AMAZING GRACE

A repentent slave trader humbled the words of the first stanza to a modest gathering of folk at a prayer meeting on the first day of 1773.

It was barely a year since the itinerant clergyman had been admitted to Gods ministry and twenty since he had, whether by intention or fate, given up the debauchery of his previous vocation.

It would have taken more than just a shipwreck for this shattered soul to become found when once he was lost and to be able to see when once he was blind.

Here was a man who sought reconciliation with humanity, forgiveness and redemption in exchange for freedom and peace.

But he knew not if he would make it through heaven’s pearly gates while twenty thousand ghosts were haunting him day and night to his grave.

They were not going away anytime soon.

In two hundred and fifty years, the stanza has hardly been modified, though there were many additions to it by the clergyman’s own hand.

A tune was added and the stanzas formed into a hymn which in turn became a popular anthem, sung rejoicingly and reflectively by millions of people across the world of every creed.

The stanzas do not intend to convey anti-slavery sentiment and yet there are those who looked beyond the persona of the evangelist who wrote them and applied them to campaign and fight for the cause to remove chains from every man woman and child who was deemed not free.

It is a hark from a bygone era but still strikes a cord in the world today.

Slavery and Colonialism went very much hand-in-hand

And the chains were coming off.

The author of the stanzas lived for eighty-two years between the years 1725 and 1807.

He lived just long enough to see laws passed in his homeland which abolished slavery.

He wrote the lyrics for many more hymns but none more meaningful than the one which the London seaman derived from his own personal experience.

This, as you may have gathered, is the background story to ‘Amazing Grace’, written by John Newton and the inspiration for a Yorkshire member of parliament, William Wilberforce, to finally win the day for the abolition of slavery at the fourteenth attempt in 1807.

Both John Newton and William Wilberfore lost a parent in childhood.

They both claim to have seen the light when once they were blind.

They were drawn together and united for the cause of abolishing slavery.

John Newton was ironically blind in his last years but this did not prevent him reciting ‘Amazing Grace’ one more time before he died and in the presence of William Wilberforce.

This was the stanza which struck the chord on that occasion:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil

A life of joy and peace.

It was a surreal moment in time and a testament of faith.

Amazing Grace.

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MOTHER HEN AND THE UNWASHED EGG

I had never considered until the other day whether eggs were or should be washed or not.

So i decided to consult Mother Hen who I thought would know best.

It amazed me to learn that America, Japan and Australia wash their eggs while the rest of the world (which includes Europe, Great Britain and the asian countries) do not.

It creates a sort of trade embargo where British eggs cannot be sold or eaten in America and likewise American eggs cannot be sold or eaten in Britain.

How utterly bizarre is that!

According to Mother Hen, it is all down to animal husbandry.

We are all educated folk and know  that the salmonella virus can be contracted from eating eggs.

We are not sure how salmonella gets there in the first place.

Mother Hen curtly points out that the issue of salmonella is a fairly recent thing.

We tend to forget of days gone by when people were less health-conscious, health-aware and refrigerators did not come into being until that well known genius Albert Einstein came up with the idea in the 1920s.

What we fail to understand, says Mother Hen, is that eggs are more resistant than you think to bacterial contamination.

Eggs have this invisible coating or safety jacket called a cutible which blesses every egg shell and makes them very strong.

Mother Hen is adamant that eggs which are washed of this coating make them damaged and susceptible to contamination.

Washing the eggs in a special chemical way merely deludes public thinking that salmonella cannot be contracted..

Quite the contrary in fact as it becomes the breeding ground for it.

So there is every reason to suppose that a washed egg could become tainted.

While not refrigerating eggs at the outset when Mother Hen lays them and not washing them, there is actually less likelihood that anyone will get sick.

Mother Hen boasts that eggs are one of the healthiest kinds of food humans can eat.

Eggs are the ultimate fat-fighters and it is nonesense to suggest they raise your cholesterol level.

The wisdom of Mother Hen is undeniable.

She realizes she could be a salmonella carrier even before she lays an egg, so she is all for the idea of anti-salmonella vaccination.

She does concede that as she gets older, the eggs she lays have poorer cuticle coverage and the risk of contamination, although small, is still there.

Mother Hen thinks the public are confused about the selection process for eggs and what to do with eggs once we have bought them.

The best place to buy the eggs is at the farm shop but few people get that opportunity, so we usually buy them at the grocery store or the supermarket.

The eggs might be cooled or chilled but they are rarely refrigerated and more often than not, they are kept at room temperature.

Keeping the purchased eggs at room temperature when we get them home is the logical thing to do.

