Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Can I really cough up a lung?

Last Saturday, I set aside the entire day to be sick. The previous week I could feel Sickness stalking me, hiding in the dark alleyways when I turned quickly to catch him out. (sorry- I just feel sickness has to be a him.) Finally I said, “Okay fine. Saturday is yours”. So I stayed in bed, finishing two very fine books, and let sickness wash over me. So, since I had made a fair deal with Sickness, I naively assumed he would keep his end of the bargain. I was shocked to wake up on Sunday feeling like crap. I shouted at Sickness and told him he was very untrustworthy and it appears that he didn’t appreciate that and has bewitched me with a huge fat cough. A constant stupid cough that keeps me awake at 2 in the morning so that I write strange incoherent emails to my friend in America, that keeps me coughing so I can’t do my edits on the science textbook, but, strangely, allows me to write this blog. Hmmmm?????? Very sneaky this Sickness.

So in the middle of all of this coughing I thought, “Could I really cough up a lung?’"It appears that is a question on quite a few people’s minds because I googled and got 3,810,000 sites that pertain to it. I got my answer at A helpful poster named Pam Perdue had this to say:

Your lungs are kind of glued to the inside of your chest. That's your rib muscles are able to help expand them. By the time you managed to work an entire lung separated from the rib muscle, you wouldn't be able to cough it out (and you'd be dead a few moments later anyway). I suppose if your lungs were truly rotten a small piece might fall into one of your bronchioles and be coughed out. But at that point your lungs would be full of all sorts of other goop and you wouldn't notice much of anything.

Thanks Pam! That is very comforting. (cough, cough, cough…..)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

You Left Me in the Rain

I held my hand tight with the other for fear it would reach out and stroke her hair. It lay down her back like a silky plank of wood, smooth and straight, sanded to a golden blonde. I shook my head imagining what the weight of that hair might feel like tacked on to my own close-cropped black curls. I imagined the swing of it snapping back just at the end like a cracking whip. I thought of the sensation when a lover ran his fingers through it from root to tip, like water rippling in his hands. I looked away angry and shifted a bit further down the long wooden bench we shared, just to be sure I didn’t do something I might regret.

It was cloudy, but the air was dry and bit my nose when I inhaled. I was waiting for someone who would come, but perhaps not for me. I was waiting to see what would happen. The response would decide it, I told myself. One way or another the response would decide the question I’d battled with for months- should I stay or should I go?

Though I envied the hair, I knew it was not real. Human hair attached by the expert fingers of the hair dressers at the salon in Harare where only the rich could go. Real or fake, concrete or imagined- did it really matter? She told herself the hair was real. Her lover running his fingers through it, imagined it was hers and no ones else’s before. Fa├žade and pretend was what it was all about. Wealth stolen to feed the dreams while the rest hungered away wishing that they could stand in those same imported shoes bought with the donor money meant for the babies. The imported shoes and long blonde recycled hair were the important things, the things everyone longed for, the sick babies were not their problem; they marred the dream so best to be ignored by everyone both inside and out of the fantasy. I knew I was no different. I coveted that hair and to own it I could ignore the dead babies too. Who was I kidding, I’d been walking over babies for months now.

As the wind picked up, my mind drifted to him. The few fantasy hours tucked between the reality, where I was told lies that fed me for the in between. In the beginning I had told myself it was a business arrangement. Money to buy food for my mother, pay school fees for my brother. Though I still clung to that thought, it was tattered and wet from the tears I cried at every parting. Every time as the door closed behind his tailor suited back, I vowed it was the end. When I agreed to see him yet again, I told myself that poverty pushed me there, in the crumbling remains of Zimbabwe what choice did I have? But that was not true. I went to him because I wanted to.

I sniffed the air. A dusty wetness had blown in on the wind. I felt awaken by it. Rain in winter, how strange. I hoped it held good tidings for me.

I watched him approach the bench. I wondered, as I often did, how it felt to be able to walk like that, like the world owed him. He saw me and his eyes flashed with fury- once left, once right and then finished- a smile on his lips showed that all was well. He was used to lies, intrigue and secrets were like breathing to him. He stopped in front of her just as the first heavy drops fell. She believed the smile was for her, so she smiled back. He took off his suit jacket to hold over the blonde hair, to protect it from the rain, and they ran together to the chauffeured car waiting nearby.

I watched them, but he never looked at me again. Today, for him, I didn’t exist. Like the sick babies, I marred the dream he’d constructed for himself. He wouldn’t allow that, so rearranged his mind to wipe me out. Had I expected anything else?

I leaned back and let the raindrops fall on my face. They tasted of the dry dust that had filled the air for months. I smelled the relief of the rain in the parched air and pulled it into my lungs. With each breath, I felt him melt away. I shivered in the cold wind as the rain soaked me through; I welcomed the realness of it. I accepted now, the time for dreams had finally passed.

Exercise those Writing Muscles

Selma of Selma in the City has started a blog called Search Engine Fiction which gives weekly writing prompts. Writers will write their piece (poetry, fiction or non-fiction) and post it on their own blogs while leaving a link in the comments section on the Search Engine Fiction Blog so that everyone can find it easily. I think this is a fantastic idea. When I first started writing five years ago, there was a great flash fiction weekly prompt like this at Fiction Addiction. I loved doing it every week. Sometimes the stories stayed at their 100-500 word level, sometimes they morphed into longer stories, but always it was a great way to keep my fiction mind sharp.

