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Losing Kui -Final

Cover: Kathleen Collins Howell

YOU CAN READ AN EXTRACT HERE

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I am trusting that this is the final version of this novella. But then with stories you never do know. It’s  both the pleasure and the pain of e-publishing: you can tinker with your text until the end of time, re-posting the updated versions. I anyway have a tendency to re-make earlier works: putting them into new forms, re-shaping them for different audiences and purposes.  With this story, though, only length and title have changed, oh yes, and  in this final version I have started at a different point from two earlier versions.

The first published version came out in 2008, in the  Nov/Dec issue of Cicada, a US literary magazine for teens to adults. The title then was El Nino and the Bomb. For those of you writers who do not know  about Carus Publishing/Cricket Magazine Group (founded by Marianne Carus in 1973 and “won more awards than any other children’s publisher”) you can find out more HERE. If you are learning your craft as a writer or illustrator, and have an interest in children’s and teen publishing, then you can learn a lot from these magazines. The general ethos is multicultural, and each  title – Babybug, Ladybug, Spider, Cricket, Cicada caters for a specific age group, thus nurturing a life-time’s habit of good reading.

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Cricket Feb 2001 vol 28 no 6;  Art: Ann Strugnell

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Cicada have published a number of my short stories over the years, works that started off as 5,000-word entries for adult short story competitions. This was how Losing Kui began, although back in the early 2000s the title was Material Days. In this form it was short-listed in  Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story  Contest. The then editor, Melvin Sterne, sent me a very sweet email, saying he was sorry that it did not make it to that year’s anthology. 

I still like the Material Days title, although it perhaps means more to me that to anyone else. When I was living in Kenya it was a phrase I read often in newspaper crime reports. At the time it chimed with my sense of indignation at the then government: the way it abused its people, and the poverty it so wilfully inflicted upon them.

And so, spurred on by Melvin Sterne’s email, and still nursing that sense of indignation over the state of things in East Africa (a situation that Great Britain and other donor nations have long had a hand in), I began an expanded version of the story with the idea of submitting it for Cicada’s novella slot. They accepted it too, although there was a wait of several years before it was actually published. In that long interval I was fortunate to work with Cicada’s then Senior Editor, Tracy C  Schoenle, and Executive Editor, Deborah Vetter. I learned a lot from their thoughtful and  respectful editing.

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Cicada Nov/Dec 2008 vol 11 no: 2.  Art: Home by Eamonn Donnelly

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But there was a bigger lesson in store than seeing how best to trim excess words, or make meaning sharper. It was Marianne Carus, Editor in Chief, who was responsible for a major change in the story. She suggested, very delicately, that I had left the protagonist  Kui in too bleak a place and wondered if I might consider a more positive ending. At first I huffed to myself: I liked my ending. But then once I was over my fit of writer’s pique, I knew she was right. The last third of the story was thus written in response to Ms Carus’s comment. I remember it flowed out at some speed, as if my subconscious had also known that I had not finished the story. 

Time of course had passed by then, and I wasn’t quite so angry. Instead of hopelessness (relieved by elements of dark comedy) I saw possibilities for redemption; my characters began to take charge of their lives, and rise above their misfortunes. And that was the moment when I truly understood just how much writers can learn if they have the chance to work with a good editor.

More recently when I was working on cover ideas with my good friend, and illustrator Kathleen Collins Howell (Associate Professor of Art, Emeritus SUNY at Buffalo), I also began to see the story in quite a new way. I suddenly understood that the lost child Kui represents something far bigger than her own self. She is far from home, frightened and abused and yet…and yet…

Here’s the blurb:

Things are going from bad to worse in Ingigi village. No one knows why five-year old Kui has gone missing. Nor does Sergeant Njau want to find out. He has his own problems, pressing matters that are far from legal. Then there is the endless rain. Will it never stop? Some Ingigi folk think it means the end of the world. Old man, Winston Kiarie, has other ideas. He senses some man-made disaster, and when it happens, it is worse than his worst imaginings. The fierce storms are causing landslides and throwing up British bombs, unexploded for forty years. Their discovery is giving the Assistant Chief ideas: how to make himself very rich. And then there’s young Joseph Maina and the primary school drop-outs thinking they have found treasure, and about to do something very, very foolish. Meanwhile, is anyone looking for Kui?

Losing Kui -Final

READ AN EXTRACT HERE

Losing Kui by Tish Farrell

Out on Amazon Kindle

 

Frizz’s tagged ‘U’ for more bloggers’ stories

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On the road at #mywritingprocess with thanks to Tiny at tinylessonsblog.com

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As others on this writerly blog tour have said, some writers are the bees’ knees at doing anything but write. I would be one of them. When the time comes to sit down at the desk there is the sudden compulsion to go somewhere else – anywhere else. This morning I left the computer to scrub the grout between the bathroom tiles. (So absorbing). Later I mooned over pots of recently sown runner beans, and what? Waited for them to grow? Of course. No writing skills needed in Beanstalk Land, only nifty footwork to elude man-eating giants. (Hm. And I could pick up a golden harp while I was there; learn to play, might inspire me to…) You get the picture.

So what is this doing something else all about? OCDD – obsessive compulsive displacement disorder? Why do we put ourselves through this? It was the first question I asked myself when Helen Kuusela aka Tiny at www.tinylessonsblog.com invited me to join this blog tour. I was so busy asking it, I forgot to thank her. So thank you again, Tiny, and hello to everyone on this fascinating writing safari. I forgive you, one and serially, for putting me on the spot.

As to the OCDD, I have a theory, one based on extensive personal observation. When procrastination sets in, and especially after an early full-of-promise burst, your inner truth-teller is trying to make contact with your writing brain. Something is not quite adding up. This is the moment for some pointed self-examination: are you writing yourself into a dead end? Have you started in the right place? Do the voice/situation/setting ring true? Is your plot/concept/premise sound, and does it truly have sufficient substance and energy to become the story/novel/poem you envisaged? Are you writing from within, or only from the surface?

These can be very painful questions and, rather than rolling them around your mind, I find asking them outright and OUT LOUD has better results. The inner truth-teller seems to respond better to vocalized interrogation. Also, the process of outlining the work to an audience, and by that I mean a willing listener who does not interrupt, can reveal both the intrinsic problems and the possible solutions. As you talk, the remedies to stuckness will likely pop out of your mouth. Listen out for them. A passive listening post is thus an essential aid. Your dog, cat or canary would be a good choice. Successful children’s writer, Michael Morpurgo, says he first outlines his stories to his sheep. And as I write this, I’m thinking that a Dictaphone could be a good idea too. If anyone has other notions on this, please tell me.

And now for THE questions:

1) What am I working on right now? In my head, filing cabinets and paper piles I have many works in various stages of creation: picture book scripts, teen novels, a grandiose scheme (possibly two novels for adults) set in colonial East Africa. This last project I’ve been working on for several years – stalled at various points by doubt; then by the annoying tick that says I need to do more research. (This can be another OCDD trap, so it’s wise to keep checking). I am heartened, though, when I hear writers such as Barbara Kingsolver say that it took her nearly thirty years to acquire the wisdom to write the magnificent Poisonwood Bible, or that Tolkein found himself stuck in the Mines of Moria for a whole year, wondering how to write his way out. Such admissions remind me (once I have checked back with myself AGAIN) that the time it takes to finish a piece of work, is the time it takes to finish it. Not everyone can write a book a year. And now I think of it, I’m sure I read  that the marvellous short story writer, Alice Munro, takes eighteen months to write a single story. And when you read her, you know why. She distils whole novels into her short form.

For now, I’m recycling my ‘back catalogue’ of published short stories, creating new editions as Kindle e-books. I have just kindled Losing Kui, a novella originally published by Cicada Magazine in the U.S. a few years ago. On one level it is a tragi-comedic view of everyday life in a fictitious East African country during the late ‘90s. On another, you might call it an allegory, but I leave it to readers to decide what I mean by that.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? I am truly not a fan of categories, although I know marketing persons insist on them. What matters to me as a reader and writer is a well-crafted story, whether it is a 300-word picture book, Hilary Mantel’s Booker winning Wolf Hall or a Lee Child thriller. Most of my published work comprises short stories/novellas that are accessible to both adults and teens, and so I suppose you could call them crossover literature. Books for young people are anyway not so hide-bound, and may combine several so-called genres: real-life and historical narrative inter-threading with fantasy/magic realism. I find myself increasingly attracted to this combination.

3) Why do I write what I do? I had always meant to be a writer, but it was only when I went to live in Africa during the 1990s that I found a REASON to become one. In Kenya I was confronted with big landscapes and big human issues in which my own country had long played a questionable part. Suddenly I had a viewpoint and a focus and a territory. I was incensed too, by the wholesale imposition of western ‘values’ that left young Africans thinking it uncivilised that their forebears lived in mud and thatch homes. That’s one of the things that spurred me to write contemporary fiction for African young people. See (Latest books).

Some 14 years after returning to the UK, I’m still teasing out stories begun in Africa. I keep meaning to head for other lands, and one of my Ransom quick-reads for teens, Stone Robbers, is set in Guatemala. I suppose I am driven by the desire to tell stories about people who do not have a voice in the wider world, or who live in ways that are fast disappearing. In the margins between tradition and consumer modernity there are the kinds of drama and conflict that every story needs to make it work.

4) How does my writing process work? My people always arrive first. Even if I can’t clearly visualise them, I have a strong sense of them and their particular dilemma. After nearly 20 years of writing I have amassed quite a crowd, all waiting for their stories to happen/move on/finish. To discover what their stories may be, I always do a lot of research – too much probably. But without fail, the ‘what happens’ always emerges from this reading. In that sense, I do not make things up. How the works come together thereafter depends on finding some sort of imperative. This could be a writing competition deadline, or a publisher’s call for a certain kind of work. As Tiny says in her post, you do need deadlines. And perhaps, to come full circle, a lot of writer’s OCDD is also down to not knowing who will want to read/publish the work once it is done. While it remains unfinished, both failure and success are forever postponed. Keeping to your chosen path is hard to do, and I’ve written more on this HERE. But now please meet Celestine Nudana from Ghana, West Africa. clip_image002 She will be heading out on the next leg of  the #mywritingprocess tour (26 May).  She has been blogging at Reading Pleasure since 2012: http://readinpleasure.wordpress.com/  and believe me it is always a pleasure to visit her there. 

Celestine is Senior Assistant Registrar at the University of Professional Studies, Accra, Ghana. She is married and has three boys. She attended the University of Ghana, Legon, where she read English and Theatre Arts, majoring in play writing. She also has a Masters in International Affairs. As well as being a passionate reader and book reviewer, she has also developed a special talent for writing haiku, although she says she is still at the learning stage. Even so, her work has been included in two recent anthologies: Western Haiku: A Collection, and Ballads, bothproduced by Dagda Publishing UK, an  independent publisher who aims to show-case the freshest poetry and literature by new writers from around the world. The works are available as e-books. She has also had her flash fiction published in1 Photo 50 Authors 100 Words edited by Madison Woods.

She says of herself, “I am a romantic at heart, and love a good romance story, though I shy away from erotica. Almost all my poems focus on love, or aspects of it.” Celestine has written romantic fiction for serialization in several Ghanaian newspapers, and deployed her play writing skills to produce radio serial dramas that deal with topics including child health and female sexual reproductive health. So here is a woman who writes on many fronts. I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say about her writing life.

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Now here is my second writer introduction. She was a bit held up, so this is a last minute addition. I’ll let her speak for herself:

 

Hello! My name is Vashti Quiroz-Vega. I’m a writer of Suspense, Fantasy and Horror. I also enjoy mixing in some Humour and Romance into my stories. From the time I was a young kid, writing has been my passion. I’ve always been a writer; I just didn’t know it until  much later. For me, it is easier to express my thoughts on paper than with the spoken word. I enjoy making people feel an array of emotions with my writing. I like my audience to laugh one moment, cry the next and clench their jaws after that. My love of animals and nature are often incorporated in my stories. You’ll read intriguing things about various animals, nature and natural disasters commingled with my character-driven novels. I love to read almost as much as I love to write. Some of my favourite authors are Stephen King, M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, J. R. R. Tolkein, J. K. Rowling and Dan Brown.