Their shelf life for consumption may be shorter than if they were refrigerated but the shorter duration will provide a more healthier egg to eat.

What happens to a cold egg then, I asked Mother Hen, if it is then introduced to room temperature?

It will sweat and possibly be open to breed bacteria.

Mother Hen sees the modern day refrigerator as the enemy in the quest to preserve the glory of the beautiful egg.

Every one of us will surely admit that we buy our eggs, perhaps by the dozen, in the carton and then place them later at home in the special slot inside the refrigerator.

It indeed preserves the shelf life, so to speak, for cooking and eating the egg but it also reduces the natural taste the egg has to offer.

The ultimate message of Mother Hen is not to underestimate the power of the egg, to respect the aesthetics of the egg and not exaggerate human health and safety out of ignorance.

I want to thank Mother Hen for her time in giving this somewhat unusual interview.

Do not forget to read this article again and refresh many of the useful phrases which I have highlighted.

THE WEEPING FIG – JATI WARINGIN

In Indonesia, the tree is called the Jati Waringin but it is more commonly known as the Weeping Fig.

The Weeping Fig  is a fantastic tree that attracts a large number of birds whenever it produces figs.

It is a sprawl of a tree in an urban environment where its invasive roots are hardly welcoming to its arborous hosts.

The Little Garuda has flown a long way in a short time and has found refuge here, made new friends.

Birds come for the fruit, for the insects and for the leaves to line their nests.

They spreaad the seeds onto branches of the tree where they germinate and develop.

Raptors are attracted to the swarms.

Human life passes by with total disregard and ignorance.

Except for one individual who has affinity with nature at play and knows the story of the Little Garuda.

That story is unfolding before his eyes.

Reality meets surrealism.

The succulent fig of the Waringin is the enlargement of a stem tip that becomes hollow and fleshy.

The figs are rich with starch, sugars, minerals as well as proteins and fats.

Within its cavity are tiny flowers.

The pollination of the flowers is the task of the fig wasp.

The fig wasp forces its way inside the fig to seek out the sterile gall flowers and lay their eggs.

The process of laying the eggs is coupled with the emission of pollen to the female flowers.

These tiny female flowers eventually develop into fruit.

The ripening of the fig is timed with the hatching of the wasps eggs and the maturity of the male flowers.

The male fig wasps die after mating with the female.

The female wasp is able to emerge from the fig and repeat the process.

Both the fig and the fig wasp are dependent on each other for their existence.

Without the fig plant, the wasp cannot multiply.

Without the fig wasp, the fig plant cannot form seeds.

The Jati Waringin is a truly fantastic tree.

The Little Garuda will not settle here.

This is just one short story from her youth in the journey of life.

THE LITTLE GARUDA

The wishful fourteen year old made a decisive choice on that fateful April day which would shape the rest of her life.

Twenty years have passed since.

Today, at the break of dawn, she has returned for the first time to the Crocodile River.

This was the lowlands and hills of Palembang Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Palembang City itself was still several hours drive away.

This is her world and it is like no other on this earth.

Countless times she had come here since she discovered the place as a recently-turned five year old.

She had always come alone and in all these nine years, she had never seen another human being once.

Nobody had discovered her secret getaway.

Nature was truly her friend here.

It was the perfect place to shape a personal destiny.

On her fifth birthday, she received a book about Sumatran birds from her favourite uncle, the eldest brother of her father.

The impact was like putting a telescope into the hands of a star-gazing astronomer.

From Trogons to Kingfishers, from Pheasants, Eagles and Hawks to Broadbills and Babblers, she knew them all.

When asked a few months later by her schoolteacher what she wanted to be when she grew up, she replied that she wanted to be a bird so that she could fly and see the world.

The whole class laughed including the teacher but the girl meant what she had said.

They called her the Little Garuda.

On that April morning, she rode her bicycle home from school, oblivious of the news that awaited her.

There was a sizeable gathering of people at her home.

She knew that her Uncle’s wife had passed away a month or so before and that there had been much discussion within the family of his re-marriage.

Nothing could prepare her for the news which greeted her that her parents had promised her to her Uncle as his new wife, she merely a girl of fourteen and he a widower three times her age.

She was commanded to her room after a swift ceremony and joined by her Uncle  while the door to the room was locked from the outside.

She undressed as she felt compelled to do and knelt down before his naked frame standing before her, not to give sexual favour but in prayer.

In the endless time that passed while they were alone in the room, the Uncle touched her whole body and attempted penetration to her most virtuous part but did not succeed.

She had resisted his penetration with all her will and might given to her by God.

