Friday, June 30, 2006


Polite smiles, yeses and nos, perhaps a few words in answer to the usual questions. Is it hot here in summer? How many cubs does a lioness birth? Where does your family live? I want more. Do you have siblings? How many? What does your name mean? Not your English name, the one for white foreigners. Your real name, the one that links you to this place. It means “not the same way.” He, our guide, is the youngest child. Seven of the eleven adult siblings are dead. They were sick, he says, when I ask how. In naming him, his mother wards off the sickness. This child will not be taken from her like the others.

We stop talking, still in our tracks, like the impala we pass each day. Alert to danger, to realities that keep us apart. Read about in books, perhaps, or gleaned from other inquisitive questionings.

The silence lingers, overtakes us. The relationship—between guide and tourist, man and woman, black and white—has no words to touch his sorrow. Yet in parting, the young guide steps toward me, leans forward with open arms. I move into his embrace, unanticipated, generous, as innocent, I think, as my questions had been. Between us, a vast landscape of human experience remains untouched. Where words can’t go, a gesture of affection has taken us below the surface, to the region where understanding lies and where hope burns. I climb into the tiny aircraft that will take me to the next camp, wiggle my fingers in farewell through the crack of the open window, and train my eyes on the waving arms below until all human form blends into the dun colors and broad sweep of the bush.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Coming to wakefulness from sleep, I open my eyes. The blackness is complete, oddly rich, not unlike the smooth sheen of melted chocolate. I wonder for a moment if blindness has this same sensual depth. I lie quietly, anticipating the shapes of things to announce themselves, even if only in shadowy outline. But nothing emerges at all, only the sounds of the bush outside.

Baboons have begun to bark, the leaves of the trees rustling as the animals make their way through the branches above our tent. A lion roars, rumbling and low, in the not-too-far-away distance. The delicate chiming of bell frogs slowly diminishes, overtaken by hornbills sounding in raucous staccato. Slats of soft light reveal the framed outline of the tent windows, netted and thickly curtained to hold back the chill of night. I can pick out familiar shapes now, folds of mosquito netting around the bed, a chair in the far corner, the woven screen that encloses shower, sink, and bath. Fruit bats, calling forth evening darkness in clinking gate-latch chorus, end their song as the light shifts, rose-pink embers’ glow.

I slip out of bed, slide open the doors of the tent, and step out onto the verandah. The veld spreads before me, vast, quiet, secret. Palm trees stand tall along the distant horizon, delineating land from endless sky, and in between their dark trunks, a small orb rises, silently, swiftly, to paint the sky blood orange red.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Many years ago, my mother, who was Caucasian, had an ongoing flirtation with an older African American man who worked at the same nursing home she did. She was a nursing assistant there at the time, and he was….I don’t quite remember. What I do remember is that he came from Mississippi and his name was Johnny V----. He drove a big, white Cadillac, and boy was he a smooth operator. Oh, and he was married too. That didn’t really matter, though nothing ever came of their flirtation. They simply admired each other openly and entertained their fantasies without ever acting on them.

Recently, I had one of those sudden sinking feelings that hit you in the pit of your stomach. I realized that, on my birthday next week, I’ll turn 47—almost 50. I began to wonder where all the time has gone and, in answer to my puzzlings, made a mental list of what has happened to me in the course of almost five decades of living. It was a long, meaty list, of the sort the average woman of my age, race, and class might have. Still, in my mind, 50 is a big number and doesn’t quite fit my image of myself.

I must not be the only one for whom the number doesn’t fit the image. Walking along a busy downtown street the other day, on my way to buy a quick to-go lunch, I noticed an older black man pulling out of an off-street parking lot just ahead of me. He was driving a shiny, new silver Cadillac and we caught each other's glance for a flash of an instant.

I could feel it coming. He pulled slowly out of the lot, leaned casually out of the window, looked me up and down in my tight-fitting jeans and sleeveless tee, and crooned, “How ya doin’, Little Miss Blue Jeans?”

I kept on walking and said nothing in response. Instead, I fumed inwardly. It’s been a while since a stranger has hit on me in public, and I wasn’t really prepared. “I’m 50, for God’s sake,” I thought to myself. “I’m heading into menopause! Shouldn’t a woman be free from all this attention after a certain point???” But then I thought about my mother and her flirtation with Johnny V----. It's not always the case, but sometimes strangers and casual acquaintances are simply showing us their admiration, and it doesn’t hurt to nod in recognition of that fact. The fellow drove on, and I eventually cooled off. In fact, I feel a little better about turning 50. But I wish I’d smiled back at my Cadillac Man.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


My friend M. has studied flamenco dance for years. She performs locally--solo and with others--and has recently joined a new group that commits hit-and-run flamenco dance. They show up at local events, more or less unannounced, put down their flamenco dancing boards, hit the “on” bottom on their boom box, and start dancing. In explaining the concept, she says, “You know, hit-and-run flamenco is kinda like hit-and-run guerrilla warfare.”

In reflecting on her words afterwards, I thought about how the radicals in our lives aren’t “out there.” They aren’t “them” or “others.” They’re our friends and neighbors and family. They’re the ones who see and practice guerrilla warfare as joyful dance, as art, as beauty. In a time when many of us feel discouraged or fearful about the state of the world, I take hope and inspiration from people like M. She’ll be dancing when the lights go out, and I hope I will be too.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


June is asparagus season where I live, and every Thursday morning, I stop at the downtown farmers market on my way to work to buy a carton of fresh asparagus. I buy from the same vendor every week--a tall, lean fellow with blue eyes and a green felt hat. He's soft spoken and unassuming, yet everyone knows he has the best asparagus spears in town. If you don't get to him before noon, you won't go home with his asparagus.

I love asparagus three ways: steamed and served with a little butter and lemon juice; steamed and served over pasta with a sprinkling of fresh parmiggiano reggiano; or steamed and stirred into a favorite Asian salad called kung pao tofu. Admittedly, the first two options are simple and quick, while the tofu is detail work and takes a little time. But, the complex, full flavors of the salad are worth the trouble for this slim green vegetable, which is at its peak for just a few weeks in early summer.


3 tbsp tamari
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp unsulphured blackstrap molasses
1 tsp fresh, minced ginger
1 package extra firm tofu, drained, and chopped into large bite-sized pieces

1) Combine the marinade ingredients (except the tofu) in a medium-sized glass bowl. Stir to blend.
2) Add the bite-sized tofu and let it marinate for 20 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the chunks of tofu on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to an hour until dark brown and slightly crunchy. Remove from oven and cool while you make the dressing.

1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
2 tsp tamari
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp minced garlic
1-1/2 tsp minced ginger
1-1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp cornstarch

1) Bring all the ingredients (except the cornstarch) to a boil in a small saucepan.
2) Whisk in the cornstarch and continue stirring until the dressing thickens (just a minute or two). Set aside while you cut up the vegetables for the salad.

1 bunch asparagus, chopped and steamed til tender-crunchy (about 6-7 minutes)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 green or yellow bell pepper, julienned
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 tbsp (or more, to taste) toasted cashews
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

In a large bowl, combine the chopped vegetables, the baked tofu, and the warm dressing. Serve over rice of your choice (white or brown basmati rice is tasty). Enjoy!