“To dig one's spade into one's own earth—has life anything better to offer than this.” B. Nichols
“I wake up every morning, go outside to touch my garden—to feel it's leaves—to smell it's flower's-- to water and nurture—this is what makes me happy.” These are the words of my good friend Leah!
The day I walked past her house and garden, my mouth dropped in awe. Have I seen more beautiful, lush gardens before, absolutely, but there was something uniquely special in this land—something spiritual from someone's soul that grabbed me into stillness. Moments later, the most beautiful woman came to open the gate saying, “you are welcome.” She somehow got that I saw “her being” through her garden. Taking a good look into her eyes, and without words, we began walking her land. Green beer bottles were used for borders, old tires were painted which graced the entrance way, and used for decoration around plants and trees, sticks and limbs of trees were carefully placed for seating or for dramatic backdrops for other greenery, and stones, both large and small, were situated in a fen-shui manner—some were painted, others not—but there in her garden was a poetic and mysterious feeling of serenity and joy. The entire ambiance, and the nature of this woman was pleasing to the eye, and pleasing to the soul—It was, indeed, a piece of heaven! Thanking her, I left as quietly and as in awe as I came in.
Her name is Leah—biblical and beautiful! In the weeks to come, we slowly became friends. My admiration for what she has created made her laugh at times, but as our friendship grew, she invited me into her humble home, where again, I was stopped by the magic in her creation of bringing nature into one single room. Baskets and weavings from Zimbabwe, sticks that she made into works of art, skeleton parts from animals—all fit into an assembly that a museum would be proud to display. It was on this day that Leah put her hands to her heart and said, “I have very little, but I have my art, and my garden—nobody can take that away, so I guess I have a lot!” Not yet knowing her story, I knew that all her hurts were healed through her creation here.
Leah grew up in a family of 5 children with loving parents. She did not attend a University, nor was she encouraged to do something with her life. She did, however, receive love from her family which has given her the inner fortitude to combat whatever came her way. As a child, Leah would create things with rocks or painting—saying that she knew then that she had God given talent. At 26 years of age, Leah married, having 4 children of her own, though it was a brutal marriage, and a rough divorce. She came back to Mmathethe with nothing, and told me that her garden used to be more beautiful, but having left for several years due to the divorce, things fell apart. Now she is rebuilding her garden and her soul. Looking at her, she seems to know who she is, what her relation to the world is, and what to expect of it. Most others would have damaged psyche's from the stress, but not Leah—she had her talent, and her garden, to pull her through the rough times!
Willingly, Leah tells me that Africa is in her soul, and that she's proud to be an African. I ask her why that was, and looking up, she points and says, “there's art in our skies,” “people come from all over the world to see our nature, and our animals—yes indeed, I am very proud to be an African.” I then asked her if she were to pick anywhere in the world to visit, where would that be—Paris. Of course an artists' mind would pick Paris, even though she had never even heard of the Louvre, but with that, Leah put her arm through mine, and we pretend to be walking the narrow cobblestone streets of the left bank, sitting at a cafe having an espresso and croissant, beeming at the sight of the Mona Lisa, watching people as we sit on the steps of Notre Dame, and walking along the Sienne—admiring the lined statues, and in the distance, admiring the strength of the Eifle Tower. I was her eyes for our stroll through Paris, and her own eyes were filled with wonder for a moment in time. “But Tshepo, I will always come back to Africa!” “And you should Leah---to your own museum!”
After our trip to Paris, I took many photos of Leah's 3 daughters and 3 grandchildren who have been visiting for the holidays. Showing the photos to them on the computer was a thrill in itself. Somehow Africans go crazy for seeing photos! Later that afternoon, Leah called me, “Tshepo, look outside at the clouds—can you take a picture of them?” “Sure Leah, I'd be glad to photograph any art you see.” I looked outside to see huge cumulous clouds with bursts of sunshine in the vast skies, and through my lens, I sought to capture what Leah saw.
“Kiss of the sun for pardon,
Song of the birds for mirth.
You're closer to God's heart in a garden
Than anyplace else on earth.” D.F. Gurney