9000  Miles with a Piano

9000 Miles with a Piano

A Story by Nomkhumbulwa

A insight into what inspired my journey back to South Africa with a large electric piano last year, and my experiences teaching children in Soweto to play it.

This is nowhere near finished, in fact its only just started as I am finishing my previous book (3000 miles in the wrong direction).  I am just using this site as somewhere to prepare my writing, whether or not it is publishable at any point in the future (unlikley!!).  Enjoy. x
9000 Miles with a Piano...

This is a personal journey, inspired by my experiences (detailed in 3000 Miles in the Wrong Direction)that led me back to South Africa yet again last year .  At the time of writing that account, I was not ready to go into much detail of exactly how important that journey was for me, and in fact how it most likely saved my life at the time, offering hope at a time of deep despair.  And although difficult, I am now ready, and feel it is the right time Politically to delve deeper, and describe my experiences on St Helena that led me to where I am now - and to undertake this mission - to travel 9000 miles back to Soweto from Scotland with a piano and teach the children of Umbuyisa School of Art and Culture to play.  

Be it a "calling" or a desire to re-pay these wonderful people I had met a year earlier, for their kindness, compassion and acceptance - this is my story.  


I would like to dedicate this account of my experiences to the many wonderful people who made it such an experience; I am forever grateful to Tshepo Ramtutumbu, Tsietsi Moralo, Nhalnla Vanqa, John Adams, Silas Motse, Bheki Nxhumalo, Maria Westlund Melapa, Lebo Malepa , Sbusiso (and all the amazing staff at Lebo's Soweto Backpackers), Lerato Janet Huo (and all the other Leratos I met!), Lufuno Matidza, Nomhle Maluleke, Lungille Leggo Dudla (whom I now know but have not yet met!), and most of all the children at Umbuyisa School of Art and Culture:  )

I would also like to thank the few Saints who have stuck by me and offered support , particularly- Lisa Stroud, Jill Flagg-Young, and her family, Carryn Jones, Lisa Berry, Olivia Thomas,  and my wonderful second cousin Candice Jayne Thomas.  

And finally - Mary and Glyn Chapman, my greatest support here in Scotland, Clare Nastchowny currently working in El Salvador - my "middle of the night" friend, and Louise Treble just across the water on the Mainland.  Not forgetting of course all the people who made donations to the children at Umbuyisa School of Art and Culture in return for a piece of the childrens art.   Thank you all so much :)


This is an account of my experiences, and reasons for carrying a metre long electric piano from the Isle of Arran, Scotland to Soweto, South Africa where I taught approximately 36 children to play over a couple of months.  From the logistical difficulties of physically carrying the piano, the relief of getting it there, to the joy of teaching children to play from scratch.  And of course all the wonderful experiences that came along with this project.  

Before I begin to describe my adventure with the piano, I want to explain my reasons for my strong connection with South Africa, and how they became even stronger over the past couple of years.  

I mentioned in my previous writing that my journey from St Helena back to the UK in 2017  had gone upside down, and how I could not travel back the same way i'd arrived due to the airstrip closing on Ascension Island.  In addition to the RMS ST Helena breaking down at the same time, this led to my extended stay on the Island, and my eventual 5 day journey South to Cape Town, rather than North to Ascension. This upset to my journey was only the tip of the iceberg however compared to what I had just endured on St Helena.  

As I sit here writing this, I am now struggling more than ever, and wonder how I actually managed to make that journey.  But at the same time, doing so I now realise was probably exactly what I needed at the time and that had I not ended up in that situation travel wise - I may not have been here today writing this at all.  I do wish to point out before I explain that I do not "blame" St Helena for what happened to me; I still love the Island and my people dearly, and I miss it with all my heart. 

Chapter One:  Before things went wrong

I had decided to go back to St Helena in 2017 as I had not been back in ten years, my Nana was in her mid 90's and in poor health, I myself was out of work, so it seemed like the right time.  I also wanted the opportunity to travel once again on our loyal ship - the RMS ST Helena, one last time, with the introduction of flights to the Island due to commence in the next year or so.  And it was wonderful; she is a part of our Island that will be sorely missed forever.  I wrote more about our relationship with the RMS in my previous book, so wont go into detail here; but mad as it might sound - I still consider her one of, if not "the" most loyal Saint I know of, and a very close friend.  

