Monthly Archives: November 2013

CONFESSION

The dying couple woke me up again.

They stood before me as they did

In Africa, 1984

In rags and starving

barefoot in the desert.

Dammit.

Dark, haunted eyes

Bloodshot

Frying in the heat and sand

Of the Sahara.

Pleading, they hold out

The half dead newborn,

Begging me to save their child,

This tiny life or lifeless life:

If not yet dead

Surely finalized with

The turn of this white woman’s back.

Half my life I still cry

Over that baby.

With each fat pink or tan

Nephew, niece, or grandchild

I remember my child of the desert,

The one I will take with me

 When I too die.

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YOU CHANGE THE WORLD

I’m talking those days when we’re dazed ,  Cousin

“Under the weather,” weak and challenged,

Days when we find no tools beneath that

Seductive cloak of hopelessness.

We all wear the cloak,

Curse  the cloak;  

Sometimes we care for the cloak:

Retreat  into the embrace

of warm, wooly, isolation, 

Where we count and recount

Our personal prickly pieces: 

No! not!

Can’t!  Won’t!  

Isn’t!  Always!  NEVER!

Really?

It doesn’t have to be like that, Cousin!

Unless you like it like that,

Or when your worst  fear is:

It Is What  It Is and That’s That!

Here’s a tip to turn the ship

Around and around and around

Until your personal sun warms

The cockles of your heart,

And your very singular soul.

Go give a little something nice away

To the next three people you see:

A nod of your head and a smile;

Hold the door to the store wide open:

A gift to the harried mother, or

The elder with a tender shoulder.

Or the curmudgeon who thinks

The whole world stinks:

Go ahead!  wreck his day!

Stretch for the can of tomato soup

For that short fat woman in the grocery;

Try peeky-booing at the smiling baby

Strapped on Daddy’s back: 

A deliciously secret and fleeting

Tiny love affair and because of YOU

A budding human now believes

This world really is her oyster!

How can you now not feel not noticed,

Appreciated, valued and loved by one and all,  

Especially by yourself.

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Today’s Journey

I stayed up late last night piecing together ancient memory for my eventual best seller. 

It nearly wore me out recalling the chaos I was born to:  I so wanted to cradle my poor broken parents and my beloved brother in my arms.  They all passed far too young.  I am out-living everyone, except for my Brother John, first born of my mother, of her first marriage.

 I didn’t meet her three children until I was twenty-six.  For the eldest and the youngest of my new half siblings, John and Sylvia, it was an immediate love match; for Robert, the middle child it was merely another painful experience.  So painful that he had a “me or them” attitude walked away from his own  birth family.  A painful reminder of the healing forgiveness can truly give, not to mention the fun  Today it’s me, John, our sister’s three sons and my two children who march on.  

For decades I have maintained a morning kick-start after performing my ablutions:   I read something inspirational, something that will give me a thought to consider for the day.  Sometimes it blasts me in the face, like today:  I picked up my copy of Mala of the Heart, a wonderful collection of contemporary and ancient poetry.  I blind-opened it to a page with a piece by St. Teresa of Avila worthy of consideration today:

We bloomed in spring.

Our bodies are the leaves of God.

The apparent seasons of life and death

our eyes can suffer;

but our souls, dear, I will just say this forthright:

they are God Himself,

we will never perish

unless he

does.

St. Teresa of Avila

Spain

 

Today is Veteran’s Day.   I clicked the television on to see if there was anything interesting in the usual blither and yukking it up of our self-styled “news entertainers”.     Today I was rewarded with an interview celebrating the life and bravery, of an inspirational veteran.  He is truly the example of Hero, and although I can’t recall his name, I will never forget him, for he is the person I would like to become.

This Son of America was injured in our recent messes of war.  He and his comrades survived an IED, though his once handsome face was a shambles.   A husband and father, he returned home with horrific injuries to his body, but not to his soul. 

Over time, countless facial surgeries restored his features as his little ones grew up and accepted each change in Daddy’s appearance.  His eyes, clearly the portal to his soul are captivating.  He is our future in many ways.  All we have to do is follow his path: bind our wounds. 

