All posts by Leo Anthony

Born in the UK, I grew up in the African country known as Zimbabwe where I spent the next 30 years of my life. I currently reside in the far west of Germany near the border with the Netherlands, living in an intentional community with 15-20 other people.

Harare, Oct 2017

This is a repost of poem by a Zimbabwean friend of mine who wrote this a year ago. It is no less valid or less meaningful than it was then. It not just a poem but a fable. When you read it you’ll understand and hopefully pause for a moment to let it sink in.

Credit to Jess Drury of the Jessaster Chronicles. Originally posted here.

You are gorgeous -
Replete with blossom:
Purple, yellow, red.
Bougainvillea tangles in
Careless clusters
And jasmine perfume hangs in the air
as night falls.
Skies are hazy blue
And soporific sun lulls us
Into feeling
Everything is OK.

Sounds of the city rise:
Chatter and laughter and
Business as usual
And a red-gold light-snake
Weaves its way through
Jacaranda-ed streets.

Your beauty is a curse
Permitting men,
Believing that they own you,
To exploit and abandon and
Numb themselves to
The ragged child begging cents
Under the purple rain
And the thousand thousand
Stomachs sleeping hungry.

We patch our pockmarked roads
Like we patch our integrity
And our pockets
And our make-a-plan spirit:
Plastic surgery disguising
Ugly Truth.

 

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Forgiveness and Karma: My Quest for Reconciliation

I wrote an open letter to my former landlady about 5 years ago. It referenced the time I rented a room from her 10 years previously. Another 5 years have elapsed and I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what I want from life and how I choose to deal with past events. I have travelled far and wide between 3 continents – Africa, Asia and Europe – seen my youngest brother marry and become a father, indeed become a father myself… but beneath it all there is still a deep wound from the past. I am in absolutely no doubt that it relates to my connection with my late parents, particularly my father, and I want that to change. But in order to change I must be courageous and go back to the times when the connections were broken.

Firstly, I must give some perspective. I have forgiven my father for his misdemeanours. Entirely. But 20 years ago, in the eyes of my mother, and probably to many in the fairly conservative community in which I was raised he was a pariah, a man without scruples. He cheated on his wife and family with a woman he worked with and had children by her in secret. On paper it looks pretty damning but if you knew the man, the person that he was, you might well think differently.

He had a kindness and gentleness to him when it came to young children, he laughed easily and in these moments his eyes shone with mirth. That’s how I remember him as a boy when he was still married to my mother. And it’s also true that I remember his other side as well: working late and missing dinner with the family, bringing work files and the hated dictaphone home on weekends, and feeling as though my ambitions and studies were of little interest to him. The double life had begun to take its toll as my teenage years rolled on.

By the time I left for my first year of uni it seemed as though the marriage was on the rocks. Mum had confided in me that she might divorce you if things didn’t change. That upset me a lot. Not enough in itself to make me drop out perhaps, but it contributed to my struggles down at Rhodes Uni in Grahamstown, a long way from home. I ran away that first year or better put, cycled out of town, such was my shame at deserting. It was a crazy stunt but I somehow made it to Port Elizabeth the next afternoon after cycling through the night. I had cramped and as my blood sugar levels plunged I had become dangerously weak. Fortunately I had been able to purchase some sour goat milk from some local African villagers for R20 – a princely sum at the time – and that gave me the sustenance I needed.

From there I flew home on a return fare and after ten days or so mum put me on a bus straight back to Grahamstown. 6 or 8 months later she plucked up the courage – or was it premeditated? – to go and out my father one evening at the house of his mistress back in Harare. She did it with the help of her dad, my grandpa. They just parked nearby and watched my father playing affectionately with the two young boys. That was all the evidence she needed. The rest came out pretty quickly. 3 or 4 months later the divorce papers were on the countertop. I dropped out of Rhodes early on in my 3rd year and went home.

