Shemi had an unusual ability to make up interesting and meaningful stories on the spot. I wish I had recordings of the stories that she told me just for my entertainment, but all I have are the stories she wrote down. I'm sure we lost some of them in computer transitions, but I was able to collect quite a few. Some of the stories give a window into her childhood in Kenya. Some are based on her observations in San Diego. A few are completely fictional.
There was one short period when poems poured out of Shemi. This phenomenon was a complete surprise to me, because I was unaware of any interest in poetry. Like her art, the themes and approaches were diverse. I only saw a handful of poems, but I have not been able to find them, either in hard copy or electronically. At this time I only have two, but I will post more when I find them.
These creative writings are another manifestation of her rich inner life. She always talked about having too many thoughts in her head. Though these thoughts contributed to the insomnia she complained about, they also gave rise to beautiful expressions of her feelings, memories, and spiritual activities. Please enjoy these peeks into the mind of Shemi.
February 8, 1999
The tapestry of our dreams was stitched with threads of white and gold
Each stitch was made with Love, Hope and Good Memories
You walked away. I was lost and empty
The tears from my heart turned the threads of white, bright red.
September 26, 2000
The Blue ocean followed me
Capturing my every step
Following me and following me
In love we became one, the water and earth.
The whisper of the morning breeze gently brushes against the tiny threads
of my soul.
It brings peace.
It reminds me of your lingering glance,
The glance that soared me to the sky,
I believed I was flying
Flying on the unicorn with my white dress towards the moon.
How I long for the whisper of the morning breeze.
October 4, 2013
WHEN MY EYES WERE EXPOSED TO YOURS, IT TOOK MY BREATH AWAY, MY BROWN EYES AND YOURS BLOOD RED WERE IN HARMONY.
YOURS WERE EMBEDDED IN A FACE OF BRIGHT ORANGE
IT TOOK MY BREATH AWAY
OH GOD, HOW YOU HAVE CREATED A MASTER PIECE
EACH BITE GAVE ME PLEASURE AND JOY
THE JUICE OF THE PEACH RAN DOWN MY FACE. IT DID NOT MATTER
BECAUSE I KNEW THE JUICE THAT WENT DOWN MY BODY WILL HEAL MY BODY AND SOUL
JUST LIKE EVERY BREATH OF AIR I TAKE THAT YOU HAVE PROVIDED FOR ME.
January 10, 2014
I saw the sunset today
In awe I watched the sun disappear
Leaving a mellow pink, blue sky
It reminds me of birth
It reminds me of life
Because the sun will appear tomorrow
June 26th. 2013
When I was growing up my uncle almost lived us. He had a habit of bringing pets to the house. On one of his weekly visits he brought home a pair of rabbits. Pretty soon we had baby rabbits running around the yard. The children enjoyed the rabbits, feeding them with carrots and everything else we could think of. My mother got tired of taking care of six children and four rabbits, so of course the rabbits had to go.
One day he surprised us with a monkey. We named him Cheeku. He was a very small monkey, probably still a baby. My uncle found him in the forest apparently separated from his mother. We adopted the little guy. We had a huge olive tree in the front yard. My father had him tied with very, very long chain. He would tangle himself with that chain. Like all monkeys he enjoyed jumping from branch to branch. One of my brother's or one of the neighbor's kid would climb up and untangle him.
Cheeku was pretty quiet during school hours, but he had a lot of fun when we came home from school. He would come down from the tree into the yard and play with us. During our games I noticed he was very protective of the females. One day my brother was picking on me, and he pushed me hard. I fell and started crying. Cheeku came to my rescue. He jumped down from the tree and growled at my brother. That was the first time I saw his teeth.
He would surprise us by jumping on our heads. He loved to groom us. Since we were so many kids he had plenty of fun grooming . Even though he was small it would hurt when he jumped from a higher branch. I did not enjoy that act of his. Sometimes he would get rough and pull my hair. Monkeys don't have long hair and poor Cheeku did not know how to groom human heads.