This week's prompt is ‘you left me in the rain’ with a wonderful picture BTW. There are already some interesting posts. It’s difficult to think about rain in the dry, cold, windy weather of a July in Botswana but I am trying. Hopefully something will come to me before the week finishes. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Pursuit of Xhai by Gasebalwe Seretse

When I came to Botswana in 1989, it was common place for the San/Bushmen to be referred to as Lesarwa/Masarwa; le-/ma- being the singular and plural in Setswana for a noun class that is mostly reserved for things. As time passed, it became politically incorrect to use such terms and now Mosarwa/ Basarwa are the correct terms to be used. Unfortunately, linguistic equality did not equal true equality. Like in many cases, it was often little more than window dressing. Racism against the first people of Southern Africa is still thoroughly entrenched. which can be easily seen as Roy Sesana, the well known representative for the Basarwa in Botswana, mentioned in his interview in The Voice newspaper this last Friday when he said, “The government has always talked of developing Basarwa, but where are developed Basarwa? Do you see Basarwa teachers, nurses, doctors, wildlife rangers or engineers?” The answer is no, which is the sad and sorry truth, and no intervention by misguided groups like the British based Survival International can correct that. It is a problem that Batswana must address on their own. Gasebalwe Seretse has begun that journey with his exceptional book, The Pursuit of Xhai.

The book looks without blinders at the racism of the Bangwato toward the Basarwa. Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana’s first president, was a chief in this tribe, as is our current president, his son, President Ian Khama. The author himself is also a member of the royal family of this tribe, which makes it all the more exceptional that he tackles the issue in such a forthright manner.

The story is set in the capital of the Bangwato, Serowe, and is about the wealthy Mongwato cattle baron, Sebeso, who sets out in search of the handsome, Mosarwa man, Xhai, who has been carrying on a forbidden love affair with Sebeso’s daughter Tshepo. Sebeso is most affronted that a “Masarwa dog” has thought he could disrespect Bangwato it such a way. His search for justice leads him to untold horrors and eventually his own demise.

Seretse shows explicitly the hierarchy, which includes other tribes such as the Bakgalagadi, Bakalanga and Barotsi, that was common place at the time (the book is set in 1965) with Bangwato firmly placed on top and how belief in the status quo was universal throughout the villagers of Serowe.

Another interesting issue arises from the character Mr. Sykes. He is a retired, white, British magistrate who is also a friend to Sebeso. Sebeso and his friends berate the whites for arriving in Botswana and banning the outright enslavement of Basarwa by the Bangwato. They discuss how the whites, who do not understand the situation, should have kept out of it. They blame them for allowing the Basarwa to believe that they can be equal to the Bangwato. At the same time Sykes, in his own mind, is vehemently racist against the Bangwato and all blacks and fears for the impending independence of the country. (Botswana got independence in 1966).

Seretse has another book (strangely described as a novel at the back of this one) about the infamous Tshekedi Khama called Tshekedi Khama: The Master Whose Dogs Barked At.

The Pursuit of Xhai
came out of a writing contest sponsored by the British Council. Seretse won top honours for this novel. The winning books, which included memoir and poetry, have all been published by Books Botswana. Kudos must be given to the British Council and Books Botswana for assisting in the development of writers in Botswana.

Unbridled by Jude Dibia

Unbridled is the second book of up and coming Nigerian writer, Jude Dibia. The book is about Ngozi, a young Nigerian woman with a troubled past who searches for an exit from her life on an online dating site. She discovers what she believes to be her “Prince Charming” in a British man called James and dropping her name for a new one (Erika), she sets off for Europe to marry a man she has never met.

Dibia is expert at using the manipulation of time in his plot so as to set up suspense. He gives us drips of Ngozi’s past without telling us what horrors lie there. Straight away he jumps forward and she is already coming back to Nigeria, but the reader doesn’t know why nor what transpired in the UK. Like a pendulum, the reader is swung back and forth in time being given the bits and pieces of the story in enticing little bites. That seasoned handling of the plot makes this book something special.

Many have commented on the authenticity of Ngozi’s female voice coming from a male writer. It is true, Dibia seems to have a unique insight into the female psyche, but I loathe mentioning it (though, obviously, I already have). To me it’s a bit like the accolades that fall on men who stay home and take care of their children while their women go out and work. Women writers write authentic male characters all of the time. So I will not give Dibia any kudos for his undoubted skill in this area.

There are many lovely bits of writing in this book. An example-“I finally understood what it meant to let go. And like many women, I imagined, who had been physically and emotionally abused by men, what letting go meant was to simply vanish into the shadows where the past could not catch up ever again with the future.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

HRI in M & G

I’m beginning to believe that I have stalker tendencies. A glimmer of it is emerging in my growing relationship with Barack Obama- I will watch Barack Obama news in languages that I do not understand- and now I’m transferring a bit of my obsession to Henrietta Rose Innes (HRI). It’s odd to find such a predilection so late in life but then too, there is a bit of hope in it. I now have my future psychological afflictions to look forward to through my 50’s, 60’s and hopefully well into my 80’s. What fun!

Back on topic, I just read the Mail and Guardian’s interview with HRI. I’ve been searching the length and breadth of this dear country of mine in search of a copy of last week’s M & G but to no avail- not in Gaborone, Mahalapye or Palapye could I find a copy. So I’ve had to go on line. I loath to do that. The whole idea of reading newspapers on line just seems wrong. You need to get dirty reading a newspaper, and it must dirty itself in polite return; with spilled tea and toast crumbs in my case. You can’t do that on the computer screen, and besides the toast crumbs don’t stick.

