A Christmas Day in Djibouti – Day One Seven Days Before Christmas – December 19, 2015

Somehow, when it’s 42° C Christmas doesn’t feel quite right. We read the Christmas Carol to the kids and watched Christmas specials on French TV as we decorated the living-room with plastic holly and baubles trying to recreate that special atmosphere.

Packages from America had arrived far in advance and it had been difficult to hide them from the children, but we managed it!  On Christmas eve, me mounted the tiny tree putting the gifts under it on the dining room table and hung two beautifully decorated stockings on the window sill filled with candy canes and other goodies.

The next morning the kids were starry-eyed with awe.  Gift wrapping flew around the room as they ripped open their packages with laughter.  We had our traditional Christmas breakfast and I put a couple of chickens in the oven with dressing for our dinner which we would be sharing with our friends, a French couple with their children and a scholarly gentleman and his wife from Iran. My mincedfruit and pumpkin pies would be a great end to our meal.

There was a moment of silence in all the bustle and I heard that beautiful lilting chant that accompanied us throughout each day we lived in Djibouti.  The muezzin reciting the ahdan or call to prayer … Allah’u’akbar floated into the room. Suddenly it felt very much like Christmas to me as I remembered that He who was born that day, was born in a warm desert land, not in a snow drifted winter wonder land.

God is great
there is only one God
hasten to pray

© G.s.k. ‘15

 It’s probably not “politically correct” to remember that Islam derives from Judaism and Christianity.  Each of the great monotheisms has taken a different path and has its own bright and dark history.  The God of Abraham is also the God of Christ and the God of Mohammed.  I came across an article on CBS Minnesota .. the school choir master has included in the Holiday Concert repertoire a song about Ramadan to be performed in Arabic.  A brave symbol of pluralism in these trouble times.  My first Christmas wish for us is that we will be so brave as to embrace the spirit of peace and love which we profess.



Carpe Diem Seven Days Before Christmas 2015 #1 fresh snow

The Narrow Road (6) – Haibun – December 11, 2015


By Likiwi (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Our canary-yellow Toyota pick-up was fully equipped for our week-long journey from Moundou, Chad to Yaoundè, Cameroun in the late 1970s, with food, water, medical supplies and the possibility, if the need arose, to sleep in the back of the pick-up. Feeling intrepid, our adventure began with two other families one Iranian and the other Canadian.

The dirt roads were deeply rutted due to the recent rainy season and sometimes it was easier to just drive along the side the road rather than risk destroying the axle of one of the vehicles.  The air was full of fine, choking dust until we got closer to the border, where lush growth began to substitute the dry semi-savanna.

Our first stop was at a small “motel” at the border,  which consisted of several large mud huts with aluminium roofs,  they had running water even if no electric.  We arrived just before sunset and rented one of the large round huts for our group.  We thankfully showered off dust and sweat, ate our first hot meal of the day and then prepared for the night.

There were several cots in the round house, without bedding or mattresses, made of woven cow-hide.  We sprayed the beds down for fleas and other “night life” before  arranging our inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags on them.  Then, waiting for the insecticide to do its duty, we sat outside the hut, enjoying the moon-lit evening sitting in front of the fire, talking about the trip so far and planning the next leg of our journey.

modern caravan
avoiding fleas, ticks and lice
enjoying the full moon

 © G.s.k. ‘15

Carpe Diem #876 the journey continues: early summer rains; fleas and lice (a short episode)

Today’s episode brought back memories of  my youth in Africa.  Now we have many conveniences when travelling, however in some parts of the world travelling is still quite an adventure.  I decided to share with you the beginning of a journey I took many years ago from Southern Chad to the capital of Cameron with friends and family.  We (my first husband and I) had two small boys at the time, our Iranian friends had a baby daughter and the Canadians three rambunctious boys. The trip was basically uneventful although not what one comes to expect when travelling in Europe or North America.

Here’s the haiku (I’d advise you to click the link above for the full haibun) Basho wrote centuries ago:

fleas and lice
now a horse pisses
by my pillow

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

At least we had no horses about.

Peace Corps (Chad) – July 26, 2015


lalay lalay
children greet the teacher
the school in Lai

gas cooled fridge
Coleman lamp and candles
her house in Lai

sitting in the yard
girls singing and sewing
making friends

cooking on charcoal
making peanut butter soup
visitor from Sarh

Peace Corps kids
living rough in Africa
surrounded by love
learning another life
under the Chadian sun

There were very few white people outside the major cities of Chad when I lived there between 1975 and 1979, among them were the Peace Corps kids.  In the villages the government had put at their disposition a house and the elders of the village put up a straw matted fence, for privacy.  They had not generators for electricity like the Protestant and Catholic missionaries or the members of international development organizations, but they did have a gas run refrigerator, which I always found fascinating.  They often didn’t know the local language, though most of them spoke French, but by the time they left the village they spoke it fairly well.

