Blue Blanket

originally titled ‘Mwanamke na Blanketi Bluu’ –
– Woman with Blue Blanket

Resignation – that’s her expression; maybe some anger or bitterness, as she’s every cause to be so.

Woman with Blue Blanket

     Walk to the aid camp, Siti. Take your family away from this dreadful place. Soldiers raiding at night. Thieves who break in to steal anything you own that they can sell. Paying for water – with what I ask? You don’t want to sell your body for a ration of grain, like some other women do, do you? And your children are getting more sickly every day. This is a dirty place.

The aid camp will be clean. The water is clean. You will be able to rest at nights, instead of, like me, sitting awake with an old chair leg to hit anyone who breaks in. Oh, I know you do – I can see through the cracks in the walls between our houses. You have a hoe as well. Me, I’ve got my dead husband’s shovel, hidden under my mattress on the floor. You should put that hoe where no-one can see it, or they’ll come after that as well.

But tonight, you take your children and you start walking. Follow the stars of the Jackal. Hide during day-time. Climb over the hills of the Dead Forest and you’ll see the aid camp from the crest of the mountain ridge. Take some water with you, and these – these flat-cakes I’ve made for you all. No, I can’t come with you – my foot is too swollen to walk. Besides, there is only me. You have two beautiful children who need to get away from here. Go tonight. I’ll bring you a spare blanket to tie things into. I’ll come after the sun goes down. Until then, goodbye, my sister.

     So, Siti walked; she slipped out of the battered and burned out village, heading away from the soldiers who camped or squatted in houses at the edge of town. This detour meant she had to circle wide around the village to be heading in the right direction. There was no moon, but the starlit sky readily showed her the guiding stars. Her boy of ten years walked beside her, carrying the baby sister in a sling across his back, and a bag of small things important to little boys in one hand. His Mama had at first scolded him for wanting toys, but he had insisted there were no toys, only “helpful things, Mama”. So she did not ask Issa again.

On her back was the bulk of the blanket slung over her shoulder. In it was a water skin, a small bag of strips of dried goat meat, a crinkled and bent tea tin, inside which were a dozen flat-cakes. There was a spare blanket – blue, and small, for the children to share. Siti had found some soft wire – she would use it to tie the corners of blankets to the skeleton of a tree to make shade for the day. How glad Siti was that her good friend had given her a blanket the colour of the desert – it would help them in hiding if soldiers on patrol drove past on the roadway. Though she stayed an hour’s walk from the road, it also headed in the direction she wanted – no, needed to travel.

After three days, her son was becoming weary. His eyes were beginning to lose their sparkle of mischief and good health. He began having to put baby sister down and rush off to pass a motion and bury it – and in a hurry too. He had what the white nurse had called ‘diarrhea’, and she knew as yet, there was nothing to be done. Issa was ashamed to talk to his Mama about what his body was doing to him.

By the ninth day, although she had been rationing the water carefully, Siti realised she would have to do without more than one small drink a day. The flat-cakes and goat meat were still in good supply, so careful had she been to make sure Issa had a fair share but no more. But she became worried when she found green and black marks on the flat-cakes one day. After eating one each, and baby vomiting it a few hours later, Siti knew they would have to be discarded. She buried them, and they moved on after bundling their meagre belongings into the blanket slings. She did not see Issa dig up the flat-cakes and hide them in his bag.

Travelling at night, and resting by day, Siti often fell to sleep in the heat and fatigue. One day she woke to find Issa was missing. She gazed towards the roadway. In the distance, a convoy of green army trucks was kicking up a storm of dust as they roared away from the hills, back towards her village. She lay back against the trunk of their sheltering tree, and wondered if it would be wise to go search for her Issa. Then he was beside her, coming from a side direction. His face was beaming with delight.

“Look, Mama, I have bought us some more water!” and he showed her a shiny narrow oblong tin, with a screw-cap on the top corner. He unscrewed the cap, and poured a cupful into the half-gourd cup she carried. “The soldiers on the road. They are not bad men like in the village. They are white men, from another country. I sold them something for the water.”

“And what did you have to sell, my young Issa?”

“The silver frame of Grandfather’s photograph. The picture of him in the army. The white soldier liked it, and said it would pay for a can of water. Did I do right, Mama?”

“Yes, Issa. That frame would have bought ten cans of water, but right now we did only need one. You did well Mr Ten Years,” and Siti smiled at him.

That night they resumed their march. They reached the foot of the Dead Forest hills by sunrise. Siti decided to climb her way up the hills, to shelter from view in the gullies and clefts of the ridge. This meant they could stay nearer the road, which at the top of the ridge crossed into a country where the bad men from her village would not be allowed to cross. Then she could go to the aid camp.