ANYWAY- I think HRI is great. I mean look at this- her answer to what is the purpose of fiction (a question M & G always ask the writers of fiction and one I couldn’t answer for the life of me) - “I hesitate to try to answer that one in any way except the personal. For myself, I read fiction to transform my perception and I write to make sense of my experience. I'm really not sure if there is any broader social purpose for most fiction, except perhaps to create an imaginative conversation that involves many minds in a way that isn't possible otherwise”. That’s great, hey? I am definitely plagiarising that answer if ever the M & G ask it of me.

‘Poison’ is the name of her story that won both the Caine and SA/Pen. When asked how she came to write it she says, “I think I always begin with visual images that feel somehow linked. The process of writing the story is really working out what those connections are and why they are meaningful. I think the impetus for this story came from the black clouds of smoke that hung over the mountain during particularly bad mountain fires one year, a cool old Toyota I once briefly owned before it was stolen and the landscape of highway and veld during various road trips (and various breakdowns).” I particularly loved the bit in the story where she is walking along the empty highway and realising its width and the details of the roadside. Very nice.

In the interview she touches on an aspect of South African writing that was of interest recently to a group of writers I’m working with in another project- their isolation. South African writers are not aware of the wonderful writing that is happening in Africa. They know all about America and Europe, but they take a literary leap over the continent which is producing such exciting fiction. Of this she says, “The prize and the activities around it have introduced me to a network of writers from all over Africa, which I've never encountered in South Africa. I hope that the publicity will encourage other South African writers to enter the award and also that it introduces South African readers to some of the writing that's happening in the rest of the continent.”

In the interview HRI comes off as humble and appreciative and a bit disorganised (she nearly missed the deadline for the SA/PEN which set the whole ‘Poison’ ball rolling (she shouldn’t even take a peek at the alternative reality that would have stemmed from THAT deadline missed)). I’m a bit anal about deadlines so that made me nervous, but I loved everything else about her.

The other question I find frightening that the M & G always asks writers is “Describe yourself in a sentence”.
What was HRI’s answer to that?

You gotta love her for that answer alone.

Freedom of Expression Under Attack in Botswana

If the Media Practitioners Bill, soon to be brought before Parliament in Botswana, is passed, I will be duly arrested for writing this blog entry and given a fine of not more than P5000 or 3 years in prison or, if I’m unlucky- both.

The bill states that anyone, writing anything about Botswana while residing in the country must be accredited. And who will decide if I am suitably qualified to write? The Minister of Communications, Science and Technology- a political appointee -who would likely not appreciate any dissenting voices. I’m sure if I tow the line, accreditation will be forthcoming, but I loathe to do so under the best circumstances and tend to scrap the line altogether when I’m being bullied to behave accordingly. It is easy to see the Zimbabwe-ish way that this is heading. I’m nervous. Those orange jumpsuits really will not suit me and I barely have money to pay for my internet, let alone pop out 5000 bucks every time I sit down to write.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Botswana chapter has issued a position paper on the proposed bill. What really is quite unfathomable is that the government had consulted with the media fraternity before drafting the bill. Many things were agreed upon. For example, the media have their own self regulating Press Council which has been doing a good job to date. It was agreed between government and the media that the Press Council would remain independent and self regulatory and that any legislation would be only to give the Press Council legal recognition under the eyes of the government. When the Bill came out it is as if those meetings didn’t even happen. The Press Council envisioned by the Minister would be appointed by her. It would be completely under the control of the government.

So now the government will choose who will regulate the press. They will choose who will write the news stories. This flies in the face of the very concept of freedom of the press. It is an affront to our constitution and all international agreements on freedom of expression and a free independent press. All patriotic Batswana who love the long standing tradition of free debate that is an entrenched part of Setswana culture and the culture of a free democracy must speak out against this Bill. If not I fear for what lies ahead.

Want to express your outrage? Send a letter to our only private daily newspaper Mmegi Editor:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bessie Head Literature Awards Ceremony

(Pictures: right- me reading, left Wame Molefhe reading at National Museum Gaborone)
On Sunday, we were off to Gaborone for the Bessie Head Literature Awards Ceremony. I won first prize in the short story category so was expected to give a short thank you speech and read from the story. I am nostalgic for the time when writers could write and then hide away hermit-like, it was almost expected that a good writer should not be seen or heard from, part of their charm. Now everyone must be a celebrity; bright and witty, able to stand in front of a crowd and entertain. I am not that person, and I suppose it will act against me in the future if it hasn’t already. Nevertheless, I went and as usual I was dead nervous when it came time to stand up and do what I was supposed to do.

I don’t mean to disparage the prize in anyway, though. This is the second year that the prizes have been awarded and they are now an annual event. They are run by the Bessie Head Heritage Trust and the prize money is sponsored by Pentagon Publishers. They are the only publisher in Botswana that has taken it upon themselves to nurture the growing numbers of writers in the country and they must be commended for that, especially given the fact that they are a small publishing house. Not only do they sponsor the prizes (which are by the way quite good at P2000 for novel, P1500 for short story and P1000 for poem) they publish the winning entries. This is very important in a country where for years only books destined for the schools had a chance to be published. Kudos for Pentagon! Their commitment to writers is one of the reason that I write for them. My Kate Gomolemo books are now published by them and I do educational writing for them, as well.
(But don’t think that there was any nepotism involved in the short story prize- the judging is done by the Trust using independent judges from the University)

The winner in the novel category was a charming young man named Phidson Mojokeri for a novel entitled Curse of a Dream. He looked barely out of school and was so thankful that his dream of becoming a writer was coming true.