When the Peace Corps workers, or indeed any outsider, rolled into town on a “taxi bruousse*” the kids would jump around shouting “lalay lalay”.  The Peace Corps workers were usually well loved, more than some missionaries I guess because the kids weren’t trying to convert or subvert anyone to their way of thinking, they were there to help out in their small way.  They taught kids how to read, sewing and sometimes they helped dig wells and irrigation ditches.

learning about life
outside their golden palace
Peace Corp workers

© G.s.k. ‘15

* a pickup that travels around the country-side picking up paying customers

Carpe Diem Special #158 Adjei Agyei Baah’s 5th special “Afrikuland”

Thoughts and Reflection – Haiku/Tanka – July 20, 2015

This photo of Massawa is courtesy of TripAdvisor


out of Africa
swallows and desert winds
sweep Italian skies

sweep me off my feet
teach me a new summer song
early dawn thoughts
– reflections of passing dreams
tucked away in an album

long ago
on the sands of Massawa
we watched fishermen
sweep the Red Sea each night
filling their nets by morning

© G.s.k. ‘15

Written for – Carpe Diem Haiku Kai: Afriku and

Haiku Horizons – sweep

Water – Heeding Haiku with Ha – July 11, 2015

burning fields
relief from a summer storm
watering the crops

off to the river
the woman carries her jar
to collect water

along the river
green shoots of millet
sprouts after the rain

parched earth
water-less maze of cracks
African summer

G.s.k. ‘15

We open our taps and water flows out … hot or cold!  Filling up a pan for pasta is a flick of the wrist and we’ve a few litres of water on the boil.  We wash our clothes, often daily, as well as ourselves of course.  And let’s not forget our handy flush toilets!

All this is wonderful and for us normal. Not so in many parts of our planet.  Water is one of the most precious resources that we have, believe it or not even more precious than our fast disappearing oil resources – without oil our whole civilization will collapse quickly, that’s true, but without water our life will be unsustainable on this planet.

Living in Africa for nearly ten years has taught me the preciousness of water.  Clean water, water in abundance that doesn’t need to be filtered, that’s right on tap is an impossible dream for many people.

each single drop
earth’s gift of life
sweet water

G.s.k. ‘15

 For more information about Water Scarcity in the world click HERE.

Written for Heeding Haiku with HA – Water

Rainy Season – July 5, 2015


new event
even in the Alps
summer rains

Over the past few years the climate has changed whether we wish to admit it or not.  One of the consequences is that each year here in the foothills of the Alps, where I live, we now have a summer rainy season, which feels no different from the rainy seasons that I experienced in Africa.

The mornings are sunny … the temperature rises to about 30 C then black clouds form around 2:00 and we have a storm. It usually lasts about half an hour.  Then the clouds move off (sometimes they don’t).  In Chad and Eritrea, where I lived nearly 40 years ago,  this sort of precipitation was called “the small rains” to be distinguished from the winter rains which were of course “the big rains”.

“small rains” fall
on the foothills of the Alps
drought in Africa

© G.s.k. ‘15

Written for:

Carpe Diem #768 tsuyu (rainy season)

Afriku – July 2, 2015

along the Logone
when Lai was just a village
moon light lit the night

Way back in the 70s I lived in a small village in the Tandjilé region of Southern Chad.  We were there as part of a project to create canals for rice paddies.  The village, for it was really just around a 100 huts, two Christian missions (one Catholic and one Evangelical), a Soviet Health Care Centre run by a Russian couple and a small bazar owned by a Nigerian, seems to have grown around the rice project.

Looking up Lai today, because I’d forgotten the name of the river that flows past the town, I discovered that it’s now the capital of Tandjilé and has an airport and a population as of 2008 of 20,428!

When I think of Lai, I always remember the ferry service, which connected Lai to Mondou (the largest city nearest Lai at the time) and was it ever a precarious thing – little more than a robust raft with heavy ropes holding it between the two banks of the river. Now I wonder if it too has also evolved .. at the time at least three vehicles a day passed over the Logone on that ferry. Or perhaps they’ve since built a bridge.

passing time
a ferry-boat to the future
Lai on the Logone

© G.s.k. ‘15

The desert is constantly growing in Northern Africa eating up land and evaporating the water resources … what was once one of the largest lakes not only in Africa but in the world has been slowly drying up – the encroachment of the desert has many reasons behind it and it’s a very complex problem to face and solve …


Carpe Diem Special #154 Afriku, haiku from Africa, an idea of Adjei Agyei Baah. “Stones”

shoreline pebbles…
a reminder of how far
we have come

daddy’s delicacy
taking stones out of gizzard

stone temple
leftover boulders
add to reverence

© Adjei Agyei-Baah, Kumasi, Ghana
Poetry Foundation Ghana

Friday Fictioneers – June 27, 2014


PHOTO PROMPT Copyright-Madison Woods

The War

One day in Chad, returning from a dental appointment in the bush, we came upon a tree which separated two villages.

