Friday 28 August 2009

Illustration Friday – Magnify


morning catch Morning Catch


“There are cultural issues everywhere - in Bangladesh, Latin America, Africa, wherever you go. But somehow when we talk about cultural differences, we magnify those differences.”

~ Muhammad Yunus ~ 


My kind of hero!

Muhammad Yunus is the Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for pioneering a new category of banking known as micro-credit, which grants small loans to poor people who have no collateral and who don’t qualify for conventional bank loans. The programme has enabled millions of Bangladeshis, almost all women, to buy everything from cows to cell phones in order to start and run their own businesses. Similar micro-credit projects have helped millions around the world lift themselves out of poverty.

In the prize announcement The Norwegian Nobel Committee speaker said:

“Muhammad Yunus has shown himself to be a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but also in many other countries. Loans to poor people without any financial security had appeared to be an impossible idea. From modest beginnings three decades ago, Yunus has, first and foremost through Grameen Bank, developed micro-credit into an ever more important instrument in the struggle against poverty.”

After receiving the news of his award, Yunus announced that he would use part of the $1.4 million prize money to create a company to make low-cost, high-nutrition food for the poor; while the rest would go toward setting up an eye hospital for the poor in Bangladesh.

Just like our friend, Dr. Maithri, here is another builder of bridges, don’t you agree?

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Armadillo: crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle.

 You know that tired old cliché – it never rains, but it pours? I was thinking about that a while ago, when England was trying very hard not to have a summer. The days weren’t cold, but they were cloudy and grey. There was this mean little drizzle which kept everything just a bit damp and a tiny bit dismal, and which I found irritating in the extreme.


Why - I muttered crossly to myself - doesn’t it just monsoon down in torrents, with the obligatory eardrum-splitting claps of thunder and dazzling flashes of lightening as if it really means business, y’know?

Then the empty clouds can disperse having done their job properly and allow the sun to have a turn at making everything gleam and steam and shine again.

after the rain 

So much for my silly rantings – it did indeed pour, but it most certainly wasn’t what I had wished for. See, the problem is that about a year ago I had a blood test to determine whether I had a tropical, water-borne disease called bilharzia. (It was possible I could have picked it up while swimming in the Nile (below) or sailing on Lake Victoria.)


They found no indication of that, but they discovered instead that I have a disease called myeloma. Here’s the rub - normally new cells are produced to replace old, worn-out cells in an orderly, controlled way. However, in myeloma the process gets out of control and large numbers of abnormal plasma cells – myeloma cells – are produced. These fill up the bone marrow and interfere with production of normal white cells, red cells and platelets.  The myeloma cells usually produce a large amount of one type of abnormal antibody called paraprotein. This paraprotein cannot fight infection effectively and often reduces the production of normal antibodies.

Mine is still what they refer to as ESMM – early stage multiple myeloma. Research has not as yet made it entirely clear whether it’s better to start chemotherapy right after the diagnosis or to delay the treatment until symptoms become obvious as the disease progresses, so my consultant has decided to wait - mainly because early treatment, although beneficial in some cases, may increase the risk of acute leukaemia. As well as periodic blood-tests, I have to have regular bone scans or x-rays in order to assess the progression of the disease. It was during a CT scan two weeks ago that the radiologist spotted scarring of the lung tissue and some swollen lymph glands.

And so the storm began! More blood tests, more scans and then finally, on Monday, I had to have a bronchoscopy. After this up close and personal examination of the lungs and lymph glands, it was pronounced that I have something called sarcoidosis - which is a bit like fibrosis. Apparently, it’s not known what causes sarcoidosis. Research is ongoing, but it is believed that it may be caused by something in the environment or it affects people whose immune system does not work properly. The latter is probably the cause of the disease in my particular case.  In some instances of sarcoidosis the heart can become enlarged, so to check this I have to go for a echocardiograph tomorrow.

So, what with all that hoogiemaha – and the sale of our house – it really has been pouring these last few weeks - metaphorically speaking, of course!  The lesson is, dear bloggy friends, do be careful what you wish for!

first tree.southdown

I deliberated long and hard about telling y’all about this, but since I’ve not been around in the Blogosphere very much lately, I thought I’d better come clean lest you think I’m just being lazy and/or rude for not having visited your blogs more regularly of late.

I’m really rather a private person, so this ‘confession’ makes me feel all squirmy and acutely, pinkly, embarrassed. Please, please don’t feel you have to tread softly. I just wanted to let you know the reason why sometimes I may disappear from Blogland for short intervals.  I've totally come to terms with the disease (after all, I've had a life that many can only dream about - I've been very, very lucky) and I am determined just to keep on keeping on....doing as many of the things I love as is humanly possible!