It was he who finally knocked the door and made an exit from her ungiving presence.

Her only uttered words to him before he left were to tell him hat she was as free as any bird and she would fly away to see the world, as was her dream and her destiny.

He could do nothing to prevent it.

He knew that a gift could not and should not be the price to coerce or compromise an unwilling party into marriage.

The young girl did not sleep that night.

She waited her moment near the breaking of the dawn and made her escape on the bicycle to the place of solittude she knew so well.

She feigned to jump from the bridge but lacked conviction for the final action.

She was understandably confused but not afraid.  She knew that God was watching over her.

She descended the rocky cliff from one side of the bridge to the salty waters edge.

She knew the danger.  This was a calculated risk.

Two twenty-foot crocodiles appeared from the murky waters and rushed towards her but then suddenly braked, menacing in their appearance,  not attacking her.

Then, in a quite extraordinary moment, this girl nonchalently patted the heads of the two crocodiles before they suddenly retreated into the waters and swam away.

Today, the young fourteen year old remembered the moment and the choice she made.

She returned to the bridge where she had left her bicycle.

She knelt to pray for a prolonged period of time, it could have been hours.

Today was no different.  She prayed.

There was a cavity in the weak structure of the bridge and she pushed her bicycle through it into the salty waters of the river she had been immersed by a few minutes before.

The shattered bicycle shattered against the boulder rocks but did not get swept away.

Today, unsurprisingly to her, the corroded remains of the bicycle remained in the salty waters.

Twenty years ago, she raised herself after prayer and looked down at the Crocodile River one final time.

Those who doubted her before would not doubt her now.

Another phase in her life was about to begin.

The Little Garuda flew away.

THE STRANGER OF UNSOUND MIND

I first came to Indonesian shores in the spring of 1997 and I acquainted her in a restaurant in the city of Jakarta.

She was an exciting, exquisite, extraordinary creature with a radiant beauty.

I was then a mature man of forty years and she was a sweetie just turned twenty.

I tell you honestly that I love her now as I loved her then.

I still call her my wife but we have long not been together and she is married to another.

All it took was a declaration to the Court and a judicial dismissal after three strikes.

Then it was in with the new and out with the old, except the old remained to be looked after by the new in the same house for a number of years afterwards.

It is a painfully long time since I have ever seen another living soul.

It has been so long that over time, I have forgotten my age.

It has been even longer since a kiss was tasted and enjoyed from the lips of the one woman on this earth whom I dearly love.

And I can barely recall the last time she uttered a single word in my presence, let alone to me.

I love her so much.  I always dream about her.

Last night, I dreamnt I had died.  She took my corpse away in the car to a far away place and dropped it with carefree abandon into a river to be taken by crocodiles.

She watched over from the bridge fifty metres above but shed not one tear.

I used to be a lawyer in England and I gave her everything I could, everything she wanted.

Later, after several years of marriage, when her mother became sick with cancer, we made the decision to come and live in Indonesia.

I gave up the career in law and made do with becoming an English teacher.

For this duration, little did I know or understand about the country Indonesia which had embraced my life for more than a decade.

How little did I realize that love would come at such enormous cost.

I truly loved this woman and believed that she loved me.

Now I know that could not be the case.

There comes a time in a man’s life when he is so obviously not the man he used to be and not able to provide.

I know you will say I am crazy and of unsound mind, that I am living out a fantasy derived from self-pity, depression, loneliness, isolation and dimentia.

That may indeed be so.

I know I do not live alone,  I see shadows on the walls and ceilings which sometimes pirouhette in erotic postures.

And I hear noises which echo to the core of my being.

There are monsters all about which come to attack.

I know it is impossible to kill a cockroach and cockroaches are all about in my squalor.  They represent to me humanity in another form.

If I died tonight, slumped on the floor in a slovenly stench, nobody would know for days, perhaps even weeks of my desperate demise.

But the predators would have their field day in the preliminaries.

It would have come to that.

I am a stranger in a foreign land and have become the unwelcome tourist who has overstayed his welcome.

There is only one escape.

About the partner of my wife, I guess that he is strong, loyal, faithful, loving, honest and reliable, youthful.

All of the things I am deemed to be not.

I know they think that I do not have any comprehension of what is going on and that they are doing their best for me in the circumstances.

But I do understand.

I am certain that my dear wife aches for finality.

The time for that finality has surely come.

CROCODILE TEARS OF AN INDONESIAN WANITA

It was a two day drive to the Crocodile River in the Palembang district of south Sumatra.