A man with a spear stood by the tree not far the road we were using.

“You can’t go through here, turn back!” he said.

“What’s happening brother?” my driver asked.

“There’s a war here … our cattle have been stolen by thieves from that village!” he said pointing to a burning village not far away. “They killed one of them to eat! We’ve placed the skull as a warning to all!”

We turned around and took another road.

Written for Friday Fictioneers – this is a true story, except for the tree with the skull.


Haibun – June 6, 2014 – Misciui


In the warm moon-lit African evening people gathered around a large table decked with a large platter of rice.  The misciui would soon begin.  The goats roasting on the fire would soon be ready.

Someone came with a balafon and his friend brought drums.  They began to play as the rest of the guest listened.  The meat was soon ready and placed in the in honor at the center of the table.

Everyone began to eat as the music played on, eventually becoming more obsessive.  A couple finished eating stood up and began to shake with the rhyme of the drums, their dance sensual, a perfect imitation of love-making as he leaned over her and she responded.

Drink flowed liberally and as each person had his fill of meat and rice, they too began to dance obsessed with the music.  Soon under the light of the moon gyrating couples were lost in the magic of the music and the moon.  All but one old man.

A girl tried to pull him into the center of the dance area. He shook her off and refused saying: “My days of dancing are now past me!  I remember when I was young and shouted at my grandfather, either dance well or start drinking.  I’m drinking tonight!”

moon-lit party
under the skies of Africa
an old man drinks

The prompt this week at Ligo Haibun is “Either dance well or start drinking”.

* misciui is a sort of barbecue, I’m not sure how one spells it, I’ve only heard it used.

Salim…in Chad

After watching the film, I felt inspired…remembering the years I lived in Africa and of the children I’d met in the villages.

In the third world, things aren’t taken for granted.  What seems like a small thing to us, can be very important to a child who has nothing but the clothes on his back.  Salim, was 10 years old. He wanted to go to the village school but needed some money to buy a notebook and pencil in order to attend classes.  His family didn’t have the money.

When you drive through a village in Chad, children run out into the streets shouting: “lalay lalay.” and if you happen to stop in one of those villages you very often find yourself surrounded by young people, hands out, asking for baksheesh … most of the visitors never ask why those children are begging for a few coins.  The westerners just feel impatient and put upon, you might even hear someone comment on the lack of dignity that is part and parcel of the African people.

There is no electricity in the villages, no running water, no supermarkets or libraries.  The schools are a place under a tree where an itinerant teachers holds impromptu classes when he or she arrives in the village.  Often a government worker, the teacher is hosted by the most prominent person of the village.  If a child wants to attend class that child must have a notebook and a pencil or pen.  Only those children who are able to come up with the money for their school supplies will be educated.  The government can’t be expected to furnish those supplies, there are too many other priorities…and you don’t want to know what those priorities are.  Yet, at least, there has been some planning made for the future generations.

“Lalay lalay!” shouted Salim with his friends as the car came into his village.  The car stopped and a white woman with her African driver got out of the car.  The children ignored the driver, but surrounded the woman.  She dipped into her purse and pulled out a handful of coins which she flung into the air.  The children scrambled for the money as she walked, laughing, to the house of the village’s government representative.

The next day, under the tree, stood the white woman.  She was a Peace Corps volunteer and was going to set up school.  She had a box beside her, and inside the box were books, notebooks and pencils.  Nearby, some men were building a small mud-bricked hut for her, where she would live and work.

Salim looked at the notebook and pencil he’d bought with his baksheesh, and thought he could have bought something else with the money.  But he was happy.

Through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned.


This story is a combination of reality and fiction.  There are many Salims in the third world, far less volunteers who come to teach in the villages now days, in fact I’m not even sure if the Peace Corps still exists.  Back in the 70s they were one of the few whites who were roaming Africa without a church or big company behind them.

True, they had the United States behind them, but they never taught propaganda and there were no strings attached to the work they did in the villages…no one required them to become Americans in order to take part in classes or profit from the hand dug wells they dug or any of the other little projects they put together.  Most of these people were under 30.  They lived a little better than the local people, but not like they would have at home.

Are there any ex-Peace Corps workers reading?  If so, let me say, thanks guys and gals for your time out in the bush!


Written for Speakeasy 154