I couldn’t see it at the time, but the having the affair was my father’s choice many years before and one that probably satisfied some very basic need of his, to have children with this woman and share a part of himself with her and their boys, for reasons of his own. For my mum’s part it was all shame and public humiliation and the way she saw it, completely undeserved.

I spoke of my own feelings of rejection to her and she spoke of hers. She didn’t seem to hear me and that annoyed me. I started seeking out a life away from her heaviness – her Catholicism, her guilt, her sense of keeping up with the Joneses. It worked for a while. I got a job, a salary and a decent social life. But then she got a relapse of her cancer and it was all thrown back at me – why was I so selfish, so secretive? Why didn’t I ever do anything for her anymore? she wailed. I capitulated and it was back to university, this time the University of Zimbabwe.

Later I would look back and see that I she was simply forcing me along the same road she had taken years before after some personal traumas at the University of Natal brought her back to Harare (then Salisbury). She did a 4th year at the University of Rhodesia (now the UZ) majoring in Sociology. Soon after she went into government-sponsored social work and met my father, a fledgling lawyer, and married.

It was with some difficulty that I managed to register at the UZ in September 2000 and get accredited for the 2 years I’d spent at Rhodes. All the same I had to repeat some 2nd year courses before I could start my 3rd year in September 2001. My mum wasn’t so happy about that but there was nothing she could do.

At some point we had driven down to Rhodes – my mum, myself and my youngest brother Ivan – to get my stuff. We tied it in with a trip to see her brother near Pretoria and maybe some other friends in the vicinity. I remember on the drive back thinking how unfair life was and how much I wanted divine retribution. I knew my mum would die of her cancer – she knew it too – but it was my father I really wanted dead. I couldn’t believe in a god who condoned such behaviour without some sort of punishment.

Mum passed away in November 2001, not long after 9/11. Despite everything I loved my mother – we’d been close – and I cried genuine tears of grief at her bedside and her funeral. She had asked for a requiem mass at our family parish church: St Gerard’s. There were many people there from around town – perhaps as many as 200 – and it was obvious that she was well known in the community.

It was a bitter-sweet moment. I had loved her but I also felt that with her death things could be easier for my brothers and I. We wouldn’t have to shoulder any of her expectations, the one’s I just mentioned. I didn’t say that when I spoke in front of everyone there but I said it in my heart. My father was seated somewhere at the back of the church. He would have listened to my eulogy but I never noticed him and he slipped away early.

I chose not to speak to my father for another year. It hurt a lot but I wanted to punish him for his deceptions. It felt somehow justified. A friend of mine, Matt, who I cycled with and who was a close confidant, told me he could never do what I was doing. It would just be too painful, especially after losing his own mother to illness. The funny thing is that I knew what I was doing was not doing me any good. Even my mother before she died had implored me to forgive him. Just be happy, it’s a conscious choice. I told her I would be happy, just not right then. It would have to wait a bit

Meanwhile I continued with the degree, all the while feeling a growing loneliness there in Harare. There had been a large exodus of families and friends from the country after the government had started taking land from white farmers and in the process collapsing the formal economy and the currency. Not surprisingly I was the only white student in my department, not that it was a problem in itself, but I felt the weight of privilege. Most of the students were from working class families and would have seen my upbringing as just that, privileged. The academics were fleeing as well.

When I finished the degree at the UZ I picked up the transcript and left the place. I didn’t care to go the graduation especially since my father wasn’t much present. At the end of that year, ’02, he called me aside and with tears in eyes, implored me to talk with him again. We used to be friends he reminded me. We talked again a little while later and we both shed some tears I think as we remembered mum. He spoke of his guilt and pain through the tears (she never forgave me!) for the first time and I recalled the pain of being so far from home before and after they separated in an equally emotional way.

I look back now and think that could have been a watershed moment. If we had both been strong enough to make peace with her memory and not feel so beholden to it. The guilt had been killing him and I felt like I was living some pre-scripted existence. I didn’t know how to get out of it except to keep going in the same direction.

