Tears for Paris

Paris 13 Nov 2015

The killings in Paris last night have left my mind whirling and heart heavy this morning, along with many others around the world.

I have found that many comments on social media this morning have felt contrary to my own feelings. I do not see this as “good vs. evil”; I don’t despair of humanity. This does not mean for one second that I condone these killings in any way, or feel anything but the deepest, most heart-felt empathy for those that have lost beloved family, friends and colleagues, but simply that looking at them in isolation – or blaming an entire religion for the actions of a tiny minority of extremists – fails to take into account the deeply conflicted, complex and separated world in which we live.

I began the day by writing down my experience of being in London during the 7/7 bombings in 2005, because those memories were powerfully re-awoken, and it felt like an important part of my personal processing; I am also aware that for many of my friends and family, the same memories will have risen to the surface, and will certainly be playing some part in our reactions to what has happened in Paris.

I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, and a desire to better understand the layers of what this sorrow means to me. It begins, naturally, on a purely individual level – the flashbacks to the London bombings; memories of being in Paris last year and imaging being there last night, dead or injured or losing loved ones. It raises very personal fears of loss, death and instability.

Paris 2014

Paris 2014

Continue reading

Alibi (30 Seconds to Mars)

No warning sign, no alibi
We faded faster than the speed of light
Took our chance, crashed and burned
No we’ll never ever learn

I fell apart, but got back up again
And then I fell apart, but got back up again yeah

We both could see crystal clear
That the inevitable end was near
Made our choice, a trial by fire
To battle is the only way we feel… alive Continue reading

Reflecting on a life

My mother’s best friend recently emailed the draft introduction to a book which will be the completion of the work my mother had been busy with when she died: a book reflecting on nearly 15 years of coordinating a project aimed at understanding the relationship the millions of ordinary South African’s have to land, property and housing, in order to improve their tenure security and lives. The project was Leap – Learning Approaches to Securing Tenure. I won’t share the introduction in full until it is finalised and published, but here are a few extracts to provide a flavour:

“Mosadi wa go swara thipa ka bogaleng”

One who handles the sharp side of the knife. A brave woman.

On 31 May, 2011, South Africa lost a unique and respected land activist. Tessa Cousins died during a rockfall while climbing a mountain in the Isle of Skye in Scotland. This book is a tribute to a friend, colleague, sister and leader.

Tessa was born, in 1955, into a politically conscious family at a time when South Africa was lurching into repression and when the policy of forced removals was just taking hold. Her life involved exploring — and helping to build — a world in which people experimented with alternative politics and ways of relating to the land. She farmed, raised children, set up and supported rural co-operatives, facilitated organizational development, led the development of participatory planning processes for early land reform implementation and worked in and closely with rural, land rights and water NGOs.

The person and life of Tessa were in many ways inseparable from Tessa at work. Not only did work meetings take place in her warm, earthly coloured house in Cape Town, but colleagues were welcomed with freshly ground coffee, home-grown nuts, olives and jams and hot bread from her oven. She had a rare talent of leading by drawing people out rather than dictating or directing and was widely recognised as one of South Africa’s best facilitators of dialogue and processes. Everyone who worked with Tessa was fascinated by her skill at facilitating discussion and meetings, by ‘holding’ each person’s contribution, each deemed as important as the rest. As one colleague said, “She made me feel and believe that I had something to contribute and that my contribution would be worthwhile.”

Tribute after tribute from colleagues following her death attested to Tessa’s tenacity and persistence in a work environment that was as conceptually confusing and complex as it was frustrating and frustrated. What Tessa sculpted was not an organisation but a ‘space’ in which to explore, brainstorm, disagree, grapple and stumble. The end was not to be clever, or right but to penetrate real-life situations through doing and combining different energies, skills and awareness. Integral to this style of co-ordination was her deftness in pulling back when the energy flagged and to wait for fresh energy and new pathways to emerge.

Tessa Leap

Continue reading

This Week’s Gratitude

The feeling in my stomach as the aeroplane leaves the ground behind.

Seeing my beautiful country far below me

Seeing my beautiful country far below me

My mother’s necklace, solid and grounding around my neck.

Self-contained contentment.

Having so many wonderful memories to linger over.



Intense conversations that expand my understanding of the world and myself.

The beautiful views Cape Town provides in such abundance

The beautiful views Cape Town provides in such abundance

The growth opportunities that arise when I am out of my comfort zones.

Meeting new and interesting people.

Feeling passionate and excited when discussing my work.

Sunshine kissing my skin.

The energy of the wind

The energy of the wind

Midnight Words

Tidying up electronic files tonight, I found this raw, unedited writing from earlier this year, which I had simply entitled “Midnight Words”.


Words, tumbling, and my tired mind wants to grasp them just before they slip away… while, simultaneously, turning them into concrete letters seems to push them further from my sleep-heavy awareness.

Grasping something just at the edge of my consciousness; a city-scape repeating over and over in my mind like a new reality. I see new worlds slipping off my tongue, but silent, or spoken? They have a flow and a rhythm I can feel and almost touch but transpose? I don’t know. Yet I feel there it is, just there, at the edge of being real…

A blurring of lines, of rhythms, of something so deeply familiar yet utterly new. I’ve been playing with words – expression, tone, rhythm; trying to capture meaning beyond my own understanding; try to express and move beyond by moving deeper within… expanding to explode and find something new behind the words that wait behind the words I know. Continue reading