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Arat Kilo Monument in Addis Ababa

travel Ethiopia

Today’s photo is from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

I’ve been writing about our too-short visit to that city, combined with a few small pieces I’ve written about colonialism during my African travels. It weaves colonization, religious fanaticism, and folklore. It is certainly too long already, though not altogether boring. But some days I write all day and know that not every piece deserves to see the light of day, until it has made another journey, gained another insight, or tethered another connection to make it whole.

Continue reading Arat Kilo Monument in Addis Ababa

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You’re Reading WHAT!?

Writing at sunrise over the Indian Ocean.

I’ll tell you my guilty pleasure when it comes to reading, if you tell me yours…

Now that I’m writing full-time, a daily routine of reading, writing, revising and digital upkeep, I really crave unplugging my brain at the end of the day. I suppose if a day of hiking leaves me bruised, blistered and aching, then this repetition of read-write-revise leaves my brain a gooey, vegetative mess.

So… What then, you ask, on this Manuscript Monday, is Traveling Marla’s guilty pleasure for unwinding her brain? Continue reading You’re Reading WHAT!?

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Before and After Room Challenge

creative mind organization

I want to give you something: a postcard? a bookmark? a card? perhaps you want me to take a “Flat Stanley” version of you on our next adventure? (Thanks to my nephew for that last idea.)

You choose. I’m issuing a Before and After Challenge to my readers to join me in overhauling one room or workspace area.

Today is Manuscript Monday for me, but instead of writing, I’m finally ORGANIZING!

While creative people “boast” about our messiness (and truly I do actually know in which stack of “garbage” my essay titled “Tracking a Black Rhino” is, as opposed to my papers from Viet Nam, or my Mandela poetry) for me the burden of the mess has outweighed the allowance for creative organization.

creative mind organization
Are you “alternatively organized” like me? Join me in this challenge!

In other words, while I can find what I need, do I really want to continue the ongoing task of finding or making a slab of desk on which to write?

No. Something needs to change for me.

Today instead of writing or submitting, I’m spending all day sorting and organizing and hoping to create a better system. Those organizational shows have never worked for me, so it’s time to create a system of my own that meets the way I think about my work while providing an alternative to piles.



1-Take a photo of an area you’ve been wanting to clean up or organize/overhaul.
2-Clean/organize/overhaul it!
3-Take an “After” photo

Email me ( marla at marlasinkdruzgal dot com ) both your Before and After photos, no later than this Sunday, 02 November, 2014. Winner will be announced next Monday. I’ll also show my own finished writing space.

Have fun and good luck!

Love, Marla

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Dead Body Management

It’s Manuscript Monday, and I’ve been tackling a couple projects I want to finish before the end of the year. But as often happens, my creativity is constantly being challenged by new stimuli.

Today I can’t stop thinking about the words “dead body management”. It is a term for the Red Cross currently being used due to the organization’s frequent duties whiles assisting with the Ebola crisis in West Africa. I came across it in the following article, which I hope you will take the time to read. It is a simple and crushing glimpse of life, but mostly death, in Liberia’s outbreak.

Liberia’s Ebola disposal teams

Ebola is not in South Africa, where I am, but I have friends here who fear for their loved ones in other African countries.Liberia

Please do read this very stirring article, and if you feel so inclined, do what I’m doing today and think about those haunting words, “dead body management” to see where they lead you in your own writing. And more critically, please donate to the World Food Programme. While we can’t do anything for the dead but remember them, burn them, or bury them, we can still help the living. Food shortage is the next very real problem to face the survivors and victims in these areas. Help us get ahead of that new crisis.

I’ve made a donation today, and designated it in memory of Fatimah Jakemah, the young pregnant woman mentioned in the article. I hope you’ll join me. The link above (and here) takes you directly to the donation page. To help the Ebola hit countries, select either Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia to make your donation matter in those places.

Love, Marla

In memory of Fatimah Jakemah. Everyone deserves to be remembered.
In memory of Fatimah Jakemah. Everyone deserves to be remembered.
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A Poem Forthcoming

Writing at sunrise over the Indian Ocean.

Just a brief announcement on this Manuscript Monday that one of my poems has been accepted for publication in the Fall 2014 issue of Pea River Journal. I usually wait until publication date to post my news, but since Pea River Journal is already listing contributors on their site, I thought I would share early this time:

Fall 2014 pea river journal

Writing at sunrise over the Indian Ocean.

There are a lot of writers I recognize in the upcoming issue, and I’m excited to be alongside them. The poem I contributed for this publication is a recent piece, though the material was inspired by events occurring within and before my lifetime. I worked on this piece with poet and author Sean Thomas Dougherty, who has been mentoring me on preparing my first full-length collection of poetry.

