Dust- Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Reading Around the World : Kenya

How obtained: second hand store ($3.25)

Also written for the Second hand book challenge and Africa Reading Challenge


Set in Kenya in 2007, Dust is an exploration of the web that connects a family, a community, the higher ups in the city, the criminals and the politics of the day, and how these have been shaped by an unstable past full of brutality and hardship. At the beginning, we are running alongside Odidi, a young man who is running for his life. He remembers snippets of his childhood, he hopes to reach his love safely, he has futile regrets about some of the things he put in motion. He dies, and the story moves to what happens next with his family- the timid artistic sister, the stoic father with a dark past, the forever disappearing, distant mother. The story also intersects with a collection of travellers and officials, and a man named Isaiah who had come from England to meet with Odidi in an effort to find out who his father was.

The writing style is interesting- the descriptive passages are often condensed down to just the key words. This can sometimes make it harder read; it becomes a bit fragmented.

“A single white butterfly.

Scattered rock, red dust, and heat. Burning grass. The fire had left a trail. A mishmash of tracks, churned up soil, leading out of the homestead.

Absence”

The descriptions are often akin to poetry, but again sometimes the odd choice of word or simile takes away from the meaning.

“the new day’s light drips and engraves humps into surfaces”

There are also a lot of quotes/phrases in the local language, with only about half translated, so I often felt I was missing something. This feeling wasn’t helped by the content- which was a lot about how the characters were feeling with opaque implications that the past (the revolution etc) was affecting this, but without saying what exactly happened. A major theme was the silence that all survivors of the turbulent times had to keep- because of oaths taken, and in order to continue to survive. How terrible things could happen, but noone can speak of them, or they will be ruined or killed, and so more terrible things are allowed to happen.

And so things get worse.

And people keep on with their lives.

And sometimes, people find love, comfort, meaning and answers.

The Magic of Terry Pratchett

Around the World Country: England

WordHigh July day 30: Tadhana (n) an invisible force that makes things happen beyond the control of mortals


When I was in primary school, my brother, a lanky teenager with brown hair down to his shoulders and a habit of disappearing into his room to play computer games for hours, would often come out with interesting ideas and quirky jokes. Unbeknownst to us, he had been reading Terry Pratchett, an English author who wrote fantasy novels set on the Discworld- a flat world carries through space on the back of four elephants on a giant turtle. This world is full of magic and absurdity, of wizards, witches, goblins, dwarves, trolls, vampires, undead, and werewolves all just living along side each other, and of gods who can be created in response to a single person’s belief in their existence. Despite all this, it is a world that mirrors our own in fascinating ways. It is the backdrop to a humorous, light-hearted, satirical musing on various aspects of our own disappointingly non-magical world. It was this content which my brother, perhaps unintentionally drew on, that my sister and I found out about a couple years later when we too started working through his collection.

There are 41 disc world novels, and a handful of others, so if you like Terry Pratchett, you have weeks of content to enjoy. If you have never read any before, I would recommend it, but where to start is an interesting question. I have always been a ‘start at the beginning’ type of person, but Terry Pratchett himself has reportedly said not to in this case, as he hadn’t quite developed his style in his first couple of books. A lot of the characters do appear in multiple books, but it shouldn’t matter if you pick up a book in the middle. Most stories can stand by themselves- it may be nice to know where you are in a characters life story, but it isn’t necessary. There are a few grouping of books, so starting at the start of a grouping could work- for example there are a few books based primarily around the witches, a few around the city watchmen etc. Personally the witches are my favourite characters.

Terry Pratchett was awarded the Order of the Brittish Empire and knighted for services to literature. He developed early onset Alzheimers in 2007, and died last year aged 66. He continued to put out regularly books throughout this time, although the last were in collaboration with other authors. He was the UK’s best-selling author in the 1990s, and will always be remembered fondly as one of my favourite authors in the decade after that when I really got to work through his collection.

Laughter

WordHigh July day 28- Halakhak (n) a loud, uninhibited laughter


How many different types of laughter are there?

