Since I know, images are tumbling through my head. The inspired, hard working artist, enthusiastic about the windows for the museum in Alexandra, the man that was the first to come to work and the last to go, our first meeting when he gave me a little shock by looking like an older Emmanuel, the taciturn man that could talk endlessly about his, to young deceased, brother. The ferocious chopping sculptor, whom, unnoticed, would wash the car or repair small things in the house.  

And that time we waited in a clinic, when positive became the most negative word we knew.

It remained a negative, but one that didn’t withhold him from going on. The studio had to become a success and he was going to make the best of it. Looking back the beautiful experiences write the complete story, what was in between is conjunction. The wonderful vegetarian lunch in the little house on 17th Avenue in Alex, the pride with which he showed his windows in his museum, the ebullient happiness with which he enjoyed the warmth and attention during his visit to the Netherlands, the way he paired modesty and thankfulness to dignity and self-respect…

Proud on his panels in Heemskerk, shy with compliments. His softly spoken “I think we have to pray first” at a dinner in his honour touches me even today, and brings a smile on my face.

With time his strength diminished, it became more and more difficult to finish his plans. Sometimes the difference between modesty and uncertainty became unclear, the whirl of sorrow, disappointment and despair didn’t make it easier for him. And yet, always he mustered hope again. “Do you also think it funny I collected flowers for her?”, deeply hurt by the disdainful laughter of someone. No, I didn’t think it funny, and I thought about planting a tree while you know that tomorrow…

He was multi-talented and humble, often others underestimated him but in the storms of a township he went his own, sovereign way. That last image of him, sitting in a room next to his house that he turned into a small gallery; just like in our last phone conversation a few months ago the words “I’m okay man, I’m okay” came. Yes, he was okay, his health wasn’t though.

Only now I learned that, on December 28 last, Cedric Shawu Sibisi passed away, 48 years of age. I had the honour to know him, to receive his light on my ways through Africa. Alexandra will miss an eminent man, I miss a dear, dear friend.

I went for quite a while

just briefly my cheek

pressed to his

arms tight around each other

a ‘drukkie’ it’s called there


 suddenly I smelled your scent

after I was gone

I sniffed my hand

so softly it was there

still not forgotten


 he looked surprised a bit

maybe thought my tears

caused by our goodbye

you were right my friend,

that too, that too



As a kid we learnt this song about a boy, Shortjacket was his name, who was always sick but went to church on Sunday with a book full of silver. Showing off in an old-fashioned way. Today, if you play your cards well, you’ll come out of church with an uzi. Be converted in Kentucky and you are entitled to the most beautiful prices; pistols, guns, you name it. Jesus saves, safe under his wing and just to make sure a gun under your pillow. Hallelujah with a bang.

Dear All,

At Pulau Kelapa (Palm Island), they have cocktails now. It was one of those days that asked for a bit of consolation so I ordered one. A bit later the waitress came with a glass; complicated swirling stem, very high, hard to handle, the contents dazzling blue. Oh.

I know now how it tastes, more or less. More or less because Zoef, the dog on my feet, was an obstacle she didn’t dare to pass. With a scared groaning she tried to put the glass in front of me from two metres afar. Half the contents were on my pants, a part was on the table and, indeed, a little bit left in the glass. I don’t do cocktails anymore. ‘But…’ I started. ‘The dog’ she moaned and of she went, never came back. Malu, that is ashamed.

At the Indian they only serve chicken for 8 or 9 weeks now. Okay, there is fish as well but I don’t do fish and their much commended lamb is ‘just for now’ not available. From the waiter I want to know why this is, lamb everywhere and not at their restaurant. I’m the only one on the terrace and that where he finds his solution. He mumbles something, disappears and just doesn’t come back. Malu. After half an hour I left.

The girl at the grill is new and, oh dear, there we go, one of those scary westerners comes in. With her eyes directed to the floor she brings the menu, takes my order, brings my coke, brings the food… My extra fat thank you’s, also meant as a hint, are not noticed, she keeps her mouth shut. Finally I ask if she can’t speak. A frightened nod is my answer. For the rest of the evening someone else takes over, she’s gone. Malu.