So many travels recently, dear readers, and so much lightning-fast life that I’m trying to slow down and savor. Wishing you the same.

Happy Monday!

Love, Marla

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There Was a Little Girl…

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Do you have a nursery rhyme or poem, or saying from childhood that still stays with you? In my case, I internalized a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Photo credit and copyright:

There was a little girl

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.


It was one my mother said to me frequently, and I still occasionally fall into the trap of thinking I can only be very good, or horrid. Influence from this poem is referenced in portions of my manuscript. And while I’m all degrees in between, isn’t it funny the words and stories that shape us when we’re young…

Tell me yours?

Happy Manuscript Monday, readers!

Love, Marla

Special thanks to the Poetry Foundation for sharing so many beautiful works on their site.

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Top 5 Reasons Kurt Needs a New Wife

Manuscript Monday travel South Africa

This is a bit of an odd Manuscript Monday, I’ll admit, but the post is a riff off part of the manuscript in which Kurt and I had some tough conversations on what life would be like without children. As it turns out, my husband is much more comfortable in a life without kids, whereas I had the more difficult time accepting and even embracing a childless life.

But since we moved to Africa, the question of children comes up more times than I can count. What’s considered impolite in many circles is a commonplace question we’ve received from both men and women here. And regardless of how casually I answer that we don’t have children and don’t intend to, the reactions lean toward that “end-of-the-world” mentality: how can we possibly endure a childless life? What other purpose could we (or, more importantly I, as the female) possibly have?

My favorite response so far has been from a friend from another African country, who explained to me that where he is from, Kurt would be required to get a new wife who would bear him children. Not suggested. Not recommended. Required. “You are lucky,” he said, “that you are not from my tribe.”

“I am lucky,” I replied, “because there are far easier reasons why Kurt might consider choosing a new wife.”

Reason #1: Marla is constantly taking awkward photos of Kurt and posting them online:

Manuscript Monday travel South Africa
Kurt just loved the hat they made him wear horseback riding through the bush in South Africa. And I just loved taking a photo of him wearing it.

Reason #2: Poor Kurt. His errant wife writes about every blasted indecent and sensitive thing about her life and posts it on a blog, including such saucy selfies when writing about working out in Rock Star gutchies.

Rock Star gutchies panties underwear personal training

Reason #3: Marla refuses to discard said Rock Star gutchies and other similarly wretched skivvies, regardless of wear and tear, with alternating arguments of: “Every woman needs a couple good pairs of granny panties!”; and “Someday I might learn to quilt and I want to incorporate this cool design into the edges.”

Reason #4: Kurt’s wife is terrible at the female “role” in marriage. She hates cooking and cleaning and anything expected out of domesticity. She would rather lift weights and chop wood and do the “men’s work” like taking out the garbage or sticking her hand in her waistband after dinner, Al Bundy style, and farting while watching the television. In short, she simply cannot be domesticated. She’s like one of those cows that you hear about escaping a truck on the way to the slaughterhouse. She doesn’t understand she was born to be a cow. Maybe she wanted to be a bull. Or maybe a dog.

Overcoming fear of success Change or Die

Reason #5: Marla is friendly to a fault. She’s always making new friends with some unique characters outside Kurt’s normal social networks, or “adopting” adults she thinks she can help engage in a better, healthier, or more productive life, like this dude, John, she met whilst he was minding his own business, sitting in a shopping cart reading a newspaper.

manuscript monday south africa travel
There is nothing quite like relaxing…in a shopping cart…reading a paper. And all I see? An intriguing new person to talk to.

Well, there you have it. Kurt’s reasons to leave have nothing to do with children. It’s those above five reasons he should have run for his life years ago. And yet, somehow he manages to stick around.

Happy Monday, friends. Whatever trials life gives you, I hope you have the fortune to marry your best friend and have the kind of relationship in which to pass your opinions, and your gas, with equal aplomb.

Love, Marla

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Climbing St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

travel England

Welcome to Manuscript Monday, dear readers. Making an appearance late in my manuscript is St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

travel England
St. Paul’s

I climbed this cathedral in May, 2011 with a friend. It was a long climb just to the Whispering Gallery (259 steps) and I wasn’t there long before the fire alarm sounded and we were evacuated.

 Travel England
Looking down on the bridge to The Tate Museum


It was tough to make the decision to start all over again (my weight was much higher and the knee much more painful) but I did, and made it to the top.

travel England
The London Eye as seen from St. Paul’s

The total climb in St. Paul’s is 528 steps. But my version went like this:
259 steps to the Whispering Gallery
259 steps back down from the Whispering Gallery
259 steps up again when we were allowed back in
269 steps to finish the climb to the top.
Phew! That was one tired Marla.

travel England
Looking down from the spiraling stairs up, up, up to the top of St. Paul’s

The focus of the chapter is not so much about the climb itself, but what it represented or, maybe more importantly, what it did not represent.

travel England
London city view from St. Paul’s

Have you been there? Climbed it?

