Closet fears

​I remember, in my teenage years, how petrified I was  of coming out. I thought my mother would pass out, die of a heart attack or throw a harmful object at me. I rehearsed different ways of telling her that would cushion the blow. They all ended in visions of spilt blood. Hers or mine.  The fear was often intertwined with pain and the pressure that offspring was expected of me in the not so distant years. I would watch her intently when there was a scene with two men making love on TV. She’d flinch. My soul would suffocate and I’d drown in sadness and despair. One day she said, “If that were my son…” I’ve never been able to remember what followed because my heart beat so loud that the thud blocked me ears and made my soul weigh a ton in my chest. I felt like an alien growing up. Like a space ship had left me behind and would come back to take me to those who understood my purpose. 

It’s 20 years later and I look back at myself in that living room and I whisper to teenage me and say, “Breathe more. Love more. Be compassionate with yourself. There’s room for you to blossom. You will learn that love takes many forms. And you’ll find ones that’ll fit line a glove.” 

Mother and I have a fulfilling relationship. But it’s taken work and compassion from both of us. When I think of her,  #BlackGirlMagic comes to mind. She’s worked through so much to find the space in her heart that has cared less about what the world thinks about her gay son. 

Coming out isn’t easy. Don’t pressure people that aren’t ready to come out. They have their own journeys to walk. Respect that. 

Frank Malaba 2017

Syria

We are waltzing to the bomb blasts of Syria,
Mistaking the screams of innocent blood bathed children in Aleppo
For violins. 
Their mothers’ exhalations are the winds blowing our chiffon scarves 
While we complain about the hues of our new Instagram selections on our selfies.

Fathers are burying their daughters before they taste the kisses of the boy they will love.
Boys are losing limbs before their first loose tooth.

The gods or whatever forces there might be out there in the cartwheeling galaxies know we 
Haven’t tried enough. We haven’t inquired enough. We haven’t pressured enough.
We are losing compassion way faster than we are gaining sense. 

Syria, her people need us. 
She needs us more than we need anything new that we throw our money and attention at. 
She has lost too many. We have lost too many. 
Syria’s loss is our loss.

Frank Malaba © 2017

Image: New York Times

Broken Pathways

​Broken wings sewn onto broken hearts with broken thread.
Broken spirits whip souls of broken girls fighting to keep virginities unbroken.
Broken, broken men afraid to love their own fragility break wings off butterflies
In a ballet student boy’s tummy as he learns to pirouette into the future of silent
Musical repertoires played to merciless critics that brandish pitchforks and burning tar.
Broken dreams weave safety nets for hatched ideas that will be nurtured by hopeful dreamers.

We are all breaking. Breaking away. Breaking bread. Breaking bones. Breaking souls. Breaking silence.
Voices breaking. Taking a break.

Photo: Ian Kreigler 

Frank Malaba © 2016

Coming Home

Trees. Trees. More trees… Cotton fields… Sunflower fields…

Trees interspersed with cotton fields and sunflower fields

Carousel past my train window at the speed of tumbleweeds

Before a hurricane.

My eyes play tag with the giant red anthills in the horizon that

Tower over the fields like vacant lighthouses on dead beaches.

Billows of black smoke cartwheeling through the skies canvas what is left of

The blue.

 

Vultures are stripping what is left of an elephant carcass while wrestling off

Hyena cubs in fields of rotting, unripened watermelons.

We stop on the edge of the dry savanna and are greeted in the distance by

Gigantically monstrous, cumulonimbus clouds that threaten to crack open like

Hatching eggs above the scorching dryness that is thirsting for a quench.

Slowly, the train begins to pull away from the arid stop and rhythmic melodies

Of the globules of cool rain begin a wet symphony on the tin roof of the tired train

As it Tshongololos its way past the kopjes that are steaming up from the raindrops.

 

I am home. This scent of cooling, half-baked mud and the glistening skirts of the acacia trees

Hypnotise me back into the reality of the meaning of ‘home’.

My grandmother’s clay painted hut is in the distance and I can hear the bellowing cows and

Bleating goats.

Why do I ever leave, only to be reminded of the priceless value of the constants that connect me to this soil that seeps me back in every time I return…

Home.

