I lived in America for eight years: six years in New Orleans, a cool town. In fact in March of this year, I attended my high school reunion. Here we all are- I am in the middle of the front row. My best friend is next to me, to the left. We were bad girls! We used to make prank telephone calls and get into all sorts of trouble which we each now blame the other for. My wild and crazy days continued in New York when two friends parachuted off the Empire State Building in 1986. I arranged the getaway taxi and dragged the parachutes into my office to hide under my desk at Clarion, where I was the Art Director.
My parents were keen musicians and all the kids were roped in. I played the harpsichord-- never terribly well. My parents started the Woodvine Recorder Consort, which for all I know might still be going. I used to go to sleep on Sunday evenings listening to them all rehearse in the living room.
Then we moved to San Francisco which was a little tough in those days for an unhip kid in a new school. Suddenly I was the class nerd.
My Dad and I used to go off hiking in the mountains on weekends to trout fish. I even learned how to tie the flies. Those are the best memories I have of my Dad. He gave me a real introduction to wide open spaces. Our favourite place was Yosemite-- we went on a ten day hike there one summer.
Finally I graduated from high school in June 1970. Because I was going to the University of Cape Town the next year, which only started in March, I got to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do in the intervening eight months. I decided to do what everyone else my age dreamed of doing: I turned my baby-sitting money into traveler's cheques, hiked on a backpack and set off for Europe with a Eurail Pass in my pocket. I started in Paris, went north to visit friends and relatives in Sweden and Norway and then slowly made my way down Europe to Italy and Greece as my money dwindled and the days got shorter and colder. Finally I ended up as a volunteer on a kibbutz in Israel. I still think of that year as the best year of my life. My parents totally freaked when they picked me up at the airport in Pretoria. Was this scruffy suntanned rough-handed kid in overalls and fur coat gleaned from the Amsterdam flea market really their darling young daughter? 'Fraid so.
I arrived at the University of Cape Town with rings on my fingers and bells on my toes- literally. I thought I was Ms Cool personified. But the situation in South Africa soon humbled me. The 70's were tough years in South Africa. The universities were about the only venue for any tolerated vocal protest against apartheid. I spent one summer in Zululand, working at a hospital in Nqutu. The experience was definitely a lot more important for me than for the people I was supposed to be helping (our project was to build a fence around the reservoir to keep out the cattle, and I believe after we left, two local guys pulled down our fence and reconstructed it in two weeks.) The hospital was run by a wonderful man, Dr Anthony Barker, who took us to the historic battle sites of Isandhlawana and Rorke's Drift. At Isandhlawana, I could feel the ground tremble as the Cetywayo's warriors surrounded the small hill where the British troops were camped, and where I was standing. It was the beginning of my love affair with Africa.
After four years at art school, I got a job on the Cape Flats, teaching art and art history at a teacher's training college. In those days, schools of course were segregated. My school was officially for "coloureds", students of mixed descent. The local schools came to the college for art classes. I loved teaching, and I think my kids loved me. All the other teachers were very strict, but my classes were fun. The kids would arrive in long straight quiet lines at the front of the college where I would collect them. After my class, the only way I could get them quietly back to the front of the school was to Pink Panther back, right past the head's room. Thank goodness the head never spotted me- he was a singularly humourless man and wouldn't have found my melodramatic slinking down the hall, followed by forty Pink Panthering students, very funny at all. A group of boys and girls always came after school-- the boys to make masks and the girls to help me sweep the room. They all begged for rides home in my car-- a little Mini. I said, no, only if it rains. Finally after about two months it rained and I had to ferry about 60 kids home-- it must have taken about two hours, but a promise is a promise.
So then I decided to get my teaching certificate in London. What a shock! I couldn't control the tough young kids in London's East End at all, and later, the older students at the Loughton College of Further Education were so bored and unmotivated, only interested in snoggling with each other at the back of the class. Teaching suddenly became a matter of either discipline or entertainment. It was so different from Africa, where kids sometimes walk for hours every day to get to school.
My parents were in New York by this time, so I came over to visit them. I had absolutely no money, so my mother commissioned me to paint the family portraits. My mother was truly a wonderful and supportive woman. She was also a painter, and hoped that I would be able to devote my life to art because she hadn't been able to. Because they entertained a lot, word got around about my portraits and soon I was able to finance a post graduate degree in design at Pratt. And then, through Pratt, I got my first job in publishing. This was a wonderful serendipitous surprise- but in a way it was a culmination of everything I had studied- art, education and design. I loved working in publishing.
But Africa called and I went back. After four years in New York, adapting to Cape Town was a struggle. New York is a great place for young people with ambition and a little talent, and I felt suffocated by the terrible tension in South Africa. Everything had to be seen in terms of the struggle, and there didn't seem to be a place for children's book people. So after three years I went back to New York to focus on my own career. But I had made my break from the grind of the office- it was time for me to really stretch my wings, take a deep breath, and jump.
I have been freelancing now for about twenty years. It's not always easy and I still have to do the occasional bit of dog-walking to pay my telephone bills, but I can focus on my own work, and am free to research my work in Africa, central America, Europe, the Caribbean, and even India. I love traveling-- must be a result of so much moving around as a kid.
Here are some pictures of some of my travels to research books. I went to Malawi with my sister to research the pictures for Galimoto, by Karen Lynne Williams. What a beautiful country! I flew into Lilongwe around towering cumulus clouds and that night there was such a strong earthquake that 60 chickens fainted and didn't recover for 24 hours. That was the headline in the paper. The first picture is taken near Zomba, a mountain town. My sister, Vanessa, is standing in the taxi that took us and fourteen others to our campsite at Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi. Whenever we approached a hill, all the men had to get out and walk up it. The women were allowed to stay in the truck. Here are somechildren with their galimotos, which you find all over Africa. I attract interest whenever I sit down to work, but in Africa, people often feed me at lunch time as well.
Vanessa lives on a game farm called Sentinel on the Limpopo river in southwest Zimbabwe, where I wrote and illustrated Where are you Going, Manyoni? I love it there. I get up early in the morning, with the first bird calls, and set out for a long walk. I have to be back at the camp by ten or so, because after that it is terribly hot. Then I sleep again till about three. On a horse, you can ride up to the animals and they don't run away because the smell of the horse is stronger than that of people, and they are also more comfortable with the gait of four-legged critters than two-legged ones.
The landrover was built for me by my brother-in-law, Digby. He cut down a tree that was growing through the chassis and put it together so I could move about the farm, which is very big. My goddaughter, Moon, is with me in these pictures. She is the daughter of a friend I met on a kibbutz in Israel in 1970. Rubbish, the dog, is on the back of the jeep. She protected me from a bushpig one night, who was eating the figs under the tree where I was sleeping. She gently growled at him softly so he moved off. Most silly city dogs would have panicked the pig which then would have ripped us to shreds with his long sharp tusks.
The Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls.Colin, Digby's brother, found this young elephant all alone, which is very unusual as elephants are very good mothers. We never found the mother.
My sister also reared a baby zebra for about two years. Debra the Zebra was very possessive of my sister, and finally had to be placed in a private zoo when she started kicking anyone who came too close to Vanessa, including my brother-in-law. Here is me and another zebra made by Mrs Khoza. I wrote about Mrs Khoza in Gugu's House.
I am based in New York, but have come full circle with my cottage in France where I have a wonderful big studio to work in. Here I am a little kid again, painting, drawing, mixing magic potions to keep the witches out. Here it is again:
The dog with the fluffy tail is Felix, whom we found in Central Park in New York.
This is where I am truly happy: a room of my own.
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