Thursday 29 November 2012


When kites fly
across blue skies
and border divides,
Gaza and Israel unite.

We make the kites,
We fly the kites, 
over the wells of hate.

Our borders are planks of wood -
We carve the sails,
We choose the colours for the tails
in ribbons of orange and red
and green -
We speak across the steel.

When we fly kites
across blue skies,
Gaza and Israel unite.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011

I wrote this poem a year and a half ago in response to the Dispatches documentary on the children of Gaza. Thousands of children flew kites over the Gaza strip in July 2011, claiming a new world record for most kites flown simultaneously. A competitive spirit was alive in the children, ready to sharpen their sails against their Israeli kite fighters. The poem feels so naive, so childish, in the face of what appears to be a systematic genocide of the people of a tiny strip of land. But the voice is accurate - the kites were everything that day. Slogans were written on the kites calling on Israel to end the four year blockade, calling for peace. It is painful that children are supposedly always at the heart of ending or restraining a grown-up war. And yet no-one actually listens to children.   

Sunday 25 November 2012


So in other news... I have been started on some new eyedrops, and their side effect is... waitforit... to make my lashes longer!!
But before you explode with the greenest of envy, allow me to point out that I am being started on something else as well. A few months ago I was given two vaccinations - for pneumonia and meningitis. I responded to neither, which has made the immunologists unhappy. So tomorrow I will be hooked up to another IV drip to receive human immunoglobulins. You know how our pooled taxes are supposed to *benefit* us in times of stress and distress? (This is about as political as I am about to get...) So also, intravenous immunoglobulins contain pooled plasma extracted from thousands of blood donors to rescue immune deficient humans. Like me. Some of you donate blood, so I wanted to say thank you. I am to receive it from now until forever, but since there is a world-wide shortage of IVIg, that may not be very long. While I'm hooked up, I may as well make a start on my latest essay...  I'll be in the right place!

Tuesday 20 November 2012


They numbered thousands in the streets of Dublin on Saturday, with beautiful signs and candles lit to protest for a change in legislation. In our front window, I lit candles and placed a slice of Irish barmbrack, freshly baked, still hot. The name Savita will not be easily forgotten.
Vivid through the raw emotional landscape is shame, an emotion that vibrates alongside anger. Those fighting for a referendum to repeal Article 40, clause 3, are also embarrassed that their country let them down. I wanted to write something today to balance that shame with pride, focusing on one Irish woman named Debbie Deegan.
In the summer of 1996, a group of tiny, undernourished children arrived in Dublin, and were housed by openhearted Irish families. Falling in love with 'their' orphan, little Zina, led Debbie on a journey to Hortolova orphanage, eight hours' drive from Moscow, and thence to a life's work of nurturing 200 Russian orphans. There are many moving excerpts in Debbie's book, 'To Russia With Love'.

Thanks to Debbie and an incredibly stalwart team of Irish volunteers, Hortolova has become a centre of excellence, a showcase of good practise, but the heartbeat of the story lies in passages like this...

There were always five or six carers living in the orphanage at any one time and all day long all they heard at the door was 'knock, knock, knock'. It's still like that. We have around 200 children and they will always find a reason to knock for the Irish. You might be having a quick tea break and the next thing, 'knock knock'... They'd make something up - 'I need a pencil, a plaster', anything at all. Or they'd forget what they wanted as the door opened, overwhelmed simply by the need for company. For eighteen hours a day, it never ceases.

At the end of the book is a short essay written by Zina herself, the Deegan's now formally adopted Russian daughter...

I had no English, Mick and Debbie had a few words of bad Russian. They tried their best, I'll give them that! The first few days in their house, I was very uncertain of myself. I didn't know what to do. In the orphanage, it's like the army. There's a time for everything, so when I came to this house and they weren't telling me exactly what to do, when to eat, when to play, when to sleep, I felt very lost. Debbie always said to me, 'My house is your house', and I would say, 'No, my house is completely different.' It was only when she got to know the orphanage that she really realised that... to this very day I find it very hard to make choices, because I didn't get that training as a child... I still always ask advice from everybody else and I don't listen to my own heart. 

Zina's account, and the chapter on the 2004 Beslan massacre, are the most poignant chapters in the book. I think about Amal, the little girl I dedicated a poem to, in Gaza, amid the rubble, and know there are orphanages everywhere, overflowing with children beset by head lice and broken hearts. 'Bright flowers in a burnt-out land' Marian Keyes calls them... and then I think of a woman like Debbie Deegan, who with clear sighted focus, is rescuing one child at a time, fighting for each of them, equally, with tigerish energy. It gives me hope. This morning when I woke, two packages from Ireland were awaiting me. One was full of tea lights, hot chocolate and a scarf to keep me warm. The other also contained chocolate (my friends know me well) and a box of Irish tea! Barry's tea, slightly battered, full of good cheer... the most refreshing cup of tea - I have never smiled so much while drinking a cuppa tay :)
You can buy Debbie's book at her website To Russia With Love... Ah, go on! :)