In poetry, first place went to Ms Ita Mannathoko for a poem called “Kgalagadi the Great Thirst”. She was not in attendance. The gathering was told that she lives in America. Her poem was read by UB academic and Trust member, Leloba Molema. Mma Molema wondered if Ita might be longing for Botswana as the poem described the country in such a loving way.

My story that won is called ‘The Solar Heater’. It is about a British man who comes to Botswana to work as a lecturer at UB, but bad choices leave him alone and unemployed. He takes up a job at a poorly funded private primary school in Mahalapye. There he meets Chandrika, a young Sri Lankan girl, who has her own sad past to overcome. Together they are ‘saved’ by a solar heater science project.

The other winners were:
2nd prize: Mr. Khumo Ketlhwaafetse for Scrap Yard
3rd Prize: Mr. Yamikani Patson for Hang Him

Short Story
2nd Prize: Mr. Tlotlego Gaogakwe for A Wife for Lindile’s Husband
3rd Prize: Ms Wame Molefhe for Will it Ever Rain?

2nd Prize: Mr. John Hutcheson for Sisal
3rd Prize: Mr. Peter Green for Bessie Head

Bitches’ Brew- Not what I expected.

There is an adage that says you can’t judge a book by its cover. Bitches’ Brew by Fred Khumalo is a perfect example of that. The cover, both the black bird and the blurb at the back only make reference really to what happens in the last 10 odd pages of the book. I found this a bit deceiving. I thought the book was going to be a love story about Lettie and Zakes. I thought it was going to be about “turbulent revelations of character with a pervasive complexity that is both utterly absorbing and incredibly touching”. It is not.

If there is love between Lettie and Zakes, it is not a kind that most women would appreciate, in fact, domestic violence counsellors would have long advised Lettie to get away from Zakes. An example of their relationship- Lettie and Zakes are about to be married. She realises he has gone missing and goes off to look for him. She finds him having sex with another woman. Now comes the unbelievable part. She chases the woman off and takes her place. Obviously a book blatantly written by a man with little empathy for his female character.

I’m not a prude; I believe sex and sexuality should be used effectively in fiction. That is not the case in Bitches’ Brew. There is a scene early on in the book where girls are dancing at a wedding and they are not wearing underwear under short skirts. Khumalo goes into pointless detail about this, almost pornographically so. Violence against women in this book is glossed over and not important. The love story I expected was not believable nor brought out well throughout the book. The whole bit about the son at the end is oddly tacked on.

It is said to be an honest look at township life, I wouldn't know if that is the case. If indeed it is honest, there is no depth to it. Just a shallow tour of meanness, violence, and crime.

Like so many Jacana titles, the editing is quite poor. It really is a big let down when editing distracts the reader as it does in this book. They must really work on this, it is ruining so many potentially good books. Khumalo is a good writer. Anyone who reads his Sunday Times column would likely agree to this. This book could have been so much better.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Madiba!

Today is Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday. The world has been celebrating it for the last month and nowhere more frantically than in South Africa. South Africans hold onto Mandela with two hands and, with their blinders firmly in place, they hold him up as evidence that they have got through, that they are a country that has survived their past- but have they? One wonders what that country would be like without having the icon that is Madiba to hold onto like a security blanket. I often wonder how the country will cope once he’s gone.

In the August issue of True Love, the versatile and talented Lebo Mashile questions the shallowness of South Africa’s Rainbow Nation transformation. “We had the audacity to claim to be able to transcend 500 years of oppression with the help of some icons, a rainbow and a couple of carefully crafted tales of togetherness,” she says. The cracks in the lie of that transformation are beginning to widen and the conflict hidden just under the surface is seeping out. The recent xenophobic attacks in the townships are only the tip of the iceberg and an indication that the sugar coating is just not going to cut it for very much longer.

Mashile goes on to say, “Our nation is slowly waking up to the hard reality that you cannot heal a nation with cosmetic surgery. You cannot change a society with a few BEE deals and a few uber wealthy and powerful blacks. True transformation begins at an invisible level. It starts with intention.”

South Africa is a country of walking wounded. Damaged minds hide behind smiling faces. Until they take off their Mandela glasses and look clearly at the problems of race and economic segregation, nothing real will get accomplished. Just like a wound untended, infection will undoubtedly set in. It’s just a matter of time.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to Read the Mail and Guardian

I love reading newspapers. I feel not quite right if I haven’t read my weekly dose of 11 papers. But of all of the newspapers I read, my real love is the Mail & Guardian.

I don’t read the M & G straight through. No. That is not my way. There is a system to reading the Mail and Guardian. It only comes out on a Friday (I get it on a Sunday, if I’m lucky) and it must last the whole week. There are articles I read through straight away. The regular news articles, editorial, the frantic letters page. But then there are the ‘savers’. The ‘savers’ are the parts I save to be read slowly over the course of the week, usually during breakfast with my tea.

The ‘savers’ include the whole Friday section, anything on Barack Obama, Body language, and Madam & Eve. But I have a new ‘saver’- Lev David’s column ‘Quiet Riot’. This man is funny, not just a little bit. He’s so funny he’s made me forget all about Tom Eaton, and that is saying something.

The week before last he wrote about his addiction to news and I nearly thought I found my soul mate (but of course I have my soul mate, so I don’t know what that means- might our souls be adulterous by nature?? Another question for another time.). He was discussing the new 24 hour news station on the block- E TV. His hilarious take on the nose situation at eTV was enough to get tea squirting out my nose. One has to admit Debora Patta does have a nose that can’t be ignored.