 

Frank Malaba © 2016

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photo credit: Camp Amalinda Website

​THROUGH MY AFRICAN EYES- World AIDS Day

On my continent, EVERYONE is either infected or affected by HIV. There isn’t a quarter of an hour that goes by without an HIV/ AIDS public service announcement on state sponsored media. We are all encouraged by the media to get tested periodically and not to be afraid of this virus.
I was 16, in 1998, when I became witness to AIDS for the first time in my family. My father, who had been very absent from my life, finally made himself available after years of serving in the military in what was Yugoslavia at the time, and numerous other countries, as a peace keeper.
As you might know, 16 is the age that most males of any culture or background are confronted with the threshold of imminent manhood. It turned out at that age, that I was not only dealing with my ever-changing and raging hormones, but my latent homosexuality as well. I knew that I was not going through a phase.
I needed my dad to tell me everything would be fine and that I was not a freak. In order to achieve this and be at peace with who I am and what I was going through, I would have to travel 558 kilometres from Bulawayo to Mutare (where he lived) by bus. After days of agonising, I finally took the plunge and booked that bus ticket and made my way to the only man who would understand me.
When I arrived at his flat, I could not believe the reality that I was confronted with. The man who had been so powerful, who trained martial arts students and was the strongest man I knew, now had discoloured skin and massive boils under his armpits. He looked so vulnerable, had lost most of his body weight and spoke in a very soft semi-whisper.
I did not know how to relate to him. He was so different to the man I had come to see and who I had the intention of confiding in. It seemed he had bigger things to deal with than my battle with sexual desire for men and jangling hormones.
In 1998, Zimbabwe was ill-prepared to deal with the reality of the HIV pandemic and people were not helping themselves either. They blamed a lot of the deaths on witchcraft and jealous relatives who were intent on killing their more successful rivals. I saw it all.
What hurt the most was that I could not do much to make a difference. My Ndebele culture did not allow me, as a young person, to speak out about sex. It still is taboo to speak about it, but things are slowly changing with the introduction of the ever-evolving and growing global village.
My father died on the 25th of June 1998. It is not fair to say he only died of AIDS, but that my people’s fear and denial in the face of attempted education killed him as well. Had he been exposed to ARV treatment and support groups, he would be sharing in my life right now. Thank goodness my mother never contracted it as they were divorced by then.

I guess HIV becomes more real when it knocks on our doorstep and attempts to befriend us or become a part of our family. It is here to teach us how to live anew. It brings a dawn of a new birth and a more conscious existence, both for the infected and the affected. Let us do this together and educate, console, love and embrace all who are affected and infected.

-Frank Malaba

Boys, Shame, Fault 

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

I am 9 years old and clearing the table of messy plates after dinner with mom, dad and “uncle”. We’ve just said bye to mom and dad as they left for the music concert that begins in 30 minutes. “Uncle” is left to babysit me for the night. We will make popcorn in sunflower oil. Tonight he will let me salt it because I am a good boy and will not put too much salt in it. He will also not tell mom that he let me use the salt cellar. We want to clear the table, make popcorn and sit in front of the black and white TV screen to watch “Enter the Dragon” before it begins at 21h30. We manage all this in time. Even the salting of popcorn under his supervisory eye and the gentle grip of my wrist to make sure I do not make a mess of this delicate process.
We sit on the couch. There’s a blanket. There’s a cold, unfamiliar hand… a forceful, uncaring, grating and unzipping hand. There’s a tear of frenulum. I catch Bruce Lee in the corner of my eye. He can’t save me. “Uncle” is too strong. All. This. Blood.
On my favourite shorts with a coin pocket and a hole in them. “Go and clean yourself! “. “You should be careful with your zip!”.

The bathroom light is too bright. I want darkness. It must swallow me whole. The water in the sink is crystal clear and pure before I cloudy it up with Dettol. The white cotton wool almost disappears in the tainted water. I fish it out. My. Broken. Frenulum. The sting. The fear that grips me when I dip back the cotton ball in the water and it turns a pink lemonade colour.

I remember it all. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault. Ask my favourite shorts. They’re buried under the mango trees in the orchard. Where childhood dreams sway like savannah grass on a breezy day, waiting to be claimed by the boy who grew up too soon and lived in fear of shame. I have to find those dreams and tell them that I didn’t know better. And that we cannot reunite, because I can’t find the boy. He sunk into the television rays that night. Looking for Bruce Lee.

Frank Malaba © 2016

​35 seconds… Crossroads

She’s fixing the smudge of red on her lip that she just picked up in the rear view mirror as she checked if it was safe to throw the lukewarm dregs of leftover coffee in the paper cup out of the passenger side of her car into the bin on the corner of the street where the homeless man is searching for a leftover snack while he traps the louse that is stuck between the sweet spot between his sweaty testicle and waxy thigh that is recovering from a kick that the glue sniffing street kids gave him after calling him names when he scared off the pretty tourist in a flowing linen dress that looked like she could have given them a R50 note that was sticking out of the purse that she forgot to close after buying fresh pressed beetroot and lemon juice from the vegan store owner who just kissed his girlfriend goodbye on her way to her daily yoga class and accidentally smudged her red lipstick. I guess I can go now, the traffic light just turned green for me.

Frank Malaba © 2016