Through this blog, I’ve met and made friends with some of the most exceptional people ever, and every step of the journey has been above and beyond all expectations. I started the Aerial Armadillo – crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle (get it?) - when I found out that I had myeloma.  I wanted a place to record our adventures and expeditions; to document my thoughts and dreams and to log my paintings and photographs so that one day our grandboys can read about the extraordinary life we’ve had….and are still having. And on the way, I met you….and you….and you. So it’s all just marvellously wonderful. Truly, it is.


My next post will be all about The House on the Beach at Blogland Lane – so see y’all then! In the meantime, I’m sending jet-propelled hugs to you all, wherever you may be.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

A Transformative Moment

The luminously talented Steven from The Golden Fish has inspired his bloggy friends and followers from around the world to write about a transformative moment in their life, and post it today. He, too, will share his absorbing story with us, and will link us to other writers, photographers and artists who have written of a moment suspended in time which changed them, influenced or inspired them.

There have been many moments in my life – as I’m sure there have been for others – which have left me breathless with wonder and awe. Almost all of those moments still resonate somewhere deep in my heart and I have written of these encounters and adventures elsewhere on this blog, with an encapsulation of them in my first ever blog post – Shikamuu.   But I think the moment that held the deepest significance for me was during a safari with my sister and brother-in-law to Kenya’s fabled Jade Sea some 30 years ago now. Please, come with me as we journey to Lake Turkana……

lake turkana6

Set like a many faceted jewel into the arid desolation of Kenya’s northern frontier there is a lake of insuperable beauty. It is surrounded by volcanic boulders and purple hills blanketed by brilliant sunshine and star-bright nights. A hot dry wind stirs the sand into wavering drifts which veil the rocks and fill the water carved gullies that jut out like dragon’s teeth from the deep blue-green waters of a lake called Turkana.  Hemmed in by an apocalyptic moonscape of extinct volcanoes and towering ants’ nests, this inland sea whispers of legend and mystery.

The little Cessna banked steeply and we flew low over the water like a seabird seeking its quarry. Approaching the tiny cluster of bandas on the far bank, Ian waggled the wings to announce our arrival as the plane skimmed the makuti roof of the main building. Beyond the lodge the terrain spread wide and empty to the far horizon. A thick cloak of dust enveloped us as we landed and when it settled, Ian opened the door and we clambered out over the wing into the searing heat of a desert sun. The air thrummed with cicada song as I turned and squinted towards the fabled ‘Jade Sea’ which glistened with a sharply aqueous light in an almost surreal contrast to the ochre and blackened earth which spread away from it to the hazy purple mountains beyond. The cicadas stopped their cacophonous clamour abruptly as the throaty roar of the pick-up Land Rover gathered momentum and crashed its way over stony ground towards us.



The water was deliciously cool against our burning skin as we slid, gasping, into its silky embrace. After a fast burst of crawl, we stopped and treaded water. I lay back and looked up into the blue expanse of sky where the pale slither of a ghostly moon drifted imperceptivity along its celestial path towards the night. Floating alongside me, Janie touched my arm and in a menacing whisper hissed “Here be croc-o-diles!” We shrieked simultaneously and a rush of adrenaline propelled us back to shore.

Wrapped in kikois we walked away from the lake and out into the scrubby desert. It was here, in this rocky wilderness that we met the Turkana herdsman with whom I swapped my bush hat for a dozen brass bangles. With no common language, we communicated with nods and smiles and laughing gestures.


It was a little later, as the sky turned from deepest blue through a paint-chart backdrop of bold reds, succulent pinks, soft mauves and moody purples to herald the night, that we realised with a transcending certainty that we were at the very heart of Mother Africa. I sat close to my sister in the flickering light of our campfire as we listened to the symphony of an African night backed by the gentle murmur of the lake breathing softly onto the shore.  For a moment my eyes caught the dance of firelight on the bangles given to me by the herdsman and then I looked up into the night.  It was at that precise moment that I knew that it was indeed possible to reach up and touch the stars which, here at the pulsing heart of this majestic continent, had gathered like a million dancers into the vast folds of darkness.  I knew, too, that I would never leave Africa.

night sky 

“It is never easy to keep reaching for dreams. Strength and courage can sometimes be lonely friends, but those who do reach, walk in stardust.”

So you see, dear bloggy friends, you can touch those stars. Yes, you can.  I promise you.

Monday 17 August 2009

IF on Monday - Wrapped


lets3‘Let’s Face It’

Araminta was so wrapped up in herself, she was positively overdressed.