ANYWAY- the point is read Lev David- he’s definitely a ‘saver’.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Whiplash by Tracey Farren

According to Gary Cummiskey’s blog, Whiplash was turned down by the established publishers for being too violent. They may be kicking themselves in the ass because I have a feeling this book, published by the new kid on the block, Modjaji Books, may take off in a big way.
Whiplash is the story of a Cape Town prostitute, Tess. It is violent in places because it is the reality of Tess’ life, a life of throw-away women whose use is only defined by the physical needs of the men they come in contact with. The book is much more than the story of the “bad” men hurting the marginalised women, the book is about digging through the surface crap to find that each of us, no matter how the outside world might define us, is special, unique and holy and that shouldn’t be set aside or forgotten.
The book is written in Tess’ voice. Farren didn’t allow the authenticity of her character’s voice to be tampered with by the confines of good grammar and polite narrative. This I love most. It let’s the reader get closer to Tess than they would have had Farren followed the laid down rules. (Don’t you just love those rule breakers! )
The beginning of the book is relentless in its battering of the reader. Tess’ addiction to prescription pain killers pushes her out to find ‘jumps’. The way Farren allows us into Tess’ brain to feel the way that the addiction takes up all parts of her life is fascinating.
The story is a letter to Tess’ mother to explain the three ‘miracles’ that finally set her free. Again Farren teaches us that turning points aren’t always pretty, but still they can teach us a lesson that points us in the right direction.
In an interview with Ron Irwin, Farren explained what she feels is at the core of her novel. ‘The essential identity of all people is pure and innocent. I have a big, big problem with the doctrine of original sin. Tess’s’ life’, Farrren said,’ plays out this truth. Tess finds a tiny spark within her that leads her to remember her true, sacred identity.’
This is the first novel for Modjaji Books after putting out two successful books of poetry earlier this year. If this is the standard that they can maintain, the established South African publishers better up their game.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Exodus Live Poetry and Others, or Lauri Takes a Trip

In celebration of 17 years of wedded (something, not always but a lot of time like) bliss. My husband (I really do love him) took me to Gaborone for the weekend. We were lucky as it coincided with a performance by Exodus Live Poetry at Maitisong. Ever since I went to the Cape Town Book Fair last year where I saw performance poetry for the first time, I have become a convert. It was a little bit surprising to find I liked performance poetry as I’m neither a lover of poetry nor can I write it. I always feel like everyone else is getting it but I’m not, and the discomforting feeling of being stupid is not one I particularly like. But I, inexplicably, like performance poetry. It moves me.

The Exodus performance was great though the crowd made me a bit nervous. I believe my husband and I were, by far, the oldest people in attendance. This is not so good for us, we who still believe that we are young. Such things are brutal evidence that we are, sadly, not. But it does bode well for the people who work with words, like me. I hope that performance poetry will lead these young folks to written poetry and then short stories and voila- to novels and we will then be a culture that reads and cherishes books and won’t that be wonderful?

The Exodus performance was a mix of serious and silly, exactly the kind of thing I like. Unfortunately, there was no programme and the announcer could not always be heard so I can’t even mention the names of the poets, which is too bad. They are a talented bunch and I am so looking forward to Power in the Voice- I think I’m becoming an addict. My only wish is that 1) they make a programme and 2) that the poems could be written down and sold- even just photocopies. Perhaps that goes against some primary ethic of performance poetry that I as a newbie know nothing about, but it would be nice nevertheless.

Making it a literary anniversary of note, we ate lunch at the No. 1 Ladies Opera House, owned by Alexander McCall Smith and our own cultural icon, David Slater. The food and service were fantastic. We ate in the outdoor garden which was lovely. I enjoyed the references to the books everywhere, even the tiny white baakie that drove up while we were eating. I was also dead excited when at the back of the menu was written a little story about Mma Ramotswe and the Opera House and my writing partner, Wame’s father was mentioned. He used to have a classical music show on Radio Botswana for years. I can’t wait until performances start being held at the opera house. What a lovely addition to Gaborone. What would Gaborone and Botswana be without the contribution of David Slater? One wonders.

All in all a lovely anniversary.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Damn that Jesse Jackson. Damn him.

Let me warn you straight away- I love Barack Obama. I love everything about him. I love Michelle Obama, too. I even love their little girls- for god sake; the eldest is born on the 4th of July! If that’s not some cosmic message written “Chosen Son” I don’t know what is. I’ve loved them ever since they stepped onto the world stage. So if you’re looking for the objective voice of reason on this issue, you’d rather give this article a miss.

As far as I’m concerned Jesse Jackson is a jealous, old man with a heart as racist as the folk he speaks against so vehemently. Barack Obama is a role model without equal for black Americans and for someone who positions himself as a leader in the black community to say such vile things is unforgivable. For Jackson and others like him, Obama is just not black enough. It is as simple as that.

Obama is black, but he’s also white. I love how he doesn’t hide behind labels, doesn’t shy from who he is. He is American, but he’s also Kenyan. He has grown into his skin in such a wonderful way. He is a beautiful amalgamation of strands pulled from many sources. This is why the world holds its breath. He will be the first American president who knows America’s rightful place in this world. A president who has genuine respect for other nations and who will negotiate with them as equals instead of sprouting off Bush-isms like “you’re either with us or you’re against us”. He is a light in the darkness of post 9-11.
Sure Obama's playing the politics game right now- what did people expect? As for his stand that parents, black or white, should take responsibility for raising their kids ( the issue that supposedly has pissed Jackson off so much) - how is that wrong?

Jesse Jackson is nothing but an old school racist.

