My Zanzibar Safari 1

I read the story recently of two teenage girls, Katie Gee and KirstieTrupp from North London who were doused with acid while on a three week volunteering holiday in Zanzibar. Clearly the scars on these young women from this shocking attack will be more than just physical. I tried to make sense of their experience in the spice island and to relate it to my own experience when I visited the island in August 2009 with my family.

             The very fact that Tanzania’s President, Jakaya Kikwete is reported to have visited the girls when they were taken to the Aga Khan hospital in Dar Es Salaam, demonstrates how seriously the Government takes it and by implication how important this fragile industry is to the Tanzanian economy. I can’t imagine David Cameron or President Obama visiting a tourist in hospital who may have been robbed or injured in London or Washington.  Two things struck me about the story. Firstly the apparent difficulty to find water immediately after the attack and secondly the apparent increase in Muslim extremism. I don’t know what the latter will mean, for example, for the women’s football team in Zanzibar.  Yes, Zanzibar has a football team of Muslim women. In 2009, I watched a documentary, ‘ Zanzibar Soccer Queens’ by Cameroonian film maker, Florence Ayisi. Two of my brothers had also watched the film and after making contact with Florence, we loaded up a people carrier  and trekked across the country to meet her. She’s an enormously gracious and talented  filmmaker, committed to telling  ‘herstories’ from Africa. Some of her work has been aired  on network television here in the UK.

Rooftop view of Stone Town, Zanzibar. Photo. N Brown

 Back to Zanzibar. When you wake up in Stone Town Zanzibar, many things strike you, especially if your room is above ground floor, firstly  the staggering beauty of the Indian Ocean in the distance, the sight of water tanks on top of every building in sight  (domestic water is a precious and scarce commodity in Zanzibar)and then the sound  of workmen chip chipping away, creating yet another floor or renovating another building. As the sound of music blaring from record shops and taxis is part of the soundscape of parts of Kingston, Jamaica, so is the sound of masons chip, chipping away in Stone Town  Zanzibar. Share my memory, recorded in August 2009.

Next time I’ll tell you how we ended up in Tanzania and Zanzibar as part of our search for roots. In the meantime I’d love to hear about the distinctive sounds of  your community, town or city.
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Sisters at the make up counter.

Trying to find the right shade of make up in the UK is often like trying to find a ripe mango in December. Really tricky. Sometimes impossible. Especially if you’re a woman of African origin. Two of the major make up  producers suddenly woke up about two  years ago and discovered that as a market, women of African origin in the UK actually existed and secondly, that they spent serious money on skin and hair products. I was in Brixton last week after welcoming my beloved mother back to the UK. The sun smiled  for her arrival. I took the opportunity to saunter through the market to absorb the vibes. ( Also I needed hair and skin products which I can’t get in my provincial town in central England) . Retired men gave each other advice on the treatment for a cold   ( rum, they say), street pastors reminded  everyone that Jesus is coming soon and women eyed the plump snapper fish and salmon.  You guessed it; I love markets;the colours, the smells. I love the overall friendliness of other shoppers and the snatches of conversation I hear. Is it me or do you find that people are more  relaxed and just helpful?
            Anyway, I went into a department store and came upon a make up stand. The full range of  make up  for women of African origin, not two or three token shades!! I sat and Ntokozo, from South Africa, experimented until we found my shade. She took me to examine her work in daylight. At the make up counter I  overheard another assistant and detected a French accent. Chinegemo was from France and the Ivory Coast. We immediately switched to French . Then she introduced me to her client, Ndeye, from Senegal, the birthplace of Baaba Maal, one of my favourite singers. All three sisters declared that the make up was just right. I had a photo shoot planned for  the following day for my website , so the timing was perfect.
       Right there at the make up counter in Brixton , I had the unexpected pleasure  of conversation in English and French  as one sister from England by way of Jamaica and Zanzibar greeted others from South Africa, Senegal , the Ivory Coast and France. I had to celebrate and give thanks. I offered Notokozo a mango. A flavourful St Julian mango straight from my mother’s tree in Jamaica! Quelle joie!

                                          Photo. Rebecca May Geddes.  All rights reserved.