A few months later I was back in the bakkie, the one my mum had gotten from my father in the divorce settlement and which later came down to me, and driving back down south to Pretoria University where I would enroll in an Honours degree in Geology just as mum had wanted. Once I had my honours I was free to do as I wished. Just get your degree she had said, and as an aside, to get a 4-year degree was much better than 3 for future prospects.

For a week or two I stayed on the East Rand before I was able to find lodgings in the city. I was almost driven to despair trying to find a place that fitted my needs – close enough to cycle in to uni, not too noisy (certainly not a house share) and where I had a good deal of privacy. Basically somewhere just like home. What transpired over the next 8 or 9 months was uncanny. My life there unfolded almost as a mirror-image of my former life in Zimbabwe. If you believe in the laws of attraction, in a metaphysical sense, then I was attracting both positive and negative entities. I soon realised that I wasn’t really interested in being ordained a geologist. I just wanted to get through it and try and find a special someone on the way to help me make sense of it all.

My father called through a couple of times but I was still pretty angry and wrote him a letter to tell him as much. I kept his response closed for at least a week before I opened it. I was hoping for an I’m sorry sort of a reply but instead I perceived excuses and explanations. I kept my distance from other men especially the alphas – and there were a fair share of them around – and became very reclusive.

I guess somehow the life-energy that was so vital in him started to ebb and around late August/early September he phoned through to say that he had a been diagnosed with something in his brain – cancer? – and that he was coming down to be examined and get a prognosis. He came and borrowed the bakkie for a couple of weeks and drove it up and down the motorway to a place in Jo’burg where he was staying with Cheryl while being treated. I wasn’t happy with the inconvenience but what could I do. It was pretty obvious that I still owed him something on account of him paying my tuition, even if I didn’t look up to him anymore…

The prognosis wasn’t good – he had something called a Grade IV Astrocytoma. Apparently it could only be treated surgically in a limited way without causing serious damage to the surrounding brain tissue. The most serious symptom he suffered was an inability to speak but steroid medication reduced the brain swelling and it quickly returned. I returned home after quickly writing my finals in a dreadful depression and spent the next few years helping my father from time to time cope with his illness.

The corticosteroids he was medicated with caused him more suffering than the tumour itself but they did give him back his faculty of speech for long stretches of time. But for the last weeks speech deserted him and he could only listen to those around him. I didn’t know what to say except that I was so sorry for holding a grudge against him for so long. His grey eyes glistened for some moments and I knew he had heard me. He died shortly afterwards in early 2006.

Probably my biggest trauma from back then – a sense of abandonment – was mirrored in the sudden departure of the Els family from Sussex Rd during the time I was visiting my brother Dan in Cape Town for his end of year graduation.

They had been looking to sell the place but it came as a shock nonetheless to arrive back and find the house sold with my things still inside and builders already making modifications to the exterior. My housemate appeared shortly after, enraged that all her stuff was covered in plastering dust. It was a shock after everything that had happened in recent months.

It is important for me to write this because it is my truth.  There are many images and memories that I can call upon. In one I can picture my landlady’s hubbie walking slowly around the perimeter of the house, lighting a cigarette and contemplating life. What exactly I’ll never know. I felt your aloneness intuitively. I hope you figured it out whatever it was that you needed back then.

Do you remember the evening I found the big old white cat outside my window playing with a baby sparrow? I knocked on your door intending to give it over to your stepson but he was asleep. You took the bird from my grasp quite suddenly and tossed the bird in the air. Lo and behold it flew across to the top of the roof and to safety. It was a metaphorical moment. I’ve thought back on it often.