My journey there was via Ascension Island.  Now everyone who knows me knows exactly how petrified I am of being "airborne".  But desperate as I was to return to my roots, I put myself on the plane to Ascension from RAF Brize Norton, alone, on my birthday of all days!  I thought it would be fine (well, I anxiously hoped!).  It was an overnight 8 hour flight with very few people, from an RAF base not a commercial airport, so was probably the best way to attempt flying alone.  I noticed Jill and her family were on the same flight as me, but as yet I had not got to know them as well as I do now.  And for them this was a sentimental journey too, as they were travelling to pay their respects to our ship Captain Rodney Young, who tragically passed away so suddenly just a short time ago.  

Anyway, I was kind of in my own World.  I had celebrated Burn's night with Haggis, Neeps and Tatties earlier, partly as a farewell to family here, and partly as a distraction.  Soon I am beginning to wonder.....what on Earth am I doing to myself on my birthday?! On the way to Brize, I carried a hip flask and consumed a good three shots of whisky (a large toast to Robert Burns!) before having to leave it with my Dad (and being an RAF base - there is no alcohol to buy).  I said my goodbyes to family, and went through security like a zombie to await my fate.  I sat zombified still as we were delayed, and delayed, and delayed again (quite normal), then eventually called to board.  There were military personnel heading to work on Ascension, and through Ascension to the Falkland Islands, as well as a few civilians mainly heading for St Helena.  

Well, not to go into too much monotonous detail about the flight itself - for me it was an absolute nightmare!  And now that it has come to light that this particular plane is too heavy to land on the runway (that now has a crack), ironically I was justified in being scared on one of the safest planes on Earth!  But I didnt know that at the time (thank God); my initial panic began as I climbed the steps onto the plane, standing in line going nowhere looking straight into the engines blasting heat at me.  By the time I reached the top, I could barely control my body, I dropped my paper work, tickets, passport, everything and told them I couldnt do it (!).  Thankfully a kind smiling understanding flight attendant convinced me that it was possible, helped me to my seat, gave me water, and promised to come back and check on me regularly once we had taken off.  And made me feel slightly less stupid (for a while).  In the end, I was practically “baby-sat” all the way to Ascension.  It was an overnight flight, so I had taken the medication I usually take at night (including sleeping tablets and sedatives), and more hoping that along with the travel sickness pills which I take solely for their tranquilising side effects would knock me out for a while.  No such luck.  When the kind flight attendant returned I felt like I was about to die, and he quietly took me through to first class �" where there were hardly any people (although the people who were here were all high ranking Royal Engineers and such like, looking at me as if wondering what on Earth I was doing in first class on this plane).  I was given a seat, well three to myself, just in front of some cheerful RAF personnel, provided with more blankets, and water on the hour every hour until we landed.  I kind of got used to the feeling after a while, and was hoping that the concoction of pills and alcohol I had consumed would now allow me a little sleep, but no such luck.  As we approached Ascension, I was relieved......we were going to land!  I managed to get the courage to explain to the two men behind me why exactly I was in this state, and how desperate I was to just get off!    They kind of responded by attempting to give me a cheerful mini lecture on how safe flying was, particularly this plane, although my phobic brain still wasnt quite up for taking it in, it was a mild distraction.  I was fully aware of how much they fly, given that they are in the RAF (!), so being told this doesnt help me. 


We had a smooth landing though, and soon came to a stop on Wide Awake Airfield, Ascension Island, where the few bags were dumped on the ground and found in no time, and my cousin Kevin and his partner Tracy were there to meet me.  Getting off that plane into the heat of Ascension, and seeing my cousin again after so long was a very special, heart warming feeling.  I had made it.  Yesterday I was stuck in the UK wondering whether or not i’d make it, and today here I was, on this little speck of land just south of the Equator, with its moon-like appearance, volcanic craters, and beautiful golden beaches, reunited with my cousin after more than ten years.  It was a feeling I will never forget. 


I stayed with Kevin, Tracy, and their three children, my second cousins in the village of Two Boats.  I spent a lot of time especially with little Kaelyn who had given up her bed for me (because she wanted my inflatable bed!), and chatting for hours with Kevin while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes outside his house in the evenings.  We had a lot to catch up on.  I also caught up with another cousin, Stuart who has worked on Ascension for decades now, helping people get on and off the little boat that takes you out to the RMS.  I had about a week, so was grateful to be able to re- explore the island and see what had changed.  A keen geocacher, I went in search of a few, one of which was at the summit of Green Mountain, the highest peak on the Island, and a manmade rainforest (being the only green land on the island).  I enjoyed the climb up feeling the air get cooler the higher I climbed, and the vegetation changing.  I passed the Dew Pond (was once used as a drinking water source for the island but is now very green) and followed the big rusty chain to the highest point.  From here you can really tell how small Ascension is; you can see all of it.  The stunning coastline, volcanic craters and lava flows, sinister looking military equipment... and truly feel away from everyone everywhere. 


