Monday, July 29, 2013

100th POST: all the feeling and half a poem


I had not known Cynthia’s hotel in Berlin
yet in this room on some strange and new looking street
you said, your skin. you said, you know?

you said very little
and for weeks after I tried to remember

everything you had said
the colour of the room

so different from home
where I was before Potsdamer Platz

before Singapore, before Lisboa
facing a river all alone at the plaza

I wrote to you then, thrice
and twice I stopped, I did not eat

I sent bowls untouched, sugar and fish
back,and to the sink’s hungry mouth

prayed you hungered for things equally, even then
when everything fell so fast, and together, like Harare

where you told me everything about you and music
and nothing about me, about we

you said you would find me
leaving with little more than memory and name

in the dream
you miss a flight

to come back to me
except it wasn’t a dream

somewhere a park bench remembers us
me giggling, you drunk with orange juice

whispering some little girl’s name
wondering at the tangled brightness of her hair

your eyes asking, do you remember
how we should have not met

and how walking back, you thought
it impossible that I had not done this before

how impossible is it now, wanderer
to roam free

for we who are together in this, somehow
tethered, though we are kept each time
for a little while, apart

With apologies and appreciation to Cynthia Cruz and her Hotel Berlin.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

CHIWONISO MARAIRE: We are here only until we are not

Sometimes we are selfish. We ask 'why' because the word lets us breath, because you cannot say that word and hold your breath - not truly. Perhaps it is selfish to want to keep the ones we love even if they are needed elsewhere. To keep them for the gifts they give to us and not perhaps for them as selves. Today I think it is okay to be selfish, in this one instance. Though it will change nothing. I am drunk with the absence of reason. No amount of rhyme will turn this narrative into logic. Today a dirge is a dirge, a song is something else entirely.

It is 5 minutes before a show at the (old) Book Café in Harare.

Chi: What do you mean you are afraid of music?
Me: Not afraid exactly, I mean I love music who doesn’t. Just as long as it’s not me singing right?
Chi: So you are not performing
Me: As long as I don’t have to sing
Chi: Mmhm  - followed by an impish smile

15minutes later she calls for me on stage. The band is Chikwata 263 and they are in full swing theres no telling them to slow-down for the tenderfoot. She’s one with the mbira or was it the hosho (and if you know Chi you know that she's here but she's somewhere else too) and seeing as I’m the goofball now standing in front of the only microphone in the room with a room full of people waiting for me to do something, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and follow her lead. The result not quite a song but she is so happy.

Two years later and I’m still smiling, laughing. Even today. Despite yesterday.

Yesterday Chiwoniso Maraire died. She was 37 years old, only. Here we say o tlhokafetse which loosely translates to, "she was looked for but could not be found."
She was beautiful and more than a little good-crazy. She played transcendently, and she told stories like the voices of a million mothers. Had this close-mouthed, hesitant, little girl smile that contradicted the wisdom you heard every time she took the mbira in her hands and made it rain, or the one time she stood still mid-way through a Poetry Africa excursion in Johannesburg and spoke to me about her children. She was young but she’d lived hard, packed a lot into three decades. A handful of people, few and far in-between, have taught me to take my craft but not myself too seriously. As a person I really, really liked her.
She’s not gone, we just have to stand still long enough, listen hard enough to hear her.


Loving the Al Jazeera series - Artscape: The New African Photography. A series which they say "profiles six African artists determined to take back control of how their continent is portrayed".

"perspective |pərˈspektiv|nounthe art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point: [ as modifier ] a perspective drawing. See also linear perspective and aerial perspective.• a picture drawn in such a way, esp. one appearing to enlarge or extend the actual space, or to give the effect of distance.• a view or prospect.• Geometry the relation of two figures in the same plane, such that pairs of corresponding points lie on concurrent lines, and corresponding lines meet in collinear points.a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view: most guidebook history is written from the editor's perspective.• true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion: we must keep a sense of perspective about what he's done."  
Borrowed from my Mac dictionary :) lazy I know.

If there are over a billion Africans then surely there must be just as many 'Africas'. Not to mention all the other Africas not necessarily seen through a local lens or perhaps from a resident lens or a tourist lens or a top-down-cavalry-is-here lens or a I've-fallen-in-love-with-the-sunsets-&-I'm-never-leaving lens (we could be here all day) and if we are all products of our environments - whether we are running away from or towards what we've been conditioned to 'know' or what we've learnt, its still a part of our social and political and yes, environmental barometer.