Maybe we’ll cross paths again someday, maybe we won’t. If we did I’d love to fill you in on my life after Sussex Rd. If not I hope you get to read these words. Maybe you’ll also see something in them that went unsaid…

The Handmaid’s Tale – Brief Review via Goodreads

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Handmaid’s Tale is both a superlative exercise in science fiction and a profoundly felt moral story” – Angela Carter
The citation above is from the reverse cover of my Vintage Books paperback edition and it pretty much sums up Atwood’s (now-famous) novel. It was written more than 20 years ago in a world quite different to the one we currently inhabit. Even if the patriarchal theocracy MA portrays seems impossibly regressive to us Westerners in 2017 so too did a Donald Trump presidency 12 months ago! The significance has not been lost on MA herself. See this article
I’m currently watching the new screen adaptation which, predictably, drifts from the book in some regards not least of all because the written narrative is sparing in dialogue but rich in anecdote and reflection. I’ll persist out of curiosity but the book stands alone as a classic SF dystopia.

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Ode to my Child

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy…

No, I didn’t slay the Jabberwocky but a very special thing happened to me recently. Or perhaps I should say a special thing happened to the world: Raphael Mees Passaportis, my son was born. He arrived shortly before noon on the 12th August at the Radboud General Hospital in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

My beautiful son

These last 10 days or so we’ve spent relatively privately in a nearby suburb courtesy of a friend of ours who was prepared to do a room-for-house exchange. In material terms we definitely came out tops. How nice though to hear our friend describe her first week in our one-room bungalow as luxurious. Well, compared to our previous lodgings at the Vlierhof Community I guess it is. As a shoebox is to a play-pen. We have another 5 days to relax here in relative peace.

Back at the Vlierhof they are gearing up for the annual summer festival. I felt a twinge of jealousy but it was quickly displaced. There will be some good music and some feel-good vibes no doubt, but I don’t practise any of the eastern religions, yoga nor meditation. And if there was a time to start it’s not now with a hungry toddler howling in our midst!

Ok, howling is a little exaggerated. Besides the indignation of nappy changes he abides most things well. As I write though the poor little fella is suffering some ailment – a sore tummy perhaps? – after breast feeding. It’s all we can do to allay his little whimpers by rubbing his tummy and rocking him gently. He sleeps intermittently (I guess that’s the norm?) and can feed voraciously. Nappy changes are a 3 or 4-hourly routine. I surprise myself – I can do it without too much fuss and bother (so far).

But I would be dishonest to say that I’ve been implacable. There are times I feel I desire to impose my authority through force: to punish his midnight wailing with a stern rebuke or to shake him to his senses. I’m told these are also normal responses of weary parents. This makes it marginally easier. I know he’s in no way conscious of the demands he’s placed upon us. How could he be? I must combat my reflex reactions with reason.

It is in those in-between moments when he is neither asleep nor in discomfort that the real magic is realised: a brand new little human being! Perfect in almost every way from his tiny little fingers to his chubby little legs and silky-soft cheeks. He looks at me with large, grey-blue eyes, unblinking. Does he register my face? I think he does. And then his gaze shifts over my shoulder. Now I’m not so sure.

“Raphael, Raphael,” I coo close to his ear. He visibly stops and I sense him sensing me; waiting, listening.

It’s moments like these that elicit a paternal tenderness I didn’t know I possessed. I want to kiss and cuddle him repeatedly. I want to be loved by him I realise, as much as he will soon need the love and attention of us, his parents. I feel a dull pain when I imagine my own father holding me like this in my first days of life. We had so little time together later on and he’s gone now. I realise that I miss him. I thought for a while of calling my boy Raphael Raymond or, conversely, Raymond Raphael. Mirjam wasn’t so sure and neither was I. Perhaps the next one…

He has finally settled down to sleep, punctuated every so often by little grunts and cries. Do babies dream? And if so, of what? The little baby vest he wears reads ‘Dream Big’ and a little further down ‘Little One’. Dream Big Little One. Yes, Dream Big Raphael. Dream, dream, dream.

Life is short, life is brief,
but dreams live on…

grief? relief? I’m not sure of that final line. You’ll have to pen it yourself one day my boy.