I also climbed Sister’s Peak during my stay, and ventured into a few craters, although my heat tolerance clearly isnt what it used to be as I gave up searching for a geocache off the road to North East Bay towards Broken Tooth as there was no shade whatsoever, clinker under foot, and it was at sea level so hardly any breeze.  I walked to the beach instead, where the old European Space Agency premises is located, and enjoyed the white soft sands covered in the tracks of green turtles which lay their eggs on Ascensions beaches every year.  We spent one evening on a little beach cooking freshly caught fish, and chips; it was a lovely evening (and no mosquitoes near the sea). 


I did have an embaressing moment when visiting the RAF shop at Travellers Hill with Tracy �" I bumped into the man who had baby-sat me all the way from the UK.  He just looked at me and told me I looked so much calmer (!).  I warned him that he may have to do it all over again.....in a few months time.  He laughed and assured me that he had no problem with that whatsoever. 



I even spoke to a donkey this time (!).  This was a surprise for me as in the past Ascension’s donkeys have had a reputation for being very wild, aggressive, and dangerous towards people, mainly due to the lack of proper food.  I was happy to see the donkeys looking a lot healthier these days, and on my last day I shared the contents of my sandwich with a particularly friendly one in Georgetown, with Kevin laughing at me.  Georgetown has changed a little, although the sign on the church door still reads “please keep the door closed to keep the donkeys out”. 


I waited for the RMS to appear at Long Beach, and chatted to Jill who was also watching it arrive.  Eventually I waited at the harbour knowing that another cousin Dennis, and his wife Wendy, and my second cousin Danielle were due to get off on their way back to the Falklands; this meant I would have a precious 3-4 hours or so to catch up with them.  My cousin Joanne was also travelling with them, so we had a lovely time.  Munching on South African Nicknacks under the air conditioning at the Obsidian.  I was anxious as boarding time drew closer, I knew I would have to say goodbye, but I made sure to tell Kevin that I would see him in a few months on my return.  Little did I know this was not to be.  I would never see him again. 


I loved every minute of my time on Ascension, and was just so happy to have caught up with Kevin again;  I felt like we still had a bond after all this time, and enjoyed hearing about his plans.  As it turns out, not coming back this way in the end, this was my only regret �" not seeing Kevin and his family one last time, as we had all planned.  I even left my bed there. 


The time did come however where we all said our goodbyes, and I boarded the little boat that would take us out to the RMS (anchored significantly further out than at St Helena, and a longer journey than i’d remembered).  I climbed those familiar steps up the ladder, jumping on as the sea rose to meet it, and climbed on board the ship, greeted with the familiar warmth and friendliness that I had always remembered and associated with the RMS.  She was exactly how I had remembered; everything felt so familiar.  I had a cabin down on C deck (the affordable and sensible deck  - there is a reason why the dining room is also down here!).  Its a little cramped, but you do get used to it; sharing with another female we worked out we had to take it in turns to get changed / move anything around in our luggage because there really isnt space for two people!  As it turned out, we spent the first night not going anywhere, as we were awaiting a delayed flight with “important people” on it.  So I could have spent extra time with family, and instead of it being a 3 day voyage, it turned into what felt like almost 4 days even though we didnt move.  That was probably the most uncomfortable night, as the feeling of bobbing up and down on the ocean is very different to travelling on the ocean �" and also meant the air conditioning didnt yet work.  But we were off the next morning as soon as the passengers had arrived, and we sailed off watching Ascension get smaller and smaller until it was gone.  Probably the most endearing thing about the ship for me was the fact that the dinner bell had not changed.  It has not changed since her maiden voyage (which I was on) in 1990!  I bumped into Jake, my cousin Barbara’s partner on the way; he surprised me as I had totally forgotten he worked on the ship, and in all his gear for the engine room I hardly recognised him at first!  We had a lovely calm trip to ST Helena; I spent time with Jill and her family, passed on gifts that I had wanted to give to Rodney, and for February we were all very impressed with the sea conditions.  We said it must be Rodney controlling the ship from above, making sure we had a nice trip.  