He was a well fed monkey. He probably ate at least six bananas a day. I think he was getting bored with the olive tree. Somehow he climbed the fence into the neighbor's yard and ransacked their tree. We retrieved him and the chain was fastened tightly. A few days later the same incident took place. The angry neighbor's tolerance was running out. We were not able to control Cheeku. He was growing up and probably needed to be in the forest with his brothers and sisters. So we set him free. It was a sad moment for us children. Now that I think about it we should have had given him his freedom a long time ago.
November 2, 2013
When I was in 6th grade I fell in love with my teacher. Throughout my previous school years I had old very strict female teachers. It was a challenge to go to school. You never knew if you would get slapped or pinched. In those days teachers could get away with any kind of punishment. We looked upon our teachers as gurus and obeyed them as good disciples . I was punished many times. My parents knew nothing about it.
In the middle of the school year, mister handsome took over my home room . We girls talked about him during breaks. He was young, easy going and so meticulous and so gentle. His way of teaching was very modern and systematic.
I started to look forward to school. I would look for him in the cafeteria and stare at him. I would dream about him when I came home. I could not talk to him, because I would freeze every time he asked me questions. I looked forward to the times when he would come to my desk and help with my math problems. There were times I would take small gifts for him.
By this time he probably knew that I had a crush on him. He avoided me as much as he could. My feelings for him did not change. At the end of school year, my grades declined. I had to repeat the 6th grade.
Today I think of those times. He was a good teacher and I was a paramour student.
February 1 2014
This is a short story about Wancheko. When I lived back in Kenya she used to come to our house with loads and loads of fruits and vegetables. Back then it was customary for the farmers to deliver fruits and vegetables to several houses because most people did not have cars to go the shops, and of course it was easier. We knew exactly when she would knock on our door. She was part of the family. She would stretch out on the steps of our front door and just relax. We would hydrate her and feed her from her long journey from the farm witch was about 20 miles. She had to get up early in morning to catch the bus to the city. The walk to many houses was approximately three to four miles.
When we were kids she would play with us and spend time with us, more than at other houses. My mother would buy vegetables just from her. She was like another mother for us. Out of six siblings she liked me the most. I don't know why. She gave me a pet name "Shama". When she came to the house, the first thing she would do was ask for me. When I was not there she would leave early.
One day I had severe diarrhea and vomiting. My mother was at work, and I was home because school was out of question for that day. I was miserable. The door bell rang and there she was. She asked me in Swahili what is wrong with me. I started crying. I told her my mother was not home, and I could not buy anything. She put her heavy basket down. I could see the indent from the belt from her basket on her head. The sweat was pouring down her face and neck. She sat down in her spot on the steps and spread her legs. There was a sigh of relief . After a while she hugged me and comforted me because I was crying.
She next went to the kitchen and made me some drink made of sugar, salt and flour. She comforted me for a long time until my mom came.
The next day I was as good as new. Thank you Wancheko
Hibiscus flowers come in different colors: red, pink, white , orange and yellow. My parents had hibiscus plants growing in our yard. During my early elementary school days, my ritual was to pick two red and one orange flower on the way to school for my homeroom teacher. I was exposed to bribery at an early age. Now I realize that bribery does not work, it just leads to problems.
I would leave early, pick the flowers and wait at the bus stop. Some days the bus was on time, and other days we had to walk to school. It was very safe for us to walk to school in those days. The teachers were not happy about our tardiness but they appreciated the flowers.
Some days we would walk through the green forest at a slow pace, stopping by the river, and admiring the fish and the wild life. We would take some goodies for the monkeys and rabbits which became our friends.
We did not really mind the walk through the forest. It meant less school time and more fun.
One day we decided to miss the bus on purpose. We walked slowly to the bus stop. We dodged the bus and headed towards the forest. We were enjoying the lush vegetation and the walk through the forest listening to the birds and water gushing in between the rocks in the river nearby. The outcome of playing hookie would be punishment from the teachers and the principal, but that was the last thing we were thinking about. Crossing the wobbly bridge across the river was fun. We laughed and helped each other across the unstable planks of wood.
On the other side of the river things started to change. Unfamiliar noises, not of the birds but humans. Scared, we looked for a refuge in the open forest. The two hundred old tree was our only refuge. There were some whimpering sounds that we could not decipher. I clutched my flowers and books. I was frozen. I stayed close to my friend. Instead of running away we walked slowly towards the noise. We found one of our other classmates on the ground bleeding. We checked to see if she was still alive, but we had no idea what we were looking for.