Time to crawl back into your time capsule, Mr. Jackson; the world has moved on without you.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Spice Rack from Hell

Tomorrow, my husband and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary and to mark this momentous occasion I have vowed that I will rid myself of a wedding present that has haunted me from the day it entered my house- THE SPICE RACK.

I don’t know exactly what the problem is in this house of mine. It could be that the person chosen to play the role “Mother” seems to have gone missing and we can’t find time to hold new auditions. Because of that we amble along quite haphazardly like a BMW without a GPS system. People notice things. Like for years we had a fridge that could operate with gas or electricity. I found it in my new husband’s house when I moved in and accepted that it was part of the package. It was handy in the early 90’s when we were both teachers and junior secondary schools were being built almost daily. We were forever moving into unfinished houses with no power, and a gas fridge meant that we could have ice, even if we couldn’t have lights. On a hot December afternoon in Botswana, that is very important.

Then there was suddenly electricity everywhere. The gas/electric fridge became a bit of a dinosaur, but we soldiered on with it. Since it had no thermostat , it never shut off and used loads of electricity. It built up ice in the freezer like the top of the Himalayans. People would often be heard saying, “We really should get rid of that fridge- it’s killing us!” But nothing was done. Years passed and still it was there. Until one day I said -enough is enough- and carted it off and went and bought a new electric one. That was that. I’ve done it once, I can do it again.

The problem is that the SPICE RACK arrived in our home with a fatal manufacturing flaw- actually two, or possibly even three. It is supposed to be sort of like a double-storied, Lazy Susan with little grooves where the bottles of spices should theoretically sit.

The first flaw is it is permanently tilted, which doesn’t bode well for the many little glass bottles meant to be held by it. Second, the grooves are not really grooves. They’re the hint of a groove. The slight thought that a groove might be useful. They will hold nothing. Lastly, the spinning. To turn the spice rack is to waste hundreds of Pulas worth of spices because even the slightest movement will cause all spice bottles, both upstairs and downstairs, to go flying out in all directions crashing onto the floor spectacularly.

Inevitably, people in the kitchen will be told in a panicked voice- “Watch out for the spice rack!” or “Don’t touch it!”. We’ve adapted to living with it, but must we? Were humans really meant to live like this? Bullied by kitchen apparatus? I say NO. The time has come to take a stand, and to celebrate my wedding anniversary I intend to do just that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Working Writer: A Good Day

So what does a typical day in the life of a working writer in Botswana look like?
Let’s see….
I woke up, finally, with the second half of one of the stories I’m working on for the new SA/PEN competition sitting at the front of my brain. I have had the first paragraph (a lovely first paragraph, if I do say so myself) on my desk top for three months. But as all writers know- a paragraph does not make a story. A paragraph without a plot is almost worse than nothing- it nags at you unrelentlessly. But my subconscious has been battling with the problem and this morning kindly popped out an answer. I’m letting the answer swirl around my brain for a few days hoping it will lead to a couple hours of writing bliss. The kind of writing where the words just flow onto the page and you reread and think- “Who wrote that?”
I checked my email. There were two – that is strange since I did my whole Oprah/ Secret Ritual Dance Thingy last night and expected at least two acceptances in my email. They were not there. That can’t be- Oprah said it works. Oprah does not lie. One of the emails was the Spam Report and the other was from an editor checking if my email is working because her emails have been bouncing back for a week. A week?? YIKES! How many Oprah/Secret acceptances are floating around in cyberspace for me??? As I speak, the editors are saying-“Damn that story by Lauri Kubuitsile is good, but she seems to have gone missing in cyberspace so let’s take the second best story in the bunch”. BOO HOO! I called the ISP- everything is fine. No, actually not. Very unsettling this situation.
Took the dogs out for our morning walk, worrying the whole way about the email situation and not noticing that it felt decidedly like spring. I came back and got to work with episode 2 of our TV series. Worked on the final edits and sent it off to my partner in crime, Wame. Then began what has now become a part of my daily life. The call to find our cheque. Don’t I love it? NOT. Very spirit killing that. Why can’t I write and be paid? Why?
Then I got to work going through a government tender for another TV scriptwriting job. They really must be joking. Anyway- I sent off a few questions/comments, but am not hopeful. Must I really write two full episodes and 24 synopses before you can see I am a competent writer? For free no less. I don’t think so. Think I’ll give it a pass.
Lunch time. I started cooking, not sure where it was all heading, and I received A CALL. Yes- A CALL. A call to say I won first place in a short story contest that I thought was already announced on the 6th! Yahoo! And there’s money in it to boot (more about this later- not sure if I must keep it a secret). That’s good. Needless to say, the lunch turned into a meat/ pasty macaroni and spinach casserole which can best be described as sustenance.
Afternoon, back to “Where’s that cheque?- the family game show that can bring even the most resolute to tears!!” No luck.
I spent an hour writing this. Then I’m off on a children’s story for a South African book. I’ve had the idea in my head since the weekend, but haven’t had time to write it down. Wame is insisting I enter Journalist of the Year using my FUNA story (about a yucky drink they were feeding to our primary school kids). I’m reluctant. Though I write news articles- it is not my strong suit. Maybe. Will look through the criteria, maybe its time up anyway. ( Am I dodging this???)
That’s about it. I rate it as an 8 day. Would have been a lowly 4 had it not been for THE CALL. Tomorrow, back to the science textbook. Nothing like switching off that fiction mind with a loud, resounding CLICK!
NB: This picture has nothing at all to do with the post. I just wanted a picture and it was between this and the zebras having sex, which I'm saving for something special. This is me last December at the beach in Namibia (my favourite place) spending most of my AngloPlat money.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


The SA/ PEN short story contest has been pimped. Better prizes AND more importantly old guys like me can enter.