Vashti's Web Photo (361x640)

http://vashtiqvega.wordpress.com

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RELATED POSTS:

This fiction writer’s path: five things learned along the way

Writing tips: Knowing your place

Errant muse? There’s still life at the allotment

TO SEE OTHER WRITERS’ POSTS IN THIS TOUR, GO TO THE READER AND USE THE SEARCH TAG: #mywritingprocess

 

 

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1) Swimming not drowning: there will be (many) false starts

I associate intending to be a writer with learning to swim. I was ten, in my last year of primary school, when I told Mr. Williams, my very Welsh head teacher, that I meant to be a writer. I said it with great certainty, and he listened in all seriousness. He was someone I trusted implicitly. He was also the person who taught me to swim, and to me, decades later, the way he did it still seems a little miracle.

There were several non-swimmers in the senior class and one day Mr. Williams decided to remedy this life-threatening deficiency. Once a week for several weeks he drove us to the swimming pool in the school minibus. He made no concession to the occasion and still wore his smart grey headmasterly suit. Looking back, he probably did this on purpose. It showed he meant business and we were not there to play. The suit’s material had a soft metallic sheen and probably went by the name of Tricel. It somehow had a part to play.

After a couple of trips to the pool I had fully grasped the mechanics of swimming, but was unwilling to give up my rubber ring. Mr. Williams, however, was determined. He told me to walk twenty paces into the pool’s shallow end. He told me to take off the rubber ring. Then standing at the pool’s edge, he squatted down so low that his trousers strained across his knees and shone like silver. His eyes levelled with mine as I stood there – in the water – shivering – without my protecting ring. He told me to swim but I kept standing and staring at his knees, feeling silly and helpless. Then suddenly out flew his arms in a welcoming embrace. ‘Come on,’ he cried. ‘Swim to me. YOU.CAN.DO.IT.’ And such was his look of unconditional expectation that I took to the water and swam.

And the point of this story? Becoming a writer/maker/artist means learning to  grow and nurture your inner Mr. Williams. Along the creative path there may be few external expressions of encouragement. But without the deep-down core of self-belief you will not have the resilience to stay the course, bear the disappointments, handle the rejection slips, or to toil and toil alone for the days, months and years it will take to learn your craft. All of which is not to discourage, but to say that you really have to want to do this.

2) Having formed your intention, do NOT wait for inspiration to strike: you can wait till the crack of doom

Of course learning to swim is not the same as being a good swimmer who can swim fifty lengths with ease and feel quite at home in the water. To become a skilled artisan of any kind, there is the long haul of apprenticeship, probably one that will never end. I, though, and like many would-be writers, went for years, carrying in my head the apparently foregone conclusion that one day inspiration would strike and I would begin to write my own stories instead of reading other people’s.

It rarely, if ever happens this way. Besides which, inspiration is only the starting point, the ‘ah-ha’ moment when your attention fixes on an overheard conversation, or collides with a character on a bus, or gets hooked on some bizarre news event that starts you asking the kind of questions that kick off the story-making process. Mostly, though, you need to seek it out. Because the fact is, even if you are not actually writing, you must be doing the internal work, mentally exploring the stories that you might one day tell, gathering material, keeping watch, feeding that tiny flame of an inkling that says ‘I do have a story to tell’. ‘I do have something important to say.’

Inspiration, then, does not arrive ‘out of blue’ or occur in a vacuum; it needs one, two or several things to rub together. You could say it’s a bit like the slow-going process of rubbing dry sticks together, and trialling likely bits of kindling to get a fire started. In that initial whoosh of a blaze taking hold all is very exciting, but it is only the start. Now the hard work really begins – keeping the fire going, finding suitable material that will burn well – fast or slowly or long enough to cook your dinner. In other words, flash-in-the-pan, quick-fire notions (inspiration) are the easy part. Thereafter comes the sourcing of materials, planning, construction and general project management. You can only truly learn how to do this by doing it. So how to begin?

3) Do not fall into the trap of thinking that reading other writers will drown out your own small voice before you even start: read, read, read…

As an adult, my writing work was largely academic: dissertations, reports, preparing educational materials in various museums. Somewhere along the line I stopped reading fiction; I feared that to do so would distract me from finding my own inspiration, my own voice, my own stories. I have met other beginner writers who said they did the same thing, and especially when it came to books that they thought might ‘compete’ with their own ideas. Yet not to read widely is another form of writer’s self-sabotage. Writers need to read anything and everything they can, and across all genres, and they need to read with attention and discernment. For instance, you can learn a huge amount about story construction by studying an infant’s picture book that contains only around 30 words (Pat Hutchins Rosie’s Walk).

In fact some of the best-crafted storytelling on the planet is for young people – and here I’m thinking of writers such as Richard Peck, Sharon Creech, Robert Cormier, Kate di Camillo, Geraldine McCaughrean, Philip Pullman, Jennifer Donnelly, David Almond. Reading good books with all senses attuned is akin to having mental conversations with other writers; far from swamping your own style/voice/subject matter, listening carefully to what they say and how they say it can help release your very own form of creative expression. This is not about copying ; it is about finding your own truthful response to other writers’ work. Writing a book or a story or a poem is not a contest with anyone else. It is your book, story, poem. Only you can write it. And if in doubt, think ‘Mr. Williams’. At some point you have to get in there and swim.

But of course, having joined the fray, then comes the endurance testing and training, the honing of skills, and goal setting.

4) Being a good writer is not the same as being a good storyteller

Some people are natural storytellers, and especially so when they come from families or cultures where oral storytelling is still practised. Even so, and no matter how you treat them later, it helps to learn the storytelling basics: the beginnings, middles and ends of a story, their possibilities, the ways to build tension and interest, how to manage revelation, crisis and resolution, what it takes to create believable worlds (real-life or science fiction), to breathe life into characters who will then ‘speak’ to readers, to make effective and affective use of language.

All these skills can be learned to some extent by much well-directed reading, including studying a few how-to-write books on the way. But taking out a subscription to a good creative writing magazine or attending a class are the more interactive and less lonely options. The disciplines of entering magazine contests or doing class exercises – reading others’ work with interest rather than envy, writing to deadlines, word counts and prescribed themes are all worth cultivating. They all build the kind of writing muscles you need to best deliver ‘the what’ of the creative process – the  story.

5) Writing fiction does not mean ‘making things up’; it is all about building convincing worlds.

This is something that is easily misunderstood, and it took me some time to grasp explicitly. Fiction reveals imagined worlds and their inhabitants in ways that are truthful in. Integrity and authenticity are key objectives. The setting may be a medieval Russian monastery, a London secondary school, or a planet with two suns, but it must ring true for the reader. Its special characteristics will add depth and texture to the narrative, but above all, they will be dynamic – informing, shaping, adding drama to the characters’ behaviour/situation/dilemmas. This requires considerable research and construction work by the writer, but with the caveat that, at the end of the process, only the writer ever needs to know all this stuff. The reader wants only the most telling details, the ones that, like literary hyperlinks, will take them straight into that special place and engage them wholeheartedly with the characters’ lives. (A fine example of this is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall where she uses historical, social and political contexts to reveal the life and times of Thomas Cromwell.)

To achieve this level of ‘reality’ requires the writer to have strong reasons for telling a particular story. As I’ve said, creating a story from start to finish requires drive and stamina. Passion, pain, compassion and anger are great spurs, but their energy needs to be channelled judiciously. (No ranting or heavy-handed moralizing required and the writer’s self should keep well out of the way). The research part of the project may also demand a whole new reading schedule (encyclopaedias, atlases, internet content, telephone directories, newspapers etc) and, where possible, physically immersing yourself in the places where the story is set.

This is all about knowing your territory as an expert guide would know it. Only then can the alchemy begin. Or perhaps shape-shifting is a better analogy. Because this is one of the most important of all the things I have come to learn from the practise of being a writer: the writing must come from the inside out; writers must inhabit their character’s minds, shoes and underpants; whatever it takes to get inside their skin. For me, this usually means starting with the feet rather than the knickers department. When I wrote about a street girl called Jessicah, she was conjured by a ‘feeling’ in the balls of my feet as she tramped in thin-soled shoes through the African highlands. Years later I can still summon that particular sensation and know it is Jessicah, and start seeing the world again through her eyes. All of which is very strange when you think about it, and probably the reasons why most writers keep writing. For the final truth is that even well-published writers struggle to make a living from book sales alone. Writing then, first and foremost and anyway, has to be done for the love of the thing.

© 2014 Tish Farrell

 

Tish Farrell writes short fiction to entice unkeen teen readers to read in the Shades series at Ransom Publishing. She also writes for Heinemann Junior African Writers, Zimbabwe Publishing House and Phoenix Publishers East Africa. Her short story Flight came third in last year’s International Bath Short Story Award.

 

Writerly Reflections

For those of you who read my recent post Valentine’s Day Runaway this is one of the things Team Farrell got up to next; it had a lot to do with smut. And no: it’s not what you think.

Rift Valley from Escarpment

Smallholder farms on the Great Rift Escarpment, Kenya

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For most of the 1990s we were based out in Kenya, where Team Leader Graham, food storage expert and all-round fix-it man, was one of several  British scientists running a crop protection project alongside Kenyan scientists at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL). This work was funded by DFID, Britain’s Department for International Development, which in turn is of course funded by British taxpayers.

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Most of Kenya’s farmers are women. Their efforts feed their families and feed the nation.

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Many of the project’s programmes of work were done on farms, and involved helping farmers to devise their own research methods for controlling the numerous pests that attack their crops both before and after harvest. Since just about every Kenyan, from the President down, is some kind of farmer, or has a farm in the family, this was an important project, and just about everyone was interested in the outcomes. (Next time you are buying French beans or mange tout peas in the supermarket, look where they have come from. Much of this kind of produce is grown under contract on small farms like the ones below.)

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A typical farmstead in the Kenya Highlands north of Nairobi. The volcanic soil is very fertile, but also susceptible to erosion.

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Today Kenya is undergoing a massive hi-tech revolution through the proliferation of cell phone and computer technology, but it still relies on agriculture for survival. When you discover that only 15% of Kenya’s landmass has enough rain or is fertile enough for arable production you may begin to see the scale of the problem for a nation that is only now beginning to industrialize. There are of course the big multinational outfits that grow wheat, coffee, tea, flowers and pineapples, but most of the food that Kenyans eat is grown on thousands of tiny farms, many less than an acre in area.

Escarpment lane

Gathering Napier Grass from roadside plots to feed ‘zero-grazed’ dairy cows. Most farms are so small that cattle are kept in small paddocks and their food is brought to them: yet another daily chore, along with gathering cooking fuel and attending to children and fields.

Kikuyu lane with woman carrying napier grass

Furthermore, most of Kenya’s farmers are women. Providing most of the the country’s food, they are in every sense the backbone of the nation. They stay in their rural homes, tending the crops and bringing up the children while husbands work away to earn extra cash to repair homes, buy fertilizer, educate their children and fund small business enterprises.

These men usually head to the cities where they work as security guards, clerks, hotel staff, house servants and drivers. Most take their annual leave at harvest and planting times so as to be back on their farms to help with the year’s most arduous tasks. So however you look at it, everyone in Kenya works very hard. Certainly in the nineties even most professional Kenyans believed that owning a plot of land to work at weekends was an essential insurance policy in a nation with no social services.

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Most of the milk from smallholder’s cows is sold to provide cash to pay for children’s education and medical bills. While primary education has been free over the last few years, there are still expensive books and uniforms to buy, and secondary education is not free. On this farm the owner is also using any disposable income to bit-by-bit replace his timber farm house with a good stone house.