It was from a remote spot on the hanging bridge that she had once stood compromised as a fourteen year old girl many years before.

She was back for the first time in twenty years for a reason.

A forgivable and redeemable mission.

Her short nimble frame struggled to take the heavy lifeless body from the boot of the car.

She unsipped the corpse from its modified body bag and dragged it with all her might to the weather-made cavity on the bridge.

The body was then thust fifty metres downward into the torrent of the Crocodile River.

The head smashed against boulder rocks and blood splattered.

The body briefly floated downstream.

Then the crocodiles came and feasted upon their prize prey.

There were no tears in her eyes or emotion on the woman’s face but she hummed quietly and melodically a Sumatran song remembered from her childhood.

Two crocodiles fought for the right to drag the limp body beneath the waters before the victorious one and the body disappeared from view.

Before returning to the car, the body bag was burnt and those remains too were also nonchalently discarded into the river.

The man had died several days before of probable natural causes in his room at the house which she shared with him.

There are some who might suggest that she had motive for killing the man who was her lawful husband but the simple truth is she did not.

They had not slept together in many years and there were no outward signs to the world that they were even married to each other.

They lived in different worlds and totally separate lives.

He was twenty five years her senior and a stranger in a foreign land.

To anyone who asked, he had simply returned home to his native land.

Their only child was grown and away living in England, an infrequent commmunicator to this father.

As for other relatives, they were either unknown or long blown in contact.

The slumped body had been lying there for four days before it was discovered.

Not the wife or the maid or a passing visitor, it seemed, had any inclination of the man’s demise.

On the night that she discovered her husband’s body, the wife requested her lover to make love to her for two long hours on the bed where the corpse lay.

There was an air of pre-meditation about the actions of the widow.

It was the lover who then prepared a makeshift body bag and placed the body inside it.

The widow alone, by insistence and persistence, dragged the body into the boot of the car in the dark of the night.

There was no blood.

There would be no delay.

The journey was immediate.

The woman did not change the clothes which her lover had impetiously re-arranged while callously agreeing to her sexual request.

This was a course of action that only she could explain.

The two day journey from her home on the southern outskirts of Jakarta city to this distant Sumatran outpost across the Sunda Straits was slow but certain.

When she arrived at the Crocodile River, the widow prayed for several hours before undertaking the task of disposing of the body.

She had suffered too for all these years.  Nobody can or will ever begin to understand.

Her actions in all their excess were her way of gaining release for a lifetime culmination of distress and enforced tolerance.

There would be no crocodile tears for the passing of a loved one.

Still to this day, five years on, now married to a man she purports to love, a selfie picture of the widow at the Crocodile River on that May day serves as a screensaver on a smartphone and profile for social media.

It is irrefutable yet damning evidence that there are, of course, two sides to every story.

BETWEEN US

I do not see her from one day to the next.

All I know is that she exists.

She has her life and I have mine.  Apparently.

We live in completely different worlds but within the same house.

We have lived like this for the virtual duration of our marriage.

I met her once a long, long time ago.

It really was a long time ago.

She was young and adorable and I fell in love with her.

Sometimes I permit myself an occasonal peep at her social media feeds and wonder if this beautiful, extraordinary woman was ever, is or will ever be my wife.

There is a child between us whom she and I co-parent.

The child is fed, clothed and loved.

Our co-habitation is lived out in the environs of silent shadows on a daily basis but our paths never cross.

It is, of course, curious what brought this woman and I together in the first place and why we continue to co-habit in this way.

Divorce is not an option.

This is a marrage serving a purpose to create a perception of a happy family but those who know the players know that is not the reality.

There are bars on the windows of the home and and a high enclosing wall.

Darkness is perpetual and there are few visitors.

Words are never spoken between us.  Smartphone Text messages are rarely exchanged.

Body language speaks volumes of two people who are strangers to each other within a marriage.

This is a marriage of silence, solemnity and solittude.

Never to see her womanliness for all these years.

Never to touch or kiss.

Never to know the meaning of shared love and happiness.

Never to whisper sweet nothings in her ear or be shown gratitude for a surprise gift.

Never to know (or need to know) the timing of her menstruation.

Never to know what she is wearing or what is on her mind.

Never to taste the cuisine of her food or hear her crackle of laughter to a silly joke.

Many a time I have certainly plucked courage and tried to show conviction but i have been beaten back with fierce resistance.

There comes a time when you just accept the way things are and believe that is how things are meant to be.

But I tell you honestly.  This is a woman I love.

Now, I see a man with his arms wrapped around her and his lips pressed against hers.

I know that man.

But that man is not he who writes this now.