They ate goat meat strips – supply of which was greatly reduced. They were down to only two a day each. But they had water. Issa still had flat-cakes. Surreptitiously he ate one and another, so he could refuse one strip of dried meat and not be hungry.

Siti used small boulders to anchor corners of the blanket on the gully sides, and they settled for the day’s rest. Issa’s  stomach grumbled and growled.

“See, Issa, you should have had another strip of goat. You are hungry now!”

“No, Mama, I am alright. Thank you.”

As Siti and baby dozed, he felt stomach pangs of pain, so hurtful they made him draw his knees up to his chest to try to make some comfort. Suddenly he knew he had to get away from their little shelter, as his bowels were churning like aunty’s old cake mixer. He ran up the gully’s side, away from the family, away from the road they were walking parallel to. He quickly found a scoop-shaped piece old tree branch, and started to make a hollow. He squatted, and relieved himself – although his stomach still shot pains through him. He stayed crouching for a long while, as the black mess kept coming. Eventually it stopped. He was able to reach some dry grasses to clean himself. Then he covered over his signs, and threw away the scoop he’d used. He weakly walked further from the place, wanting to gather handfuls of dusty sand to rub over his hands to clean them more.

As he walked, rubbing clean his hands, his head spinning with illness, he did not see where his feet were taking him. He screamed in fright as he dropped over the edge of a split in the ground, deep into a cleft. His neck snapped as he bounced against the sides. Issa died before he hit the bottom of the shaft.

Siti awoke with a start, unsure of what had woken her. There was baby, curled up against her, sucking on a corner of the blanket. Her Issa was … not around. She stood, and called his name. Her voice echoed through the gully. She saw footsteps imprinted in the sand and dirt, so she followed them. She came to the place at which he’d relieved himself. Her nose wrinkled at the smell of sickness he’d not been able to completely cover. Siti used her hands to throw more dirt over his place.

Now his trail led her further on. She could see where he’d scooped up handfuls of dust. She could see his footsteps … and the edge of a small chasm–where they stopped. With her heart pounding inside, Siti called his name softly as she carefully approached the edge, Peering down, she saw him – and knew he was dead.

She could not stay to give Issa a proper mourning. Siti said her prayer to the gods as she lugged dead branches and dropped them to cover his body. They would perhaps hamper any jackal or hyena trying to tear his body into mouthfuls. She dragged small bushes out of the ground, and threw them down as well. These she hoped would stop bad soldiers from seeing his body, and going to it to check his pockets and strip his clothes. She picked up a few sticks, and swept away as many signs of her work as she could. The ground looked rough, but breezes would soften it. She swept away their footprints as she returned to the baby.

Exhausted as Siti was after such dreadful work in such dreadful heat, she took two cups of water, knowing her Issa would expect them to now drink his share. She poured a third cup for baby. As she screwed back the cap, she felt the can was much lighter than it should be. She shook it. It sloshed more than usual. Siti unscrewed the lid again, and adjusting the angle to let in sunlight and still allow herself to see. She found the can was now only a third full. How?

A glance at the place where the can had been sitting told her. The can’s seal at the bottom had been leaking for who knew how long. The ground on which it had been sitting was soaked by its constant dribble. At this point, Siti became as close to weeping as ever she had. But Siti was resolute. Having begun the trek to find aid, she would not insult her Issa by giving up.

She looked through his little bag. There were the paper wrapped flat-cakes! Aowe! He had been eating the dirty food to let the good food last! Now the tears came, sliding down her cheeks, as she gasped for breath, trying to smother her sounds to avoid upsetting the baby girl.
Looking again into the bag she found he had prepared well to help her. Three small value coins – not worth a lot, but they would buy something. Her enamel brooch. Ordinarily Siti would be angry to discover he had taken it. But when the bad soldiers had come to their poor house and ransacked it for furniture and anything of value, Issa must have snatched out the brooch before they could find it and take her small yawa wood box.

Now paper, folded and creased together. The edges had become roughened a little, bouncing around in the bag. Siti unfolded them. Issa, so young, so sensible for his years. He had found their official papers, and had been carrying her marriage registration with her birth-date on it, his own birth registration, his baby sister’s; the papers that showed Siti owned their house with no debt. And ,so useful right at this moment, she found a half packet of “chew gum” he had been thrown by one of the bad men in the village.