Kikuyu farmstead 24

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So back in 1998, as part and parcel of protecting Kenya’s agricultural production, Team Leader Graham invited Nosy Writer (me) to accompany him on a fact finding mission around the farms north of Nairobi. We were on a quest to plot the incidence of SMUT, a fungal disease that was affecting Napier Grass, an important fodder crop. Most smallholders kept a small number of dairy cows because the selling of milk provided a valuable supplement to their income, helping to pay for school fees and medical expenses.

Most farms are too small to include pasture and so the cows are ‘zero-grazed’, that is, kept in small paddocks and their fodder (mostly Napier Grass) brought to them. This grass, if well-tended, grows into huge perennial clumps that can be cut at intervals. It can also be usefully grown on vertical banks to consolidate field terraces, or wherever the farmer can find a space, often on roadside verges. However, once smut gets a hold, the plant will gradually weaken and its food value decrease. Not only that, smut spores blow on the wind, and infect other plants. The only remedy is to root up the infected plants and burn them.

Graham and Kungu delighted to find smut on Waiyaki Way

Nothing pleases plant pathologists more than to find a nicely diseased plant. After a morning spent searching for smutted plants out on the farms, Doctors Graham Farrell and Jackson Kung’u are amused to spot a case back in the city. Here it is on a highway verge near the National Agricultural Research Laboratory in Nairobi. Smut lives up to its name and turns the flowering stems a sooty black. The fungus gradually weakens the plant and reduces it in mass and nutritional value.

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My job on the smut quest was to hold the clip-board and the other end of the measuring tape while we sampled farm plots. Our third, and  most essential team member, (in fact he was the real team leader) was Njonjo. He was the one who heroically drove us up and down the hilly Kikuyu lanes that had recently been ravaged by torrential El Nino rains.

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Rift lane after July downpour

As well as being one of NARL’s top drivers, Njonjo was himself a farmer, and so had a vested interest in getting to the bottom of the smut infestation. Since Graham’s Kiswahili was a bit rusty, and many of the older farmers preferred to speak Kikuyu, Njonjo provided them with on-the-spot lectures on what they should do with their smut-infected plants. He also talked our way onto every farm, where we welcomed in with huge courtesy, despite arriving uninvited.

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Njonjo and Margaret the farmer. She was busy making compost when we arrived on her farm.

Kikuyu farmer and sugar cane

This farmer was so grateful to be told about his smutted Napier Grass he presented us with some sugar cane. We also came home with chickens, maize cobs and bags of pears

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One of our tasks on the farm was to sample farmers’ Napier Grass plots to see how far they were infected, and to what extent the affected plants had lost mass. Njonjo organised a team of unemployed lads to help with the sampling.

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Before the cell-phone revolution of recent years, farming information was hard to come by. Here Njonjo delivers his Smut Lecture to an impromptu gathering of smallholders who have spotted our arrival in their district and want to know what we are up to.

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And here are three good reasons why Kenyans work so hard…

Kikuyu schoolboys

education, education, education.

© 2014 Tish Farrell

Ailsa’s travel theme: work for more stories

The family who lived in the Palais de Masena

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Believe me, the family gathering depicted in these two murals has more tales to tell than most. They could be the very depiction of Tolstoy’s famous opening to the tragic novel Anna Karenina: (and I paraphrase) all happy families look alike, but the unhappy ones are unhappy in their own inimitable way. I leave you to decide which sort we have here.

But before the stories, first a little about the murals’ setting. They face one another across the top of the grand staircase in the Palais Masséna in Nice. This imposing house was one of the last of its kind to be built on the Promenade des Anglais, looking

Palais de Masena

out on the sparkling blue Mediterranean.  It was designed by Danish architect Hans-Georg Tersling (1857-1920),  and  finished in 1901. By then Nice had long been a thriving upper class resort, a trend begun in the 1730s when British aristocrats such as Lord and Lady Cavendish first began to gather at Nice and along Côte d’Azur for the winter season. Back then Nice was an ancient fishing town. The Scottish poet, Tobias Smollett describes it in 1764. He went there in hopes that the benign winter climate would help improve his consumption:

“This little town, hardly a mile in circumference, is said to contain twelve thousand inhabitants. The streets are narrow; the houses are built of stone, and the windows in general are fitted with paper instead of glass. This expedient would not answer in a country subject to rain and storms; but here, where there is very little of either, the paper lozenges answer tolerably well. The bourgeois, however, begin to have their houses sashed with glass. Between the town-wall and the sea, the fishermen haul up their boats upon the open beach.”

As time went on the Tsars of Russia and the Romanov family made the South of France their second home, which circumstance, in 1912, prompted Tsar Nicholas II to build the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice to serve the Russian nobility. Even Queen Victoria came on holiday to Nice, staying in the magnificent  Excelsior Régina Palace which looks down on the city and the sea from the hill of Cimiez. It was apparently built in response to her requirements for a place to stay that matched her status. And so the hotels and palaces grew up around the old town of Nice to provide for the royal, rich and famous.

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Excelsior Regina Palace built 1895-7; Photo: Nice Archives copyright expired

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Angelo Garino Promenade des Anglais 1922[1]Detail from Promenade des Anglais 1922 by Angelo Garino  (1860-1945)

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Some of these elite visitors and palace owners acquired their riches and nobility by rather questionable means, and this includes the erstwhile owners of the Palais Masséna. It was built for Victor Masséna, 3rd Prince d’Essling, 3rd Duc de Rivoli and the grandson of  André Masséna, son of a Nice shopkeeper who acquired wealth and royalty while serving and plundering in Bonaparte’s army.  More of him later.

The two family murals are dated 1902-3 and include members of the intermarried Masséna, Murat and Ney families. The reason for the elevated positions and princely titles is entirely due to Napoleon Bonaparte and his ambitions of military conquest.  The founders of their ennobled dynasties were three ordinary men from ordinary backgrounds who joined the French army. All three proved to be brilliant and courageous soldiers who ascended rapidly through the ranks to become Marshals of Empire.

Joachim Murat, an innkeeper’s son, married Bonaparte’s youngest sister, Caroline, and for services rendered was made the King of Naples. He ruled between 1808 and 1815. File:Murat2.jpg

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Michel Ney, a public notary and surveyor of mines, gave up being a civil servant and enlisted in the hussars. After great battle victories he became 1st Prince de la Moskowa, 1st Duc d’Elchingen.

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As mentioned above, André Masséna earned the titles 1st Duc de Rivoli and 1st Prince d’Essling.

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But status and wealth are not everything. Nor were they enjoyed for long. Masséna, long suffering from ill-health, died in retirement after being serially dismissed by Napoleon, first for excessive war looting, and then (after reinstatement) for military failures against the British in the Peninsular War. In his last days before his death in 1817, he supported the restoration of King Louis XVIII to the French throne. Doubtless a wise move for his descendants.

In 1815, after the capture and  exile of Napoleon Bonaparte, both Murat and Ney were executed by firing squad for treason. Murat’s two sons went to North America in the 1820s; the elder stayed and became a citizen, but the younger, Napoléon-Lucien-Charles returned to France in 1848 when his title as Prince Murat was recognised by Napoleon III under the Second Empire.

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And so we come back to the descendants of the three brave Marshals on the walls of the Palais Masséna. The more you look at these murals, the more curious they seem. They were painted by the then successful French artist François Flameng (1856–1923). He later went on to paint Great War battle scenes, and document new kinds of families, the close-knit comradeship of companies of men under siege.

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A Machine Gun Company of Chasseurs Alpins in the Barren Winter Landscape of the Vosges, François Flameng, photo Wikimedia Commons.

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I suppose my first question is why would the mural people wish to have themselves depicted in this way? Certainly there is a sense of entitlement and much self-regarding, but at the same time it is also as if they are not quite self-aware. Flameng verges on caricature for most of his subjects.  For surely there are suggestions of secrets, collusion, factions, conspiracy, loss of status within the gilded circle.  There are shared misfortunes and private sorrows; anxiety and repression; no one smiles; the children look utterly constrained. And then there are simply too many people peering round pillars, or only half seen despite their prestigious titles.

The two men on the far left of the second painting look distinctly rascally, their almost-smiles, sardonic, malicious.  They are related, brothers I think; the nearest to the viewer is Napoleon Ney, Prince de la Moskowa; behind him Claude Ney, Duc d’Elchingen. In 1903, the year the murals were completed, the Prince and Princesse de la Moskowa were divorced. La Princesse is the sad woman in the blue gown at the other end of the mural, only partially seen behind the column. Is Flameng intimating her loss of status in relation to the others? She is Eugénie, youngest daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte. She married the Prince in Rome at the Villa Bonaparte in 1898, and with all the Ney family in attendance. The couple had no children.

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Here is Eugenie on her wedding day. The photograph is attributed to Count Guiseppe Primoli.

Eugenie Bonaparte 1898

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Further along the mural from the Ney brothers is Victor Masséna, Prince d’Essling, the builder of the palace. His eldest daughter, Anne, has a proprietorial hold on his shoulder. He will die in 1810 in a Paris nursing home after an operation, and she will marry the Duc d’Albufera. The two faded souls at Victor’s elbow are his long-dead parents, also named Anne and Victor.

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The only calm and truly sympathetic face among the whole gathering is that of Rose Ney d’Elchingen. She leans over the balustrade accompanied by two macaws and an expensive tapestry. Beside her (with the pince nez) is the Princesse Joachim Murat, born Cecile Ney d’Elchingen, probably Rose’s sister. Her husband, Prince Joachim Murat, is across the stairs, lurking between a pillar and a large urn.  Rose, herself, will marry the distinguished Italian politician Duca Guiseppe Lanza di Camastra, and he will die prematurely in 1927 at the age of 31. Before that though, a 1916 newspaper photo will show Rose La Duchesse in full nurse’s gear, apparently assisting the surgeon with the war wounded at Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris. She is well-known for her beauty and philanthropy.

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Also in this mural detail is Prince Eugene Murat and the boy Charles Murat. The prince will die, aged 30, in 1906 when he overturns his car  while driving to Karlsbad. The report says he lived in Paris and left three children. It does not mention that he was married to the notorious Violette Ney d’Elchingen, Princesse Eugene Murat, and Rose’s sister. We are about to meet her across the staircase. They could not be less alike, at least in their demeanour.

The family who lived in the Palais de Masena

In fact you can hardly miss her, can you, Madame in the royal blue blouse. She seems to dominate the gathering on both sides of le grand escalier. The hand on hip gesture looks coarse, suggestive more of a nicoise fishwife than a princess. She is also the only one taking an active, indeed aggressive stance. She looks out at us visitors as if we were something unpleasant she has stepped in.

But what did the artist Flameng mean us to understand from this image? And what is going on with sad, submissive girl who leans against the redoubtable Violette? After all, this is not mother and daughter. The girl is Victoire  Masséna, younger daughter of Victor. She is around 14 years old here. In 4 years she will be married to the Marquis de Montesquiou. She will have two sons and at 30 she will be dead. Perhaps she foresees her future. Perhaps when you know that Violette, besides being a mother of three, is also a predatory bisexual, you might think there is something more sinister here. But then maybe one should not jump to conclusions.

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Princess Eugene Murat c.1929; photo Berenice Abbott

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In the decades of her widowhood, after the car-crash death of Eugene, Violette led a very gay life, and in all senses of the word. She was part of the Paris and Harlem Jazz Age scene. She entertained the likes of Stravinsky and Cocteau in her Paris home. She was a friend of the artist Augustus John who sketched her quite pleasingly while she introduced him to novel ways of taking hashish. In his autobiography he says:

“I had already tried smoking this celebrated drug without the slightest result. It was Princess Murat who converted me. She contributed several pots of the substance in the form of a compôte or jam. A teaspoonful was taken at intervals.”

She famously stormed out of a very famous Paris dinner party, held in 1922 for Europe’s artistic elite. The guests of honour included Diaghilev, Stravinsky, James Joyce, and Picasso. But it was the appearance of the reclusive Marcel Proust that evinced Princess Murat’s all too visible disfavour. At the time everyone who was anyone was trying to identify themselves and others in the characters of Proust’s À la Recherche du temps perdu. Violette, who was renowned for meanness had seemingly provided the model for an extremely miserly individual.