1.Entries, of short stories only, for the above award will be restricted to writers who are citizens of African and Southern African Development Community (SADC*) countries. An editorial board will select the best entries for inclusion in a book to be published in 2009, under the working title "NEW WRITING FROM AFRICA". Prizes of £5 000, £3 000 and £2 000, given by John Studzinski, will be awarded for the three best short stories (winner, first runner-up and second runner-up) selected by Nobel Laureate J M Coetzee. Authors who submitted entries for the HSBC/SA PEN 2005, 2006 and 2007 Literary Awards may submit new works for the 2009 award. There is no age limit.
2.All stories must be unpublished (as at publication of book in ±May 2009), original works in English, of not less than 2 500 words and not more than 5 000 words, on any topic.
3.Previously published work, either in print or on the internet, will not be eligible for inclusion in "NEW WRITING FROM AFRICA".
4.Entries should be typed in double spacing on one side only of A4 paper. Pages should be numbered and securely fastened together. Three copies must be submitted.
5.No name, address, address or other identifying mark should appear on the typescript other than the title of the story on each page. The identity of authors will not be revealed to judges. The final page should be indicated as such, and the number of words in the story given.
6.A covering letter with story title and the name, e-mail address, postal address and fax & telephone contact details of the entrant must be included. A photocopy of ID/passport, or other proof of citizenship of and African or SADC country must be attached. Entrants may currently reside outside of Africa.
7.Entrants are advised to keep an electronic copy of their submission as this copy (which must not differ from the version of the story submitted for judging) will be required to be submitted at a later date if the story is selected for inclusion in the publication. Submissions will not be returned. An entry implies acceptance of all the rules and conditions of the project, including that of copyright. Failure to comply will result in disqualification. 8.An editorial board will be appointed by SA PEN. This board will select the entries to be included in the book. J M Coetzee will select the prizewinners for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award. The board's decision will be final and binding and no correspondence will be entered into other than with successful entrants. All entries will be judged without author identification. SA PEN will ensure that the name of the author does not appear on material submitted to readers or the editorial board. Identity will be recorded by means of a confidential coding system. Persons involved in the administration, final judging, editing and publishing processes are not eligible to enter. Readers may, however, submit entries.
9.In all cases, the copyright shall remain with the author, but SA PEN shall reserve the right to allow stories from the book to be published in the `P.E.N. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL' or `P.E.N NEWS' or in anthology form. SA PEN reserves the right not to publish or award should the general standard of submission be unacceptable to them. Royalties on the sale of the volumes of "NEW WRITING FROM AFRICA" will not accrue to individual writers.
10.The closing date for submissions will be 5.00 p.m. on Tuesday, 30th September 2008. All entries must be posted/couriered by this date. Entries post-marked after that date will be rejected. Submissions must be posted/couriered to PEN/24 Studzinski Literary Award, P O Box 30327, Tokai, 7966, Republic of South Africa. Receipt of entry will be acknowledged by e-mail if an author requests this. Fax and e-mail entries will not be accepted.
11.SA PEN cannot undertake to make corrections or amendments to any typescript submitted. Nor, while they will take great care of typescripts, can they be responsible for any that are damaged or lost while in the post.
12."NEW WRITING FROM AFRICA" will be launched officially in ±May 2009, at a time and place to be publicised. At this function the literary prizes of £5 000, £3 000 and £2 000, exclusively the right and reserve of John Studzinski, will be awarded. SA PEN will also have the right to be directly involved in the process of distribution, marketing and promotion through all media. The book will be marketed in South Africa and will also be publicised by International PEN, which has 145 centres throughout the world. *SADC COUNTRIES Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

A South African Wins Caine- YEAH!!

Last night in England, South African Henrietta Rose-Innes was announced as this year’s Caine Prize winner for her story ‘Poison’ in the anthology from last year’s SA/PEN contest. Henrietta studied under Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee. She has two published novels, Shark’s Egg and The Rocket Alphabet. It’s been difficult lately to find any prestigious contest without her name among the winners. Watch out world- is South Africa about to give birth to yet another Nobel Prize winner??
Last year’s winner was Monica Arac de Nyeko for her story ‘Jambula Tre’. Not sure why everyone (including the BBC) is so obsessed with the fact that the story is about lesbianism. I understand from interviews I’ve read that she’s not that keen on the obsession people have developed about the story. (Forget I mentioned it). The anthologies for the Caine are no longer being published by South African publisher Jacana. They’ve been taken over by UK based New Internationalist.

NOTE: From the comments to this entry, I've learned that Jacana is still publishing the Caine anthologies, but in collaboration with New Internationalist.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wanted Dead or Alive

Do you know this guy?

I’m looking for him. I believe the guy who keeps making computer viruses that pack up my computer looks something like this. Scruffy, red, blood shot eyes, Alfred E Newman T-shirt. I hate this guy. I have spent the last two weekends dealing with his pieces of artwork. I’m fed up. I’ve decided it is time to conduct an international manhunt. Then bring him to Botswana- we still hang people here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Who’s your Daddy?

