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Heritage Day: Tongues of Their Mothers

travel Heritage Day South Africa 2015

I had so many ideas for a Heritage Day post today, but then I fell in love with a poem, and that made the decision for me.

Happy Heritage Day, readers. Following are a few photos of some beautiful South African ladies I know (and one lovely South African man) wearing traditional garments to celebrate today. Continue reading Heritage Day: Tongues of Their Mothers

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A Ceiling in Versailles

travel France Versailles

Our holiday in Paris for Bastille Day included a tour away from the city to the Palace of Versailles, where I could not stay focused on everything around me because my attention was always toward the ceiling.

I loved playing with the light and angles in my photography, and wanted to share one of the photos with you (yes it is meant to be “sideways.” Does it drive you crazy? 😉 ):

travel France Versailles
Versailles, France
(c) 2014 Marla Sink Druzgal This photo watermarked.

I didn’t get as much writing motivation from that trip as I had hoped, but I did come up with a fun writing prompt (those teacher genes just never let you go):

  1. Use either this photograph or go to Google Images and type only “the ceiling of.” Do not let it autofill an ending to that and do not type in a place or person. Hit enter or the search button. It will give you plenty of images to choose from.
  2. Look at the photo for a few minutes then look away and write down the first 5-8 words that come to you. My words were chandelier, dancing, ladies, blue, clear, bronze, warm, happy, pretense. Anything that comes to mind is fine.
  3. Use at least 3 of those words, no matter how well they do or don’t go together and create a Haiku. Those of you who already write, have at it. If you’re like me and don’t write haiku, it’s easy to learn using the children’s “What Am I?” teaching tool. In short, a haiku is simply 3 lines: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. They seldom rhyme.

Be liberal. You’ll notice that for me once I realized where I wanted to go, I changed “pretense” to “pretending.” In my case, I used the “What Am I?” lesson and from my photo above and the words that it spawned, here is my “What Am I?” Haiku.

Can you guess what I am?

Dancing in sunlight
and wind-rippled clear water,
pretending I’m you

Please share your haiku with me if you make one. Link to the photo that inspired you if you used a different one than mine.

Love, Marla

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On Memorial Day weekend, old poem beautifully captures horrors of war

I was going to share this poem with you for Memorial Day. I hadn’t remembered the name correctly and kept Googling On Flanders Field. Thankfully I found this article with the poem (In Flanders Fields is the correct title) and this writer shares it better than I would have:

On Memorial Day weekend, old poem beautifully captures horrors of war.

Today is just another day here in Africa, but I’ll always be thinking of home on Memorial Day.

Have a safe and beautiful day, readers.

Love, Marla

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Chamizal National Memorial and “Persons in Between”

Welcome to Manuscript Monday!

Tomorrow, February 4th, will be 40 years since Chamizal become part of the National Park Service (although it wasn’t until 1966 that it became Chamizal National Memorial). The once-disputed boundary lands of El Paso in the United States and Juarez, in Mexico now contain a peace memorial thanks to a treaty finalized in 1963.

Mural at Chamizal National Memorial
Mural at Chamizal National Memorial

Chamizal National Memorial history of US Mexico border in El Paso The Chamizal Blues people dislocated by border disputes National Parks Conservation Association Manuscript Monday Texas

In reading about the history of Chamizal, I came across a beautiful research article by Jeffrey M. Schulze, entitled “The Chamizal Blues: El Paso, the Wayward River, and the Peoples in Between.” I gained access to the full article and was engaged in learning about the fluctuating boundary of the Rio Grande River, and what became of those “persons in between” who were required to relocate once the peace treaty was finalized.

Looking across the border into Juarez, Mexico
Looking across the border into Juarez, Mexico
Border Patrol truck in Texas.
Border Patrol truck in Texas.


My own stop at The Chamizal Memorial, in 2010, was part of a cross country road trip I made with our dog, Baxter, and formed one of the later chapters in my manuscript. The chapter does not focus on the memorial but parallels the entire trip with earlier memories. It also doesn’t mention that I accidentally got in line to cross the border into Mexico before figuring out where to exit for Chamizal.