She was, in fact, exceedingly generous with the cocaine, or so we discover in Sebastian Faulks’ book The Fatal Englishman, which includes the biography of the English artist, Christopher Wood (1901-30). In it he describes Violette as “an enormous drug-addicted lesbian with a hunger for company.” She goes around with a bag of cocaine and lays out lines for Wood when he is struggling to complete a piece of work. Faulks tells, too, of Wood’s claim that she lost £5 or 6 million in the 1929 Stock Market crash. She ended her days, living in squalor, having overcome an earlier obsession with maintaining cleanliness, and died of barbiturate poisoning at the age of 58. A sad end to a damaged life.

And what was at the heart of this – sibling jealousy perhaps? Does that explain Flameng’s placing of the players in the murals – the beautiful Rose on one side of the stairs, blissfully unaware of her allure, and beloved even by the two family macaws? While opposite, the portly, coarse featured sister tries to outface her, and indeed the whole world that pays court to her much prettier sister. It’s a theory.

Finally, there is a more pleasing story, at least as far as the palace is concerned. Below on the left we see Victor Masséna’s heir, André, the future Prince d’Essling beside his mother, Princesse d’Essling. In 1919, with his father dead nearly ten years, he hands the Palais Masséna to the city of Nice on the understanding that it will be open to the public. Today it is the city’s local history and art museum.

The family who lived in the Palais de Masena

And so what is there left to say about this self-aggrandizing family. With hindsight one could say that in real life, when these murals were painted, the Belle Époque was drawing to its close. Did Flameng already sense this? The world was changing. Soon there would no longer be the annual winter retreat to the Palais Masséna.  Somehow, then, the murals do have a Proustian feel, perhaps a missing story thread from À la Recherche du temps perdu; the last moment of a perfect, and rarified age caught in two wall paintings, and now gawped at by the passing public.

And as for the three Marshals of France whose derring-do started all this social climbing, you  may find them lying quite close to one another in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. There they have long since made their residence – among the great and growing family of the dead.

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Père Lachaise Cemetery, in Paris.Photo: Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

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Last but not least, I leave you with glimpses of former winter season glory chez Masséna.

Nice is filled with chandeliers

Palais de Masena, now a museum

© 2014 Tish Farrell

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Z Boston Harvard 11

Yum Kax (Yoom Kosh) the Mayan Corn God

Peabody Museum, Harvard University

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I may have mentioned once or three times that I write ‘quick-read’ fiction for  young teens who are not too keen on reading. For those of us who cannot imagine ever being without a book, it is often hard to understand why some people struggle to ever pick one up.

 

The thickness can deter some doubtful readers. Pages dense with text also intimidate.  Ransom Publishing  thus produce slim readers with plenty of white space on the page.  More importantly, perhaps, for teen readers, they are now also published in various e-book formats including Amazon Kindle, and e-pub and pdf versions at Hive.

 

The stories in the Shades 2.0 series are aimed at twelve-year-olds with a reading age of 9-10 years. They are around six thousand words in length, i.e. short story sized. But, to create interest and momentum, they are divided into  several chapters  (with cliff hangers), and then spread  unthreateningly over 64 pages.  The aim is to build reading muscles by creating works that are small in scale but big enough in content; mini novels if  you like: do-able and hopefully un-put-downable.

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Shades covers for REPRO Batch 3_Layout 1

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The stories in the series cover many challenging themes and in all genres – from the trials of an apprentice apothecary escaping London during the Black Death of  1665  (Plague  by David Orme) to Jill Atkins’ Cry, Baby which tells what happens when schoolgirl, Charlie, finds she is pregnant. 

 

And where does Yum Kaax come in? Well he features  in my story Stone Robbers, putting in a surprising appearance when Rico, the angry young hero of the tale, stumbles into a robber trench in an ancient Mayan city. But that’s all I’m saying, except to add that the part he plays in the story was  inspired by the real and accidental discovery of a magnificent Mayan mural at San Bartolo, Guatemala back in 2001.

Stone Robbers, then, is both an adventure and a quest.  Rico has a score to settle with an old adversary, Enzo. Then he discovers that antiquities thieves have been looting the ruined city near his home. Between Enzo and the stone robbers, lies yet another conflict: Rico’s fury at his Mayan heritage, this in a Guatemala where Mayan people are still second-class citizens. Suddenly it all seems too much to handle, and then the Corn God puts in an appearance…

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Available on Amazon Kindle and on Amazon in book format.

Shades covers for REPRO Batch 2_Layout 1

Also in the Shades 2.0 Series  Mantrap – a story about elephant poaching set in Zambia.

 

 

For more about Ransom and Shades 2.o series

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See more bloggers’  YYY-stories at Frizz’s YYY-challenge 

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Giles (Victor) Rowles

1896-1915

Ninety nine years and one month ago, my great uncle, Giles Rowles enlisted with the 14th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force in Melbourne. He was an English sailor, born in the Old Red Lion Inn, Hollins Green, near Manchester. He was eighteen years old. By the time he enlisted, both his parents, Charles and Mary Rowles were dead, and for reasons unknown he had changed his name to Victor. When he enlisted he gave his next of kin as Aunt Louisa Rowles of 10, Despenser Gardens, Cardiff. She was his dead father’s widowed sister-in-law.

This photo from his mother’s locket is the only known photograph of Giles. He was the only child of my great grandmother’s second marriage to Manchester Ship Canal pilot, Charles Rowles. There were four older step siblings. He was thirteen when his widowed mother died, and it seems he then went to live with Aunt Louisa in Cardiff. The 1911 census return lists him as a trainee shipping clerk. His older cousin John, who was still living at home, was a shipping agent. The next record I have of him is when he enlists in Melbourne in October 1914.

The National Australian Archives have made all the war records available on line, and it was from these that we have been able to piece together a little of Victor Rowles’ last year on earth. It is noteworthy that he writes his signature on the enlistment form with a confident flourish. It is the clear hand of someone who has been a clerk. But the details are sparse, and all the more disturbing for that. The Medical Officer at Broadmeadows, where initial military training took place, lists the following: he was eighteen years and seven months, 5 feet 5 and a quarter inches , weighed 135 pounds. His complexion was ruddy, his eyes green and his hair brown. His only distinguishing marks are two vaccination marks on his left arm. I don’t know why I find it upsetting to know that his eyes were green.

On 22 December 1914 he embarked for Egypt on the HMAT ‘Berrima’, arriving there for further training in January 1915. On the 25th April  the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed at Gallipoli together with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. This began a campaign that ended with the evacuation of troops on 19 and 20 December 1915. 

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Anzac Cove, 4th Battalion landing 25 April 1915. Photo: copyright expired

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The Australian and New Zealand forces held out for months on the narrow beachhead that became known as  Anzac Cove. Quite apart from the sniping and shelling from the hills above, conditions there were terrible. From the start, it was a quite pointless campaign with much digging in, and little or no ground gained. Then on 6th August, having survived one nightmare, the 14th battalion took part in the final British attempt to wrest control of the Gallipoli Peninsula from the defending Ottoman Turks. This involved the Anzacs moving up the coast to take Hill 971, a beetling, rugged ridge known to the troops as The Sphinx.  From an account in the official war diary,  the advance uphill and across impossible terrain that only gave great advantage to the enemy was courageous if chaotic; there were many casualties.

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Anzac Cove. Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War

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On  8th August Victor Rowles was taken aboard the hospital ship Devanha where he died of gunshot wounds. He was buried at sea on the 10th August, two miles east of Mudros Harbour on the island of Lemnos. His few effects, including a handkerchief, manicure-set, letters and photos, were later sent to his Aunt Louisa, as were the memorial scroll and plaque. All these items are lost now, along with his three medals.  Nonetheless, now that I have found out these few fragments of his life, I will surely remember him, along with the many thousands of brave, but needlessly lost ones on both sides of the Gallipoli campaign.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Related post: Looking for Giles AKA Private Victor Rowles

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Frizz’s weekly challenge: TTT

You can see the marvellous full-length film Gallipoli here. It movingly covers both sides in the conflict.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqqFMRcl_Q8

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It began with a locket owned by my great grandmother, Mary Ann Williamson Rowles, nee Fox. And it began with a long ago memory of her daughter, my grandmother, Lilian Shorrocks, telling me of a much loved younger step-brother. She said that he had died during the Great War, that he was shot while getting off a boat.

I was seven or eight at the time and did not understand what she was talking about, but I registered the sorrow at a young man pointlessly lost. I pictured him walking down a gang-plank from an ocean-going liner. For some reason I imagined he was wearing a brown suit as someone shot him. Perhaps grandmother had said the word Gallipoli. I can’t be sure, but all my life its utterance has somehow resonated, though without my knowing why.

Recently, I did find out why, and still find myself astonished that I can discover more of this forgotten ancestor’s too brief life by simply trawling the internet. Of course, as Su Leslie so often shows on her excellent family history blog, Shaking the Tree, discovering one nugget of information often raises a dozen other mysteries. But then that only makes the search all the more beguiling.

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The locket is now mine and it contains the plaited hair of all Mary Ann’s five children, including her step-son, Robert Shorrocks. The other children are my grandmother and her two siblings, Mary and Tom, born from great grandmother’s first marriage to Thomas Shorrocks of Farnworth, Manchester. And finally there is Giles, the youngest. He was born in 1896, a year after Mary Ann married widower, Charles Rowles, a master mariner and captain of a pilot boat on the Manchester Ship Canal.

It is Giles’ photograph in the locket. He is an impressive looking boy. The direct gaze, yet self-contained. I find myself wondering if he looked like his father, for we have no photo of Charles Rowles. My grandmother did not care for him, keeping only his big seaman’s chest which I also have. Otherwise, she threw out most of the family memorabilia that came down to her. She kept the locket though, and Mary Ann’s fine collection of miniature Shakespeare’s plays and poets. There is also a single faded photograph of my great grandmother, taken some time before she was married. My own mother always said that she had eloped.

Mary Ann Williamson Fox was a farmer’s daughter, her family having been yeoman farmers for generations. In fact they claimed to have lived on the farm called Callow since the 11th century. Family  mythology  also had it that a Fox ancestor was employed by the Eyre family as steward, the Eyres having been given land in Derbyshire for services rendered to William the Conqueror. Later the Duke of Devonshire from his grand house at Chatsworth became the landlord, and Mary Ann, at seventeen, is said to have opened the Chatsworth tenants’ ball with the Duke, she being the daughter of the oldest tenant-family  on the estate. For a long time the buttons of the dress she wore were fondly kept. Blue silk-covered ones, I was told.  I don’t know what happened to them.

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Mary Ann Williamson Fox in her late teens c. 1880

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Callow Farm, Hathersage, Derbyshire where the Fox family lived from at least the 1700s, and where Mary Ann was born. This photo was taken in the 1970s.

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How it was that country girl Mary Ann came to fall for a spindle manufacturer from Bolton, Manchester is the first of many mysteries. My grandmother said that her mother fell for the first townie she saw in a stove-pipe hat. Maybe he was in the area on business. In any event, Thomas Shorrocks was a widower, ten years older than Mary Ann, and with a young son, Robert. Mary Ann was 22 and they were married by special license at St Michael’s church, Hathersage, with her elder brother, Robert and his wife, Edith, as witnesses.

Thomas took his young wife from the wilds of the Derbyshire peaks where she was used to riding at will, and jumping farm-gates on her pony, to live in the gloomy streets of Farnworth. There, the ever darkly clad mill women regarded  Mary Ann’s country print dresses with deep suspicion.

The Shorrocks lived in a modest terraced house on Kildare Street, although Mary Ann did have a servant, a girl she had brought from Hathersage. Soon there were three more young children, offspring whom Thomas Shorrocks apparently made a point of avoiding, staying out of the house until they had gone to bed. My grandmother said she did not know him. Then disaster struck. In 1893, only seven years into the marriage, Mary Ann was left a widow. Not only that, in the same year, the Shorrocks family company that, in 1861 had employed 32 men and 22 boys, was declared bankrupt. Perhaps it was this that finished off poor Thomas at the age of 39.

