you have the heart, and the stomach, to watch this film you will share my horror. I need not watch it again; it’s burned into my head for all time. The 1994 novel, on which this film is based, was written by journalist Freidoune Sahebjam. Its English title is, “The Stoning of Soraya M: A Story of Injustice in Iran”, translated from the original French edition of four years earlier, “La Femme Lapidée”. It is an horrific, compelling and infinitely disturbing read.

            Whether or not you choose to pursue the story please let me know what you think. Show me there are many who abhor the gender apartheid that marginalizes women, the religious fanaticism that condones violence and the mob mentality that dares masquerade as law; please remind me there are countless numbers of people for whom such barbarity will never be mistaken for justice.....

Monday, October 20, 2014

You Have To Love Sundays...

For my husband and I, Sundays are an adventure. Each week, we hop in the car and pick a direction to drive. Some of our jaunts keep us reasonably close by. Others involve hundreds of kilometres and an arrival home time in the small hours of the morning.

On this last Sunday - windy, warm and grey - we chose to visit Steveston, a beautiful spot not far from Vancouver.

On arrival, we came across a man feeding copious amounts of birdseed to the seagulls and crows. This gave me a chance to get some close-ups of birds in flight, always a welcome opportunity.

Next on our list was a visit to the boats docked by the pier, selling their fresh salmon, tuna and sea urchins. 

Because it's been a decent fishing season, we were able to get a large and 
inexpensive salmon for our dinner.

We managed to pass on our usual outdoor fish and chip feed, knowing we were going home to cook, but the dulce-de-leche gelato was beyond resisting.

The tide was higher than we've ever seen it, but I only took a few pictures of the slough as two swans vied for my attention. A local resident told me they are a pair who fly in every fall, and excel at begging for food.

Having just bought an enriched fresh loaf from the bakery, I thought to give them a slice each. 

While the female was shy and dainty, the male was pushy and bold. My fingers ended up in his beak a few times, as he saw them only as an extension of the food he was desperate to clamp on to.

Good thing I'm not   easily bothered by such things. 

The big male went on sentry duty at the end of the bridge, looking for more handouts, and while I passed him easily, the woman behind me did shriek when the swan stretched his neck  threateningly.

'Twas a wonderful day, with the sky closing in as we crossed the Alex Fraser Bridge to home. The salmon dinner went on the table a little later than usual, but it was well worth the wait...

I'm linking up with Our World Tuesday. To see more shots, click on the link below...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Kenya's Mountain Lodge

Although I haven't been blogging lately, a friend of mine has recently returned from  South Africa, and her photos served to remind me how much of my heart I left on that continent. I thought I might do a series of posts to highlight the wonderful lodges we stayed at in the course of our safari...

 My husband and took a photo safari through Kenya and Tanzania eight years ago.This trip remains one of the true highlights of my life. I felt immediately at home with the golden savannahs that stretched on forever, and the hot sun that loosens tight muscles and seems, indeed, to slow down time itself. 

 Our first stop after leaving Nairobi was the Mountain Lodge. Mount Kenya is in the highlands of Kenya, so shrouded in mist that when we were there, I was only able to capture a shadowy shot of the mountain itself.
It is simply a magical place. The
lodge is wrapped around a waterhole that abounds with animals day and night.

(Google photo: We weren't allowed out there!)

Arriving just before dark, we found hot water bottles 
nestling in the cold beds to bid us welcome.


Sleep was the last thing we were thinking about. Each room has its own private balcony with a view of the waterhole and its visitors. Sitting there watching Elephants and Cape Buffalo wander in to drink, the rest of the world ceased to exist for me. 

With the shuffling of hooves and splashing water the only sounds to be heard, we could sit quietly and watch the animals go about their evening as if we were not there. It was a privilege to do so. 

Management informed us they 
could awaken us in the night if the more elusive animals showed up. As soon as the pre-dawn knock sounded on our door, I rushed out to our balcony and watched a leopard lap warily at the waterhole. 

I did not take a picture for fear of disturbing him in any way. It was one of the two very brief times we were to see a leopard on our safari. 

I may have no shots to show for it but my mind can instantly conjure up the long, tense lines of this striking predator who soon fled that open space for the safety and visibility afforded by the tall trees.

Monkeys are prevalent in Africa. Although undeniably cute, they are considered pests, and tourists are directed to discourage them. 

As well as viewing the animals from above, the lodge features an underground tunnel leading to a viewing room with tiny barred windows at ground level. It is wonderful to see the wildlife close up, though a somewhat dubious pleasure in the case of the very homely Marabou Stork!

The next day we were led on a walk through the forest, escorted by armed guards,one in front, one in the rear - rifles slung over their shoulders and fingers at the ready.  

We grew accustomed to their presence in East Africa.The guards protect tourists from possible animal attacks, but are also vital in the control of poachers whose ruthless greed is reducing the herds of African wildlife to alarming low numbers.

On this hot sunny day, we were also advised to cover up well, with trousers tucked into boots. The wisdom of that became clear when mosquitoes  swarmed around us and ants flooded over our feet in great numbers. Although tiny, these siafu have huge pincers that can inflict great pain upon reaching bare skin.

After walking for 
a while, we came 
to a clearing, and 
were delighted 
to see that tea 
had been set 
out for us. 

Sipping Earl Grey 
from a china cup and 
nibbling thin biscuits 
in the heart of an 
African forest is 
only one of the 
many lovely 
memories I took 
home with me. 

I strongly suspect no other afternoon tea I partake of will quite compare with this one... 

Next time, I'll take you to Kenya's Samburu Game Reserve.