Wednesday 14 November 2012


Just at this moment, people are gathering in different places to mark the heartbreak of the passing of Savita Halappanavar. For Diwali, the festival of lights, Savita had choreographed her annual dance for the festivities in Galway. Being seventeen weeks pregnant, she had not intended to dance herself, but she would have worn a sari, lined her eyes in kohl and tapped a foot energetically to the beat. I am not attending a vigil or a protest, but I went for a walk today, writing a letter to Savita as I walked.
Dear Savita,
There are no divas lit in the village where I live. Diwali is not openly celebrated here. I remember making the clay pots when I was a child, decorating each one uniquely, and then, once lit, being lost in the glow. I walk past the river and the birds croon mournfully; I take care with each step because the golden leaves are heavy with wet. They are taupe and ochre, muted, when I return home. I stand looking down over the bridge, making the most of my eyes, even in the half light. I listen to the music of the troubled river and remember my Indian classical dance teacher calling me "Cutlet!" It was her nickname for her favourite student, and also the one who needed her sympathy the most - the worst dancer. You never quite knew which you were. It was in the tone. It's funny... the things we remember from our first lives, our first homes.

A few days ago, November 10 was declared Global Day of Action for our younger sister Malala and the 32 million girls who are denied education. Some are hoping Malala will be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Every day of my life, I give thanks for the determination of my grandfathers and great-grandfather, who fought for the women in my family to be educated. I am proud of this inheritance, but I never take it for granted. This freedom to write, to think, to express myself, is a gift. I am fiercely grateful to be an educated, literate, free thinking woman. I imagine you must have felt this way too?
Two months ago, a consortium of Irish doctors declared abortion medically unnecessary: "We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women." You pointed out you were neither Irish nor Catholic and yet the law allowed a dying heartbeat to take precedence over your own. I cannot bear to think of your last days. Know only that many hearts are beating for you tonight, and listening for the song of your life.

From one of your many new friends, Shaista.

Images: from
Pencil Jammers artist Bharatanatyam

Wednesday 7 November 2012


So there's this tube, right? An aqueous shunt device which bypasses the trabecular meshwork and redirects the aqueous humor into an outlet chamber or bleb. Or you could just have a picture...

Doesn't it look a bit like a spaceship probe nosing around innocent, minding-its-own-business Earth?? The arrow up in the right hand corner is where the scar tissue or fibrosis was removed and I felt so much better right away because my eye pressure dropped from highs of 34mmHg to a neat and precise 7mmHg... So not only did I get this lovely sci-fi drawing from the surgeon but he also recommended a cool spaceshippy ward for me... how old does he think I am?!! 
But it made Mum smile as she waited...
I posted this picture on facebook to Mum's complete shock: "How can you post such a picture? You look HORRIBLE!!" Er... right, thanks Ma! Thank you all for saying the opposite when you saw it! Either way, I emerged brighter several hours later... touching my lucky stars with gratitude.
While I was gowning up, and tugging on the evil pre-op stockings that nearly cut off all circulation, I was visited by various members of the ward staff - Ray and Grace - who remembered me from seven years ago when I originally had the sight saving Molteno tube implanted. (I could send you a video link to the mechanics of that particular glaucoma operation... it would make your toes curl in terror... but I love you, so I won't). I was in complete hell that year and for a long time afterwards. Father had just lost his sight and it looked as though I might too. It was the darkest, most terrifying year of my life. So little wonder then that Ray and Grace weren't entirely sure it was me. How am I different, I asked? Their answer: "You are cheerful now! So, so cheerful now. Your head was bent this low last time." They demonstrated my drooping head... there wasn't time to explain to my old friends about this blog and new friends and Rituximab and a rose garden of twitter love being sent in abundance every time I suffer...
My eye is a bloody quivering thing today so I shall disappear from internet activity for a while - I just wanted to say THANKYOU THANKYOU THANKYOU for your incredible support, for never letting me walk into these moments alone and, finally, wasn't it just great waking up to four more years of this wonderful couple representing our human race in one corner of the globe?

Saturday 3 November 2012


Light dances
on the willow tree
Light, that too fleeting
moment of green, heat,

is this autumn light,
this never leave me
stay light,
Gone before you know it

Eyes. Write. Now. This

Today is our anniversary. The day the five Tayabali musketeers arrived in a green village of bridges and set our travel-worn feet inside the house with the lantern and the willow. 
November has such a strange feel to it. There is a glorious arrivingness about autumn, and then suddenly, a sense of something missing, or lost, pervades. The fall of darkness surprises me every year. 
And yet, this is the only month whose leaves make their way into my journal, onto my walls, year after year. 
On Monday, instead of starting school as I did that Monday an eternity ago, I shall be gowned up for another glaucoma operation. I am looking forward to it about as much as I did my first day of school in England! It's general anaesthesia this time, possibly because the Blue Eyed Surgeon doesn't want any more song requests...

linked to dverse poets