This sounds simple, but it is a colossal stretch for those who don’t yet comprehend that we can change our life, simply by changing our mind.  It doesn’t appear that any of my birth family had a sense of this truth,  Early in my childhood I found that I could  shift my attitude to what was going on in my world:  I did not have to believe what appeared to be truth.     

 

 

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Malta Madness, Part 2

I initially leased a flat for two weeks on  the peninsula with a lovely view of mainland Malta.  We slept well the first night, but when I got up in the morning to draw a bath the children I saw a million little fishes in the water.  I immediately went to the kitchen and found the same in that tap water.  These were no fishies..these were mosquito larvae.

Valettta is the capital of Malta, and unlike Khartoum telephone service was available, even telephone books, so it was easy to find the board of real estate rentals.   I immediately lodged a complaint, stating the landlady should never have rented the unit, especially to a family with very young children.  They took a complaint from me and told me I would legally get my deposit back.  I copied down the name of the agent, the phone number and the comment that I should get a real refund.

Then I called my landlady and she was furious.  She argued that I had no right to a full refund and she and her son the attorney were coming over that evening.  I said I didn’t think I would be there because we needed baths and I’d already taken a room at a nearby hotel that had water.   She insisted on meeting me at the Mosquito House and I thought that was a good idea.

When I knocked on the door of my old residence, I found Mother had brought her son The Attorney.  We came in and sat down and she demanded knowing just who I thought I was, she may have asked if I had my head up me are – I can’t recall.  Anyway I gave her the business card of the official at the Real Estate Board, and suggested the two go look at the bath water I’d run for my children the night before, and while they were in the bathroom I prepared two nice tall glasses of water for them.

Then I heard mother and son go at it in the bathroom.  Her son the attorney left the flat, wanted to go see the water tank on the roof.  She came into the sitting room and asked for “a few days to resolve the situation”.  I declined, saying I was not interested and explained I already found a hotel for nearly the same price with a swimming pool.  She pointed out that I couldn’t cook there; I pointed out I couldn’t bear to think of cooking in her flat.

Sonny returned as we completed our discussion, and shaking his head he said “Let it go, Mama.”  Then he explained his findings:   somehow the water tank cover was removed and it would a few days to clean out the tank.  He explained it was an illegal rental and should give me a full refund  immediately.  He insisted on giving me money from his pocket to buy ourselves a meal as an apology.

We moved into a nice old with comfortable furnishings, clean water, a good restaurant, and a salt-water swimming pool.  We took day trips, went to the park, and just enjoyed sunny but not roasting-hot days and dining out every night at The Yellow Umbrellas.  I couldn’t pronounce the name, but each out door table had a beautiful yellow umbrella.  Rebecca’s sixth birthday dinner was at a place we called The Yellow Umbrellas, and the staff provided her with a surprise birthday cake.

Every day we went to David’s for lunch.  He was a handsome Maltese man about my age, and was taken by my kids, as people always were:  Rebecca was tall and slender  with long dark hair, looking very Maltese with her dark brown eyes;  and  Steven, the chubby  two year old, with blonde hair and green eyes.  David, a father himself, was mesmerized with the kids and let them take orders at his street-side window.  We went there every day and the kids started picking up some Maltese – a combination of Arabic and Italian. I was surprised to find I could get the gist out of certain newspaper articles.  He also made me a plowman’s lunch every day and sat and talked with me while my children stood by to alert when a customer came to the window.

We enjoyed the old hotel immensely.  The children learned to stay afloat in the salt-water pool and I warned them that they would have to work to stay afloat in the fresh water pool in Khartoum.  We did some massive shopping – they had grown already and needed replacement shorts and shirts.  Shopping was difficult in Valetta: the shopping district was built on a series of hills steep like San Francisco hills, tough for short-legged people.  Fortunately we discovered the Karrozzin, fabulous horse-drawn carriages to take us up and down the hills.  It was in Valetta that Steven committed an embarrassment that his sister never forgave:  he had to go to the toilet and dropped his drawers on the sidewalk and peed on a parking meter.