We then ran as fast as we could to the school. The police took her to the hospital and after few days she was back at school. After that incident, we avoided the forest. Our patient and us became good friends.
Ariel the Squirrel
It was a breezy and cloudy May afternoon in San Diego. Ariel was resting from the very busy morning activities. He had sniffed and sniffed for hours, not finding anything to eat. Ariel had not had breakfast, lunch, or dinner in two days. He felt weak and dizzy. He was resting his eyes down by the lake when he caught a whiff of some food. His head popped up, and he poked his head out of the burrow to see where the wonderful aroma of food was coming from. He slowly crawled out. Ariel stood on his hind legs to see if there was any danger. Being convinced the coast was clear, he sniffed towards that wonderful aroma. He could tell he was getting closer and closer. His mouth started salivating, and his ears were high up in the air to detect any kind of enemies. After having sniffed and sniffed he finally came to the spot where the aroma of food was really strong.
He looked up and saw a very huge brown dumpster. Somehow he had to climb to the top of the dumpster. He had to think. He looked at the very tall dumpster again. Disappointed, he sat hiding at the bottom. He had to eat today, because he had to regain his strength for the upcoming summer when he will have to gather a lot of food for Fall and Winter. Getting desperate, he started circling the dumpster. Round and round he went. Still not having an idea how to jump to the top of the dumpster. Exhausted, after going around many times, Ariel started to cry. The tears rolled down from his beautiful brown eyes. Down his gray cheeks. He wiped them off with his muddy claws. He sat down feeling sad and sorry for himself. He was looking up during one of his sobs when suddenly he had an idea. He could get in from the other side of the parking lot where there was a big hill that touched the top of the dumpster.
Finally, Ariel was in the dumpster eating and eating and eating. He ate grapes, blueberry muffins, bananas, and nuts. At the end of the day Ariel had plenty of food for the Winter, plenty for his friends, and he was dancing with joy. He was dancing and singing to his family and friends.
When I lived in Memphis, I was introduced to biscuits and grits. I was enrolled in a dental assisting class by the counselor at the adult education school. I would have liked to do something else like radiology or pharmacy technician training. Her reasoning was dental assisting requires less talking and with my accent it would be better for me.
Anyway, going back to biscuits, every morning during school, my classmate Jan would pick me up from the apartment and take me to her aunt's house. We were 6 girls from the same class ready to devour the biscuits. I could smell the marriage between the butter and flour. We were allowed two biscuits each with more butter and jelly and plenty of orange juice. That tied me up until lunch. We would pack ourselves up in several cars and go to the dental assisting class.
I forgot about biscuits when I was going to college. Then I met my husband and was reintroduced to biscuits. He grew up in the south eating fresh homemade biscuits. My mother-in-law made the best biscuits, and I have used her recipe several times but my biscuits are not as soft. I miss having biscuits and grits because not too many places in San Diego serve biscuits like in the south.
Last week I stumbled upon a buttermilk biscuit recipe given to me by mother-in-law February 15, 1987. I had used the card so much that it had changed colors from white to yellow. For a long time I had forgotten about the recipe until my husband reminded me to make some. I had to change the recipe a little. I did not have buttermilk in the house so I used yogurt instead of buttermilk, and instead of white flour I used whole wheat flour. The biscuits did not rise as much but they were delicious. We enjoyed them with almond butter and apricot spread.
October 27, 2013
Bob had a hard day at work. Nothing had gone right for him. The boss was complaining about his tardiness and his performance in the office. He was glad to be home. Relaxing for few minutes, his wife arrived home from work and the nagging began. It lasted for a while and Bob reached out for his relaxing pasttime, medications and highs.
Soon they had to go pick up the kids from the soccer game. Her nagging did not stop . Tired of his day and his life, he jumped out of the car and starting running towards the canyon. He sat down in between the trees and starting thinking about what a miserable life he had, him not being able to take care of his wife and children. After crying for a while he pulled out his fishing knife and slashed an artery in his neck. Blood gushed out and panic set in. There was no one around to help.
