Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Great Escape - by Michelle

I am five years old and I am going to hospital. The doctor has told my mother I must have my tonsils out. I don’t know what tonsils are, but it seems doctors don’t like them.

The hospital has very pretty gardens full of flowers and a gravel parking area that goes crunch crunch under my feet. Inside it smells very clean. The hospital is run by nuns. I’ve never seen a nun before. I don’t think they have any hair because they are all wearing black scarves over their heads. They seem okay. We wait in a room full of sunlight and flowers and my mother tells me how I was born here a long time ago. A nun comes and takes us upstairs to a room at the end of a long corridor, It is full of children. There is an older girl reading a book in bed and other children playing by a window. As we walk through the room the nun stops to talk to a boy lying in a bed. He has tubes coming out his nose and arms and his skin is this pale grey yellow. He smiles at the nun and me, but I’m too scared to smile back. I’ve never smiled at anyone with a tube up their nose before. Maybe he’s going to die. Better to not stare or smile at him… in case he dies.

The nun takes me to a bed at the end of the room. I have to undress and put on my pyjamas even though it is still early. The nun puts a plastic bracelet on my wrist. She tells me it has my name on it so that they know who I am. Then she puts my suitcase into a cupboard and my parents hug me and go.

It feels weird being alone here, but soon another girls arrives and is left in the bed next to me. We talk about things. She’s having her tonsils out too. She has freckles and a pet cat. We talk about her cat and then it is time for dinner. We all eat at a little table in the middle of the room. I can’t remember what we had to eat, but I remember there was jelly and ice cream for pudding. I like jelly. I like ice cream, but I HATE them together. I don’t want to eat it. The nuns leave it by my bed in case I change my mind. I only eat the ice cream that doesn’t touch the jelly. I leave that on the little cupboard beside my bed.

After dinner we have to get back into bed. Once it is dark the nuns start turning off the big lights. The girl next to me starts crying. She wants to go home. A nun comes and gives her a hug and tucks her into bed. After the nun goes she sits up in bed and tells me she is going home. In the dark she goes to the cupboard and gets out her suitcase and starts to get dressed. She asks me to come with, but I just think she’s crazy. The nuns will never let her go and besides.. my suitcase is on the top shelf – too high for us to reach. She packs up her suitcase, says goodbye, and leaves.

Ten seconds later she is back. A nun is pulling her along. It’s the nun who gave her a hug, but she doesn’t look £huggy” now. She looks cross. She gets the crying girl back into bed and this time she locks the cupboard after she puts the suitcase back.

In the dark I listen to the other girl cry until she falls asleep. I can’t sleep. There is a little window behind the head of my bed. If I stand up on my pillow I can sit on the window ledge. I can see the stars and the moon and the parking area which has big street lights. I can see that there is a roof below my window! My little window seems to be over a small shed, like a garden shed. If the window was a door you could step out onto the roof that gently slopes down to a big bush… and then the parking.

My brain begins to churn. I could climb that roof and bush easily. I’ve climbed bigger trees in my garden. And I know how to get to my house from this road. I know the way home. I could go home.
No nuns, no suitcase.. just out the window, down the roof, left at the gate and home!

But there is one problem. The window has safety bars across it. Probably to stop little children falling out.. or escaping.

I think harder. The bars have little screws holding them to the wall. I push one with my finger and it wobbles a bit. I have an idea. I go get the spoon in my jelly and ice cream bowl. Yes! It fits the groove in the screw head. Slowly, carefully, I take out the screw.

I have no idea how long it took me to take out those screws, but I know I got out at least two when I started to realise one flaw in my brilliant plan. I was going to go HOME. Home to the parents who had brought me here in the first place. What would they do when I arrived home in the middle of the night? Ahhh… I know exactly what they will do. They’ll stick me in the car and bring me back here. They have told me how important it is to have my tonsils out. It’s late and I’m tired and I know this is was a stupid plan, after all. I put the screws back with the spoon and go to get back into bed, but then I have a big shock. My plastic bracelet is gone. GONE! How will they know who I am? How will they know who I belong to? How will they send me home?