Happy Monday, readers. Hope it’s a fast, smooth ride to the weekend!

Love, Marla

travel England
Traveling Marla at the top of St. Paul’s


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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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A Man in the Jaws of a Crocodile

Wale Ayeni writer quotes fairy tale

There is a writer I follow on Facebook who regularly posts inspiring quotes. I don’t always catch his posts, but on days I’m watching my News Feed, I’m always moved by what he chooses. Recently he posted one that has become a personal favorite. It’s a quote that reflects my perspective on life, and I want to share it with you for today’s installment of Manuscript Monday, along with the following story which has now become part of a later chapter of my manuscript.

Wale Ayeni writer quotes fairy tale

Thank you, Dinty W. Moore, for your daily inspiration, your excellent writing and perspective of life, and your good-natured acceptance of this harmless literary stalker.

Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale. ~ Wale Ayeni

Dinty posted this on Thanksgiving Day. If we had been in America, at home and celebrating the day with family and friends, the quote would not have inspired this moving and beautiful conversation.

As it was, we are in South Africa, and on Thanksgiving Day I was going about business as usual. Kurt was working and I was running errands. I went out of my way to park near one of my favorite car guards, a Nigerian named David, who is in Pretoria studying Mining Engineering while working his way through his studies by watching over an area of parking lot. Car guards are there to mainly watch over the cars to prevent theft, but also assist as needed with groceries, and guiding cars in and out of parking spots (yes, it is quite strange to have someone assist you in maneuvering in a parking lot).

David and I strike up a conversation every time I park, sometimes continuing a previous one, and sometimes starting a new one. As I got out of the car, David said “Hello, Marla. Today it is Thanks Day in America, yes?” I answered that it was and matched his own toothy, lopsided grin with my own gummy smile.

“Then,” he continued, “I must tell you that I thank God that I can go to school and have a job and meet nice people like you and have good conversations.” He then went on to tell me that the latest hailstorm flattened many of the lean-to type shacks in the informal settlement section of Mamelodi. David does not live in Mamelodi, nor is he South African. He only wanted to explain his recognition for his life as lucky in comparison to the struggle he sees around him.

I told him about the quote (above) and he said “Yes, this is how it is.” and asked me who could have a better fairy tale life than me? I told him a few people I envied (mostly successful writers) and he asked me if I didn’t also envy all the Mercedes and BMW’s in the parking lot (Americans working for my husband’s company are each assigned a Toyota Corolla.) I said they were nice, but my fairy tale life involves action more than possession.

David then went back to his own comparison to the people who lost their makeshift houses in the hailstorm, and then said “But maybe their makeshift houses are a fairy tale for the one who is sleeping under the tree beside the road.” (I have seen the homeless individuals he is referring to; living near the highways, putting together fire with collected sticks at night, hanging laundry over nearby chainlink fences.)

“But,” he looked at me very seriously, “who has a fairy tale to be a homeless person living beside the highway?”

My response came more quickly than I thought it would, and I wasn’t sure if it was tasteful, only that it was honest and raw to what I felt: “Where I am from, it’s very cold, but we also have homeless people. In the winter, some homeless people freeze to death while sleeping on the concrete under bridges. Maybe being homeless in the warmth of Africa is a better place?” He stared at me, and I wasn’t sure if he was contemplating it, or if he was doubting whether or not I was, after all, a good person. I continued, “But I don’t know who would want the life of a homeless person freezing to death.”

His eyes lit up with challenge and I realized he had been contemplating, as if we had stumbled onto a game, the consequences of which have no direct bearing on either of us, and yet every bearing on who we are, or who we want to be. I thought we had come to an end in our conversation, and turned to go run my errands, but he moved to block me slightly.

“A man in the jaws of a crocodile” he said. “A man in the jaws of a crocodile I think would want to be a man without a home freezing in America.” He was ecstatic with his revelation. “Because he has a chance.” He finished, looking at me expectantly.

I’m not sure if he could tell I was getting choked up, but I tried to keep my voice level and answered “Yes. I don’t think there would be anything worse than a man in the jaws of a crocodile.”

David’s grin slid a little wider, flashing even more teeth, through which he replied, “I bet we can think of something.”

I bet we can, David. Thank you.

I hope I’ve captured the memory as honestly and true to your manner of speaking as possible.

Love, Marla

Do you like Manuscript Monday? Here are previous MM posts you may enjoy:

The “W” in my Wrollercoaster

“Ignite Your Bones”

The Great Divorce

The Hue of You

“Mrs. Kurt”: Identity Struggles

The Influence of a Vietnamese Temple