I was quite busy while aboard as I had promised to do some research for Aberdeen Maritime Museum, where there is a display on the RMS, it being the last passenger ship ever to be built by the city.  I handed out questionnaires to the crew, and some passengers, hoping to gather some of their experiences of the ship to be able to share with the museum, and also spent time running up and down stairs photographing pictures, commemorative signs about her construction, and general “bits and pieces” of the vessel.  I even managed to acquire some pictures of her engines from Jake, which have never been replaced since she was built.  There was no rush to collect questionnaires; I told the crew when i’d be back and they agreed to hand them to me on my return voyage.  I did as much photography as I could on this voyage so that I would just be able to relax and enjoy my return voyage, knowing that it would be my last. 


The only thing that disappointed me �" was the fact that the bathroom had been removed!  I have fond memories of sitting in that bath (the only bath, there are plenty of showers) in strong swell, feeling as if I had my own wave machine.  And at the same time trying to avoid the water leaving the bath and flooding the entire room.  I can see why they converted it into other cabins in the end though �" as far as I can remember, when I did use it, I seemed to be the only person who did (!).  Which was good for me, as I enjoyed spending hours in that bath, knowing that it wasnt popular with anyone else. 



A few days later, we were due to arrive at St Helena.  Organised chaos is the only way to describe preparing to disembark the RMS ST Helena (!), but organised it was, always has been, and it works.  As we waited eagerly the Captain finally announced that the Island was now visible ahead; this is the moment everyone has been waiting for.  To see St Helena appear before their eyes, often after a very long time.  I joined others on deck, spotted it, then watched it get closer and closer.  It was such an amazing warm feeling; I had not seen it in ten years.  As we drew closer, more and more detail could be seen, with the islands typical cloud that sits above it most of the time (due to its small size and the oceanic systems).  Most of what I felt was just pure joy.  I could not take my eyes of it.  I did notice some changes, even from at sea; I could see the cliffs towards Rupert’s had now been covered in strong wire netting, clearly as a result of erosion, so much of the Island seemed to be protected now by this barrier.  That may not be so pretty, but it is necessary, and watching Jamestown in its narrow valley, Half Tree Hollow (now the Islands biggest village) on the top of the cliffs, and the greenery beyond of the peaks come into view was magical.  I took far too many pictures, as usual, but to me this was important personally as I knew this would never happen again.  Ever.  Never would I be approaching St Helena in this manner, like we always have done, ever again.  It really did appear as the “jewel of the ocean”, how it is so often described.  And most importantly �" I felt “home”. 


We sat gathered in the sun lounge, with our labels with numbers on, telling us which boat we would be disembarking on (or more precisely, how soon we would be disembarking  - there is only one boat �" the Gannet �" that ferries passengers ashore).  Everyone was so happy.  People dress up for the occasion (although I went for practicality instead as is recommended �" especially footwear wise); I simply changed my clothes enough to look presentable to my Nana, wearing a plain peach top �" which due to the amount of soot that landed on me as we had docked (normal occurrence!!!) was to backfire on me hilariously!  And before long, we were being called to disembark.  The sea conditions were again good today for the time of year, and we went down the same way we came up.  Said our farewells to the crew on the way out, headed down the gangway onto the floating pontoon, then as guided, jumped aboard the little boat to take us ashore.  With our lifejackets on, off we went, and a short time later (as I said she docks much closer than she does to Ascension) we are at the landing steps.  Cautiously, we waited for the swell to rise, before one by one being half pulled (for which we are always grateful), and half jumping off the little boat onto the slippery steps.  From there we were taken a ridiculously short distance by bus to customs.  I had made it.  I stood there looking out to the RMS with pride, with my feet back on St Helena Island; ,my magical rock.  Now I couldnt wait to see my family.  We passed through customs quite quickly, and on noting that my mother although living in the UK, is in fact a Saint �" this time I did not have to pay the landing fee which they made me pay last time.  Which I did not complain about, getting here is expensive enough!! 