Siti knew she could use it. After chewing it until it was sticky and pliable, she stuck it onto the end of a small stick, propped the water can so the leaky spot was not in the water but above it and waited a while as the drops ran from the hole. She used the stick to push the gum into the can and cover the leak. She was not sure whether the water would lift the gum, but she had to try. So she would not pull away the carefully placed gum when she pulled away the stick, she reached in with her finger tips and snapped the stick off, just as far below the lid as she could.  With the lid screwed back on, she propped it up on a branch over head, and watched it for a while – long enough to see she had successfully mended it.

Siti packed up their shelter, and began climbing the mountains, letting herself head closer to the roadway – which would lead her to the border. Now having to carry baby as well as their bundle of belongings, Siti found it hard going. But, for her Issa’s spirit, she did not give up. She was determined to be at the border by sunrise.

At the aid camp, baby was put into a hospital tent, on a liquid drip feed. She, Mama, was examined and declared healthy enough to be allowed to stay at her baby’s side. The aid camp brought around two meals every day. In the morning, a porridge, with added fruits Siti did not know, but they tasted good. As the dusk gathered, the second meal – a bowl of vegetable and grain stew, with fresh flat-bread.

And all through the day, anyone could go to the tent where the aid workers distributed drinks. Water – never rationed. Milk for children – Issa would have enjoyed that. Hot tea, with lemon, sugar or milk – whichever one wished for. She would carry her tea back to baby’s tent, and quietly sit outside it with her children’s blue blanket as a shawl, gazing back at the Dead Forest ranges. Siti would think of her Issa, and how close he had come to this place of safety, how much he had done without her knowing.

Siti would let herself feel angry, how her home nation had let down its people so badly.

Although the original title is Swahili, this story was in no way written to reflect badly on any particular African nation or its problems. Refugee awareness was of the time — if not of the action.
The photograph credits will be attributed as soon as I recover the data. At the moment, I believe it was captured by a National Geographic artist/reporter

This post was created from a story written in 2011, as the ‘B’ exercise in my self-set blogging challenge – ABC for 2018. Comments, RePosts, PingBacks to your own ‘B’ post are all welcome. Thank you

© Lynne R McAnulty-Street, Rotorua NZ, 2011

memory lane

Memories flood back to me
on gusts of wind and gentle breezes.
I follow the lane of my early childhood days,
between tall, close windbreak trees
which provided welcome summer shade.
Away down there at the end of the lane,
on the right hand side, was our farm gate.

In summer’s school afternoons,
I would climb to stand on its lowest rail,
my arms over the top, and stand there
as my sister unlatched it and passed through.
Me, I’d wait till it was latched again,
enjoying the breeze in my hair,
as I’d stare at the view,
and climb over when I was ready.

I see the line of trees up the left side
of the gravelly drive. So old their trunks
had grown through the Number Eight.
One, fallen an age ago, bare of its bark and branches,
pulled down the wire fence it lay on.

The milk stand sat in front of the fallen trunk.
We would pass it as we wandered
up the gravelly drive to the farmhouse.

To the right was a slippery grass covered bank
down to the creek which separated
the horses’ paddock from the rest of the farm.
We stuck to the drive, or walked on its left.

The farmhouse, nestled behind a gated hedge,
its verandah, never sat on.,
its front door never approached.

We all used the side gate in the picket fence,
crossed the sea of concrete,
and came to the back door after stepping up
onto the quarter-circle porch, all painted red.

The building opposite the house–four areas in one.
The farm workers’ quarters–one room,
filled with the junk by previous owners.
The wash-house–its copper, two concrete tubs, and its mangle.
The tool shed–full of hand tools, gardening tools, and poisons.
The last, entered around the corner
out of sight from the windows–the out-house real,
with its purple squares of apple wrappers on a hook,
its candles waxed onto the dwangs,
spare torch batteries for the night’s walk,
and its broad, solid timber seat with that dire hole

ABC Challenge for 2018 – B

Choose any theme, subject or topic you like, to match each letter posted each fortnight.

Ideas for ‘B”?

Brass, Biography, Brothers, Babies, Bores, Bands, “BarStewards”, Bars… but don’t feel restricted to these suggestions.

All I’d love to see, is the First letter in your post titles being the letter for the fortnight. Doable?

Publish your post for the current letter by January 28th, please.
Leave a link to you post in the comments below, and a “Ping-Back” to this post.

Agony and Anxiety

The agony of uncertainty while waiting for recovery fills your every day, chooses your every thought and every word you have to say. You sit beside your child’s bed, your mind chases what nurses, doctors said…

         ‘It won’t be long’ | ‘It’s too soon to tell’
‘A proven treatment’ | ‘In its trial phase’
‘We needed your permission first’ | ‘We had to go ahead without you’
‘A bit of a warning sign’ | ‘Nothing to worry about’
‘You can go in now’ | ‘We need you to leave’.