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Why Shakespeare looked out of his bedroom window and had to flee…

I huddled into a darkened room with forty or so French teenagers and watched the final few minutes of a promotional film at the Shakespeare centre in Stratford Upon Avon. The teachers stood watchfully  behind the students who were sprawled on the floor. They were secondary school students from Paris. I was amused to be watching scenes from familiar Shakespearean  plays but dubbed in French.
We trailed through the hall of fame and saw pictures of great actors who had played roles in Shakespeare’s plays in the past: Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Laurence Olivier, Paul Robeson and others. As we emerged into the welcome April sunshine, one of the students approached me as I walked through the gardens with my recording equipment in tow and asked  if I was a journalist.
I was in Stratford upon Avon to cover the birthday celebrations  for a radio and television station. I remember visiting Stratford many times as a child but I couldn’t remember ever attending the actual birthday celebrations . Stratford Upon Avon has been celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday since 1824. Throughout the day on Saturday April 20, 2013, I greeted the world..well almost. As I watched the unfurling of flags of nations on Stratford’s high street, I ran into a television crew from Israel, international students from Taiwan, Egypt, a Colonel from the Canadian army, representing the Canadian High Commissioner, residents of Stratford and surrounding areas, parents, students  and teachers.

                     Monica Brown and STRATCAST outside broadcast team covering Shakespeare’s birthday ,
April 20, 2013, Stratford Upon Avon.
 I decided that after covering the ‘quill pageant’ outside Shakespeare’s house  and following the procession through the flag waving crowds to Shakespeare’s grave at the Holy Trinity Church, that I would actually return to Shakespeare’s house. I wanted to look at the rooms, observe the furniture, peer out of the bedroom window, imagine the smells from his father’s glove making workshop downstairs.  I wanted to get a sense of William Shakespeare’s roots. I couldn’t get over how low the ceilings were and how cold the house must have been with its stone floors. In the bedroom I felt intensely claustrophobic and asked the guide if people of the Elizabethan time were shorter. I’m of average height and size and I felt as if I filled up the bedroom. My guide reminded me that the people of that time were in fact shorter and the life expectancy for men was about 60 and for women about 70.

William Shakespeare is reported to have died on the day of his birth, April 23, at the age of 52. A ripe old age for a man in Elizabethan times. So, having walked through his home, imagined the servants sleeping on the stone floor around the fire,  looked at the fire in his kitchen, sat in his garden and surveyed the hyssop plants. ( I’d never seen a hyssop plant before) What was my conclusion? I saw and sensed nothing at the house which gave me clues about inspiration of Stratford’s most famous son. I suppose the 20 years he spent in London composing the 37 plays attributed to him and the 154 sonnets provide the answer.
In fact when I looked through Shakespeare’s bedroom window I had a profound desire to flee. It must have been a very noisy , franctic,oppresive place. I can imagine that the bard needed another location for inspiration and stimulation. He certainly found it on the streets of London….
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Bush medicine

Greetings to you! A special welcome to our new contacts from the Mmofra foundation in Ghana . I certainly look forward to staying in touch with you and meeting you when I visit! I missed you last week as I am just recovering from a cold and its various symptoms. My default response was to use food as medicine. I doused my raging sore throat with lemon juice and honey, the very ingredients used in some commercial lozenges. The potent power of chicken soup combined with raw garlic and defeated the chest infection. Rest and my expectation to get better soon did the rest.

 I spoke to my mother during this time and she reminded me about a severe bout of tonsillitis she  had as a young girl in Jamaica in the 1940s. At that time, herbal remedies provided medical solutions to most common illnesses. Everyone seemed to know that plants had  healing  properties.There was usually an elder in the family with special knowledge of these plants. If you had an upset stomach there was mint or ginger.  Three leaves of soursop leaf would make the tea to give any insomniac sweet sleep.
                   Cerassee bush tea was used as a cure –all. In fact it was my late father’s favourite, similar in taste to mauby bark, Barbadians love it! Anyway back to my mother. Her tonsilitis was so severe that her father decided to take her to the nearest hospital in Morant Bay, St Thomas. Before her father could figure out how to get his seriously sick child to hospital my Great grandmother, Ursulina Lee, went to the garden and pulled up 3 plants including batchelor’s button and boiled a tea, stirring in the dirt and all! My mother says she was forced to gargle the vile concoction and then swallow some. The herbal remedy cured her tonsillitis. Pity she didn’t ask for the names of the other plants!  In an attempt to document these plants, Jamaican pharmacist and researcher, Diane Robertson published a booklet in 1988, ‘ Jamaican herbs’ which listed many well known medicinal plants , their botanical names and their known medicinal uses..Sadly I saw no record of batchelor’s button!