US-Mexico Border Crossing. El Paso, Texas
US-Mexico Border Crossing. El Paso, Texas
US/Mexico Border in El Paso, Texas
US/Mexico Border in El Paso, Texas


But there is never only one outlet for everything we learn in and about a given place. After reading Schulze’s article, I also began a new essay about land, displacement and identity. I’m currently reading about South African land history and a novel about an African Farm, and it’s impossible to learn anything new without applying what I’ve learned elsewhere, as well as my own history and understanding. I think that’s why essays might be my favorite work to read and write. I love personal narrative drawn from multiple sources of inspiration. The most difficult part (for me) is settling my frantic brain down enough to focus on one of the many things I want to write and get it finished to where I’m satisfied before moving on.

Chamizal National Memorial history of US Mexico border in El Paso The Chamizal Blues people dislocated by border disputes National Parks Conservation Association Manuscript Monday Texas

Speaking of focus, it’s time to get back to this offline work of mine. I hope this Monday finds you at the beginning of a productive and low-stress week.

Love, Marla

Traveling Marla and Baxter stopping at Chamizal NM in 2010.
Traveling Marla and Baxter stopping at Chamizal NM in 2010.


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Mandela’s Houghton House: Day of Prayer

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

Yesterday our friends asked us if we would like to go with them to visit Mandela’s house in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg. I wanted to share a few photos of that trip with you, as well as a video, but I’m not able to get the video uploaded yet today, but hopefully my internet connection will be a little better tomorrow for it.

In the meantime, I’m sharing some photos from the gathering at his house yesterday.

Love, Marla

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Mourning a Man Who is Not Mine to Grieve: Africa’s Mandela

Though his death was no surprise, I was surprised by how much it hurt to read this morning. My heart has been tumbling over itself with emotion. I learned the news from my nephew in America. Here in South Africa I woke with Kurt around 4:45. The first thing I do each morning is check my smartphone for email, not news. I want love and connection to begin my day, and usually there is at least one email from a friend or family member back in the states. The most recent email popped up first, with my nephew telling me how sad he was to hear about Nelson Mandela. We emailed a couple more times. We both cried. Then he went to sleep for the night and I went to the gym to start my morning.

I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.

It won’t be the last time I cry about it, and I won’t be the only one. Mourning Mandela will happen around the world. There are few times in our lives that a person we have never met can give so much light, and energy and peace that we feel it around the globe. He was that person. A friend posted on Facebook that she couldn’t wait to read what it’s like for me [to be in the capitol of South Africa] during this time after Mandela’s death. She didn’t mean anything by it. I know many friends in the states are marveling that I am here for this moment.

Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.

It is an otherwise ordinary morning. It’s easy to feel an atmosphere of mourning out here, but I think the truth is more complicated. The truth may better be stated that I am projecting my own feelings of gloom onto those around me; that I see the grey skies and cold air as a reflection of what I imagine to be an appropriate metaphor for this loss. I have been out running my usual errands, interacting with the people I see every day (security at the estate, car guards, servers, beggars, cashiers, our housekeeper.) I have talked with a few of them about Mandela. “That is life” said a security guard who helps me with my Zulu. His eyes and his voice carried sadness, but not the crippling cloak of silent mourning , “He was a good man, but everyone lives. Everyone dies. That is life.” He waved me through, as I was holding up the line leaving for morning commutes. “Siyabonga” we both said, simultaneously, and I continued on my way.

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

“Shame” said Selinah, our Tswana housekeeper, when I returned from the gym and brought up Mandela. She was sad but would not have considered calling off today. “He was a good man. I hope we can go to funeral. You have ironing today?”  She saw that I wanted to talk more, or to understand more, or that I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t gripped with a shroud of depression, and she came over and gave me a hug. “Everything okay, Maria.” Her English is broken, but she is fluent in Afrikaans and Tswana. My own learning of Tswana is stunted, childlike. I never correct her that my name is Marla. I don’t know fully why. Something about the way she says “Maria” with such affection, comforts me.

I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.

I felt ashamed that she should be comforting me. This wasn’t about me. He wasn’t my leader, or my family, but I couldn’t stop wanting to collectively grieve with those I thought should be grieving. But maybe, I realized, they had already grieved as he has been struggling for so long, that maybe they already made peace and were ready to have this beautiful funeral and celebrate a man who chose forgiveness instead of revenge, who gave them hope and light and happiness.

It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world.