I was aghast, Rebecca was red-faced and furious, and I asked him what in the name of the gods did he think he was doing?   His reply was he didn’t think there were any toilets in Malta.   I explained that this was not like going shopping in Khartoum:  Malta has stores and restaurants and they all have toilets.

 

The DC8  was stalled out,  some parts had to be sent from Europe, and the kids needed  a change.  The concierge recommended a boat ride to Gozo, an island off the coast of Malta.* He would make reservations for soft drinks and a box lunch for three. We could spend the day in the sea with sandy beaches and shade and be home before nightfall.  It sounded lovely, and we were delighted.

We went by cab to the boat, and settled aboard with tea and cookies.  The trip should take about an hour.  We would disembark, be escorted around the tiny island to locate places where we could buy water or other items, and then turned loose.   If we got lost, we could walk the perimeter of the little island.

The kids and I were the only family of strictly English speaking people.   We took our towels and umbrella, our box lunch and drinks went off a little ways and found some tide pools behind the rocks with safe wading water.  We spent the whole day climbing the rocks,  examining the tide pools, swimming in the surf.  The sun was lowering in the sky, and a breeze was coming up, a warm breeze, and we saw other families packing up and trekking toward our boat.  Everyone still wore their swimsuits, and I went along with the crowd in my bikini and straw hat.

We all settled in at picnic tables, were served fresh fruits and plenty of water; liquor if anyone would be drinking after such a day.  I leaned back, totally satisfied with our outing.

“Hello, did you and the children enjoy your day?”  I looked up into the eyes of an older man, maybe 45.  He was obviously Maltese, the features handsome Italian, and those glowing Moorish eyes.  He was friendly, and complimented me on my children, he’d noticed they were quite at home with travelling and hadn’t got into mischief, and surmised I was not British.  We both laughed, and I told him we were American.

“You came to Malta? From the United States?”   He frowned, “Why?”

“We are Americans living in Sudan.”  His face lit up and he nodded, “Ash, yes!  That’s a lot closer!”

We laughed, because we both knew it would take us over eight hours to fly back to Sudan.

Then he asked me if I’d heard about luminescent waters off Gozo, and I said I hadn’t.  He offered to take us there in his speed boat, which was on board.   It would only be for a few minutes so we could swim in the waters and see the powerful illumination.  He had a wife and twin sons waiting for him at home.

Rebecca and Stevie wanted to go, I wanted to go and so men were called to get our towels and gear, to be transferred and we went to the rear of the ferry and there was the bright red speedboat.  Our gear was tossed into the boat and passengers gathered to watch us get in the boat and be lowered down into the Mediterranean Sea.   They laughed and waved to us as we sped off.

“Plenty of witnesses, eh?  ” he winked at me, got in the driver seat and we purred away for perhaps a half mile.  He slowed down, and had us turn with our back to the sun, and see what had happened to the waters:  they shimmered and shined with each wave, purple and pale turquoise hues.  He reached his hand into the sea and it turned iridescent, seemed outlined in dark blue, floating beneath the water all sparkly and shiny.  He cut to motor and invited us all to swim to see our skin in the waters.  The kids weren’t so keen about that, so I dove in and the glimmering water was a powerful visual.  Both kids gasped and said “Mommie!  You look like a fairy!”

Within forty minutes we returned to our boat which now had docked.   We climbed up the ramp, and I had to turn back and take a look.  Night was falling, stars were coming out, the ferry was docked, and there was no evidence of a speedboat.

The captain laughed, “It’s a very magic thing, isn’t it when you are still wet from swimming in the glow, yet it hasn’t changed anything.  It should have, shouldn’t it?

When my family comes out, they swim closer to the grotto, and swim into the cave.  The iridescence is even brighter in the dark.  So! The  next time you come to Malta, you contact me!  My family will come – the boys are near your children’s ages and we will have a picnic inside this cave!”

I promised we would do just that.  I mentioned it to the Larry when we got home.