I’d love to hear about the herbal remedies which your parents or grandparents used. Do you run to the medicine cabinet as a first response to simple aches and pains or do you use herbal remedies? Which ones do you use?
By the way , the last thing my late father called for just before he died, was a cup of the cure-all, Cerassee!

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Water matters……

A painting of my Grandmother’s Spanish water jar reminds me of the daily trek in my parents’ life to fetch and carry water from the Negro river which ran through the village of Trinityville in the foothills of the blue mountains in  Jamaica.
The jar was special because it contained a special stone which kept the water cool for drinking. ( No one had electricity then). Every time I watch the news of yet another conflict or natural disaster, my first thought, beyond the loss of human life,  is about water supply and storage.
Sadly I don’t have the actual Spanish jar which Granny used to store drinking water. It beautifies my mother’s verandah in Jamaica. I suppose my modern Spanish jar is my water butt, filled with icy water now, but Summer beckons!
Do you have any recollections of your parents’ water stories? One older friend who grew up in Leicestershire told me  about sharing bath water during the war years here in England and washing dishes in soapy water but never rinsing them. The second world war ended in 1945 but that practice is common among some older people.   Everytime I cook , flush the toilet , take a shower or turn on my washing machine, I spare a thought for men, women and children today who still have to walk miles in search of clean water.
The painting of Granny’s water jar in my living room is my daily reminder. What’s yours?

Thanks Granny!                     Ambrosine Leteria Brown. 1903-2003.

 Have a great week.

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Granny’s flat iron.

This is my first weekly blog about searching for, finding and sharing family connections and traditions. Thousands of homes across the UK have no electricity now and it made me think about various times in my life , sometimes for years, when there was no water from the public supply  and no electricity. If you’ve lived in a region afflicted each year by a hurricane or typhoon season, you know what I mean. I remember Tuesday September 12, 1988 and the assault of Hurricane Gilbert on the island of Jamaica. I remember looking down the road afterwards and amidst the rubble of fallen tree, I saw part of our roof which looked liked curled foil paper. We were grateful to our neighbour who offered us a bed and food for over a week. How do you bathe, cook, iron your clothes when you’re cut off from the public supply? Simple. You rely on the water you stored, share with your neighbours, eat the canned food and crackers and …listen to the radio, using the batteries you remembered to buy.
 I watched the reports of the storms along the U.S. east coast earlier this year and the survival techniques were similar. Community spirit and humour, in spite of it all were key. In Jamaica at that time Lloyd Lovindeer composed a song which forced us to see the hilarity in the calamity that was hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Up until today I cannot think about Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and not laugh!!!
What does that have to do with family connections and traditions. ? Everything. During the several weeks it took for electricity to return we learned to store and recycle water.  Washing up water was used to flush toilets.Not a drop was wasted. We ironed clothes by placing the actual flat iron on the gas stove. This made me think of Granny’s flat irons. My Grandparents lived in a small village in the foothills of the blue mountains in Jamaica and every river washed item of clothing, had to be ironed.  Most had to be starched as well.  Remind me to tell you about the starch making process another time. Anyway, a few weeks ago I went into a local antiques shop in search of a flat iron. I wanted to have a one hundred year old object which could still do the job. It was identical to the ones Granny had in her outside kitchen. Here’s a picture.

I’d love to hear from you. Is there an object you have which connects you to a family member ? It could be a watch, a pen, a handkerchief, a book, an item of clothing. It may be a special smell. What does it mean to you? Post a comment .Share a picture.I’m sure that we can learn from each other.
Throughout this blog I’ll be sharing with you our own journey to explore family connections. A journey which took us from  England where I was born, to Jamaica where I lived for many years and back to Tanzania and Zanzibar…

 Zanzibarsafari is about our journey back to Zanzibar. I’d love to hear  about your journey to explore your family connections.

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