Screaming for help he saw smoke in the distance. Relieved, he started running towards the cave where the fire was. An old homeless man happened to be cooking and staying warm. Restless, Bob started to look for some clothing to stop the bleeding. The man helped him as much as he could. Then the sirens began. The fire department had detected the smoke. To avoid forest fires the crew arrived at the scene.
Bob was taken to the hospital and the old man had refuge in a warm room with a warm meal.
It is early summer in San Diego. We have June gloom in the mornings then the sun gifts us with the beautiful rays that are rejuvenating, and of course welcomed with open arms.
This year I am noticing jacaranda trees on people’s yards and by the freeways. They brighten up the landscapes with a carpet of blue/purple flowers.
In Australia the blooming of Jacarandas is a silent alarm that Christmas is close.
My experience with the jacaranda flowers was in Kenya. During my high school years we would seek refuge under the jacaranda trees during our lunch breaks. My girl friends and I would sit under the trees with our books, pretending to be studious. We talked and laughed at silly things. We students believed that if the jacaranda flower fell on our heads then we would pass our exams. Some days we would wait for the entire break. I noticed that the flowers were generous with my classmates but not me.
I would gather the flowers from the ground and put them in my books as a book mark. I would have to study harder to get good grades. Although the flowers do not have much of a scent I still have good memories of Jacarandas.
June 3, 2013
Losing Cell Phones
Cell phones are great to have these days. I do not know what we did without cell phones. I have seen people of all ages carry cell phones with them. In the grocery lines, at the doctor’s office, and crossing a high traffic street not paying attention to what is going around them.
My experience with the cell phone recently took place in my house. I must have been talking on the phone and cleaning the guest room. Which is next door to the computer/TV room, and that is where the land line is.
So next day I am looking for my cell phone in the computer/TV room. The beeping came close to the land line. I turned my computer room upside down. Cleaned the couch and the tables where I usually put the cell. My husband jumped in the search. We called the cell from land line several times to no avail. We went for a walk and after lunch the search began again. Many negative thoughts went through my mind. Did I drop it in the garbage can? Did I drop it in the toilet? Which coat did I leave it in? My restlessness brought my husband to the rescue.
We called from the land line again and my husband found the cell phone in the guest room . What a relief. Now I pretty much wear pants with pockets and glue the cell to myself. Hopefully, no more cell phone adventures.
June 3, 2013
It was a warm summer day in San Diego. I was at the print store printing some of my art. It was about two in the afternoon. The other customers were going through the motions of selecting and buying office supplies.
All of a sudden here comes this man with long hair, shorts and sandals who stood at the entrance of the store screaming at Liz. Who was nowhere in sight. She was hidden in between the aisles way in the back of the store.
He said” how much longer are you going to be? We need to go.”
Her unsatisfactory reply did not stop him from screaming at her.
They kept on screaming back and forth for a while. Where are the security guards at this store was my thought.
What I gathered about this incident was that she was looking for something that the store did not have and she insisted on window shopping. The poor man left the store thinking she will be finished soon. After waiting for a long time he came back to the store looking for her. He stood at the front door screaming:
“ Liz, Liz, where are you? I am double parked and we have to go”.
Her reply “ I will be done soon.”
His reply "We have to go now.”
So they left the store and three minutes later she came back to the store with her poodle and high heels pretending that the incident had never happened. It was a funny but a disturbing experience.
October 6, 2013
Of the many birds on this earth my favorites are the hummingbirds. They are the smallest birds, but they like to have a lot of sugar water. I have to change the hummingbird feeder every couple of days. It’s not a chore for me because I enjoy watching them fly around our deck. They do not mind my presence while I am gardening or doing art on the deck. I enjoy watching their iridescent feathers and the vibrant colors of their breasts. They drink enormous amounts of nectar with their long tapered bills. I am mesmerized watching them lick the nectar, 13 licks per drink.
Hummingbirds are territorial and fiercer than you would guess. It is a treat watching them chase each other from the east and west where I suspect there are several nests in the bamboo. The birds on the west have claimed the bamboo territory, and they act like they are kings.
When we moved into this house a few years ago I purchased my first feeder. I used to buy the red nectar, but later learned it was not good for the birds. So I started making my own. 7 tablespoons of sugar in half a cup of water. One day my husband was appalled when he saw me making the nectar. He commented it was too much sugar for a little bird like that. The consistency was a thick syrup. He does research on diet and exercise. His suggestion was to cut down on the sugar, so I did. For the next week my little friends did not visit me. Feeling the absence of my pets I increased the sugar in the next batch. And they were back!