He said it sounded boring.

 

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BIDDY MALONE

 

Biddy Malone arrived

Unbidden, Unannounced

While I was out chasing miracles.

I almost put her in the dust bin,

Not seeing treasure was wrapped

In an annoying plastic bag.

Ho!  I thought it just another

Anonymous solicitation

For my Spiritual Coin,

Now directed to my Fightin’ Irish self.

The package was heavy and firm:

No calendar, no packet of Holiday Cards

Address stickers that must be shredded.

No!  When I opened the package

I met a dancing girl,

Long and lean with untidy hair

Chasing a miracle of her own

In Staunch Old Ireland!

Old Ireland I say:

My widowed Scottish 8th Great-grandfather

And two sons stopped by for a few years in the 17th C.

He married Mary McCreary and had a son with her.

Poor Mary died.

Life was harsh on women then:

Working to death;

Bearing too many babies

Ttoo quickly and too young.

Undaunted,  Johen Shamus arrived in The Colonies

And found another Mary to marry.

She gave him a dozen more children.

My Irish Roots are short and straggly, new to me.

They live somewhere in my DNA ,

Surge  with life when I

Hear the brogue or see the jig:

My toes go tap-tap-tap!

And the eavesdropping Border Collie

comes running to follow my hand signals:

Round and round!  Between my knees!

Reverse and UP!

On your rear feet, Lulu!

It’s in our genes, you know:

No miracle that Lulu and I found each other,

No miracle that The Woman of the Mountain

Found Biddy and me.

Melanie Wood

6 November 2013

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MALTA MADNESS Part One

It was Just another yellow day of my first Springtime in the Sahara.  Spring was something the local citizens knew little about other than Haboob season kicked in and the dust storms would annoy us until November.  

Larry came home promptly at 1:30 from his day at the office and announced that Chevron’s DC8 needed maintenance.   A couple of the Air Wing fellows were flying her up to a facility in Malta, and  any dependents could fly for free but had to commit to a 2 week or more stay-over, so how woud I like to have a little vacation!  He encouraged me to take our children, three year old Stevie,  and Rebecca  who was nearing six.  She would have her birthday in Malta!  It sounded like fun, and images of the Maltese Falcon flew through my mind so we went.  I didn’t know at the time the movie was about Casablanca.  Wrong country.

Connie came along with her 2 year old son and 5 year old daughter. She and her husband were the very first couple to welcome our family to Khartoum by inviting us to dinner at their home.  The meal was particularly memorable to me because we were served a roast chicken the size of a dove with no seasoning,  and a mess of grey matter that she said was millet.  It tasted like parakeet food and got trapped between my teeth.  

Still, Connie and I hatched a plan to share expenses in a flat – expats can be real cheapskates.  They never know how long they will be posted and want to claim as much of the sumptuous expatriate earnings as possible.  Our housing plan was done in before we set foot on Malta.   This was to be the last plan we made together.

Connie’s daughter Gretchen was a dear little girl, but the little fellow was a spoiled brat.  Sean was a few months younger than Stevie and still nursing.  He wasn’t housebroken, instead he was being reared as a free-range child who could not speak English and certainly had not been taught The Polites.  Sean was a smelly, demanding two year old.

Everyone brought snacks and drinks for the eight hour trip, as there were no flight attendants and amenities on a DC8 maintenance flight.  My children each had lunch boxes with water, cheese slices, crackers and a small apple tucked inside.  I also brought color books, reading books and some toys to keep them entertained.  They were aware that they would not be allowed to wander through the plane unattended: they were to stay buckled in their seats unless they had to use the toilet. 

I opened up our small chest of drinks and snacks at the same time Connie, who was seated across the aisle from us, unloaded her suitcase from the rack above her.  She too had apples, plus a jar of peanut butter, and a knife, a sharp knife. 

I watched uneasily as she sat down, suitcase on her lap, and sliced her apples and I prayed we would have no turbulence.  Connie carefully spread a measure of peanut butter on each apple slice then handed them to her children along with a small Sippy cup of lemonade each, clearly a plan with flaws: lemonade plus small children on a flight. 