It is not clear where Mary Ann was for the next year or so, but in 1895, Warrington licensing records show that she had taken over the running of the Old Red Lion inn in Hollinfare, (also called Hollins Green) a farming village near the Manchester Ship Canal. The inn, as was common in rural areas, had also once been run as a farm. It thus came with pasture, cow sheds and stabling.

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The Old Red Lion today has seen extensive alterations in the 1960s and 1980s. It was one of the oldest inns in the village, and already in existence by the 1670s. Although Giles was born there in 1896, I’m not sure he would quite recognize it today.

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Family legend says that the Fox family arranged for Mary Ann to take over the inn so she would have a roof over her head and an income to support her family. In fact it seems she took over the license from one George Fox who had been landlord there since 1894. This could have been either her father, George Brayley Fox, or her younger brother, George. Her father had sold up the farm stock in 1892 due to a depression in agriculture, and then given up the tenancy on Callow Farm.  After 1893 there were no more Foxes at Callow, a circumstance that made the local and regional press in that year.

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Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald 25 March 1893

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When Mary Ann took over the inn in Hollinfare she called herself Mary Ann Williamson using her Christian names, and dropping the Shorrocks. Perhaps she wanted to escape the taint of bankruptcy. A year later she was getting married to Charles Rowles. Perhaps, when he was not piloting cargo ships into Manchester, he visited the inn. Again, he was considerably older, this time a widower with two grown-up daughters. According to my grandmother, the existence of these two young women was a surprise to everyone. They apparently came and ruled the roost for a time.

In 1901, Mary Ann exchanged inns with another woman licensee, and moved to the Bowling Green Inn at the top of the village. The inn no longer exists, and Hollinfare’s community centre now occupies the site. The reason for such a move is unclear, but perhaps the premises had more living accommodation. By now Mary Ann’s rather simple-minded younger sister, Louisa, was living with her and helping with household duties. It is likely,too, that their father also came to live there at some point, since he is buried in Hollinfare’s little cemetery, along with Mary Ann.

And so we come to Giles. In 1903, when he was seven, his father died. In 1909, when he was thirteen, Mary Ann died. Her death certificate suggests she was by then living with her step-son, Robert Shorrocks in Moss Side, Manchester. He witnessed her death from heart disease. She was 46.

What happened to Giles at this point is another mystery. The 1911 census shows the four Shorrocks siblings living in Moss Side. Robert is head of household and Aunt Louisa is still taking care of household duties. By now Robert is 28 and an insurance agent. My great aunt Mary and grandmother Lilian are in their early twenties and listed as ‘blouse finishers’. The youngest brother, Tom, was 19 and a railway clerk. Giles, though, is not with them. He is now 15 years old and trainee clerk with a shipping broker far away in Cardiff. He is living with his father’s widowed sister-in-law, Louisa Rowles and her two adult children. In 1912 there’s the possibility that he took passage to Halifax, Canada on the SS Hesperian, but there is no conclusive evidence.

When he appears again it is 15 October 1914. He is 18 and 7 months and enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in Melbourne, Australia. He calls himself a sailor (all the Rowles men had sea-faring connections). AND he has changed his name to Victor. The enlistment papers give Louisa Rowles of Cardiff as his next of kin. He specifically denies ever having served an apprenticeship. (Did he run away to sea to escape being a clerk?)

But why the change of name? My own guess is that Giles seemed too soft a name for mariner. His military papers show he was 5 feet 5 inches. Perhaps a little on the short side too, so may be he felt he had something to prove. We’ll never know. There is no one left to ask.

He joined the 14th Battalion AIF and would then have gone to Broadmeadows for training, before embarking for Egypt on the Berrima in December 1914. After further training in Egypt, the 14th took part in the April landing at Gallipoli. So began the gruesome, fruitless, bloody siege. All we know is that he survived to take part in the August Offensive. This involved the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps moving up the coast to attack two peaks of the Sari Bair range while the British and French forces defended Helles.

Giles was presumably wounded while trying to land for the second time in 5 months on this torturous, wretched shore. The next record is 8 August 1915 when Private Victor Rowles no. 1402 is admitted to the hospital ship Devanha with gunshot wounds. He died at 10pm on 10 August and was buried at sea, 2 miles east of Mudros Harbour, Lemnos.

An inventory of his effects was made in 1916. It comprises “one brown paper parcel” which includes a cigarette case, pipe, letters, photos and a handkerchief. These were apparently sent to Aunt Louisa Rowles. Later, in 1919, official records say she received a memorial plaque and scroll. It is not clear what happened to his medals: 1914-15 Star, British War medal and Victory Medal.

Giles is commemorated in his ill-fated name of Victor at Lone Pine Memorial, Turkey and on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra. In the quiet little cemetery at Hollinfare, his passing is marked under his given name of Giles. Perhaps his step-siblings added the inscription to his parents’ and grandfather’s stone.  It commemorates “Pte Giles son of the above Charles and Mary A Rowles, who died of wounds received at the Dardanelles on August 1oth 1915 aged 19. He hath done what he could.”

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But in the end, and despite all the family tragedies, I would like to think that Giles had some happiness in his short life: when he went to sea; or in his early days in Hollinfare. My grandmother adored him, and her older sister Mary was said the kindest soul. I feel sure they would have ‘mothered’ him, probably beyond a boy’s endurance. Step-brother, Robert Shorrocks also appears  to have been everyone’s rock, including his step-mother’s. Certainly in old age he was still very close to my grandmother and grandfather.

Of her childhood days, grandmother told of how they used to raid the inn pantry for tinned fruit, and eat it secretly out in the garden. Then  they would slide down the steep banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, getting their knickers green. There were annual visits by the dancing bear and his man whom Mary Ann allowed to stay in the inn stables.

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I would like to think that this photo of Hollinfare boys around the Coronation Tree included Giles. In the background is St. Helen’s chapel where Mary Ann could well have married Charles Rowles in 1895. These propositions, along with many others, remain to be verified. The search for Giles/Victor Rowles continues…

#nogloryinwar

© 2013 Tish Farrell

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Perhaps it is Jonas Kilimani’s choice of alias that makes things go so badly wrong in Mbogo sub-location. Or maybe he’s just not cut out to be a sleuth. Or it could even be his bad choice in suits. But whatever the cause, everyone is running rings round ‘Joe Sabuni’, and it all starts when his Uncle Micah sends him upcountry to track down a man who owes him money. It’s not much of a job, but Jonas is desperate to impress. He has college loans to pay back, and rich girlfriend, Keziah, to keep happy. And if he pleases Uncle Micah, maybe the man will give him a real job, as he’d long ago promised…

Cover artwork: Bob Harvey

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Okay, I am taking advantage of Frizztext’s JJJ-challenge for another piece of self-publicity. Also I think Jonas Kilimani deserves to be better known. He’s a really nice guy, and I’m glad I created him. He actually began life as a tiny notion while I was out on Kenya’s farms surveying smut-infected grass with the Team Leader. (For  more about smut see earlier post HERE). It’s amazing how one thing leads to another, and all apparently unrelated. There is no smut in Joe Sabuni by the way. Or maybe just a smidgeon – involving the dreadful Keziah of course.

I began writing stories for the African children’s literature market while we were living in Kenya in the 1990s. I think it was fury that started me off. There had been an article in the local press about children’s books, and the lack of locally written ones. It included a quote from a school girl saying she did not know there were stories with African heroes and heroines.

My first reaction was bewilderment. (The fury came later.) I began to look along the shelves of Nairobi’s bookshops. I could see that the girl had a point. Most of the locally produced fiction comprised folk tales, which I, as an outsider, had until then been more than happy to see and buy.

Now I began to regard them with fresh eyes. If I were six or nine or thirteen years old what would I think about such books? The design was often minimal, the paper quality poor, the stories wholly unrelated to modern day living, since the texts had mostly remained frozen in some colonial time when an avid ethnographer had recorded them. And so by comparison with these dry looking tales, would not the imported British and American paperbacks seem infinitely more glamorous and slick?

And yes, for sure, there would be no African kids featured in the rows of Enid Blytons or the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, or in the Ladybird versions of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. For these, I discovered, were at that time the mainstay of the children’s section. Even the school curriculum  English literature texts were books like Gogol’s Government Inspector or Dickens.

In fact, given the era when all these books were written, there would be no dark faces in them at all. That the stories were written in times long past would not necessarily be apparent to young Kenyan readers. I remember a ten-year old girl telling me that her dream was to ride her bicycle on country lanes and go wherever she pleased just as the Famous Five did. It was hard to know what to say to this. It seemed such a lovely dream.

Anyway, all this started me wondering what it might be like to only read books about children who were nothing like me AT ALL. How would that make me feel about myself: that I wasn’t cut out for hero-dom?

Of course the reason for all the imported revamped  titles was because they were far cheaper than mainstream market books, and parents were more likely to be able to afford them. There is anyway a resistance to buying fiction, since stories are considered an unnecessary luxury when parents have to spend so much on school textbooks every year.

And so we start getting to the heart of the problem. Kenyan publishers, like many others across the continent, struggle along producing textbooks, often in collaboration with British publishers like Oxford University Press, Macmillan and Longman. They can’t afford to produce much fiction, and that means there are not many local fiction writers. Classic authors like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Meja Mwangi are few and far between, and Ngugi has anyway long lived abroad in America. The best Kenyan writing, then, is mostly to be found in the country’s excellent newspapers, and they are aimed at adults not children.

As a writer, though, I learned a lot from the late Wahome Mutahi and his hilarious Whispers column, and also from the trenchant political analysis of John Githongo. The end result was Joe Sabuni P.I., a humorous teen short novel set in the fictitious city of Greenvale, somewhere in East Africa. It is published in the Heinemann Junior African Writers Series, now a Pearson imprint.

One of my best moments came a few years ago when I learned that the book was also to be used in Zambian schools, and not only in English, but translated into 6 Zambian languages. This I gather was funded by the World Bank. Someone had the surprising idea that people learn to read best in their own language. I wonder how they came to think such a breath-taking thought.

Because that’s another thing, most African children who go to school do not learn in their vernacular, but in the language of whichever colonial power once ruled them. In Kenya the curriculum is conducted in English and the East African lingua franca, Ki-Swahili, although the vernacular may appear in the study of arcane oral literature texts.

I think this is what Ngugi wa Thiong’o means by ‘colonization of the mind.’

Of course you could say what on earth is an English woman doing writing for African kids in their second or third language? It’s a good question. As I said it was fury that drove me. I wanted to tell contemporary stories that showed Kenyan kids their own wonderful selves, and in situations they might recognize. That these stories have also proved popular in other English-speaking countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe is a bonus. A couple have won prizes of which I am inordinately proud.

You can read a sample of Joe Sabuni P.I. on Google HERE. Please forgive the fact that Google copywriters can’t spell the word ‘rotten’. And nor can Amazon.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

 

 

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I came upon this wild orchid last week: a single small spike, flowering in the un-mown margins of Wenlock Priory. The Priory is my hometown ancient ruin. In fact the town of Much Wenlock both grew up around, and then later out of the monastery. This latter occurrence was due to some opportunistic recycling on the part of the local populace. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1540 (this in a bid to take control of the English church, marry Anne Boleyn and free up some  much needed monastic capital), the lead was ripped from the roofs, and over the years, the stones from the ensuing ruins used to build many of the town’s houses.

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The orchid is Anacamptis pyramidalis, a pyramidal orchid, and fairly common in Shropshire. This particular specimen was only a hand’s span in height, but the plant will grow taller. I did not get down to sniff it, and am sorry now, because I have since read that the flowers have a vanilla scent by day to attract pollinating butterflies. But then at night, when wet with dew, they give off a goaty smell that offends moths, or indeed anyone rash enough to get down on their knees for a quick nocturnal whiff. Their roots have medicinal properties when dried and ground into a sweet, nutritious powder called salep. It was once used to soothe upset stomachs. Perhaps the monks in the priory’s infirmary used it too, but please do not try this at home.