The maniacal laugh of the Wicked Witch of the West (or other evil character)

The high pitched giggle of a child being silly

The slightly shocked gawf for an inappropriate joke

The lightheaded, belly vibrating, friend’s head jiggling laugh of sleepover buddies lying with their heads on each other’s tummies, talking of their loves and dreams

The good-natured snigger when paying your best friend out

The cackle when someone gets what they deserved in an amusing manner

The wry chuckle of someone not taking themselves too seriously when they bugger something up

The bittersweet laugh when life is throwing everything it can at you, and you can only either laugh or cry

The shriek of the tickled

The inescapable, bubbling laugh when you need to be quiet

The cruel snigger when someone else fails

The endorphin producing LOL from a humorous show

The startled, short laugh of something totally unexpected

The awkward laugh while looking for an escape, of unwanted attention

The delighted laugh when you recognise yourself or your friends in a satire

The uninhibited laugh, swept away by buffeting winds, when you are alone with nature and she calls your soul to be free and play

How many different ways have you laughed?

Yugto

Yugto- a fundamental transition or development of a story or phenomenon

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Today’s Word High July Prompt immediately reminded me of the picture I took when out hiking a while ago, of the change from ‘Grug’s hill’ to the golden hills. While this blog was primarily started to write about reading adventures- Around the World and Throughout Time- I have always meant to write about some real life adventures as well… thus the tab for ‘the Physical Realm’. So here is a short story about my hike, the first section of the Heysen trail. The place names are all ones I made up as I went along-except for Kangaroo Island- so don’t try to google them!


We arrived at the Ferry Terminal not long before it was due to take the crowds of city folk across to Kangaroo Island for the weekend. We got the second to last parking space, and went against the norm by walking straight past the ferry to head over the hills.

With the beach on our right and the small brown hills on our left, we walked away from the bustle, with the sun on our backs. Winter was late in coming this year, so the main vegetation was small scrubby bushes, the salt-loving kind that are hardy and wirey- just like most sea going people.

We passed a tiny cove, flanked by 5 metre high cliffs, and spotted a lone fisherman who had somehow managed to pick a path down to the narrow strip of sand. Lunch was at a rocky shore filled with little rock pools. It was a lovely view until you turned around and saw what I am guessing is a power station based on the sign warning of electrocution.

The low bushes and succulents were replaced by plants that for all the world look like a sleeping Grug. There were scattered Grugs in the valley, and then row upon row of Grug trees, neatly in rows, on top of Grug Hill. Until suddenly there was a fence. And no more trees. On the other side, there were low lying undulating hills covered in golden hued long dry grass. The sun was now overhead, and the grass appeared to shimmer as it was gently rustled by the wind.

After a few sparse, golden hills, we came to a valley which was dotted with small eucalyptus trees. It was the Valley of the Butterflies. Every tree and bush had several butterflies. There was constant motion- at any given moment the butterflies on a particular bush would decide that rest time was over, and there would be a puff of butterflies rising and fluttering around the bush.

Next, we came over a rise and were surprised to see what looked for all the world like an alien space ship, nestled in a steep valley, without any obvious tracks to get in to it. Have a look at the picture- what do you think it is?

We spotted a dolphin family out to see, then another close to shore. We stopped to watch the 8 strong family that frolicked in the waves just below our vantage point, but unfortunately my nephew had taken it seriously when we told him that the sharp rocks pointing out of the surface of the knoll were the teeth of a giant shark. “We are standing on the bottom jaw of a humongous shark!” I had told him, “so big that we can’t even see the top jaw! But who knows when he might chomp down on us!”

Soon his insistence we move on out of danger wore us down and we continued quick march. Through the land of the sheep, who from their posing at the top of the hill, looking imperiously down on us, obviously thought they owned the place. One a few hundred more hills (maybe 2-5 realistically) and we reached ‘the end’ of our trek. There was a spectacular view down to the beach, which was only slightly marred by the fact that we still had to trek down the hill, and then up at least the same height again to get to the second car we had left at the end car park earlier. The hike to the car actually ended up being the hardest part of the whole trip, not helped by the fact that dad had thought there was only 200m distance between the 2 carparks, and parked in the furthest one, when it was in fact closer to 2km difference! Oops!