I have included above a copy of my birth certificate. As anyone can see my father’s name is included on the certificate, and this was done as far back as 1964, and yet, American society has not collapsed. I think this should lay to rest the rampant fear moving through Botswana that once the proposed changes to the Children’s Act pass through Parliament, anarchy will take over in the country. The sticky issue it seems, the one that will make sane people go mad according to many, is the inclusion of the father’s name on the baby’s birth certificate.
According to the Midweek Sun of 2nd July, Batlokwa Deputy Chief Michael Spokes believes that the proposed changes are an affront to Setswana culture. “This will be an outrage to unlucky women who would have children with different fathers and men who have children outside of their marriage.” He went on to say, “Concubines come a long way in our society.” He claims that even Westernised societies do not do such wild and crazy things as including the father’s name on the birth certificate, they know what chaos will ensue; so why should Botswana?
Old Naledi Customary Court President Citrus Mookodi agreed. “It is very common for men to have children outside of the home and the society has been dealing well with it, but now this is going to cause a lot of fracas.” Dealing well with it? In Botswana, children who approach their mothers asking, “Where is my father?’ are most commonly told that “He was killed by a train.”
The chairperson of The Voice of Men, Greek Kwapa, pointed out that children actually have the right to know who their fathers are. He suggested that the proposed changes might even improve our society. “Our sisters too will plan their children well and stop having babies with any man including those who are married.”
The proposed changes might lead to the added bonus of curbing the epidemic proportions of fathers killed by trains. That really is a good thing.
Culture, culture, culture- don’t you just love how easy it is to make irrational arguments once you pull out that oh-so-handy culture card?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Things to Do When Waiting to Write- Handy Tip No. 1: Have fun with grey louries

As all writers know there are times you wake up with the most brilliant idea since chocolate covered peanuts, push blankets and husbands to the side, plough through the wall of giant teenagers to get to the computer to write down the short story that will push you over the top, and make yours into a household name, at least among the hundred or so people around the world who read short stories.
Those first four lines are fabulous and then BLAMMO!- the neurons have lost power and the balance of your story has slumped in among the grey matter. There is no reason to be alarmed though, all you need is a rest and it will come back in all of its glory. Those resting times are when all conscientious writers need a list at hand of ways to fill in those unexpected minutes (hours, days, ….(shame)…. weeks???) and this is where “Things to do When Waiting to Write- Handy Tips” will come in … well … handy.
Today’s tip involves a gang of birds that have taken over my garden this winter. They are called grey louries. They’re big, fat birds with long tails and silly crests on their heads that they raise in a very dandy fashion whenever they speak that I find quite pretentious. They are slate grey with beady, black eyes- very Edgar Allan Poe-ish and move about in huge Hitchcock like flocks.
The first thing that makes them a good waste of time is their amazing un-gracefulness which can give any writer hours of fun and laughter. They are the clumsiest birds I have ever seen. They land on the branches of the ubiquitous Syringa trees in my garden (thanks to a former headmaster who occupied this house who, I believe, had an alter ego named ‘Johnny Syringa Seed’) with the tender grace of George W. doing his soft shoe routine in the Rose Garden. Then they totter back and forth precariously trying to regain balance often to no avail. I’ve watched them attempt to land on the edge of the bathtub where they drink, only to be overjoyed as they catapult themselves right into the water looking as stupid as a big, fat, wet grey bird can look. This is why I found it amusing to see this description of the grey lourie on Ask.Com:
Generally found in pairs, small family groups, or parties of three to 20 birds, hopping, climbing, and bounding about in trees and bushes with much dexterity. Alert and inquisitive, it will often perch on the topmost branches of trees with a marked upright posture, raising and depressing its crest, and jerking its tail as it calls.

And that is a perfect segue into the other reason wasting time on these birds is fun- they talk. The unimaginative claim they say “Go Away”, but I know better. In my waiting moments, between spurts of writing, I have heard them say things such as “Lauri get to work you lazy bum” and “Hey those bills won’t pay themselves” in that teenage, angst-filled voice they use- a whine with a twinge of anger and a sprinkling of “I didn’t ask to be born”. Deciphering what they are saying really can be a lot of fun and a very efficient time filler.

(NB: For writers outside of Southern Africa, I have been informed, thanks to Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa, that the grey lourie is found only in this region. For such writers, may I suggest filling those in between moments by reading this blog, which should work just as effectively? Check your watch, I’m telling the truth.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A proud day to be a Motswana

Today is a great day to be a Motswana.
There has been a hope-filled tingling in the air ever since President Ian Khama’s inauguration. His 4-D’s speech brought expectations that for once, in such a long time, a person would become a president who truly did have the welfare of his people at heart. We would be witness to a non-political politician. What a breath of fresh air swept through the country that day. As I listened to him speak, I was feeling something I was quite unfamiliar with- patriotism.
Today, my tiny adopted country has stepped forward bravely and said, “We will stand for what is right.” As the African Union waggled on about what they should do about the fiasco termed “the Zimbabwean elections”, with Uncle Bob sitting in arrogance posing as the president of the beautiful country he has so efficiently destroyed, the lone voice of my country stood up and said that he should be exiled from all organisations that stand for good governance and human rights. Zimbabwe should be kicked out of the AU and out of SADC with immediate effect.
Will it happen? The AU, certainly not. There are too many “Mugabe-want-a-be’s” to come down too hard on their friend, but for SADC, the tide is turning. There is hope that Southern Africa will show the way forward for an Africa at the precipice, and who would have thought Botswana would be at the front?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Technoidiot Finds Success

I was instructed to start a blog, and against all odds I managed. I think I may soon have to drop my self-imposed handle of technoidiot.
So this will be Thoughts from Botswana; my thoughts about my writing , and perhaps other writer's work and likely, since that is the way of my brain, thoughts about many other things.