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"A large-hearted, coming-of-age tale brimming with non-stop action and told with profound empathy… India comes alive in Melissa Siebert’s absorbing debut" 

Vikas Swarup / author of Slumdog Millionaire

Garden of Dreams

Penguin / South Africa / June 2014

'Your father is making a map of the world, the boy’s mother had told him – the countries he has saved, those yet to save, the unredeemable. It’s funny how some countries don’t exist because you don’t think of them, the boy thought. He hadn’t really thought of India before a month ago, when his mother suggested they travel east to find his father. Now here he was, in a shabby guest house on the edge of the Thar desert, at a little round breakfast table being explored by flies. Alone, except for the woozy, heat-drugged flies and a waiter swishing around in a dirty white dhoti, straightening tablecloths, ignoring him. Voices drifted through the small window carved from cool stone walls, strange children’s voices and earthy smells he didn’t want to name. His mother was upstairs still sleeping, and he was desperate for her to wake up…’

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African Ivory Route Experiences

An in-house guidebook published by Transfrontier Parks Destinations / Cape Town / October 2017

‘I feel like we’re in a different country. So spoke my friend and travelling companion on a recent visit to Limpopo, taking in much of the legendary African Ivory Route (AIR). Even for her, a South African, the people and places there were mystifying, almost foreign: among them Modjadji, Land of the Rain Queen; Fundudzi, home to a sacred lake, forest and waterfalls; and villages in between where artists sculpt according to ancestral voices. Travelling along the African Ivory Route is a journey in many directions—into staggeringly beautiful wilderness, from the Waterberg to the Soutpansberg to the Drakensberg and up alongside the gem of Kruger National Park, Pafuri; into welcoming communities and cultures; and into the land of myth, tradition and the spirit world…’

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My Beautiful Wickedness

A memoir in progress

East Jerusalem, 1990

 

‘High over the Old City, I’m sitting in a freezing room in the Mount of Olives Hotel watching my breath. Breathing. I should actually be dead.

 

Down below, through the floor-to-ceiling windows in this exposed corner, the Dome of the Rock’s golden roof gleams in late afternoon light amid the labyrinth of old stones, old faiths, old hatreds. Jerusalem looks strangely peaceful, at least from this distance. Yet few other places have hosted so much conflict. It’s where three major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, converge. Confront. For centuries the city, though repeatedly fought over, has often been shared. But these days Israel is in no mood for sharing, neither the city nor the rest of the country, with people whose ancestors lived in this ancient land long before Israel declared itself: Palestine.

 

It’s January, 1990, and the intifadah – ‘the shuddering’ or ‘shaking off’ in Arabic – is two years old. I’ve been here four times since it started, covering the conflict for  progressive publications, preaching to the converted. But the mainstream media don’t want to know what’s happening. Each time I come I pretend I’m not a journalist. At least at the airport, particularly upon departure, where an agent predictably interrogates me, asking if I’ve spoken to any Arabs and other ridiculous questions. He wants names; I refuse to give them. He hands me over to a female inspector who takes me aside and roughly frisks me, then calls security to escort me to the plane, all the way to my seat. The brute stands next to me in the aisle, and radios that the suspect is in place.

 

It gives me great pleasure to tell them nothing. I don’t tell them what I’ve heard, what I’ve seen in the West Bank and Gaza, the ‘territories’ illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. I don’t tell them how two days ago, led by Palestinian activists from a local NGO, I scrambled over rooftops in Dheisheh refugee camp, fleeing Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers’ fire, how revolution is brewing there. I don’t tell them how, disguised in traditional Palestinian dress to report on a village, Qabatiya, under curfew, I was smuggled out at dawn in a melon truck, once the soldiers discovered my presence. I don’t tell them how in Gaza, the most densely packed place on earth, I saw scores of young boys raced into Shifa Hospital, bloodied and torn apart from IDF beatings and bullets, punishment for throwing stones. How I met Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the blind, crippled founder of fledgling Hamas, whom Israel would later assassinate. How I saw on display at Mena House, an oasis amid Gaza’s chaos, shells marked ‘Made in the USA’. How all across the territories I watched Palestinian homes being bulldozed, with families whose people had lived there for centuries standing there, stunned, as the insatiable machines invaded.  Women keening, children sobbing, a few brave souls trying to grab a scattered pot, mattress, doll or other fragment from the ruins. How I saw IDF soldiers screaming at women and children at checkpoints, butting them with their rifles, shoving them, kicking them, refusing them entry. The bulldozers, again, razing olive groves, the ancient twisted legacies of so many Palestinians. More and more settlers – often fresh from America – arriving in the wake of this destruction, erecting fortified, modern enclaves, stealing not only Palestinian land but the source of life itself: water.

 

It’s all chillingly familiar. Because for the last eighteen months, aside from my latest trip to this intractable war zone, I’ve been living in South Africa, reporting on the death throes of apartheid. Hoping, like most South Africans, that the revolution, the deliverance to democracy, will be relatively bloodless. Too much blood has already been shed…’