A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

Less Traveled Roads

I’m starting to relish some country senses: the whispering swish swish swish of grass against my shins as my staccato steps scare away snakes, servils, tufted eagles and all other manner of grassland creatures astir. Despite my lingering fluishness, I can smell the menthol-like wild silvery bush plant the Zulu called imphepho. Likely the only Jew in at least a twenty-mile radius, for our farm Passover/Easter celebration I put together a seder plate and hid afikomen to explain the holiday to the kids. I spent the morning making my two favorite dishes from scratch: charoset and potato kugel (no Manishewitz mix out here!). Without a blender, I crushed the pecans with my fingers, feeling them crumble and oil in my hands (although I recommend a blender for those averse to blisters). I chopped green apples and fresh dates into fairy-sized bites, and drizzled and sprinkled the result with honey, wine, cinnamon, carob, and orange juice to glue the mortar-representation together. It took two hours to make a small number of human-sized bites, which I instructed everyone else to spread onto a matzo cracker for dessert. The kugel I had never made before, and I guessed at a recipe, combining mashed potatoes, eggs, salt, pepper, onion, and garlic. I plowed fork-tine lines across the top just like my grandmother does, set it in the oven on very low heat, and drove my coworker into town and back (aka 1 hour), and ran into the house, fingers crossed that the kugel hadn’t burned. It hadn’t. It was all very delicious. Even the picky six-year-old tasted a piece. (Photo: post-lunch stroll)

As for sense of sight, nothing compares to these African skies. At night, village lights twitter a weak reply to planets and stars swathed across the sky. City star-spotting (oh, look, there’s one!) gives way to true star-gazing, and sleeping a night on my veranda I surprisingly had to don my green Thai-warrior-inspired eye mask to blacken the bright glare of a mere half-moon. I wake and sleep with the sun, ayurveda-style: up by six, down by ten at the latest. When a long-tailed tufted mousebird slammed into my veranda wall, knocking himself on his back onto my porch, gasping for breath, I panicked. What could I do? He died in under a minute, and it ruined my afternoon. Yet how many pigeons have I seen run over in Bombay and walked past with a quick ‘oh, shame’ pout? Do “the little things” mean more in the country, or are they really “little” at all?

If you grow up out here, I don’t think it registers how beautiful it is. And in these small communities the little things mean a lot: rumors are the bane of my existence. A series of she said-she said-he said’s easily spins someone into a complete tizz. There’s no questioning: Is this rumor even plausible? Is this worth getting upset over? Can I talk to the earliest she in the string and see if it’s true and sort it out? Instead, the response is not just emotional immaturity but complete emotional incompetence. Think ostrich with head in sand, feet not planted into the ground but wildly kicking all around itself, til it falls over and starts watering its head-hole with hysterical tears. “I can’t work this way! I’m going to quit! These people are driving me crazy!” Enter Valerie: you don’t even know if any of that is true. Is this what you want to teach your children, that when something is hard, you run away? Even if you quit your job, you’ll still see all these people in the community (small town reality). And practically, you need the income and you can’t afford to pay us back for what we’ve invested in your training, which your contract says you owe us if you quit too soon. We must trust and believe the good in each other, or we’ll never get anything done. We’re all here working for the children. Yes, there are jealousies and problems, sure. We can only sort them out when we communicate and collaborate…etc. In addition to conflict resolution, I may need to put together decision-making workshops as well. (Photo: Northern Drackensbergs)

Why is it so hard to assume the good and so easy to focus on the negative? Feeling like a fluey mass of throbs, aches and phlegm last week I was having trouble getting motivated one morning and a friend said, “Really? You do such good work.” Sometimes a positive kick in the schlumpy-stained-and-slightly-torn-shouldn’t-be-worn-outside-the-house-but-somehow-it’s-okay-cause-you’re-sick skirt is just what one needs. That, and a lot of rest. Plus, a mini weekend trip to Lesotho can only help! It costs $1 to bring a vehicle into Lesotho. There are no visa fees. There are also no trees, as the entire country is above 1400 m (4593 ft), and 80% above 1800 m (5906 ft), and thus is home to the highest low in the world. Before the recent discovery of diamonds, Lesotho’s largest export was water, to South Africa. About 40% of the people live below the poverty line, and the few I saw were tall, thin shepherds wrapped sherpa-like in blankets. The round-ovals were made of rocks instead of South African clay, and when it’s not rainy and misty and chilly (which at that altitude is quite often), the Bastho people have quite epic views. Which probably does little to compensate for very, very rough roads (literally and figuratively) and hard lives. (Photo: View of our switchbacked road into Lesotho)

Speaking of roads, I thought I’d round out this rambling post with a couple more pictures of some roads I’ve been on recently, from a post-Easter meal walk to cosmos-lined glory. And a warm thanks to my parents for the loveliest of sweet-n-short visits. (Photo: cows block the road, and a cosmos-lined street near my house)

Posted byValerie at 3:03 PM  


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