I'm not one to take myself too seriously, I don't have the constitution for it. I much prefer asking questions to giving answers, all that 'knowing' is heady stuff. So today I'm watching and listening which sometimes is the best way for me to ask a question without saying anything at all ARTSCAPE DOCUMENTARIES HERE

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


A former British colony that became an independent nation in the mid-1960s. A small country, which less-informed people might find hard to pinpoint on a map. A largely peaceful and prosperous state, in a region that has had its share of troubles. Mostly flat terrain. English is its lingua franca, but locals speak many different tongues amongst themselves.
This is Botswana. This is Singapore.
(Well not literally, but you get the idea)
One in Africa, one in Asia; yet the two countries share similar historical backgrounds and societal aspirations. In a landmark collaboration, editors TJ Deem, Wame Molefhe, Alvin Pang and Stephanie Ye are looking for new and original poetry and short fiction for a Botswana-Singapore anthology, with the theme and the title, “Skin”. The anthology is slated to be published by Singapore’s Math Paper Press in the first half of 2014.
A submission should follow these guidelines:
1. The theme is “skin”. Writers are free to interpret the theme as they wish.
2. Writers should either be citizens or residents of Botswana or Singapore. There are no age restrictions.
3. Both poetry and prose submissions are accepted. Submissions must be in English, and be between 2,000 and 5,000 words long.
- For poetry, each submission should consist of up to five poems.
- For prose, each submission should consist of one short story.

4. Multiple submissions are accepted, i.e. a writer can submit more than one poetry or prose submission, as well as submit both poetry and prose submissions.
5. Submissions should preferably refer to Botswana or/and Singapore in some way, in terms of setting, characters or concerns, though this is not a requirement.
6. Work previously published elsewhere, whether online or in print, is eligible. In the submission, writers must indicate clearly, at the top of the document, the publication/date in which the work first appeared, as well as vouch that all copyright permissions have been cleared.
7. Work previously published in another language is eligible. The writer should submit an English translation of the work while indicating clearly, at the top of the document, the publication/date in which the original work appeared.
8. The deadline for submissions is October 31, 2013.
- For poetry: Send your submission to Please include your name and contact details in the body of the e-mail, with the subject line “Botswana” or “Singapore”, depending on your country of origin. Submissions should be in the form of an MS Word document (.doc), using Times New Roman, font size 12.
- For prose: Send your submission to Please include your name and contact details in the body of the e-mail, with the subject line “Botswana” or “Singapore”, depending on your country of origin. Submissions should be in the form of an MS Word document (.doc), using Times New Roman, font size 12.

9. Writers whose submissions are selected will each receive an honorarium of S$80 (estimated 540 pula). Each will also receive three contributor copies of the published anthology and a 40% author discount on further copies.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN: Weddings in Botswana

I received another invite in the mail today. A friend is getting married this September. It is July now which is the tail end of winter and our wedding season tends to be the first and last quarter of the year. My first thought was beautiful invitation followed immediately by a desire to warn her or at the very least make sure she knows what she's getting herself into - logistically.

I don't much like the word 'brideprice' and 'dowry' tastes unfamiliar on my tongue so we will stick to magadi or lobola meaning a gift of cattle given by the boy's family to his beloved's family, though they are received mainly by the girl's maternal uncles. Magadi is not a simple matter of 'How many cows do you want? Here you go'. Its days sometimes months of negotiations between two families. There is and has been room for abuse with this system, delayed marriage dates, lengthy betrothals, weeping almost-brides, broken-hearted boys whose families had no farms of their own (though this was rare as we were mainly a pastoral people) or could not raise the funds to purchase cattle. One Kgosi (Chief) asked a friend of mine why he wasn't marrying the girl in-community-of-property. The stalemate became if you don't trust our daughter enough to share all of yourself with her, then be on your way. It took his family a while to break down their perspective of the business-versus-family-security reasons behind wanting separate asset ownership and accountability for their financial lives, needless to say their patlo took much, much longer than they had planned (hoped). 