After following everyone else through the convoluted area, I finally spotted Aunty Rita, Aunty Eileen and a few other family members.  I was almost in shock as well as overjoyed to be back.  Everything seemed so familiar, my Aunties a little older, second cousins I had not met before as they were so young, but I was so happy to see them all again.  We headed off straight away in Jelly’s car through Jamestown, and up the steep winding roads (Ladder Hill Road) towards Half Tree Hollow where my Nana was now staying at the Community Care Complex, a care home for the elderly.  Its easy to forget, even living on the Isle of Arran �" just how steep roads are on St Helena; we climbed constantly at what is actually a huge incline and my ears were telling me about it!  I did not have sea legs from my journey here surprisingly, but it did take a bit of getting used to for my ears. 



Eventually we arrived at the CCC, and went through to see my Nana who was sitting on her bed waiting for me.  It was so lovely to see her again, and she jokingly apologised to me for being “so old”, saying I wouldnt have expected it!  She had aged since i’d seen her last, but I knew her health was deteriorating, and to me she still just looked like my Nana.  I knew she was definately still my Nana when she spotted and pointed out the fact that I had come ashore wearing a dirty shirt (which was in fact the grease, oil, and soot that deposits itself on everyone as they arrive as I mentioned �" but yes I had picked the wrong colour �" My Nana’s health may be deteriorating but she still notices everything!!).  I spent a while chatting with Nana about my journey, about how glad I was to be back and she was telling me how she didnt really want to be at the CCC (she had only left her house last December).  I was to go and stay in my Nana’s house, which I really looked forward to.  I have so many fond memories of it, and I couldnt think of anywhere i’d want to be more, than in her house.  And she seemed comforted by the fact that somebody would indeed be in the house too. 


My cousin Anna arrived a short while later; I was so happy to see her.  I have always got on with, and loved my cousins so much, and Anna is only a couple of years younger than me.  I headed off with Anna up Aunty Eileen’s house where I was fed amazing curry and fishcakes in the beautiful clear sunny afternoon; the taste is something difficult to recreate elsewhere even though we have the ingredients.  There is something about eating Saint food, cooked on ST Helena, which somehow makes it taste even better. 


Later, after family had made trips back down to the wharf to collect hold baggage, we headed up to Nana’s house, at Woodground, Red Hill, where I would be staying. 


The house had changed slightly; the familiar steep grassy / muddy track was still there, and at the top of the hill, just past Aunty Cathy’s,  sat my Nana’s house, albeit now a shade of peach (to match my clothes!).  The long bungalow, with steps up onto the veranda, which now has glass to protect it, and railings that were put in to help Nana manage the steps more recently was as I remembered otherwise.  Nana’s wood burning stove had been replaced (which took a bit of persuasion), and the geysir that was once used to heat the bath water not in use, but a shower to replace it.  The well kept rooms with the bead curtains between each one led from the kitchen through the dining room, the living room, and then eventually through three bedrooms before reaching the last �" the room where my Nana slept (albeit as people attempted to persuade her to use one closer to the bathroom at the other end of the house), and where I would be sleeping too.  Its a lovely tucked away little room, with a door that leads straight out onto the veranda also. 


Family showed me where things were,  how to use the washing machine etc, and then headed off to let me settle in.  I sat outside on the steps, at total peace, surrounded by the amazing familiar views from High Knoll, across the sea to Flagstaff, the sun setting on its flanks, to the High School at Francis plain, the Gumwoods, and finally the lush green peaks, with Diana’s Peak (the Islands highest point) in clear view.  Admittedly �" the Island’s green parts were nowhere near as green as they should have been, for the Island has been suffering a major drought for some time now, one for which is was not prepared (there is no water left in the dam just down the road), and rains are desperately needed.  But to me �" it still looked so green.  I was surrounded by little red Cardinal birds, canaries, and Mynah birds as I took in my familiar peaceful surroundings.  I looked down the hill to Aunty Maisie’s; the hill that as a child I used to “roll down” to reach her house.  I wondered up to the old goat pen where Nana once kept several goats, and round the garden to the old fig tree, which was looking admittedly “dead” in these drought conditions, but later on after the rains came, it did recover (and produce figs). 


Later on, I sat in the kitchen listening to local radio; now there are several stations to choose from which is useful.  The TV was out of action, but that did not bother me, for I rarely watch it anyway.  