**Do zoom over to Illustration Friday to browse a truly awe-inspiring selection of other artists’ interpretations of the weekly prompt**

Saturday 8 August 2009

IF – Impatience (and Matatu Mayhem)



 Where is that Matatu?

Before you see a Matatu, you can hear it. A cacophony of blaring horns and crackling, decibel-distorting speakers pounding away with the latest hip-hop, reggae or some central African beat will herald its imminent arrival.

The conductor will be hanging precariously from the side of the van, yelling like a banshee and as the Matatu slows down, about 3 million people will leap off. This is your cue to leap on. Forget the physical limitations of the bus (12 to 14 passengers) - they are somehow able to squeeze up to 30 passengers into this 12-seater minibus. How they do it, heaven only knows but believe me, they do!

It doesn’t take long once you’re jammed into the Matatu before the senses are assaulted to a level you never dreamt possible. The jostling, elbow wielding passengers, the revving of the engine, the constant hooting, the squealing of brakes, the ear shattering blast of hip-hop, the shouts of the conductor and driver mixed in with protests from the passengers all make you feel that you’re on an acid trip that’s gone crazily awry.

A Matatu journey is, quite literally, a breathtaking experience. Drivers aggressively weave, bob, accelerate and break their way through cars, trucks, bicycles, carts, motorcycles and pedestrians. Crossing a roundabout island at full tilt is just a small part of the Matatu drivers’  skill set– one which will make even the most hardened passenger just a tiny bit breathless. Sidewalks?  Pah!  Certainly not an obstacle for the fearless driver if it means the vehicle continues to be propelled onward. And going off-road into the bush is always an option if that keeps the Matatu in motion. Traffic has stopped in one lane?  No problem. The two lane road will turn into a three, four, or even five lane highway in the tic of an eyeball. .

All the while the conductor will bellow at people walking alongside the road to get on board. Then he’ll bark instructions to the driver and the Matatu will come to a screeching halt to disgorge some of the passengers and collect others which means a whole new arrangement for the remaining occupants. Be prepared to either be squashed like a fly against the window or to have your face pressed cosily into someone’s backside.

The Matatu will "alight you" anywhere on their route which is very convenient if you can handle the gymnastics required. Rap you knuckles on the nearest window or on the ceiling if you are stuck in the middle and can't reach a window - and the driver pulls over. Immediately. It is then that you join your fellow passengers in a spontaneous game of Twister until you tumble out of the still-rolling van - sprung loaded like a jack-in-the-box. It’s not all bad however - you may even be left carrying someone’s chicken. Don’t even think about trying to get it back to its owner. It’s your supper and, boy, have you worked for it!

toad etc 001Chris Freeman cartoon

Wednesday 5 August 2009

A Wild Dexterity


turaco Ross’ s Turaco

Chambura Gorge sneaks up on you and its appearance - a deep forested gash across the Rift Valley floor - can take your breath away. Despite its misty beauty, the name Chambura has an ominous ring to it. In the local language it means "search and fail" – so called because the fast-flowing river on the bed of the gorge together with crocodile and leopard meant that tribal hunters who went missing stayed missing.

ChamburaGorge Chambura Gorge - Uganda

As I peered over its rim onto the top of the gallery forest below, a violet-blue Ross's turaco, perched atop a towering Uganda ironwood, "k-k-kowed" in fright and took to the air, flashing brilliant red underwings. Echoing across the forest were countless other sounds: the "Hello Georgie" cry of the emerald cuckoo; the woody croak of a black-and-white cusped hornbill; the grunt of hippo; the bark of baboon. Black and white colobus monkeys, looking like little bearded men in dress shirts and tailcoats, squinted up at us comically from the top of the canopy and then went on foraging.

col.monkey Colobus

A steep path led into the gorge and as our ranger Sabu shepherded us down, a red-eyed dove took up its usual complaint: "Oh dear, my eyes are red. Oh dear. . . ." Like all other trackers I spent time with in Uganda, Sabu was a true professional.....committed, knowledgeable and easily able to identify animals, birds or plants in both English and Latin. "Come," he said with a wide grin, "we descend."

 cham221 Chambura Forest

Down at river level a troop of olive baboons crashed across the path, trotted along some horizontal boughs and lowered themselves into the abundant undergrowth. Soon afterwards we heard the chimps. A hard, rugby-ball-shaped fruit thudded down almost at my feet before I realized we were beneath the troop. For a moment I couldn't make out what my binoculars had focused on as I swung them upwards, then realized I was looking at the hairy backside of a large primate perched comfortably above me as it scoffed the bright yellow fruit.

chimpfood Chimp Snacks

The chimp leaned forward and peered down, looking slightly peeved, took a bite then peered again, as though he had second thoughts about the creature gaping up at him. It could have been my imagination, but his expressions seemed both human and entirely understandable.