Your loving dad

Developing a B&B Within a Volunteer Community – De Vlierhof

A little piece I’ve written for the Vlierhof Community blog where I presently live.

by Leo Passaportis, community member

About The Community

The Vlierhof is an international community run by volunteers from all walks of life, young and old. Founded in 2002 by Anutosh Varik, some residents view themselves as long-term ‘carriers’, others as short-term helpers. Some come and go on a seasonal basis. For others it is their primary place of residence. In short, the Vlierhof wouldn’t function without the volunteers. ‘But what are you about?’ is the question that arises quite naturally. Let me touch on this in order to better contextualise the setting for a profit-generating Bed and Breakfast which we now operate.

The Vlierhof is owned by an organisation, a BVJ, which ensures that we exist as a recognised entity which can operate as a business, conduct for-profit activities and remit taxes. That said, at this point in time, all revenue is reinvested in the community – ‘Vlierhof plc’ – in alignment with our vision and core values. We’ve strived to derive a vision from these core values and after several in-depth discussions on the subject we arrived at a statement:

We envision a space where anyone can: 
learn and grow through experimentation,
connect and create together,
and be empowered to make conscious choices.

There is particular emphasis on sustainable practises, living harmoniously, inner-work and spiritual development,  and a horizontal power structure. We strive, and believe me it is not without difficulties, to adhere to a sociocratic governance model. Everyone has a voice and no-one’s voice is more important than anyone else’s.

Read more here: Developing a B&B Within a Volunteer Community – De Vlierhof

 

In Lieu of a rant against injustice and autocrats a call to action by a prolific poet (and a very good one too.

How often does our prayer to accept the things that cannot change become an excuse for complacency? How often do we turn away from the possible just because it’s difficult? How often to we tell ourselves ‘it’s always been’ and fail to see that something else could be? How often do we rail against those who […]

via rhetorical poem- often — Shawn L. Bird

Review of James A Michener’s book: Caravans

CaravansCaravans by James A. Michener

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed this book – many quotable quotes and a real sense that the author had a grasp of the Afghan temperament. He did at least travel and live in the country for quite some months before attempting this book.
Others here havegiven a good synopsis and critique of the book. I just want to emphasize, in my opinion, that the value of this book lies really in the narrative surrounding the central feminine character, Ellen Jasper. Although we only meet her some 100+ pages into the book, she is talked of and analysed at some length prior to this. The reason: she is a young American woman from an influential family who marries and Afghan engineer, returns to his homeland and then goes awol. Concerned parents bring pressure to bear at home -> senator pressures American consulate in Kabul -> young American seconded to that office assigned the task of locating young woman.
The plot may be a bit tenuous it’s true but the character of Ellen Jasper isn’t. She’s a beautiful, worldly, intelligent, high-spirited girl who is liked and loved by almost everyone she meets, men and women alike. As it transpires she leaves her engineer for a group of nomadic Kochis and takes young Mark the diplomat along with her. Much thought-provoking dialogue follows as they venture inland though some magnificent scenery.
Ellen Jasper embodies the restless energy of youth and its disillusionment with the status quo. She claims to have married her Afghan engineer simply to spite her father and to pour scorn on his ‘petty scale of judgement’, but one feels there is more to her than just rebellion. Michener’s portrayal of her is quite prescient. In many ways her character forstalled the sandal-wearing hippies, 3rd word groupies and volunteers of the latter half of the 20th century who have foregone the comforts and certainties of their working-class lives for the adventure and altruism of traveling, living and working in the so-called developing world.
One other thing worth contemplating today as much as yesterday, in the words of the leading male character of the book:
“He’s right,” I [Mark Miller] told Moheb. “You’d both better get used to Ellen Jasper,” I warned. “Because once you let your women out of the chaderi, Afganistan’s going to have a lot of girls like her.”

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Mwana wevhu on Bond notes: This is not normal — Conversation Zimbabwe

I just opened my Reader with a view to seeing who might have blogged about the impending reintroduction of bond notes in Zimbabwe some 7 years after the last ones had been phased out.