The nectar also attracts bees and other insects, which is fine with us because they bring us beautiful flowers and vegetables in the yard. This afternoon I was working in the yard. I had been hearing the crows all morning long. Then I noticed they were focusing on the bamboo in the west where the hummingbird nests are. I took a broom and starting swinging it toward the bamboo. It was to no avail because the crows kept on flying around the nest. I finally gave up and let nature take its course.
Another incident I would like to share.
One Saturday morning I was at the gas station pumping gas. About four feet away there was an injured pigeon. The poor thing was hopping around. The other pigeons were trying to help the injured one. Then there came a crow, targeting the injured pigeon. I stopped pumping gas and went towards the excitement. I was able to scare the crows away. Then I took the injured pigeon across the street to a place where it would not be exposed to the enemies. The next day I went back to the same street and cried. The pigeon was flat on the street, with tire marks on it. I felt like I had interfered with the pigeon’s destiny. It was meant to die the day before, by the crows.
Again I learned a lesson. Let nature take its course.
I met Lila when I worked at the UCSD hospital pharmacy. There was this little Mexican woman with a hair style like a baseball hat. We used to work different shifts when I was first hired, so I hardly saw her.
Finally, I got to know her when she was transferred to the morning shift. Lila had many difficulties adjusting to the morning routine. She would cry and shake because the workload was too much for her. I did my best to help her. I would come in early and start with her duties for the day.
Lila helped me tremendously when I had a nervous breakdown. During breaks she would rub oil on my hair and massage my scalp. I healed, and we helped each other over the years.
We would have lunch together at least once a month. She ate very little because of her thyroid problems. We used to go to the movies and splurge on popcorn, and she would have chocolate. Some days we went shopping. She was frivolous and would buy items for me and everyone else. Eventually I stopped going shopping with her because I felt guilty.
Every Fourth of July she would help me organize a party, and of course she brought extravagant gifts. I look around my house today and remember her from these gifts. She was a very generous person. Almost everyone at the pharmacy received a gift every Christmas when she came back from Mexico. She was also generous to homeless people.
In 2010 she retired from the hospital. She could not cope with the busy routines in the pharmacy. We had her retirement party at our house. She was as usual very playful and made everyone laugh. We had a good party with lots of food and champagne.
We continued to keep in touch, but it got harder to communicate with her. At the end of the year she went to Mexico to visit family and friends for Christmas. She stayed there for a month and a half. When she came back she seemed like a different person. My thoughts were she got sick in Mexico. Her psoriasis flared up, and she seemed short of breath.
I was very concerned about her. There were so many times I would call her, and she would not answer the phone. My friend Beth and I went to her apartment with some food. She did not answer her door or the telephone.
This was a big red flag. Beth and I went home, and later in the evening I called 911. The policeman knocked on her door for about 15 minutes. Finally she answered the door. The food we had left for her was still outside the door. I think the police were a little rough on her for not answering the door.
Lila had her own way of doing things. For example, she never put her t-shirts in the dryer. She would press her t-shirts to dry them. She dressed very thoughtfully and properly for every occasion. When the police knocked on her door, and she was in her pajamas with her hair out of place, she was devastated. She did not like "drop ins."
I left for London soon after that. Before I left was the last time I saw Lila. There was something in her eyes that told me, "I am never going to see her again." She insisted on giving me money to bring her t-shirts from London. After my London trip I went to Aruba, and when I returned I heard the sad phone message that Lila was found dead in her apartment. She had been dead for a week. The body was decomposed so they had her cremated.
I think about Lila all the time. I have good memories, and I hope to see Lila in heaven. Lila, thank you for being a good friend.
Diego was a very gentle and beautiful dog, owned by the next door neighbors. Our house and theirs were very close. In fact we shared the gnarly steep drive way.
I had something in common with Diego – food. During my catering days, I would cook pretty much through out the week. Diego was attached to me because I would smuggle scrapes to him. He would bark outside my kitchen door when the aromas of food were in the air. I would let him in and quench his desire for food. Later I learnt that Diego had stomach problems, and he was on special diet. That broke Diego’s heart and mine.