Mandela was “tata”: father. He was family to a nation and inspiration to a world. But I couldn’t stop thinking the world should stop at any moment. I came to my favorite coffee shop between running errands: American ’80s music is playing on the speakers; and everyone around me is in daily conversations unrelated to Mandela; my barrista is wearing a Santa hat with the words “Merry Christmas” written across the front. He saw me typing and came to put an arm around my shoulder. “You are sad for Mandela?” Apparently my heart is on my sleeve, on my face, oozing from me like a bleeding scab I can’t stop picking. “Yes.” I replied, “Aren’t you?” He said he was, but like the security guard at the gate, he talked about life and the goodness of Mandela, and how lucky we were to have lived during a time with such a man as him. “I hope I can go to his funeral.” He said, “but I don’t mind working now until that day.”

Live life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening.

I joined some South African friends as I drank my cappuccino, and the conversation turned to something said at a recent book club gathering. After I said I had purchased The Long Walk to Freedom and it was suggested we read it for the next meeting, a woman there had emphatically proclaimed: “Nelson Mandela is a terrorist!” There was no love, or kindness, or peace, or forgiveness in her voice. For her, his legacy would always be one of violence, with no concern for the cause, and certainly no regard for his life (post-Robben island penance).

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.

I wondered how many others refuse to allow him his post-Apartheid legacy. It didn’t take me long to find a slew of hateful posts and tweets, and I turned my computer off for a little while. I know that the grave-dancers are the minority, but it is amazing how powerful hate can be, and how sadly ironic to have contempt for a man who became the epitome of love and forgiveness.

People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite… Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.

But I cannot call him “tata” as much as I want to. That nickname belongs to his family, belongs to this nation where I live, where I am a foreigner watching history from the margins. And as they teach me how to celebrate Mandela by working, by letting life move forward, I know that his true legacy has taken root in everyone who really loved him.

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

I don’t know what these next days will bring, and whether there may be those who use his death to propagate violence or further some political agenda, but I choose to believe that the majority of hard-working South Africans embrace the love and compassion of Mandela, and aspire to show the world that they are continuing his journey for him. Love, Marla

Mourning death of Nelson Mandela best Mandela quotes…I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

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The Demon of Table Mountain

expat life South Africa travel

I thought you would enjoy a little folklore today, so I saved this photo, taken of the top of the aerial cable as it was being engulfed in clouds, because I thought it looked a deliciously creepy. (Those of you on mobile phones may not be able to get a large enough photo for the view of the demon at the top, and zoom destroys the effect.)

expat life South Africa travel

Since I would only be retelling stories that others have already captured, I am just going to give you a quick byte of each and you can choose which ones you want to read:

“Devils and Giants of Table Mountain”: The site is a neat, African Ghost Hunting Safaris website, and their page about Table Mountain gives a lot of information on the various ghosts and legends of the area. It’s a bit jumpy and disjointed, but then, how else would a ghost communicate its whereabouts to the living?

“Stories of Table Mountain”: Posted by a site called Camps Bay Lifestyle, this page has some nice South African history, Xhosa (click that tongue when you say it!) folklore, finding a magic ring, and that beautiful Table Cloth, which is how they refer to the cloud cover of the mountain.

“The Legends of Table Mountain”: Ridgway Ramblers created this page, which catches your attention with its subtitles such as “Watcher of the South,” “Adamaster,” and “the South Easter cloud.”

I hope you enjoy one or all of these sites, and that they spark your imagination as they did mine!

Love, Marla

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“Blockade Schmokade”: A Newly Discovered Letter from Dad

Guantanamo Bay 1962 Cuban Blockade

Happy 71st, Dad! Those of you who have been following me for awhile may remember last year’s memorial tribute to my dad on his 70th birthday. It was planned as a one-time post, but when I came across this letter recently, I knew I had to do something again this year.

Guantanamo Bay 1962 Cuban Blockade
Letter from Dad, “Quartermaster2, Donald L (Roy) Sink” aboard the USS Waller

This morning I emailed my immediate family a letter recently discovered from my father, mailed shortly after the Cuban Blockade. Dad served on the USS Waller during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What we know of Dad’s involvement in the blockade we thought only survived as anecdotes, and in what is known historically of the USS Waller’s participation in 1962. That, too, is mostly “classified” but thankfully a number of sailors from aboard the Waller and other vessels have recently been sharing information about that time of service.  Continue reading “Blockade Schmokade”: A Newly Discovered Letter from Dad

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It’s DNA Day! Is Marla a Skolt Saami from Scandinavia? Is She Related to Bono?

genetic mutation Factor V Leiden family tree genealogy
genetic mutation Factor V Leiden family tree genealogy
DNA Day isn’t just for dorks anymore! (Okay, well maybe it is, but still…)

Has there ever been a BETTER reason to celebrate than DNA Day?