Anxiety , it peaks and ebbs like that brainwave pulse–up, down, up, down. Oh for a stable line on the former, a steady pattern on the latter.

     ‘Play favourite music tracks’ | ‘Don’t make so much clatter’
‘A calm atmosphere’ | ‘Mental stimulation’

You sit, as wallpaper, occasionally talking, anxiously waiting to start planning rehabilitation, while agonising on the question… how long before he’s walking?


This Post created for the ABC for 2018 challenge.
Comments & links to your effort welcome.

ABC Goal for 2018 – 1

Well, as there are 26 letters in the Alphabet,image_A
and there are 26 fortnights in a year…
I’ll be posting one post a fortnight,
following the alphabet.

I thought ‘Maybe someone else might enjoy this,
as a challenge during this new year’.

So here’s the first letter (obviously).
Choose any theme, subject or topic you like,
to match each letter I post.

Ideas for ‘A”?
Admiration, Adversity, Autumn (how out of timing is that!) Awards, Acting,
but don’t feel restricted to these suggestions.
All I’d love to see, is the First letter in your post titles being the letter for the fortnight.

Publish your post for the current letter by January 14th, please.
Leave a link to you post in the comments below, and a “ping-Back” to this post.

Thank you, and Happy New Blogging Year.


5 Areas We Need Permission for Success — Kristen Lamb

permission Granted

Permission. This might seem an odd word to discuss when it comes to success, but we need to hash out some dos and don’ts before January 1st. New Year’s resolutions are often more about taking freedoms away instead of permitting new ones. In my opinion, this is why a lot of well-intended changes fail to…

via 5 Areas We Need Permission for Success — Kristen Lamb

I’ve not reposted this because it may win me a free critique.

I’ve reposted this because, while struggling with the dreaded “BLOCK”, I discovered a powerful tool for developing and releasing one’s inner artist. As writing is art, I have purchased and am following The Artist’s Way (author Julia CAMERON). In her book –intended for the visual, physical, musical, and language artists among us all, the basic principles encourage us to recognise the source of our creativity.
The first week’s readings encourage us to face our demons, to revisit our hindrances, and to allow ourselves to create.

How timely to discover Kristen Lamb’s post! Enjoy reading Kristen Lamb’s full post.


Four Books Of Impact.

Words of wisdom and wonder, which change lives…

Many of us – most of us – have a portion of our life filled with regret. Or worse…nothing.
The feeling of being empty? That is worse than the feeling of sorrow, whether for loss, for past decisions, past actions, or past words. We look for answers, from “someone”, or “something”, and may find a temporary shift in our mood or being.
A guru here, a life-coach there, a member of this or that church, a friend, an elder relative…we turn to any or all of them. We go to our medical practice, to a counseling service, a retreat, a clinic…we seek what we need in any or all of them. We distract ourselves from our real needs by filling the void with people in groups or clubs in which we have no real interest; we go on a shopping spree; we go on a drinking binge – alone, or with other people…we try to find what we’re looking for anywhere.

Does it work? Do any of them work?
Some do, whether by coincidence – a connection between the ‘source’ and our situation, or real effect. Some don’t – from a lack of connection between the ‘source’ and our situation, or lack of a real background of applied theory.
Me? I’ve not had a lifetime of settled emotions, nor of constant good health. I’ve had times when I’ve faced misery, misfortune and misjudgment. Having a vivid imagination hasn’t helped keep my head clear of disruptive thoughts (“stinking thinking”, as it is known in some circles). I’ve blame-shifted. I’ve grown my resentment by never expressing it to anyone who mattered. I’m guilty of having at times expected more than was possible of myself, and worse, of others in my life. I’ve chased my own ‘gurus’ of one type or another. Neh – hasn’t worked.

Time for a change! Time for a kick up the proverbial. And I have to be the one to do it! I got myself into this mess – and that being unknowingly, does not change who’s responsible for where I go to from here. I have to make the change – me, myself, on my own.
But…but where to start?
Books.  Why not? A one-off price, available at any time you need, the facility to return to earlier sessions and review what you’ve faced, learned, or wondered at. Portable. Permanent.  You can annotate them, highlight, turn corners down to mark great passages (hold that ‘gasp’, please – bear with me here… Oh, alright, you can tuck a card bookmark in them). And now, the question arises :: Which Books?

cover_King james BibleWell, the Holy Book is a start.
Christian or not, I’ve lugged my Bible with me wherever I’ve lived. Firstly a small version of only The Bible, now a fully annotated King James Version. I hear a quote, and check the whole Chapter. Maybe even that before and that after the one I’m reading.
Please take note: the Christian Bible is not the only Holy Book.
The Torah to those of the Jewish faith, and the Koran for those of the Muslin faith, are of equal significance to their people. All three religions are collectively known as the Faiths of The Book – and not for nothing.