I slept very well that first night, it was so peaceful (and I wasnt on a boat); and the next day set off to Captain Rodney’s Memorial service at ST Paul’s Cathedral.  I hadnt walked anywhere on St Helena now for 10 years, so was going completely from memory �" but it didnt fail me.  I followed the track from Nana’s house down to the steep bend in the road and headed up to Red Hill, then turned to walk towards White Gate, where Plantation House is located.  I didnt get very far along this road however, when I was stopped by Nigel �" Candice’s Dad, who gave me a lift.  It was really nice to catch up with him, even though not in the best circumstances.  He had worked on the ship for many many years, and knew Rodney and the rest of the crew (who were all in attendance today) very well.  We arrived at the familiar church, and I spent the service with Nigel, with the crew all dressed in their smart uniforms in the front rows ahead of us.  It was extremely sad.  It was clear how much Rodney was missed by everyone, the whole Island, and in fact the entire South Atlantic Ocean (including Ascension, Tristan Da Cuhna, the Falklands, and Cape Town), for Rodney (known locally as “School Bus”) had touched so many peoples lives.  And most of all, he was so popular because he remembered all those he met.  

After the service we watched while his ashes were placed into a spot beside his father, and paid our respects to his family.  Jill (Rodney’s wife), and her mum have been especially supportive and good to me even before my awful experiences �" and I wanted to be there to show my support for them and respect for Rodney also.  

I had been speaking to him about my project with Aberdeen Maritime Museum just a few weeks back, and he had told me all about how he spent his youngest years at sea training with Caledonian MacBrayne, the shipping company that provide the ferry service to the Isle of Arran (as well as much of the Western Isles in general) where I now live.  I had told the Captain of the Caledonian Isles (the vessel that serves Arran) about Rodney, and was given a few souvenirs to pass onto him, along with some I had purchased myself to thank him for providing information for the museum in Aberdeen.  He had in fact been in Aberdeen for (and before) the Ship’s launch, and had spent much time there, in the very shipyard where she was being built.  I (like everyone else) simply couldnt believe he was gone so suddenly, after suffering a heart attack on board an aeroplane during his holidays.  It was a sad way to begin my time back on the Island, but im glad I could attend this very special service.  I had not in fact had the opportunity to meet with the Captain of the Caledonian Isles again or the other crew members i’d told about my trip, as they were not aboard when I left Arran, so sadly they were totally unaware of what had happened. 


Later that afternoon, I cheered myself up by heading out to see family, and give out the many gifts I had brought for them both from myself and on behalf of other family members in the UK.  I visited Aunty Cathy, just next door, Aunty Maisie down the hill, and then later headed down to the CCC to visit Nana again, joining Aunty Cathy as she headed down for physiotherapy at the same place.  I had felted a chicken (rooster) for my Nana, attempting to copy Louise’s chicken (im new to felting) �" but had failed in that mine looked like a alien mutant chicken!  So Louise kindly donated her chicken for me to give to my Nana, who had always kept and was very fond of her fowls.  I had also made a felted wall hanging for her (which took us a few weeks to hang along with calendars and other things, as it was more difficult than it should have been finding an appropriate wall!), and I was pleased that the chicken made her chuckle. 


It was lovely to sit and chat with my Nana about the places id been to, what I had been doing over the past ten years and so forth.  Although, being so cut off from the World older Saints in particular are not that familiar with adventurous activities, so I think I shocked her by telling her about all the places id been to alone and all the mountains i’d climbed.  Climbing mountains alone �" to a Saint �" is considered only for those who are totally mad!  I think she was worried about the fact that I was not afraid to go walking on ST Helena, whether or not anyone was with me, as more or less anything can be considered “dangerous”, whereas on Arran and much of Scotland it’s pretty normal with precautions (and people do die in the hills, unlike on ST Helena).   On another visit later on, I had told her about my lovely trip to Heart Shape Waterfall (a very easy short trek off the road leading to Rupert’s from Jamestown) and she was visibly worried �" so I will say I held back on telling her about my many other walks as I didnt want to worry her unnecessarily.  I told her how the house was, how the garden was being cared for, how the fig tree was coming back to life etc, and shared pictures with her of the bread and cakes I had baked.  She seemed pleasantly surprised that I could bake bread!  And she seemed pleased to have me staying in her house.  

She introduced me to the few other people she was sharing this part of the CCC with, who were very friendly too.  And she always insisted on sending me off with half of the contents of her fruit bowl (!).  The mangoes and bananas were so good; most people visit their grandparents and get biscuits or sweets �" I was more than happy with Island mangoes and bananas!  My mother had sent some clothes for her too, which luckily all fitted and matched what she had in her wardrobe so she was happy with that, and they appeared to be what she needed (it is not easy to purchase clothes on ST Helena).  Aunty Cathy joined us after her physio, and after a short while we said goodbye, and headed back up the road.  But I promised my Nana that I intended to visit her as often as I could, even on foot.  This again, made her laugh in disbelief.  But I did, although admittedly, that hill whether going up or down it from Wood Ground to Half Tree Hollow will make you incredibly fit in no time whatsoever �" and is probably a much more intense workout than many mountains i’ve climbed in Scotland!  I did get lazy on a few occasions and timed my visits so that I could catch my cousin Clare driving back up the road on her way home from work.  