Considering the abject failure of these notes at that time to alleviate the economic woes of the country’s economy I expect every Zimbabwean with a clear recollection of those times to genuinely, logically fear the consequences of their reintroduction this time around. If anyone can convince me otherwise please make your arguments…

Access original post: This is NOT normal In a few short hours, bond notes are going to be on the streets. After months of citizens campaigning against their reintroduction. After pleas for the Reserve Bank and the government to try anything, ANYTHING, other than both notes. After the people of Zimbabwe have gone blue in the […]

via Mwana wevhu on Bond notes: This is not normal — Conversation Zimbabwe

Hiking in the Central Drakensberg

As published on my sister travel blog.

These Archived Memories

I’m presently working as a volunteer at Ardmore Guest Farm in the Champagne Valley area of the Central Drakensberg, KZN, South Africa. I’ve been here a little over 2 weeks but I feel I’ve settled well. I am one of 4 volunteers,  the last of which only arrived today. More of that in another post!

I guess I’ve missed the hustle and bustle of the hospitality trade even though I can tell you it got my blood pressure up at times! Today has also been one of those days but it’s an exception to an otherwise pleasant stay. The landscape is incredibly scenic around here. At almost any time of day (poor weather notwithstanding) one can see a panoramic vista of the mighty ‘Berg from almost anywhere in the valley. Paul and Sue (the owners) have built a dozen or so chalets and bungalows, some mountain-facing, others garden-facing. You pay a…

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Excerpt From Kapuscinski’s ‘The Emperor’: On a Feudal Africa Kingdom and a Philosophy of Class Oppression

Extract taken from The Emperor, Downfall of an Autocrat, Ryszard Kapuscinski, 1983, Vintage International (English Translation).

Part III: The Collapse 

How, then, is one to confront this threatening creature that man seems to be, that we all are? How to tame him and daunt him? How to know that beast, how to master it? There is only one way my friend: by weakening him. Yes, by depriving him of his vitality, because without it he will be incapable of wrong. And to weaken is exactly what fasting does. Such is our Amharic philosophy, and this is what our fathers teach us. Experience confirms it. A man starved all his life will never rebel. Up north there was no rebellion. No one raised his voice or his hand there. But just start to let the subject eat his fill and then try to take the bowl away, and immediately he rises in rebellion. The usefulness in going hungry is that a hungry man thinks only of bread. He’s all wrapped up in the thought of food. He loses the remains of his vitality in that thought, and he no longer has either the desire or the will to seek pleasure through the temptation of disobedience. Just think: Who destroyed our Empire? Who reduced it to ruin? Neither those who had too much, nor those who had too much, nor those who had nothing, but those who had a bit. Yes, one should always beware of those who have a bit, because they are the worst, they are the greediest, it is they who push upward.

The EmperorThe Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say this wasn’t an easy read but it was certainly a worthwhile one. Other GR members have written very comprehensive reviews so won’t repeat what has been adequately said. In summary Kapuściński’s journalistic nose is definitely attuned to the investigative.
Goodness knows how far he went in his efforts to interview such a wide selection of people, many intimately connected with the palace of emperor (Haile Selassie). Probably the best passage for me is his account of a feast for dignitaries, of how the plates pass out of the palace banquet along a chain of waiters to a distant kitchen and the sighing of the hungry masses who feed on the scraps passed to them. This description of the collective is possibly one of the most evocative I can ever recall.
Credit must also be given to the nameless interviewees who he denotes simply by initials. The book would not have been possible without them. I suspect Kapuściński infused the interviews with his own writing style. One gets the sense after reading a number of consecutive chapters. This is not to detract from the readability or authenticity of the tale in any way.
In conclusion a very interesting read of a medieval kingdom and it’s omnipotent demagogue that withstood the tide of the 20th century for 8 miraculous decades before it’s (and his) inevitable demise.
For another great excerpt read this post: https://leopassi.wordpress.com/2016/0…

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