Bridal showers and bachelor parties (of course they aren't called groom's parties, thats a tad too much commitment) are mostly sedate affairs but a few gentlemen have taken to hosting their bachelor parties out of the country -there are no exotic dancers in Botswana, to my knowledge- and so I cannot vouch for the nature of the cross-border partying but really at this point he's asked, you've said yes or vice versa and one hopes you (sort of) know what he won't get up to just because he's out of sight.
All Botswana weddings must first begin with a civil ceremony in front of the 'molaodi' or magistrate. This I believe can only be done on a Thursday but there is a whole process involving voluntary marriage counselling, registration with a government office responsible for public placements/announcements of the impending nuptials i.e. 3 consecutive weeks of publishing banns (so any wives can come out of the woodwork and out any scheming almost bigamist grooms :-)).  You can only marry one woman by/through law but men have sometimes taken additional wives through traditional means. My maternal grandfather had three wives.   
As a former wedding witness I can attest that the magistrate takes this all quite seriously and that both bride and groom and their 2 required witnesses must declare the nature of the relationship and the purpose of them being in attendance eg I so and so am the brides friend, I am here to bear witness that she is not and never has been married/ or is legally divourced etc etc before any exchange of rings can happen. Some couples choose not to exchange rings at the magistrate's office but rather to have them blessed by their pastor of choice at the church ceremony that we will talk about later.
And so this civil ceremony is the legal bit but in addition to the religious requirements (80% of Batswana practice Christianity) we have certain cultural norms. The Patlo is the seeking of the bride and this is the process that culminates in the giving and receiving of magadi. It can be as lengthy or as short as the girl's family desires - two meetings or two years of negotiation. It involves the wearing of head kerchiefs by the women, hats and coats (sometimes in 40 degree centigrade weather) by the men and meetings by the boy's family with the girl's to discuss magadi ie how many cows are to be given to the girl's family in order for her to become engaged to the boy. Although in truth this is the real marriage for some as Setswana recognizes a woman who is betrothed in this manner as already married. Despite the world's biggest diamond mine being located in Botswana, the engagement ring is much more a fashion statement as far as some of the elders are concerned, a kind of new language in place of or in support of cattle to say back off she/he's taken. There is a secret ceremony for married women only, to meet with the soon to be bride go mo laya ie to instruct her in the ways of being a good wife, you can imagine the gist of the conversation - patience, faith, prayer, patience, compassion, forebearance, patience ... you get the idea.
When I was growing up in the late eighties/early nineties very few people had double barreled surnames. And those who did were arguably mainly women married to foreign men. As a trend/political statement it has been on the rise but is in no danger of taking over the default of taking on the man's family name as your own. I think most patriarchal cultures go about things this way. Of course my friends in Burma (they tell me no one has a surname to begin with), and in Singapore don't know what the whole hullaballoo is about because (some/most of?) the girls there just keep their last names - no changing, no barreling, just you are you, I'm me, we are now you and me. 
Sometimes couples have a two part wedding; a party at the girl's family home and then the following weekend it moves to the boys. This is mainly for weddings that are hosted in the respective villages of the bride and groom, which tends to mean the whole village can pitch up and you better have enough food. Somehow its always enough. Invitation cards are for the city friends in their stilettos, your village assumes they are honoring your celebration by attending your wedding so out of this civic duty they simply pitch up.
There is a tradition of the dressing of the bride and many a modern bride has been stripped and re-dressed because she had in her 'eagerness' already dressed herself. This I'm told is a literal dressing-up from your birthday suit through to the last bit of fabric by an aunt/group of elder women. The ubiquitous white dress has found its way here. And post the midweek civil ceremony it makes its grand debut during the weekend walk down the aisle. Here we mostly follow the global north's (soapie) script, the father walks blushing daughter down the aisle while the groom and guests look on, but instead of the wedding march the church choir or a local band might belt something out. The bride will eventually change out of her white dress into her 'second attire', if she is from a multi-cultural background there may be more than one change of clothes. 
We like attendants (and they work hard) 4 to 10 bridesmaids and a maid/matron of honor, a best man and enough groomsmen to partner with the bridesmaids. Tailors love wedding season as we tend to have bridesmaids clothes tailored so they are unique to each bridal party. 