His next move was so elegant that if I wasn't glued to my binoculars I'd have applauded. He stood up and with one hand grabbed the branch he was standing on, swung under it (still holding with one hand), let go at precisely the right point in his swing to catapult himself spread-eagled onto a lower cluster of leaves way too thin to hold his weight. But he merely held on as the branch bent, then let go as his feet were deposited neatly on a lower bough. Then he sat down, gave our group a hard look and peed loudly onto the leaf-covered forest floor. His last action left me in no doubt who the alpha male was around that neck of the woods.

lioness.QE.uganda Photo:  Patrick Lewis

As we left the gorge a lioness broke the cover of a euphorbia thicket, bounded across some open grassland and dived down a path into the gorge we'd just vacated. Somehow I hadn't reckoned on lions, but it made me remember the place's name - Chambura....where people go but do not come back.

Monday 3 August 2009

Flying Carpets


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~ Leonardo da Vinci


‘Sailing the Ssese Islands’

I’ve never been much of a grump. I’ve been uppity-downity sometimes, but I could generally laugh myself out of it quite quickly. Now, however, I seem to be getting grumpier and grumpier as each day passes. Maybe it’s because England doesn’t seem to want to have a summer this year. Or maybe, as each new wrinkle manifests itself like some dry, dusty riverbed across the map of my face, the grump factor goes up.

My main grump today is about how 21st century children have too many toys. And too much television. Speaking of telly, I watched a fascinating programme – yes, on television - a while ago about a delightfully anachronistic family known collectively as The F****** Fulfords**. I laughed fit to bust for the entire programme – it was an absolute gem. I even gave Mrs F. F. a full-on standing ovation when, in a fit of pique, she ripped the the family television from its plug and flung it into a lake at the bottom of their garden.

** It has been pointed out that I should explain that the Fulfords live in an 800-year old crumbling manor house in Devon where the ball-room is used as a roller skating rink by their four children.**

In fact, some of the best axioms on ‘too much stuff’ I’d ever heard came from her husband, Francis. This one, for starters, “My father made sure our one tap still came from the well. Health and Safety came round — you had the sods even then — and discovered that our water was being filtered through a dead rabbit. We didn’t care. At least it meant we could go to India and not get the shits. Who needs more than one tap, eh?”  I digress….

See, the thing is…..21st century children have lots of toys. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of toys. Toys that light up. Toys that talk. Toys that sing. Toys that flash, spin, beep, hop, bop, bang, dance and crash. Some of their toys even have babies. Sheesh. No wonder they all need to start the day with a Ritalin tablet after eating their chocolate covered cornflakes.

But give them an old saucepan and a wooden spoon and they’ll start a band. Towels can become turbans; a rug becomes a magic carpet; an old cushion can change your shape; a torn sheet can transform itself into an Indian teepee; that broom behind the kitchen door is a white stallion or a rodeo bull. A large cardboard box is a boat, or a secret den, or a fairy castle.

Where did your imagination take you when you were little?

Saturday 1 August 2009

Peeves Please


in the pink Princess Bagaya & Ptolemy


Pet Peeves are those little things in life that really irritate or frustrate you. They can be things that aren't designed or made correctly, or things people do that just frustrate the heck out of you.

So what drives you crazy?

My particular peeve is that exceptionally annoying person who sidles up to you when you’ve finally found time to curl up in your favourite chair with a book, a glass of wine and a little plate of nibbles just for you. Often they’ll stand and stare at you for a few moments – you see them in the periphery of your vision which in itself is annoying - and then say really loudly as though you are stone deaf, “Wotcha doing?”

This completely inane question is made a hundred times worse because it’s invariably asked in a kind of high pitched sing-song voice.

“What do you THINK I’m doing, you mouldy old woolsack?” You hiss vehemently “Go. Away.”

“What are you getting so huffy about,” he/she/it replies in severely wounded tones. “I was only asking….”


So go on, do tell us what gets on your goat. Share your own particular peeve with us here and you could win this signed, limited edition giclée of Princess Bagaya chillin’ out with her pet parrot Ptolemy. The value of the print will be donated to Dr. Maithri’s Swaziland Project in the winner’s name.

I’ve asked the Chief Perpetrator of my pet peeve to be the judge in this little contest! You ready, Miss Bean?