It is, in a country where children learn at a very young age that making a mistake is something to be ashamed of, quite understandable. At the other hand, to let things escalate is not a clever thing to do. A bit like the phone-call I keep postponing till there is no decent way to do it anymore? The manager of an international hotel chain gave a big order and when, apparently, the order had to be cancelled he was unreachable. Never heard him again. Malu.

When I have a complaint for the cashier at the supermarket she can’t walk away – adu, kasian – she solves that problem by just staring at the register and ignoring me. The driver of the car that almost killed me did, coincidentally of course, not see me before or after. It is in the west, and I mean myself in the first place, not an unknown phenomenon but in this country they’ve made an art of it. Malu, a culture of shame. Sometimes endearing, for the people that live in it not without consequences though because how can a baby learn to walk if she’s not allowed to fall?

A culture of shame. At the Internet I’ve seen the documentary ‘The act of killing’. A shocking experience – I really couldn’t see the film in one go, had to divide it over two nights in order to digest it emotionally – that leaves the spectator with an ultimate feel of despair. It’s long ago, almost 50 years now, that in Indonesia over a million people were slaughtered, they were accused of being member of the communist party. That was reason enough. Suharto – in the more than 30 years he was president he stole over 70 billion dollar but remained an appreciated ally and friend of the west – was, at least, aware of this. That thousands were killed on grounds of personal vendetta’s, because they were Chinese, because they had the wrong faith or the wrong face, that’s collateral damage. When it was finally over tens of thousands were in jail and the children of these ‘communists’ got a stamp in their ID that made it impossible for them to go to school, to hospital, to become civil servant, etc.

How are you going to deal with this in a culture of shame, how to live with a page that black in your history? Simple, you make them into heroes, collectively you declare those pages white, you paint them white. Who doesn’t see the white is a traitor. In the documentary ‘the heroes of those days’ explain in detail how many people they killed and how, small, horrific demonstrations of the how included. ‘At one point we had to change the method because the floors were full of blood and it started to stink.’ Every year there is a movie on TV to commemorate those days and the heroes without whom Indonesia wouldn’t have been what it is today. Recently the Indonesian marine decided to name a ship after two men, nowadays we would call them terrorists, that bombed a place in Singapore in the sixties, an incident in which several people were killed and many wounded. Singapore is not happy.

‘Yeah’, a friend says, ‘those Indonesians, it’s a special people.’ I guess so but not more special than other peoples. In the Netherlands it took forever before the, often gruesome, facts about the so-called police action (euphemism for war) in Indonesia were seen, the USA needed a few decades to understand that Vietnam was not only a debacle but also a very dirty war. In South Africa I know enough people that trivialize apartheid or even defend it. And how is it in Japan? History is written by the victor, the shame is for the party that lost although hardly ever accepted that way. What stays is an unprocessed past, blocking the way to tomorrow.

In Great Britain they seem unable to provide their ministers with adequate information, that’s the only reasonable explanation for a minister that calls the events in the Ukraine the biggest disaster of this century. Syria, Congo, Sudan, to name just three from a long list, he missed it. Or would it be so that with the Ukraine nearby, a lot of business interests, a bit of renewed cold war and expansion of sphere of influence… Noooooo.

The by now 14 billion euro support for the Ukraine, I don’t have a problem with it. But how come that the 1,5 billion needed to prevent Sudan from famine is so hard to get? They don’t know about it, that would be a reasonable explanation. The real explanation is, of course, a story of unreasonableness and worse. Ah, later we’ll make something up to keep our conscience clean for the decades to come. Malu.

Small observations lead to thoughts about (too) big things on which I have no direct and extremely little indirect influence. An exercise that only sometimes looses its absurdity; namely when it leads back to myself.  For example when I reflect on how many pages in my book are painted white, on what I ignore, on what I pretend not to know because that’s more convenient.

Love, Frank