Incidentally, it was Charles Darwin who discovered that the structure of orchid flowers was designed specifically to be pollinated by either butterflies or moths with their long probosces. He wrote about it in Fertilisation of Orchids. Darwin also has a local connection. He was a Shropshire lad, born  in the nearby county town of Shrewsbury in 1809. Shropshire has a lot to answer for, and indeed be proud of.

It is also interesting to think of Darwin within these Priory confines. Just as his book On the Origin Species shook the foundations of Christian orthodoxy, so these ruins mark England’s break from the Church in Rome and a complete shake-up in religious belief that rebounded down the centuries. For years, Darwin put off publishing his theory of natural selection – “like confessing a murder”. Even his wife was concerned about the state of his soul. Only the realization that out in the Malay Archipelago, one Alfred Russel Wallace was arriving at similar conclusions to his own, prompted him to finish his book. In the first public airing that described Darwin’s work, Wallace was also given credit.

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But back to the orchid. I found it growing not far from the place where the Priory’s high altar would have stood, beneath the great east window. Behind that altar was said to be the shrine of St. Milburga. She was a Saxon princess famous for all manner of miracles, and who long after her death, became a big draw on the medieval pilgrim circuit.

For thirty years she had been abbess of the first monastic house in Much Wenlock. This predates the existing 12th – 15th century monastic remains by hundreds of  years, and was founded as a mixed house for both monks and nuns in 680 AD by her father King Merewahl of Mercia. Her grandfather had been the great King Penda, who, it is said,  personally abhorred Christianity, while nonetheless tolerating those with Christian beliefs.

All three of Merewahl’s daughters, and also his queen (after she forsook the marriage) headed religious houses. And I gather it was common in Saxon times both to have mixed-sex religious houses, although with separate places of worship and accommodation, and for them to be ruled by women. Milburga had been well educated at Chelles in Paris before she took up her office. She also controlled extensive estates, which later became part of the Cluniac monastery of Norman times, and yielded large revenues in agricultural produce.  It is clear that in Saxon times, princesses were deemed to have both political and spiritual power to wield. There was apparently no incentive for kings to marry them off in useful dynastic marriages.

The re-discovery of Milburga’s remains in 1101 during the rebuilding of her, by then, ruinous church greatly added to the Priory’s revenue and prosperity as pilgrims flocked to the newly established shrine.  The opulence of the Prior’s lodging, expanded in 1425 , gives an indication of the wealth and power enjoyed by its then Prior, Richard Singer.

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There are many historical accounts of grim goings on in Wenlock Priory – everything from monks counterfeiting coinage to plotting to murder their prior. But these will have to wait for another post. For now more views of the priory ruins and its other plants – wild and cultivated.

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Foxglove in the cloister garden. Digitalis purpurea was used by monastic herbalists from the early Middle Ages to cure dropsy (oedema or swelling caused by fluid). It has also  long been used for heart conditions, although an overdose can prove fatal. Something else not to try at home.

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More mauve than purple – the lavender border (and topiary) in the cloister. Lavender has many soothing medicinal uses – for headaches in particular. I have no idea why the topiary hedges are there – a much more recent non-monastic addition it seems.

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copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

For more shades of purple go to Ailsa’s Travel Challenge HERE 

For more ‘C’ stories go to Flickr Comments HERE

 

 

 

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The Farrell domain is full of containers of the rural and artisanal variety – too full, says the Team Leader. He murmurs the word ‘cluttered’. I close my ears. These are artefacts to think by.  They resonate with story.  (See  also Basket Case, the story behind my Nubian mats.)

Yet even G was beguiled  by this American sugar bucket or firkin, once used for collecting sap from maple trees.  Not that we knew this when we first spotted it in the Ocean Park antique store in Southern Maine. The elderly owner of this  ‘going-out-of-business’ curio emporium was having a sale. He did not mention the maple syrup, but called the bucket  a farm ‘make-do’, pointing out that the replacement handle was a length of horse harness, and that in its latter days it was probably used for doling out animal feed.

I instantly pictured my own rural upbringing in Cheshire (England). When I was small my parents rented a house on a large farm. I often used to help the farmer’s wife feed the hens, carrying a bucket round the orchard chicken run, and tossing out handfuls of corn to  happy, healthy hens. So you can guess what happened next.

Sold. One ‘make-do’.

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The ‘make-do’ now sits on the kitchen window sill, and further reminds us of the kindness of Cousin Jan who was the reason we went to Maine in the first place. She let us stay in her magical Ocean Park cottage.  (Thank you, Jan and Craig, and happy anniversary to you both).

The bucket makes me smile for other reasons too. The Stars and Stripes came free when we bought it – a give-away  on account of the flag’s deficit of stars. It only has 48, and thus pre-dates 1959 and the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the USA. I recall the brittle humour of the dealer who gave it to me. It turned out he was married to an English woman, who coincidentally just happened to come from G’s home town of Wolverhampton. He said he met her during ww2 when he was stationed  nearby. He was thus a bit of an antique himself, although you wouldn’t have known it to look at him. He said he was giving up the shop to concentrate on doing shows instead.

So there you have it. My justification for container mania (and I haven’t even mentioned the Polish potato basket which I use to store my onions, or the Zambian gourd that holds my cooking salt). This plain, rustic bucket simply goes on accruing meaning, a bit like Rumpelstiltskin weaving gold from farmyard straw. Which of course makes me wonder about the craftsman who made it, and the generations of family members who used it, and the circumstances by which one individual decided that, despite the broken handle, there was still good and useful life left in it, and so applied a length of harness strap to keep it going for another generation or two.

But for G, who would ever de-clutter if I gave him the chance, he has own reasons to be well-disposed towards the make-do.  Now that he knows it was probably once used for collecting sugar sap, he recalls the bright winter days of his Ontario childhood, the crisp air filled with the scent of hot maple syrup. For every year, at the winter maple syrup festival, freshly gathered sap would be boiled up outside in a big vat, and then thrown, sizzling, onto the snow-covered ground for some taffy pulling, and then much delicious eating. He speaks of this memory so vividly that I almost believe it to be my own…

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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Okay, who knows which film this quote comes from? As an extra clue I give you the line in ‘full’: “Wheat… lots of wheat… fields of wheat… a tremendous amount of wheat…”

For some reason I cannot explain, this particular exhortation is rather popular in the Farrell household.  The Team Leader is wont to deliver it at unexpected  intervals and with some vigour. This habit even predates the time when we actually came to live beside  a field that often has wheat growing in it. So here is it. The field behind our house. And while I admit it might overstep the bounds of propriety to share my washing with the world, here is another view of the wheat field from our garden. I also think the flower shadows on the sheet rather fine: housework turned artwork?

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I have written in earlier posts how our house lies on the edge of Wenlock Edge, a twenty-mile scarp formed from the upthrust bed of a tropical sea – the Silurian Sea in fact. This geological formation is a breath-taking 400  million years old – a place once inhabited by trilobites, and molluscs, and sponges and corals, although it should be made clear that when these creatures lived, the shallow sea in question was not in the northern hemisphere.  No indeed. In its tropical heyday Shropshire lay off equatorial East Africa. We are thus, for all our rustic appearance, a well-travelled county. We also have lots of geology of international importance, but  which I cannot begin to describe because the terminology and chronological expanses confound even me, a prehistorian. The Shropshire Geological Society have  a good site HERE should you wish to know more.

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The reason I’m showing you the wheat field is because my path to the allotment runs along the edge of it. I walk back and forth at least once a day. And so when I’m not writing blog posts or fiddling with my novel, this is one of the places where I’m likely to be. There is always something that catches my eye – thistles, the light, clouds, buzzards, the rooks and jackdaws, a neighbour’s three white ducks that regularly escape from their pen to eat slugs along the path, cats on the prowl, pretending I can’t see them.

Even the wheat is quite interesting. It amazes me how it manages to force its way up through a cloddy layer of grey clay that bakes to concrete after a few days with no rain. This soil, too, is a product of a geological event – a deluge of  volcanic ash from aeons ago and that has now broken down into bentonite clay.  It is the same soil in the allotment. Soft fruits seem to thrive on it. Everything else is a challenge. Wheat, though, has apparently been grown along the slopes above the town for generations, hence the name The Wheatlands for some of our now built-upon areas.

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And talking of building, a couple of years ago when the Local Authority called for landowners to put forward development land, our local landowner proposed  this and most of the fields on the Edge side of the town, including the allotments too, gardens  that have been there since the 1940s.  Development on this scale is something that most town residents fervently  hope will not happen. We have already been threatened with up to 500 houses over the next 11 years. This in a town with antiquated drainage, severe traffic congestion, few jobs, poor public transport, and inflated house prices, and one that has seen several new developments of upmarket houses in the last few years.  More crucially, the town sits in a bowl below the Edge and has recently been designated a rapid response flood risk area by the Environment Agency.

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More tarmac, roofs and roads that speed up run off from the hills above our homes are the last thing we need.  Some of the newest developments in the town are themselves subject to flooding.

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All right, I admit it. The landscape behind our house is perhaps not particularly noteworthy of itself, but the light and sky above it are. The uptilted scarp of Wenlock Edge forms a false horizon, so there is always much weather to watch. It changes every second. One day we saw a fire rainbow which we gather is quite rare.

Ironically, it it perhaps because this view from our house is ever under threat, that makes us look at it and appreciate it all the more. But it makes me angry too. I am not opposed to development, but it should be well planned, and enhance the locality, not cause problems for other people’s homes. There appears to be no mechanism in English planning that can ensure the provision of good quality housing at prices people can afford. Density seems to be the only planning criterion, not  homes with green spaces around them, and places for community orchards and gardens, footpaths and cycle tracks and areas where people of all ages can play. All things that boost wellbeing. You would wonder why it is so hard to do.

It is true that  Much Wenlock people have recently voted to have the Local Authority  accept their Neighbourhood Plan, a community compiled document that reflects our aspirations and plans for the foreseeable future. Our Conservative Party MP, Philip Dunne, tells us the Plan will deliver localism to our door, that is, we will have a say in the kind and scale of development that is proposed for our town and parish, development that will protect landscapes, open spaces and heritage while improving the quality of life for everyone. Whether it will, or not remains to be seen, particularly under a government whose recently sacked Secretary for the Environment apparently allowed for the destruction of ancient woodland as long as developers replanted elsewhere.  Bio-diversity anyone?

Which I suppose brings me back to the quote; “Wheat…fields of wheat…” You can’t get more of a monoculture than that. Hey ho. So many things to unpick. Think I’ll trundle up the path to the allotment and pick raspberries.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Related:

…of Silurian Shores

Old Stones of Wenlock: repurposing the Silurian Sea

In Much Wenlock an Inspector Calls

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P.S. The quote is from Woody Allen’s Love and Death

 

 

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There have been dhows sailing out of the Persian Gulf for India and East Africa for a thousand years and more, following the gyre of monsoon winds. Dates, jewels, fine carpets and chests went one way; ivory, gold, leopard skins and slaves came the other.

These days in Dubai Creek you are more likely to see cargos of Coca Cola, white goods and Japanese cars being loaded on deck. But for all that, and yet among the ever sprouting  high rises, there is still a drift of Arabian Nights’ romance, and more than a hint of Sinbad’s voyaging.

Related posts:

Zanzibar: time’s twists and turns

Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture (The Swahili)

Inside looking out on Lamu Island

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WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic Go here for more bloggers’ relics

 

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These glorious Nubian mats adorn my kitchen. They decorate our every day, their colours radiating like mini-suns however dull the weather. It is hard to imagine, then, that there is a dark tale behind their creation, a tale of statelessness and discrimination.