My friend Yaa and her husband Eddy with their bridal party. Yes I am somewhere in that shot. This was an amazing early evening outdoor wedding

There are rehearsals for months before the wedding so the bridal party can learn a sequence of choreographed dance moves for the wedding reception. It is not uncommon to have to learn 4 or 5 full length sequences. An amateur choreographer is usually commissioned to tailor random moves to the bride and groom's song selection. At the wedding reception, although there is usually other entertainment such as a poet, singer, band or traditional dance troupe everyone waits to see the dancing bridal party welcome the bride and groom to their wedding reception. By now as I'm sure you've guessed it is late afternoon to early evening, as by law you cannot be married after sunset in Botswana i.e. in legalese "vows can only be solemnized between the hours of six o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the evening". The dance floor is opened after both sides of the families have been publicly re-introduced to each other with the guests as witnesses (after all the local assumption is that marriage is between two families not two people), lots of speeches made, dinner had and the bar opened. The father-daughter dance is not very common but it does happen every so often. 
    Wedding menu - quite a number of people are now choosing to book hotels and have meals (usually a buffet) catered from the hotel's dining selection. They still tend to lean towards lots of meat and the hotel chefs are accommodating about adding traditional dishes. Traditionally and I would suggest that outside the city this is the case in the majority, a cow or two are slaughtered by some neighbours or relatives who also spend the early hours of the morning standing over open fires preparing everything from samp to sorghum to dumplings, pumpkin to boiled bean leaves, seswaa, fried beef, stewed goat meat, chicken...we could be here all day and the guests usually are.
Traditionally (and by that I mean a mean of the various cultural practices found in Botswana mostly pre-1966/independence but a lot of which are still in practice) not only were the soon to be bride and groom not spending the night together but the assumption was they had never spent the night together. Ehem! today its a little more difficult to pretend that this is the state of affairs, especially in the cities where we are getting married later and later, announcing our relationship statuses and more on Facebook ala "this morning when I woke up from my boyfriend's bed I said to him blahblah" etc.
Flower girls and a ring bearer (who is usually a boy still too young to tie his own shoelaces) are fairly common especially if the couple already has a child together, but not necessarily with every wedding.
I've heard that some cultures, Greek and German included, break dishes as a way to wish the bride and groom good luck, I have yet to witness a local equivalent of that. In Germany someone told me the bride and groom then has to clean up the shards, the closest we've come to that is a case I heard of where the woman had to clean up the three legged pots that were used to prepare the wedding meal. Urrg thankfully most of my friends have had their weddings catered and so this hasn't come up with any of my peers.

Honeymoon - schmanymoon. We don't really do honeymoons, not in the fly to Cabo or Bora-bora way, most couples are usually too busy trying to recover from the limousine hiring company's invoice, which also doesn't encourage taking any more unpaid leave from work but its really just not a big part of the culture here.  Often the opposite is true as lots of friends and family want to help the new couple settle into their new home, co-habitation prior to marriage was frowned upon and is not so common and so there is often some literal settling in that needs doing. Some couples have had the civil ceremony, hosted a small lunch for friends and family and left it at that. Others have hosted 500 to a thousand people without batting an eyelid. In truth you don't have to be wealthy to have what seems a large wedding, yes you need some disposable income but a lot of the labour (if you go the traditional route) is gratis; the pitching of the marquee, slaughtering, cooking, serving of guests is all neighbours and family, you could even borrow the cooking pots from the local Village Development Committee or primary school. You still need to buy the ingredients and the ring and the cows and the...oh well I guess it would be easier if you have loads of cash but the bottom-line is you can work it out.
I'm absolutely certain that I've missed so much but hopefully this does give you a small sense of the commosshh... I mean celebrations that make up the average wedding in Botswana. 
ps My friend, the soon-to-be-bride, has happily lost the surname battle and is looking forward to the dress and menu wars. Aaaah to be in love.

Footnote: homosexual relations are illegal in Botswana and so by definition the only marriages I am able to refer to are heteronormative.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Pretending to write but actually I'm just listening to

Damian Marley - Sabali / Patience
Rachid Taha - Ya rayah
Gentleman - It no pretty
Sting - Rise and fall
Sade - Babyfather
Bob Marley - One Love

Have a fantastic day. Regardless.