I’m under the bed searching and crying when the nun finds me. It’s the same one who caught the girl who tried to go home. She isn’t cross though. I explain that I’ve lost my proof that I am me and she helps me look. We find my bracelet stuck in the folds of the sheets and she helps me put it back on.

I can sleep now.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

For Remembrance Day... (by Michelle)


Today is Remembrance Day, but today has other special meanings for me. Today is also "UDI" - the day Rhodesia declared its own independance, but - more personal and more important to my family - today is the day my grandfather chose to pass away. I say "chose" because I have no doubt he picked the timing deliberately, if not consciously.

So, on this day I am commemorating all these things by opening up a new blog where I am posting all my poems. Some are already well known, some not.

In particular I'm linking here to the poem I wrote for my grandfather: William Peter Marshall

For you... gramps. :-)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Happy Blog Anniversary! (by Michelle)

Almost exactly two years ago (late October 2005) Prema asked me to join her on her blog Kombai. She was writing about her Indian childhood, from England, and I would be adding memories of my African childhood, from Scotland. In honour of our journey together (so far) I am posting this in both blogs.

For two years we have compared very different childhoods and discovered that some truths truly are universal:

1. Childhood emotions feel the same in any language… or culture.
2. There is always a spiteful kid or bully at school.
3. You will inherit physical features you rather wish you hadn’t.
4. You will pick up character traits and family mannerisms you rather wish you hadn’t … no matter how much you don’t want to!
5. There are always perfect childhood moments you never forget.


6. You cannot escape family (who you are) no matter how far you travel.

When I joined Kombai I wrote "Dog of the Wind" for my introduction:


Since Prema asked me to join here and write I thought maybe my first piece should be an introduction to who I am. The simplest would be to say "I am a mongrel". For a long time that worried me, but in recent years I've realised there's a lot of joy in being a mongrel.

I was born in Africa in a British colony. At first I thought I was British. Well... for three years I WAS British, but then Southern Rhodesia declared it's own independence and I became a member of a rebellious non-acceptable country instead. Then Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and they took away my nationality. Now I belong nowhere. I thought I was British, but then I did my family tree and found that I had as many ancestors walking Europe and the Middle East as I had in the British Isles. I thought I was Christian, but when I went to school my religious teacher told me my beliefs weren't "right" and researching our family tree led me to distant Muslim cousins in Turkey, one Buddhist, some Jewish family in America and way too many Christian variations to list.

So I have thought a lot of things only to find out they were illusions. The truth is I am a mongrel. I have no country I can hold as my ancestral home, not even a single continent I can claim as "mine". I have no single religion that runs through my family history alone. When I look in the mirror I see my grandmother's Irish face, my grandfather's Scottish nose, my father's English hair.. and in all this European-ness I have Persian eyes from some long lost ancestor.

There's a saying in Southern Africa - to be a "dog of the wind". Something homeless and restless, a person who has no roots. I am a dog of the wind and it can feel lonely. For a while it made me feel rather lost, but then I remember the blessings it brings me. If I belong to nothing I can also belong to everything. If I stand with my ancestry on different continents I can be a bridge between different cultures. I can enter many places of religion and find God... at times like that it feels good to be a mongrel. :-)

So I'm going to write from my own mongrel viewpoint. My British-Colonial mixed-up cultural muddled-religious self. I hope it will entertain more than it offends, but mostly I hope it helps to add another layer to prema's wonderful stories of her own culture and childhood memories.

This year both Prema and I became British Citizens. Perhaps no longer “dogs of the wind”, but our childhood memories and our ancestry will always play a part of who we are… and who we continually grow to become.

Thank you, Prema. It has been an honour to share blog space with you. To celebrate our anniversary I am finally posting a photo of me as a child for you to see. I have chosen this one of my dad holding two African "lion cubs”.

For those who won’t get the cub joke - I’m a Leo. ;-)