The makers of the mats are women from the Nubian community of Kibera, in Nairobi (Kenya). They, their parents and grandparents before them, were born in this quarter of the city suburbs. This has been the case since the early 1900s, when British colonial authorities gazetted an area of land for settlement by Sudanese Nubian soldiers of the British Army, men who had first been recruited during the 1890s when Britain was trying to establish control over the peoples and territories of East Africa.

This next photo thus shows another form of decoration – a Nubian KAR officer’s chest adorned with medals that attest to years of brave service in the cause of the British Empire.

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Copyright Kenya Nubian Council of Elders

This photo was taken in 1956, during the British colonial era. The officer is showing his invitation to a garden party at Nairobi’s Government House. The gathering was in honour of the visit to Kenya by HRH Princess Margaret of England (Kenya’s Nubians: Then and Now, Open Society Foundations).

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The Nubian people (also known in the distant past as Kushites) have a long, long history, their homeland once stretching along the upper reaches of the River Nile in North Sudan and into southern Egypt. Much of their territory was taken in the 1960s for the building of the Aswan Dam by the Egyptians, and this was another cause of displacement. But way back in time, the Nubians were a people to be reckoned with. The earliest evidence of a metropolitan culture  (the Kingdom of Kerma) has a date contemporary with neighbouring Ancient Egypt.  Nubia was the gateway to the African hinterland, and a great trading nexus.

Dr Stuart Tyson Smith (University of California, Santa Barbara) says the Kerma culture evolved out of the Neolithic around 2400 BC. The Kushite rulers of Kerma profited from the trading such luxury goods as gold, ivory, ebony, incense, and even live animals to the Egyptian Pharaohs. By 1650 BC, Kerma had become a densely occupied urban center overseeing a centralized state stretching from at least the 1st Cataract to the 4th, rivaling ancient Egypt. Kerma was sacked in c. 1500 BC, when the entire region was incorporated into the Egyptian New Kingdom empire.” 

The Nubians and Egyptians traded, intermarried and warred with one another over many centuries, the Nubians finally ruling Egypt for half a century during the 25th dynasty (c. 750–655 B.C.E.) And though it may be a big surprise for some people to know this, there were Nubian, black African pharaohs, Nubian pyramids, and a Nubian form of hieroglyphics that were later developed into a 23-letter alphabet (yet to be deciphered). Clearly as time went on, Nubian culture was influenced by Ancient Egypt (though why not the other way around?), yet it also evolved in its own very characteristic ways.

The strikingly tall Nubian pyramids below were built at the time when Britain was a land of Iron Age farmers who lived in thatched round houses and constructed hill forts of earthen banks and ditches.

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Fabrizio Demartis Creative Commons

The Nubian Meriotic kingdom developed from the 25th Dynasty when Nubia ruled Ancient Egypt. It is named after its capital Meroë (begun c 800 BCE). Over 255 pyramids belonging to the Meroitic period have so far been discovered.

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But back to more recent times, and the story behind my lovely mats. In World War 1, Sudanese Nubian forces were deployed in  defence of British-ruled Kenya along the border with  German controlled Tanganyika. This East African campaign was a brutal affair, fought over waterless, disease-ridden bush, as British forces attempted to thwart Count Von Lettow-Vorbeck’s ingenious guerrilla tactics, carried out by other Africans – the Count’s highly trained  askaris from German East Africa (now Tanzania).

The British Army, with a few exceptions late in the war, did not allow the native peoples of Kenya to carry arms at this time, so it was the Nubians who were the main combatants. Kenyans were instead conscripted into the Carrier Corps to transport army provisions since mules and horses could not survive in tsetse infested bush country.  Tens of thousands of young men died of starvation and disease in the British cause, their families often never hearing what had happened to their sons. They simply never returned from the war with Jerimani.

(For a vivid fictional version of this conflict see William Boyd’s An Ice-cream War).

In 1912 the British colonial administration in Nairobi gazetted 4,197 acres near the city for the settlement of Nubian soldiers and their families who could not be repatriated to Sudan. The Nubians called this place Kibra, the forest land.

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Nubian Family c1940s, photographer unknown. Copyright Kenya Nubian Council of Elders. For more wonderful photos see Kenya’s Nubians: Then and Now, Open Society Foundations

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By this time, all British East African (Kenyan) tribes had been categorized, and the land they occupied, at the point of British incursion, designated as native reserves. Africans were not allowed to have title deeds to their own and and, in theory, European settlers (who did have title to vast acreages) were not allowed to encroach on the reserves.

The Nubians, however,  were specifically categorized by colonial authorities as ‘Detribalized Natives’, and non-natives of British East Africa. This meant they could not claim any rights to have their land made into a reserve, nor could they build permanent structures on the land.  The community, however, continued to provide further generations of soldiers who would serve in the King’s African Rifles. 

During WW2  Nubian soldiers fought for Britain, alongside other black Kenyan recruits, in Somalia, Abyssinia and in the terrifying war against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. It is another little remembered  fact that the African troops of the King’s African Rifles played a determining role in the winning of the Burma campaign.

By 1955 the Nubian community of Kibra numbered 3,000. Back then it was an attractive rural village, the houses surrounded by large gardens. But in successive decades as Nairobi grew into a city, hundreds of thousands of rural Kenyans, seeking work, invaded Kibra, putting up  shanty dwellings. Kibera, as it is currently known, is now one of the biggest slums in Africa.

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A cropped image of Kibera, Nairobi. Photo CC 2014 Schreibkraft

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Photo: CC Blazej Mikula

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During colonial times, Kibra land remained the property of the British Crown. At Independence in 1963, ownership of Crown Land passed to the new government, and so became state-owned land. The new state also inherited an administration that was still largely operating under State of Emergency regulations from the 1950s Mau Mau uprising. Being able to prove  who your tribe was and the associated right to domicile were essential proofs of citizenship. The Nubians’ former colonial categorization denied them on both fronts.

From 1963 until 2009, when the Nubian community in Kenya was finally accorded official existence as a Kenyan tribe, the Nubians of Kibera and elsewhere in Kenya had been stateless. While the colonial generation did have identity cards, the post-independence generations could only acquire them, if at all, with great difficulty, and after many years of persistence.

This meant they could not be formally employed, open bank accounts, acquire title deeds, participate in the affairs of their country of birth, vote, or even leave their own homes safely, since to be caught without an identity card is a criminal offence.  The only opportunities to earn a living were in the informal sector, and for women, this included/still includes making baskets for sale through non-governmental trading operations, and Nairobi’s tourist curio shops. Hopefully now, with official recognition, the fortunes of the Nubian people will change  for the better, but there is still much ground to make up, and in all senses. For more of these people’s story see the excellent short videos below, and also the full length BBC programme about Ancient Nubia at the end.

In the meantime, back to the beautiful baskets, and a Nubian woman at work. The method of construction involves coiling lengths of papyrus stems or dried grasses then wrapping them round with coloured and natural palm leaf strips. Truly great works of decorative art, and not only that, but life-enhancingly useful too. Expressions of spirit undaunted despite lives of grave hardship unimaginable to most of us?

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Photo: http://in2eastafrica.net/home-stays-growing-ugandas-tourism/

 

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Article on Nubians of Uganda: Flavia Lanyero 2011 Daily Monitor

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text copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Greg Constanine’s video explains the Kenyan Nubian dilemma

 

This brief film explains the history of Nubian statelessness in Kenya

 

Recent archaeological discoveries of the ‘lost’ Nubian civilization

 

Ailsa’s Challenge: Decoration – Go here for more bloggers’ decorative posts

Tish Farrell:

Biswajit Dihidar captures the most beautiful images of his homeland on the Viewfound blog. This image I think is especially striking…

Originally posted on Viewfound:

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View original

 

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Cee’s ‘Circles and Curves’ challenge is giving me the chance to  show again this work by New England sculptor Antoinette Prien Schultze. ‘Life Entwined’ is circular in every way – suggesting not only the cycle of human life and love, but also the turn of the seasons, the circle of time itself.

It is made from Vermont Danby marble and weighs 4 tons. You can see it in the beautiful shore-side garden of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art in southern Maine. I have written more about the Museum HERE. It is one of the most beautifully situated galleries in the world, and well worth a visit for the setting alone.

Another fine thing about Ogunquit is the Marginal Way, a cliff top path along the rugged shore. It was here I found this natural sculpture which also fits the challenge.

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copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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For more about Ogunquit Museum of American Art see my earlier post:

Only One Ogunquit: the little gallery by the sea

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Click on the image for more bloggers’ circles and curves

 

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Well this is what happens when you fiddle about in Windows Live Picture Gallery. I rather like the effect – posterized for posterity, an arty rendition of UK expatriate in 1990s Kenya. The original shot is thus pretty old, just like me. I was standing in the back garden of our house in Mbabane Road, in Nairobi’s leafy Lavington district, under the loquat trees. The house is gone now, and I can see from Google Earth that Madison Insurance who owned the compound, have given it over to some development of upscale townhouses. Across the road was  the run-down state primary school. I imagine it is still run down. My days back then had a daily soundtrack of children’s voices – chanting times tables mostly.

In the photo I’m wearing a self-made suit (tunic and pants) of batik cloth created at a workshop by street boys trying to get their lives together. And I’m wearing a string of Kazuri Beads, glazed ceramic beads, made by women trying build themselves and their kids a future. Kazuri means small and beautiful. The little factory in Karen, Nairobi was a joy to visit. The workshop shelves were lined with glass jars of bright beads, rather like a picture book sweet shop, while at benches in the the airy room, women created beads and threaded necklaces in colour schemes of their choosing. I’m only sorry that I seem to have no photos, but if you go to the link you can see the factory today – much expanded and employing men too.

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I still have the beads and the suit, and still wear them too, although the batik cloth is a little thin, while I, sadly, am not.

And now here’s a picture of our house – home for seven years.

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It came with the usual services that accompany the living quarters of TCOs (Technical Cooperation Officers) working for Her Majesty’s Department for International Development. These included a well secured compound perimeter with lights, a 24/7 security guard, house alarms (checked monthly), internal security gate, barred windows, guard dog, and regular applications of pesticide by Rentokil. Phew. We did not like any of  this much, although we did like Patrick, our day guard, such a tall and gentle man. It was hard to imagine him fending off intruders. He had a farm back home in Western Kenya where his wife stayed in the good stone house he had built for her, along with their three children. He used to go home twice a year to plant or harvest his maize crop.

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To make up for all the oppressive security, during the day I used to walk around the district on foot, roaming along the avenues. I wasn’t sure what it was I supposed to afraid of, although I did know that people did have their homes broken into, and that expats who insisted on driving large new Land Cruisers were often relieved of them (on their own compounds) by guys with AK47s, and strangely enough, soon after said expats (usually diplomats) had arrived in country and taken possession of the new vehicles via customs and imports at Mombasa port. The word on the street was that these robbers were highly connected. Very highly connected. This situation frequently reminded me of one of my father’s favourite sayings: the fish goes rotten from the head, although one would have been foolish to say this too loudly, or even at all back then.

Farrell Team Leader, Graham, had a works Land Rover for work, but otherwise we drove a battered Suzuki jeep. It had some interesting features. A previous owner had cut a hatch over the back seats, and made a fibre glass lid to go over the top. For game viewing you could simply unclip it. I didn’t drive it much, because that was the really scary thing – Nairobi driving. I often used to ponder if I could get to places by driving on the very wide pavements. Once when I forgot I was in Kenya and slowed at a zebra crossing on a city highway to let a pedestrian cross, the poor woman looked as if she would faint. I was lucky that  the Suzuki and I didn’t get flattened by a Tusker beer truck, while I and the woman stared at one other in a state of frozen confusion, neither of us able to move.

The other thing that used to scare me about driving was that parts used to fall off the Suzuki. G’s nonchalant response to my concern was, ‘Well if you were still going, you obviously did not need it, whatever it was.’