Then I closed all kitchen windows and the feeding was diminished. Diego had a very persistent personality. He would find ways to get to my house. The neighbor put in all kinds of deterrence, but to no avail. He would discover a new way to visit me; over the fences, across my garage, and across the yard.
One summer afternoon we had a party and we would leave the front door open to the guests since the party was held upstairs. Of course Diego not only came to party, but he was also looking for food. We let him out the kitchen door and 3 minutes later he was climbing the stairs to the party again. The guests found this very entertaining. He would have climbed the stairs numerous times until someone thought about closing the front door. He sat outside the kitchen door barking.
The neighbors moved to Mexico. Diego passed away from liver problems. When I heard about it I cried. I miss those gentle brown eyes and also Diego's personality. He was a good friend.
My hummingbird feeder was placed away from the front door of the house. I would periodically replenish the feeder. The birds loved the nectar I made for them. We enjoyed them in the morning and evening. I would make the nectar just the way they liked it.
One day when I was working on the deck watering the plants, I just happened to notice a dead hummingbird right at my door step. I froze for a while, then I covered the iridescent body with a white towel. I sat there for a while not knowing what to do.
When my husband came home we did the burial ceremony with candles and incense near the statute of Buddha We have a big Buddha sitting in our yard.
The bird came to my door step to say good bye. I would have never known that there was a soul out there who appreciated my giving . I miss that bird because she or he brought delight to our lives.
Goodbye, I will see you in heaven.
When we lived in Brisbane, Australia I was exposed to lizards sunning on the banks of the river. This was the first time I had seen huge lizards. They were scattered on the rocks lying there from early morning till the afternoon Most lizards are not a threat to humans but I would stay away from them.
Lately I have noticed quite a few lizards in our yard in San Diego. These are small ones. I do not know what kind. They like to sun on the deck. This afternoon this tiny creature was bouncing around on the deck enjoying the sunshine and the warmth. I then noticed a hawk on a tree. The situation was intense. I did not want to lose the lizard. I stood there clutching my coffee mug. The hawk's eyes were on my lizard and I could do nothing. After a few moments the hawk felt my presence and both the hawk and the lizard disappeared. They went into their comfort zones and I went into mine knowing the lizard was safe from the eagle eyes.
I grew up in Kenya. There were small lizards everywhere. We would find some in the bathroom walls and sometimes in the bedrooms. Growing up I would be scared of those lizards. I would delay my shower and bathroom visits as much as I could.
My parents always reminded me that lizards bring you good luck. Having lizards in one's home is a sign of good luck.
September 6th 2015
This incident happened August 11, 2015. It was ten at night and I made my way to the bathroom. My husband usually has the TV on, but on this day he was in India attending a conference. Usually the TV gave me enough light to go to my side of the bed. I turned off the lights and headed towards the bed. We have a black wood-framed bed. It was hard to see in the dark and I tripped and fell on the edge of the bed, right on my nose. I touched my nose and it seemed like I had not broken any bones.
So I went to bed and slept until seven o'clock. When I went to brush my teeth the blood started dripping down my left nostril. Panic set in. I was grabbing all the towels I could reach. The floor in the bath room, the sinks were bloody. I went and tried to relax in the bed. Then I felt blood clots in my throat and I started to vomit blood. I was running from the bedroom to the bathroom sink. I could tell I could not control the situation. I called a couple of my friends, to no avail.
I then called a taxi, and the taxi driver was the answer to urgent care. But I scared him really bad, because I was covered with blood. That young gentlemen drove me and gave me water because I was totally dehydrated. In my hurry I forgot many things, including my water bottle. He dropped me at urgent care . They took my vitals and in the meantime my nose kept on bleeding. Finally the doctor arrives and has no idea what he is doing. The nurse was reading him directions and finally they packed the nose with some kind of cotton filling. The nose was still bleeding. After an hour he told me we are going to take you to the emergency room in an ambulance which was ten miles away.
On my arrival at the emergency room, it was the same thing. More vitals and more questions that I could not answer. My blood pressure was high and I started to shake because it was so cold in the room. Blankets were not enough
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