Later that same day I headed up to Aunty Rita’s house, up near High Knoll Fort, one of my favourite view points on the Island.  From High Knoll the views are spectacular looking down on Half Tree Hollow, which has grown in size considerably since I was last here, New Ground also expanding, and with views from the other side towards the Peaks, and Peak Dale.  In fact it is difficult to put the views from here into words they are so breathtaking, and just sitting up here, staring out across the endless ocean is so peaceful and an amazing place to watch the sun set. 


Aunty Rita’s house had changed a little since my last trip, but not much, and was very familiar.  I spent a lot of time up here, spending evenings with her and Jelly, talking on the veranda with the beautiful views from up here, and was always provided with something delicious be it dinner, cake, or both (usually both; its impossible to visit anyone on St Helena and not be provided with food). I noticed that the little shop on the way up here was much better stocked than it used to be too, which was handy. 


It wasnt until the following day that I ended up back at Aunty Eileen’s house in Half Tree Hollow and was able to pass on gifts to her also.  Again, like Aunty Rita’s, Aunty Eileen’s house had hardly changed either, except for external bits and pieces, and is another lovely spot to watch the sun set from the veranda.  It was lovely to catch up with Alex, my cousin again too, and I admired how hard he was working and what a kind gentleman he had become (ten years ago, Alex was only 12, so changes are far more noticeable with younger members of the family!).  Again Aunty Eileen provided yet more delicious fish cakes along with amazing curry and freshly caught juicy tuna belly.  And of course there was always delicious homemade ice cream of some sort.  I have such fond memories of my time spent chatting away at the dinner table with Aunty Eileen in the evenings. 


I also visited Doreen next door, who i’ve also known all my life, and she hadnt really changed much; again she was however desperately trying to feed me even when I tried to reassure her that I was happy enough without food!  This always fails though (I mean that in an endearing way) �" and I was fed all sorts from paw paw (papaya) fruit to endless slices of toast and marmalade;  Doreen is a lovely person, always so cheerful and friendly even though she struggles with her health and mobility nowadays.  Aunty Eileen did a lot to help her out, as she did with Nana and Aunty Cathy also �" in fact I was in awe of how much time and energy Aunty Eileen dedicated to helping anyone she could.  Although she is now retired, she seems busier than ever!  And she was still bubbly, fun, and willing to join me on walks to windy places with no view!  I wish I had the energy that she does, as with all the volunteering projects she is involved in on the island too �" just thinking about how she manages it all makes my head spin! 


So after having done my delivering duties, I was ready to re-explore all my favourite places on the island, relax, and enjoy it once again.  One of the first places to re-explore was Scotland; ironically I had worked here after completing my first degree, in the Veterinary section of the Livestock Department at ANRD �" and on my return to the UK the following year had found a job and moved to the other Scotland (!).  I walked through Plantation Woods, the route I always used to take, which leads to a forested lane at the back of Plantation House, emerging right at the entrance to ANRD.  I met the new Vet (well, when I worked here and until recently there was no vet, so any vet is a huge relief to me!), Kathryn and my good friend Kerry Sim, who i’d spent so much time working with showed me around the new facilities.  The clinic was much improved, especially the kennels and operating theatre, and was fully functioning as I had always hoped it would be one day.  I caught up with Ken Henry too (who again gave me some delicious bananas.... there is nothing like a St Helena banana seriously), although Hansel who was also part of the large animal team has now retired.  It was through Scotland, and Kerry that I got to know Teeny, who was to become a very good friend in my time of dire need and a huge support. 


