Thursday, January 29, 2015

HANGER: in response to a challenge to write something out of my comfort zone in 30 minutes

No one knows why they came, only that we woke to a sound we’d never heard before. In the months that followed we became as familiar with that noise as we had been with the class bell that had rung minutes before the Utter Unknown reached us. The moment this all began.

Taniele had been pulled out of class. That was always our barometer for a fine pile of something steaming hot about to hit the fan. His stepfather, shiny keys in hand walked in and yanked him up, up from his chair. Two scrapes later they were out the door. Out of the corner of my eye, Mr Mckinley and Mma Nthebolan arguing outside the classroom. Something wet and slimey hit the back of my neck. Stupid boy and his spit balls. I’d been waiting for him to ask me out just so I could finally say no.
‘Quit it Thabang or eat sand after class.’
The girls giggled, Mary Anne got up and sat on the edge of his always grimy desk.
‘Poor Thabang why don’t you cast your eyes on me instead?’ she said batting her eyelids.
‘Ao babe…’
 Suddenly if not unexpectedly for those who had been waiting for it, a ringing bell.
 Then the roof fell in. Just like that.

Since I don't know where I took this photo, it'll fit here
Jesus. Its hours maybe two later, I think, I can see the plastic clock Mma N pokes, poked, used to, with her ruler to straighten each morning. But even I could tell, this time we were the ones all lopsided and wrong way round. Everything had caved upon itself then turned to hold those living afloat. You know, the way a dead body might rise to the water’s surface, except there was no water, just us floating. Only the ones who didn’t make it, their limbs strewn helter skelter seemed bound somehow in the way we were not, to whatever now passed for the floor. I’ll never forget how the air tasted at that moment, thick with rubble dust and heavy with something else. Something not quite from here.

Out of two million one hundred and four people, there are 68,371 of us left, the whole goddamn city gone. They’d never stood a chance out in the country. Farmers out in the open, women fetching water with babies on their backs, children playing.

Yet 311 babies had been born since we’d arrived here a little over a year ago. Some women who had survived were already pregnant before the… before, but there were those who had conceived during the weeks and months that followed when the cavalry finally came and it wasn’t who we were expecting.

There had been confusion after the first child had been born but now there’s a classification system in every camp, half of them stateless babies who we could not count as our own because their fathers were part of The Sent.

These Hangers, as we called them, had to undergo DNA testing as soon as they passed their Apgar to determine whether they were free from the Unknown or whether their mothers had contaminated them at birth. All 311 scored a 10 which was impossible, except it wasn’t, not any more. The eldest among them would easily pass for a sixteen year old boy now, no one knew what the fuck was going on. And that, was only the first of our goddamn problems.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


taboo |təˈbo͞o, ta-|
noun ( pl. taboos )
a social or religious custom prohibiting or forbidding discussion of a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.
• a practice that is prohibited or restricted in this way: speaking about sex is a taboo in his country.
prohibited or restricted by social custom: sex was a taboo subject.
• designated as sacred and prohibited: the burial ground was seen as a taboo place.
verb ( taboos, tabooing, tabooed |-ˈbo͞od| ) [ with obj. ]
place under such prohibition: traditional societies taboo female handling of food during this period.
ORIGIN late 18th cent.: from Tongan tabu ‘set apart, forbidden’; introduced into English by Captain Cook.

superstition |ˌso͞opərˈstiSHən|
excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings: he dismissed the ghost stories as mere superstition.
• a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief: she touched her locket for luck, a superstition she had had since childhood.
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin superstitio(n-), from super- ‘over’ + stare ‘to stand’ (perhaps from the notion of “standing over” something in awe).

As a child I was fascinated by Setswana taboos, it seemed to me you couldn’t crawl without some adult saying ‘Hei! You can’t do that’. Inevitably you’d ask, chubby cheeked and unaware that for that generation the question ‘ka go reng?’  ie why? did not translate as curiousity but insolence. A wooden spoon would land on your head (though fortunately not in my house, my parents had a no physical discipline policy) or a frown followed by ‘because I said so’ would be a kindness. At some point they would begin, not to explain but, to say the magic phrase ‘ka gore ke moila’ ie ‘because it is taboo’.

A lot of these taboos mainly told women and girls what not to do. They were rather gender specific.

Here is a list of taboos one had to navigate through. I will not provide explanations or supposed consequences to the actions because in asking why of my nannies, they one by one said – you guessed it – because it is taboo. Which isn’t of course an answer. I know what a few supposedly lead to but the rest you can find out for yourself.

One school of thought is that it doesn’t really matter what the consequence supposedly was but rather that fear be instilled in the curious child for their own safety.

For example

A girl cannot take a bath at night.

Say what! Perhaps because bathrooms where you are from have within your lifetime, maybe always, been attached to the rest of the house this is a non-starter for you. Stop frowning and imagine that there is a large compound, easily accessible by anyone wandering by. In it there are various free standing mud huts at a distance from each other. You cook in one, sleep in one and take a bath in or behind another one. It is dark, your daughter is off by herself at a distance taking a bath - one assumes naked, you are sitting in another hut near an open fire talking loudly, she is not of age or actually if she is still in your house even if she is of age is likely not married, there are boys wandering around the village. Your response may still be ‘what! I can take a bath whenever I want!’ It is possible that for a whole generation of mothers and fathers their variation on curfew and child security was ‘taking baths at night is taboo’.

This doesn’t explain away any/all of them but the thinking is that they were used as a way to enforce caution or good manners or prevent some societally undesirable consequence such as teenage/unwed pregnancy. Or given the context of when these were adhered to and the prevailing gender based power imbalances and practicality of that era - you can’t very well make dinner late if you ‘have’ to be home before the sun sets.

Let us begin with a few examples

You cannot walk backwards.

Pregnant women should not eat eggs.

A widow cannot enter a cattle pen/kraal.

You cannot sweep at night.

Never place a pot at the centre of a house/room.

You cannot bury the deceased with his head facing east.

A girl cannot eat food directly from a pot (or she wont get married, I remember this one ).

You cannot stand at (within the doorframe of) a door at night.

Unmarried or divorced women cannot give advice (as is traditionally part of the wedding ritual) to a soon to be wed woman… oh oh I might be in trouble here.

Men are not to wear hats indoors.

Salt and water cannot be brought into the house at night.

Women cannot sit on a dikgole* chair.  (*a traditional chair made of wood and coarse rope).

You cannot wear only one shoe.

No whistling indoors.

Once the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, baby’s first hair should be completely shaved off.

A woman who has had a miscarriage (the taboo includes but does not name abortions, which are by the by illegal in Botswana) should keep to herself/home and stay away from young children

Women cannot enter the tribal administration centre (kgotla) wearing pants.

A woman should not leap over an open fire.

For my own reasons I’m happy to stick to some of these. For one, I can safely say never once have I felt the compulsion to walk about with one stiletto or leap over an open fire, so we are good on a few of these. But it is of course my choice, I do not live in a time when I would have felt (entirely) bound by these ‘rules’.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


"Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." 
-Max Ehrmann

I hope 2014 let you breathe long enough to see your blessings and that you carry your lessons (no matter how heavy) into this other year so they can bear fruit. Maybe or help you deal with the new batch of lessons. Life is often a game of 'if its not this, its that' - you win the lotto, someone you know dies, a baby is born, you lose something ... nothing to do with being born under an unlucky star just being born on this planet is sufficient cause to live a human life.

Happy holidays and in particular Happy New Year to you and yours! May all your desired things find you (if they are good and meant for you)