Um, yeah, every other reason is better. DNA is boring, right?

Well, kinda sorta maybe, but I’ve had fun with it.

For instance, it was just lovely to find out about that hereditary blood-clotting mutation I have, the Factor V Leiden I told you about in last week’s post. It would’ve been cooler if it were like Factor V LYCOS and I really could wolf out or something (although if you talk to those closest to me, they swear I can Hulk out, so maybe I have Factor V GAMMAFAIL instead.)

Hey, don’t give me grief for being excited about DNA Day. I’m not the only one. According to CNN, there are 5 cool things you can do with your DNA (werewolf mutation is still in beta testing).


  • MAP YOUR FAMILY TREE – I’ve done this…see below. (Me reindeer herder. Hunter gatherer. Me toolmaker. Me do good stone carve. Make you statue.)
  • SOLVE ANCIENT MYSTERIES – C’mon. I couldn’t have been the only one excited to know if that really was King Richard (of Shakespeare musing) buried beneath that parking lot…
  • FIGURE OUT FIDO (See their stupid title “Distinguish your mutt” for this one.)
  • PREDICT THE FUTURE (I call this one the precursor to next year’s title, “How to make designer babies”)
  • HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT.  {insert screeching brakes noise here}

What? Lose weight? It really is in our jeans? I mean, genes? (Don’t get too excited about this last one. So far they’re still just blowing smoke up our code.)

The only one I can really tell you about from experience (other than my Factor V non-werewolf/shadowcat/TNMT mutation) is the Family Tree mapping.

My brother and I submitted our DNA for part of the Genographic Project by National Geographic, which maps your male and female lines. I technically didn’t need to submit mine, since my brother carries both the male line and the female DNA history (we females only carry our female (mitochondrial, or “mt”) DNA information. In short, the “Y” mapping gives a man his father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s (and so on) history. The mtDNA gives either a man or a woman the mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s (and so on) history.

(And we won’t get into that whole new discovery of blood-brain-barrier Y-chromosomes they’re now finding in females because that’ll just really fubar this post. I’ll save that for another day.)

Anyhoo, I thought you might like this cool info on what we discovered in our own DNA through the genographic project (yes, my mom’s line does connect to those Skolt Saami reindeer herders from Scandinavia, and though Bono is technically in the same haplogroup, I don’t think he will accept my invitation to this year’s family reunion.):

Marla’s mom’s mom’s mom’s mom’s mom’s (you get the picture)…

Marla’s mom’s mtDNA map (you’ll have to click a second link when this opens – sorry)

Marla’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s…

Marla’s dad’s Y DNA map (you’ll have to click a second link when this opens – sorry)

I just ordered the next phase of genographic testing kit from this project, so hopefully next year I can tell you more about our line, like what percentage we are of Neanderthal (I’m guessing this will hit high on my dad’s side of the family…just guessing.)

I’d love to get more lines of our family tree, like the Work surname, so we can get a closer look at whether or not our Works really were Vikings from the Orkneys as the lore goes (which would give me ample validation for taking up a sword and hulking out from time to time?), but so far haven’t gotten a volunteer from a Work male for a cheek swab. [HINT, HINT]

DNA testing on dogs
Baxter, wondering if he’s related to Bono…

In the meantime, maybe I’ll go see if Baxter is related to Bono…

Love, Marla

P.S. Since they haven’t figured out how to mutate my fat genes into skinny jeans, I’m off to the gym again. Thank goodness my code includes hulk muscles, because it’s strength training day!

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Write Me a Poem, and I’ll Love you Like Shakespeare.

Anne Hathaway cottage England
Anne Hathaway cottage England
A little hokey but adorable giant greeting card sat at the edge of the gardens of Anne Hathaway’s cottage. I visited there on my literary tour of England in 2011.

Is it dorky that I remember Shakespeare’s birthday every year? Probably, since I can barely remember birthdays of family members without a book to remind me.

Maybe if they wrote poems…


Love, Marla