I ventured to Teeny’s house several times through the woods, passing the now  completely empty dam, and climbing up through rough woodland to emerge in her garden.  It became a bit of a refuge for me later on; the lovely wooden large veranda outside, in such a peaceful setting (with Nana’s house in clear view), and I spent many evenings here.  In fact it was so close by, and easy to get to that when the wind was blowing in the right direction �" Teeny could hear my flute from her house!  I played on the veranda at Nana’s as the tin roof provided excellent acoustics for the flute, and made it sound beautiful.  I was invited to play in an assembly at the High School  (Prince Andrew Secondary School) one day with Teeny as a means of offering lessons to students who might have been interested.  Teeny played the violin and I played flute.  I had written a piece called “Last Boat to the Island” which was a traditional sea shanty dedicated to the final voyage of the RMS ST Helena, and I played this for the students as well as an Irish folk piece.  It was a bit of an organisational nightmare however, and took so much time to get letters out that I didnt teach in the end, although I did play along with Anna’s little girl on recorder.  

I also joined Teeny at the natural Amphitheatre at Napolean’s Tomb on the day marking his death on the island playing a duet with her;  the sound carried beautifully from here.  And I even managed to get my sea shanty professionally recorded eventually although due to logistics, I still do not have a copy to this day!  Teeny has excellent recording equipment and we decided to record it in the Church at the top of Jamestown, where there is a beautiful pipe organ.  The circumstances were very funny however, as we had been for a short wonder down to the sea before hand, and got caught out by a freak wave, which was huge and went straight over our heads, soaking both of us to the bone.  We wrung out our clothes, and hair as much as we could, then went to record in the church, although my hair and clothes were still dripping away as I performed my piece for the microphone in the church �" miraculously it was a success!  The words to the piece were later printed in a copy of the Sentinel as the RMS came to the end of her service, and Teeny took the recording to be played on local radio.


Teeny had a lovely dog, Che, who I walked from time to time, and she was running all sorts of creative groups on the island for young people, something desperately needed.  She had even started running Ballet classes for children, which I helped out at a few times.  Even right up until the day before I left, so I guess that was again another escape for me from the situation I eventually found myself in.  We walked together out to Blue point, a beautiful, albeit short and one way walk, over looking the beautiful multicoloured cliffs towards Sandy Bay, the green hills of Blue Hill, and out to Speery Island, just offshore.  I have many good memories of my time spent with Teeny, and will be forever grateful to her even though we have now lost contact. 


I spent a lot of time catching up with Kerry too.  I visited her in New Ground, and we also walked together through Fairyland on a particularly wet and muddy day!  We often went down to Rupert’s at the weekend, cooked fish, chips, plo, and swam for hours in the sea, regardless of whether or not it was calm (!).  In fact my fondest memories of Rupert’s with Kerry were being in the sea, and totally at its mercy; with huge waves rushing towards us, unable to do anything except hold our breath and hope for the best, tumbling upside down with rocks thrown at us until we were bruised.  The sea was warm enough to enjoy this time of year, and we even (on a calm occasion!), swam right out to the new jetty / breakwater on the far side of the bay, climbing up the slimy rocks to get out.  That was quite a work out and we were always ready for more plo after! 


Kerry was such an amazing friend to me, and always has been.  This girl would even leave fishcakes on my doorstep at random, with no note or anything, with me phoning around everyone I knew to finally discover it was Kerry and be able to thank her!  We had loads of fun nights out too; she would pick me up and we would go to town, or out to Levelwood, to the Oasis in Halftree Hollow, and sometimes all of them! Saints might be in the middle of nowhere, but they certainly know how to party. There was one occasion (I think it was my first...didnt let it happen again!) when I had stopped counting the amount of Shipwreck I was handed to drink, along with Amarula and whisky....and I dont remember much about going home except Kerry practically carrying me into the house and making sure I was ok!  Alcohol is ridiculously cheap on St Helena, especially given the fact that most things (essentials) are ridiculously expensive; so even when not buying your own, others will constantly provide you with one after another.  And a shot is not exactly a “shot” as such, its more like about three.   I have great memories of our nights out.  Kerry will always be a very special friend to me.  When I later found myself in difficulty she was one of the few who stuck by me, and wasnt afraid to, and I will always be truly grateful to her.   

© 2019 Nomkhumbulwa

Author's Note

This isnt finished; im simply leaving it here to work on as it means I can access it from anywhere. So its probably not worth reading just yet :)

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Added on March 7, 2019
Last Updated on March 12, 2019
Tags: St Helena Island, rape, family, South Africa, Soweto, Music, Children, teaching, piano.



Arran, Saint Helena

My background is more in line with scientific writing, as I have submitted theses for both my Bsc, and Msc. I started writing poetry unexpectedly, after suffering an assault, and losing my entire fam.. more..