Regardless, after a full day of driving and hiking, it was nice to just sit in the passenger seat of the car and be driven home as darkness fell, watching the beaches, and trees, and the new giant Buddha fly by past my window.

 

Isobelle Carmody

The Chronicles of Obernewtyn- Isobelle Carmody
Reading around the World: Australia
WordHigh July Day 26: Pahimakas (n) last farewell


 

After about 15 years, I have finally been able to say a last farewell to Elspeth, from the Chronicles of Obernewtyn.  One of Australian author Isobelle Carmody’s most famous series, it has also been the longest to be completed, with many other entire series being written in between each instalment.

Elspeth is a Misfit- a person with special abilities, in a post nuclear fall out world. Most technologies have been lost, due to both the death and disorder following the nuclear explosions (the Great White), and due to a rising religious faction who believe the cataclysm was due to the God’s (known as Lud) disapproval of the ‘Beforetimers’ who used their technologies selfishly and evilly- to better themselves at the cost of the environment and the less powerful (and of course this means all use of technology is evil). People mostly work on the land, and anything that is different if feared or punished because of fear it is an ill effect of the radiation, or of  Lud’s displeasure. At the start Elspeth is in an orphanage, and fears being taken to Obernewtyn, a mysterious place that experiments on misfits. She is taken there and finds it both better than expected, and full of mystery and   danger. There are prophesies about Elspeth, that she will be the saviour of the animals, and her powers allow her to realise she is fated to find the control of the beforetime machines that caused the Great White, and shut them off permanently. If she fails, a second Great White will occur that will wipe out all life on earth. At the same time as working to fulfil her quest, she is also involved in the politics of the land- the rebellion against the strict religious order and the brutal  government, the complicated truce with the rebels who were raised to distrust misfits, and the growing awareness of other lands existing.

Some of the books in the middle of the series can be a bit long winded (hundreds of pages long, but not much interesting happening) and I was vaguely unhappy with the ending (when you have been waiting 15 years it would have to be amazing), but Isobelle Carmody remains one of my favourite authors. Maybe it is partly the fact that successful Australian authors are hard to find, especially in the fantasy genre (and a friend in England tells me the bookstore there don’t bother stock her because they have enough fantasy authors of their own). But it is also that her stories capture the imagination. Some are dark, and disconcerting, some are inspiring and fun. They are all worth a read.

Wisdom

WordHigh July day 25- Kinaadman (n) knowledge, wisdom


I wake up and kitty is curled up on the end of my bed. She lazily watches me as I get ready. I swear she looks a bit smug sometimes as I grumble internally about the cold, early morning, finding matching clothes, having to work… she doesn’t have to get up. She can do whatever she likes.

I come home from work, and there she is, a ball of fluff exactly where I left her. I presume she has gotten up to eat at some point, because she isn’t running under my feet begging for food the moment I come home like her brother. He is always hungry.

After the fire has been on for a little while, she will come down, eat her dinner, then settle into the beanbag she had claimed as her own. Near the fire. Near me. But not quite in reach. That’s the magic spot for a cat- keeping company but not in contact.

When I start to get ready for bed, she will watch me very carefully, and once she knows it isn’t just a toilet stop- that it is proper bedtime- she will hop onto the bed and get settled in her spot.

On days I have time off, if I lie in bed reading, she will lie next to me purring in approval. Spending time together resting in warm places is the best activity she can think of. Looking out windows together also rates fairly highly.

Sometimes, when she purrs from such simple pleasures, I think ‘surely the housecat is the wisest of all creatures’. They con humans into providing for their needs, they spend their days resting, playing and snuggling, and take joy in such little things.

Love, Life, Light- Park, Chung Soo

Reverend Park, Chung Soo, is a Won Buddhist from South Korea. On Love, Life, Light, she details some of her involvement in charity works, divided up by country. It reads almost like a diary at times- it is heavy on the places and people she met at those places, many of whom do not mean anything to the average reader (although perhaps may if you are Buddhist or from the country she is visiting).  A whole range of things are given equal weight in her writing, which we may normally consider insignificant- for example, she talks of the cleanly pressed sheets and aesthetically pleasing decoration in a room she is provided with on one of her journeys in great detail, and she feels the love and welcome of her host in every item in the room.