On the whole, then, it was better walking. I could peep through the cracks in the big steel gates that protected ambassadorial and diplomatic residences, and count the excessive number of garbage bags put out for BINS, the private refuse removal company. I’d see street kids and Maasai, greet the security guards who sat out on the neatly trimmed verges and chatted house to house. I was intrigued by the barber who had turned a fallen flame tree into a salon, and  I liked the smells of all the garden trees – cypress, frangipani, the warm musky smell of fever trees. When the rains came the streets would be filled with silvery clouds of termites on their nuptial flight. At dusk, the frogs in the Nairobi River way below our house would strike up frog songs that resounded across the valley. The crescent that adjoined Mbabane Road was called Applecross – a bizarrely English name that evoked pastoral perfection of the sort that had never existed outside colonial settlers’ minds.

When we took over the house from G’s predecessor we also took on the resident house steward, Sam, whose homeland was in Maragoli in Western Kenya. He had long worked for expatriates, but back home and also on the borders of Nandi he had small farms – three in all. His first wife lived on his ancestral land in what had been the Maragoli tribal reserve in colonial times. He still called it ‘the reserve’. He said he had poor relations on the other smallholdings, but they were not looking after the land properly and this caused him much concern. Apart from home leave, he stayed in Nairobi with his second wife, living in the servants’ quarters at the bottom of the garden. One reason for staying in Nairobi was so his three youngest children and a grandchild who had come to live with him could go to school across the road.

Now meet Sam, with guard dog Kim. We eventually had to hand Kim over to a vet, this after he started attacking children who came to play with Sam’s children on our compound. The vet told us that some German Shepherds were prone to this behaviour, and once begun, this was not a habit that could be broken. She told us she would try to send him to a rescue centre that kept such dogs, but otherwise he must be destroyed.

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We did not ask which of these had been the outcome, but after having one sweet little girl’s face stitched up at the hospital we could not risk it happening again. Luckily the dog missed the child’s eye and the wound healed well. Here she is then, Sera, fully recovered with only a hint of a scar under the right eye.Zaina and Sera 2

And next comes Silas, Sam’s youngest son.

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And Sam’s grand daughter, Zaina playing badminton with Silas on the back lawn.

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Then Sam off-duty out on Mbabane Road. He only worked half days as we didn’t have enough house work.

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And  this is Francis, who stood every day on the corner of Mbabane and James Gichuru and sold us The Standard and Nation newspapers. He turned the newspaper round deliberately because it was featuring the British envoy, a man somewhat outspoken on Moi regime corruption.

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And finally me again, not looking quite so postered  (but oh, so much younger) with poor old Kim, and those Kazuri beads again. Interesting days.

Tish and Kim the dog

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

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Flickr Comments ‘A’ words – go here for more bloggers’ ‘A’ tales and photos

 

 

“…a gateway to Africa. Through its portals passed not only slaves, spices and ivory, but also missionaries, explorers and conquerors.” 

Abdul Sheriff, Professor of History, Dar es Salaam University

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Zanzibar  – it’s all in the name – the Indian Ocean shores where Arab merchants met with African farmers and created a new people: the Swahili. In the Arabic Kilwa chronicles of the Middle Ages, the word Zanj denotes non-Muslim black people, and the word bar means coast, and the term back then referred to much of the East African seaboard – to wherever the dhow traders seasonally put in to haggle with Bantu farmers for ivory, leopard skins, rhino horn, iron, ambergris and mangrove poles.  These, then,  are the shores of the Sindbad (Sendebada) tales, but today the term ‘coast of the blacks’ survives only in the name of the Zanzibar archipelago (Unguja and Pemba Islands), now part of Tanzania.

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These days too, Zanzibar Island, more properly known as Unguja, is seen as the heartland of Swahili culture, and the place where the purest form of KiSwahili is spoken. Once, though, there were many other powerful Swahili centres – independent city states that included Manda, Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa in Kenya, and Sofala far to the south in Mozambique. Such states, with stone towns built of coral rag, began evolving from at least the early 800s CE (Manda),  by which time KiSwahili was already a fully developed language, albeit with many regional forms.

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In fact the trade along East Africa had been going on from well before the 9th century. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a Greek account of Indian Ocean trade written around 60 CE, indicates that the people of the kingdoms of Yemen and Arabia already had well established trade routes as far south as Mozambique. The Romans had also been here, doubtless making use – as all the seafarers did – of monsoon winds that in season carried them south down the African coast, or east to India, and then, with the change in the wind,s northwards and homewards to the Gulf.

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The earliest traces of a stone town  on Unguja date from the 12th century when merchant princes from Shiraz in Persia settled on the island.  Over successive centuries this settlement  was destroyed twice by the Portuguese (who, after Vasco Da Gama discovered  he could sail round Africa in 1498, seized control of the Indian Ocean trade) and once by the Omani  Arabs whom the Swahili sultans of the Kenya coast called in on several occasions to help rid them of the European tyrants. The Portuguese were ousted from Zanzibar and the Swahili mainland at the close of the 17th century, and thereafter, until the British declared Zanzibar a protectorate in 1890, it was the Omani Arabs who controlled the surviving Swahili states.

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The Stone Town we see today dates mostly from the nineteenth century when the place was at its most prosperous. Abdul Sheriff describes the scene:

“Zanzibar was then a cosmopolitan metropolis. Its harbour teemed with square-rigged ships from the West and oriental dhows with their lateen sails from many countries in the East, carrying all the colours of the rainbow. Here Yankee merchants from New England drove a hard bargain with Hindu traders in their large crimson turbans or  Khojas in their long coats, exchanging ivory for American cloth; the Marseillais haggled with the Somali for hides and sesame seeds from Benadir; Hamburg entrepreneurs shipped tons of cowrie shells to West Africa, where they served as currency; and Arab caravans rubbed shoulders with their African counterparts from the Mountains of the Moon.”  (The History and Conservation of Zanzibar Stone Town 1995).

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Beit al-Ajaib, The House of Wonders, was built by Sultan Barghash in 1883 to host ceremonial events. He was an extravagant man and, before his death in 1888, built 6 palaces across the island of Unguja. After the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution when the Omanis, along with many Indian residents, were killed or expelled, the building was used as government offices. When we visited in 1999 it was abandoned, but for one of the last sultan’s  cars (candy pink in colour) parked inside the atrium near the front door. A good friend who visited the House of Wonders recently tells me it is still there.

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Trade was given much impetus in 1830 when the Sultans of Oman moved their capital to Zanzibar to oversee what turned out to the short-lived boom in clove production.  They and other Indian and Arab landowners owned many clove and coconut plantations  on the archipelago, and these were worked by African slaves.

The slave trade, then, was another source of the island’s prosperity. By 1860 the archipelago had some 60,000 slaves, not only working the plantations, but also fulfilling domestic and labouring tasks, and providing new wives for the sultan’s harem. And it is worth noting here that the slaves in Zanzibar were not generally ill treated in the way they were in the Americas; it was not unknown, after long service, for them to inherit their master’s land and property. The children of the harem slaves were also acknowledged by the sultans who fathered them, and treated as royal children with appropriate titles.

During the 19th century it is reckoned that some 50,000 slaves a year were being sold in the Zanzibar slave market. It was only in 1873 that the slaving was abolished, this after much pressure from the British who had first made a treaty with the Sultan Said in 1822 in an  attempt to kerb the trade. That treaty had produced little effect. There was too much demand. The French, in particular, needed slaves for their tropic island plantations.

And to meet the demand the Swahili and Arab slaving expeditions would set off from Zanzibar for the African mainland, taking their caravans of porters along well-walked slave paths through Tabora in Tanzania, and down into Zambia, or travelling up present day Kenya to the Great Lakes regions. The notorious Swahili slaver, and plantation owner, Tipu Tip, roved as far as the Congo , terrorizing villages across the territory.

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Finding some way to end the trade was one of the motivations that drove the missionary-explorer David Livingstone ever onwards on his gruelling explorations across Africa. It was thought that if the continent was opened up to civilizing Europeans, then the ‘filthy trade’ could be stopped.  But then like the slavers, he and other European explorers (Burton, Speke, Stanley, Cameron, Thomson) started their journeys from Zanzibar. All such travellers, including  missionaries, relied on  the expertise of porters and seasoned safari guides who otherwise worked on the slave caravans.  In 1866, before his last expedition, Livingstone stayed at the house above. It had not long been built by Sultan Majid. Now it is the office of the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation.

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From John Hanning Speke’s Journal of the Discovery of the Nile 1863

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The slaving and ivory  trades worked in tandem. Newly captured slaves were not only driven on forced marches across the continent to the coast, but they were also made to carry supplies, and these included any elephant tusks that the slavers had procured – ivory destined for the production of piano keys and billiard balls for the European market.  It was only in 1897 that all slaves on Zanzibar were given their freedom. The Anglican church stands on the site of the slave market, beside the now famous sculptures commemorating the years of abuse. It is horrifying to consider what the cost of this trade has been for Africa: generation upon generation of  the strongest, brightest and  most  beautiful young people robbed from their communities.

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Naturally the British could congratulate themselves on finally stopping the trade on Zanzibar, although I believe it continued well  into the 2oth century at Lamu. Today, too, slave mongering thrives, and under our very noses in Europe, only now the abused are not necessarily black, so perhaps we don’t think it’s the same thing – the brutal deprivation of liberty and dignity, along with forced labour?

But back to 1890, the end of the Sultans’ control and Britain’s laying claim to Zanzibar. Because now we come to a whole new angle. For this was also the year of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, an agreement between the Germans and the British, whereby (in return for Heligoland, the strategic North Sea island), the Germans waived rights to Zanzibar, Witu on the mainland coast, and to the territory now known as Kenya across which the British were planning to build the Uganda Railway. (Bismarck apparently called this deal swapping the trousers for a button). 

Suddenly, then, Zanzibar has a very particular purpose for the British Empire. It will become the spring board for the claiming of extensive East African territory, and it will start with that mad, mad railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. Of course, with slavery being outlawed, some new mechanism of harnessing native power will need to be thought up. Something civilized and civilizing. I know – we’ll call it colonialism, and enclose indigenous people in their own territory, make reserves of their own homes, which they can’t leave unless they have a pass. Then we’ll introduce hut and poll taxes so forcing them to work for Europeans…

For more of the colonial story go to an earlier post Vulcanicity HERE. In the meantime below are some more soothing views in and around Stone Town, now a World Heritage site. Life is not so grand as it was in the days of the finely robed Omanis. Fishing, ferrying, farming (growing spices, coconuts and vegetables), curio trading, boat building, mangrove pole harvesting and tourism are the main sources of income. As in all African countries, people work hard to educate their children, and this is their number one priority.

Stone Town is also a devoutly Muslim community, and sometimes this does not sit well with tourist inclinations to behave in ways not considered either respectful or respectable by Zanzibaris. There are over 50 mosques of several different Muslim persuasions, but most are unobtrusive buildings without minarets, and are scarcely noticeable among the domestic dwellings. There is also a Catholic cathedral as well as the Anglican church. The streets are maze-like and shadowy, but we met with nothing but gracious hospitality when we wandered along them.  The place may seem run down (although here and there restoration is in progress), but in the sudden whiffs of jasmine the Sinbad romance lingers on…

(For more about the Swahili see an earlier post HERE.)

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AILSA’S TRAVEL CHALLENGE: TWIST

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copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

 

 

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The light, the clouds, the sun do extraordinary things over the Menai Straits, the narrow sea channel between the island of Anglesey, Ynys Môn, and mainland Wales. This photograph was taken at midday in late December.  I was standing on Beaumaris seafront and looking towards the mainland. To the southwest the mountains of Snowdonia were frosted with a light cover of snow. It was all very dreamlike. And it made me think that  it was no accident that the Druid priests of the ancient Celtic tribes made the island their sacred stronghold, or that after the Romans withdrew from Britain, the early Celtic Christian missionaries established their sanctuaries and churches on the island. Whatever your faith, or even if you have none, such glorious vistas surely speak straight to heart, spirit and soul.

For more images of Ynys  Môn see my earlier post Island of Old Ghosts.

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© 2014 Tish Farrell

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