Black And White

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

6th May 2016
Life Lived in Colour - A Short Memoir

Black stripes on white, or white on black? When they moved as a herd it was hard to tell. Against the backdrop of the African plain it was hard to see them as single entities; they became a blur of stripes and movement and beauty, hardly real, if you looked long enough.

I wrote a project about zebras for school. I wrote a book, too, an adventure story, fully illustrated, about travelling to China from Kenya by boat. It ran to thirty pages and I've still got it somewhere. Somehow the school unearthed in them what each child loved to do, and let them do it. For me it was writing. Even then, at the age of nine, I loved it the most.

My school was a Montessori school filled with a mix of children from all over the world and of all abilities and disabilities. Thirty three years later the school still exists and now caters mostly for kids with special needs. One day I'd like to work there, but it'll be years away, yet, as I've found the place I need to be, the first place I've wanted to put down roots for the last 18 houses. The roots will run deep, here on this rocky coastline, but I'm sure I will travel again. This time though, I've a place to come back to, and it's place that is inside me as much as around me.

In England I'd been a child without a lot of confidence. In Kenya, I flourished. The year spent there still stands out as one of the best of my life. Now, a year isn't a lot. But at the time it was exactly 1/9 of my life, and I cried for days when we had to leave, earlier than planned due to a family death and a military coup. Back at home I carried some of that confidence, but often also had the low self-esteem that, in the end, got me into all sorts of trouble. It's amazing what children and young people will do to get attention. For me it was drink and soft drugs and sex and risk, from too early an age. The good thing about this though is that there's not much the children will want to try that I never have. I'm one step ahead and also a great teacher; having been a terrible student. If you understand what it's like not to want to learn, you can have a good go at getting anyone to learn anything.

There was trouble brewing in the family. I remember things being difficult in Kenya - for all kidns of reasons, in between the family adventure. Dad could be difficult but he also took us there, to a country where we'd discover there was no black and white, just a range of beautiful browns and peaches. He brought us up to be colour-blind and living in Kenya consolidated this awareness. Kids are naturally colour blind anyway; they just do not notice, unless it's pointed out to them. Racism is a learned thing, but it can easily be unlearned.

The family situation wasn't black and white, either. Before and since and during Kenya, I could criticise my father for all kinds of things, but he had a lot of magic in him too, and taught me to be open minded and aware of the world around me. But he also hurt me, a lot. Love was hard for him to express and I think I find it frightening, too. It would be much easier to be done and dusted with him, to not forgive, but he's my father and I can't forget the good bits, as well. It's this greyness between the black and white that's just, this very morning, spurred me to write a letter, having sworn I'd never be in touch again. My children are in touch, but he's only met them once and probably won't, ever again. Being half a globe apart doesn't help, but he travels easily, just not to here. So I wrote, becasue of this grey area in which exists a link between us, but also because I dreamt last night that he passed away, and I didn't find out for weeks afterwards. The feelings I was left with were huge and confusing, and mostly centred on regret that I'd not written this letter that I've been thinking about recently. It was mostly chatty, black words on a white page but I hope he can read into the greyness. I don't think he ever has, lacking self-awareness almost completely, but you never know.

It's within the grey areas that we must live, I believe. There cannot ever be a black and white because human nature has so many contradictions, just as the world does. Any rule can be overruled in nature. Just as the zebras blurred into a beautiful rush of grey, so do we, when we're in movement. They react, we react. We blur at the edges too, and for a good reason; life lived in black and white would be dull, hard-edged and would not allow for change. People who think in black and white can be rigid and difficult to live with. People who can see all the colours in between experience other dimensions on life and live a richer experience as a result. I hope, I pray, I am one of them. My life is a blur of all the colours, and between black and white I see a rainbow.

Ever since I left Kenya I've been trying to find my way back there, metaphorically and physically. I'm pretty much there spiritually; I don't think I ever left, not really. My confidence took years and certain meds to fully come back but here it is, a warm blanket I carry with me always, giving me a self-reliance I first found aged nine and can now tap into whenever I like. Want your children to be confident? Show them they can survive, anywhere. It's taken a while but I'm glad I found it again aged forty-three and not double that.

I've a batik of zebras from Kenya hanging in the cramped, book-filled, cushion-carpeted landing we call our library. It reminds me, in case I ever need reminding, what I know. That there is no black and white, that there is always hope and forgiveness in writing a letter, that there are always at least two ways of looking at everything:

Black stripes on white, or white on black?

And that really, the only way to be sure is to allow every single colour into your world, imagine the rainbow and live in the spaces between.