The book is written very much from the Reverend’s point of view, so although it focuses on the situation of the poor in Cambodia, Ladakh and Africa, and some aid work being done there, it is by no means a full, unbiased representation of those countries. Reverend Park had a few areas of focus, and her main source of knowledge seems to be the various people she spoke to. Readers interested in aiding developing countries should not use this as a reference book- there are plenty of international groups who have done detailed research many of which you can access on the internet (1)- but more as a window into an interesting person and some interesting places.

At times she is probably politically incorrect (eg the section on Africa is subtitled ‘the Black Continent’, the people in developing nations being her poor children that the rich country she comes from should help), but I am inclined to let that slip, and think favourably of her- she is a person who is coming across a whole range of new things, with a heart that wants to help. She also shows an openness to learning and adjusting her world view. The most dramatic instance of this would be when she sees a newspaper article about medical care in Africa, and initially doesn’t recognise the pygmy woman in the picture as being human. She immediately feels guilty, realises it was because of  racism ‘because the colour of my skin was not black’, then tries to right the wrong by reading the article, calling the author and talking more- educating herself, and as is her way she proceeded to find a way to donate to charities in the area, visit the country, and talk with locals.

When I was partway through the book, there were a while range of things that I wished she would have included- a broader view of situation of the countries she visited, information on the beliefs of Won Buddhism etc. But by the end I found I was quite satisfied- because there were many things you learn just by seeing the world through another’s eyes for a bit, and I had in fact learned a few interesting things. For example, did you know that there are deserts in the Himalayas? Up in the snow capped mountains, which are covered in ice and snow for more that half the year, there is a desert in Ladakh- because the mountains create a rain-shadow!

 


  1. A good place to start if you are interesting in developing nations and how culturally appropriate, long lasting change can come about is to learn a bit about public health. Coursera with John Hopkins University often has a few modules on offer, eg (as of when this post is published), this one. Other useful/interesting websites include: the World Health Organisation, this long article, globalcitizen, givewell
  2. This post is also part of WordHigh July- for the word: Dalisay (adj) pure, undiluted- as Ladakh, a mountainous region >3000m above sea level is described as a very pure, simple place.

when the wind changes

when the wind changed
a stranger rolled into town
his ute trailing clouds of dust
his Akubra worn in with sweat
from days on end working in the sun
checked shirt, jeans, steelcap boots
3 days stubble, callused hands
kind eyes
not like the other one at all

when the wind changed
she rolled over in bed
away from the wall
away from the memories
towards the sunbeam streaming in
illuminating dust motes
the air had changed
warmer, hopeful somehow
something stirred within
unfurling, tendrils reaching

He had been dashing and charming
and promised the world
but in the end
the glitter wore off
more snake than charmer
and not worth any more tears

She walks through the park
watching the magpies fly
gum trees shading her
from a burning sun
in a clear blue sky
moving forwards
looking up

The stranger sits by the window
meat pie with sauce in hand
iced coffee on the table
by the newspaper
open to the sports section of course
nothing much else in them these days

She enters the bakery
time to celebrate loving herself
with a blueberry pastry
best in the state
although several towns boast that

she wonders at the stranger
just passing through?
buying the farm to the east?
time would tell
she puts it from her mind
and concentrates on not getting pastry flakes everywhere

They get up to leave at the same time
eyes meet briefly
he pauses to let her through the door first
then watches her walk down the footpath
the breeze ruffles his hair
and whispers to him
it had only just started to bring change
the story was just beginning

 


WordHigh July
day 21: Amihan (n) north east wind, breeze
day 22: Makisig (adj) dashing, well-dressed, gorgeous

A mindfulness Mantra

I entrust my happiness to myself

For I am whole, I am able to thrive, and I am enough

 

I am worthy of my own trust

I am worthy of love

I am loving

I am open and I am free

 

I will not be swept up in life, and miss it all

I will not hide within myself form fear

I will live intentionally

For I am whole, I am able to thrive, and I am enough


WordHigh July Day 19- Habilin (n) anything given to somebody for safekeeping