Gretchen sat quietly in the window seat looking out, a peanut butter-apple slice between her teeth.  She suddenly sneezed.   The apple slice fell from her mouth, bounced off the window and skidded to the floor peanut-butter-side down.   When she  tried  to pick it up, she slipped on the smeared peanut butter and fell down.  She rose just as Sean, who was sipping lemonade, bent over to see what the commotion was.  Her head bumped his Sippy cup hard and the cup split his lip.

Sean yowled a bloody scream, and threw his Sippy cup his big sister, splattering Gretchen, himself, his mother  and the two  grey haired women seated in front of them.   Sticky sweet lemonade was in their hair and dripping down the backs of their necks .  They turned to each other and spoke quietly.  One lady quietly got up and went to the restroom and returned shortly with a pile of wet towels, some of which she shared with Connie and me, then joined her friend who had  claimed two seats near the cockpit for their own clean up party.

Sean began screaming for his TeeTee.  My kids were horrified.  They had never heard of a walking child nursing:  they had been cup-trained as soon as they could sit in their high-chairs.  They never used bottles, and were totally on their own by six months.

 Connie calmly picked Screaming Sean up in her arms, shooed Gretchen to the aisle seat and plopped down into the window seat with her squirming, bawling man-child.   Sean  pulled her shirt up so he could have his TeeTee.   Five minutes later  he was done feeding and proceeded to squirm and scream until his mother put him down.  Apparently Connie expected her 5 year old Gretchen to contain Screaming Sean while TeeTee was carefully put away. 

Of course, Sean had other ideas:  he bit his sister’s knee, snatched her Sippy cup from her hand and headed down the aisle toward the cockpit at which time the captain announced that all families must move to the far rear of the airplane “as a convenience to the children with easy access to the lavatories.”

Within a few hours we stopped over in Cairo to fuel up and endure a bug-spraying, in case we had live critters coming up from Khartoum where the only insects I’d seen was a terrible Blister Bug and one huge cockroach that jumped out of our shipment from the States.  This desert is not a hospitable place for any kind of life. 

As the team walked throough, we all covered our faces as best we could.  We were not allowed to  leave the plane and had no idea of what chemical (if any) was being sprayed.  And one of the uniformed bug sprayers saw Rebecca, who often passed for an Arab child with her long dark hair and big bown eyes. 

“Wat iz you Fazzer name?”  he asked my daughter.  Before I could speak, a young woman sitting in back of us said “Tell him DADDY!” 

I got her message, the message about security when travelling in foreign countries with small children.  The white slave traffic remains alive and well, certainly not restricted to Caucasians.  Over the next several years we were continually reminded by good citizens in Tunesia, Greece, Turkey, Thailand and other countries to mind our children. 

I took it a step further and refused to allow them to have “personalized” possessions, which was a big fad in the 1980s.  I didn’t want their names to go public.  And I continued the rule after we returned to the States. 

We exited the plane at Malta International Airport and caught a cabbie who recommended that we take a visit to Hagar Qim.  It was an interesting and ancient destination and the children could safely get a little exercise.  At that point, 1982, the exact age  of the ancient  temple complex was not known and estimated to be older than Stonehenge.  Subsequent research dates Hagar Qim to 3200 – 3600 BC.  In 1982 we were told quite factually that it was an ancient temple built to honor The Earth Mother, however I find no mention of this in current research.  I will continue to believe it because I llike the concept of a female deity.

After Hagar Qim we intended to get a snack somewhere, but the boy Sean had soiled his pants, and Connie forgot to bring clean diapers.  It ruined any thought of food for everyone, especially our poor driver.

I exited the taxi as soon as we arrived in Valetta, and told Connie that I thought it would be much better for us to make separate accommodations, that my children weren’t accustomed to being around young children.  She looked blankly at me and I realized both girls and the boys were the same age.

We bid adieu and never saw each other until the return flight two weeks later.  And we sat a comfortable distance apart.

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