For me, coming back to The Bible arose from a most unusual inspirational book. For my last year (to my shame) I had spent my non-learning moments at a Catholic Convent Girls’ Boarding School – as a “day girl” – denigrating the Catholic beliefs. This for the spiteful reason of denigrating the school, inadequate as it was. But the nuns (and my parents) had more patience (tolerance) than I had realized. I could not get myself expelled for any reason. So, because of my determination to “strike” during my whole last year of compulsory education, I never did qualify.
{Grumbles to self – “All that work for nothing!”

cover_Mr God This is AnnaThe book which brought me back to the Bible was an unusual one. A tale of a London dock-worker who late one night on the street befriends by accident a four-year old child. At home, his mother and the rest of the household discover the child has been a victim of physical abuse. She never leaves their home, but attaches herself to the writer.
He in turn is educating himself, and as the girl observes his gadgets being created and working, and as he observes her “way” of interacting with other dock-side people, and questioning Sunday Services and other people’s interaction, each helps the other come to understand life…and God.
Even in the sadness of the final scene, there is a moving message.
The book is Mister God, This Is Anna, by Fynn. Look for editions which include the Foreword written by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. This is the book which made me do more than drop in on the Bible, but read it – a continuing process.

Now, what brought this post about…I am struggling with artist’s block. And I’ve been looking all around the wide, wonderful web, at blog, self-help and writers’ help sites, reading how other writers deal with this. If I’d saved everything I’d read, I’d fill an external hard-drive. Then, I found mention of firstly, “Morning Pages”, and then of a particular book. Reviews on Amazon, and blog posts describing and recommending it, led me to the author’s website. As soon as I read the website’s content, I shot back to Amazon, and purchased it.

cover_Artists WayIt is The Artist’s Way – A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. Mine is the 25th Anniversary Edition – that alone helped me decide it was worth a shot. When it arrived, I browsed the contents (read the T O C), and began with the Foreword and Introduction. There arose a glimmer of hope.
This is more than an artist’s self-help book. It is a life book! Ms. Cameron’s guide to self-examination is presented as weekly readings, with probing self-analysis, questions to ask oneself, and suggestions for finding the answers. Hers is the concept of “Morning Pages”, of which I’d begun written a few while awaiting delivery of her book—albeit not every morning.
The Artist’s Way applies to all the arts, design, and creativity in general—and writing is one of the creative arts. I began Week One, and within only two days discovered something important bout myself and my artistic efforts in the past. (I continued through the first week’s Tasks, and am writing this as part of the end-of-week Check In.)
My discovery about my past art attempts has led me to renew my interest in visual art. Which leads me to the fourth book of impact.

cover_Drawing With ChildrenThe fourth book? Back in the 90s, I was laid up recuperating for plastic surgery for metastatic melanoma. Well, not really “laid up” – being in that state was to wait for the late 2000s – but resting each day in a LazyBoy chair, leg raised. I had a book in a back room which I’d bought for using to teach drawing to children, but never at that point opened and read. I asked for it to be brought to me, and a pencil.   By reading through the beginner activities in Drawing With Children *, by Mona Brookes, and trying some of the tasks (drawing in the wide margins) I found I could draw. I drew a self-portrait, from my reflection in a nearby wall mirror. I drew a perfect drawing of my jacket which had been left for days draped from the back of a chair, in such a way that both the outer side (dark blue, with metal studs for fasteners) and the lining (a broad tartan) in view.
So confidant I felt after creating those drawings, I began using Brookes’ method in my Junior Primary classes, for three years. Moving on to HOD of the Intermediate division of a secondary school, I applied the techniques there as well.

Sadly, I decided to quit teaching. Nothing to do with the job—more to do with the ridiculous over assessment required under the most recently deployed new curricula.
Even more sadly, after graduating in IT, I “culled” my teaching books collection, and tossed the Brookes’ Drawing With Children.
But, since beginning to read The Artist’s Way, I have bought a later edition of Drawing With Children.
* (My first copy was the edition with a child’s drawing of an elephant on its cover.)

All four of these books have given me inspiration, understanding, and courage. I am so grateful to have all four beside my bed, to read and refer to regularly.
I would strongly recommend any of these as a “must have” in your book shelves.

Please, share your views on any one of these books, or any other book you have found inspiring to your artist.