Water, Music Video in HD

It was a clear, cool day in October last year when I hoiked my six-month pregnant belly up a gazillion steps to Cuevas de Sacromonte, a kind of open-air museum in the old gypsy quarter of Granada, to film my first ever music video (I mean a proper video, not just something recorded on an iPod while the baby was asleep. Although those are cool too.)

The percussionist, Muhammad Domínguez, and I had performed this song months before with almost no preparation, and we hadn’t rehearsed it at all until that morning, but it all came good on the fifth take. He’s a pro alright!

Props to my awesome brother Zakariyya Whiteman for filming, directing and editing and Pablo Garcia Lastra for the sound recording and mastering, as well as my parents for babysitting, Mounzer Sarraf of The Great Game for very kindly loaning me the electroacoustic guitar, and last but definitely not least, my wonderful husband for accompanying me and keeping cool so I didn’t have a diva strop. Not that I would or anything. Ahem.

Inshallah it’ll be the first of many more…and if I can get together the energy for a crowdfunding campaign to make an album you’ll be the first to hear about it!

To Be A Desert In A Monsoon

Rio Guadalfeo, Órgiva, las Alpujarras, Granada.

Summer in the Alpujarras is all about water.

Neighbours have been known to break out into fistfights over whose turn it is to use the acequia, the snowmelt that gushes down from the mountains through carefully dug and maintained channels to the smallholdings in the valley below. From the beginning of June through to the end of September, smallholders get a turn using the water, however long it takes them to water their land (say, three hours to do a third of a hectare) – although that turn might come at four o’clock in the morning.

When it’s your turn, though, you jump at it. The acequia is the difference between this valley being a lush, green paradise where fig trees snake colossal grey limbs up into huge shady labyrinths, mulberries splat you in the face with their fat juicy berries, and orange groves infuse the air with blossom in spring and fruit in winter, and a rocky, yellow plain so dry that firefighters have to suck whole truckfuls of water out of the river daily to keep forest fires at bay. Helicopters overhead is bad news; it means someone’s house has burned down and a mountain slope around it too.

Acequia at work

‘Doing the acequia’ is an utterly magical experience. You open the little metal gate that channels the water to your land, and suddenly you have a powerful, roaring torrent of icy water that you have to rush about diverting so that it reaches the trees and flowerbeds and veggie patch without sweeping everything away. Kids strip off and splash around; little waterfalls appear between terraces of land. On the hottest day experienced in Orgiva in recent years (40 degrees or higher) we did the acequia and the whole place was easily five degrees cooler instantly.

Stream above Capileira. Gives the word ‘cool’ a whole new meaning.

I write this now while fasting; I haven’t drunk or eaten in the daytime now for two weeks, bar a few days when the heat really did get too much for me. This is my first Ramadan for four years, during which I was either pregnant or breastfeeding the whole time. It’s strangely energising.

The first week or so was rough but I have more energy now than I did before, I’m not freaking out at my kids any more, I’m calmer and more patient (let’s see how long it lasts); the process of temporarily wasting away means your body gets a chance to clean out some crap via your pores before having to cope with digesting more food. And with it, whole rafts of negative mental states wash over you with shocking strength and then ebb away to practically nothing. It can really send you into a blissed-out trance, even while you’re cleaning bottoms and puddles of wee ten times a day.

But one thing that fasting heightens is the phantom sensations of taste and texture – specifically, for me right now (can you tell?) the feeling of quenching a raging thirst with cool, abundant water. I feel like a piece of arid land with trillions of seeds buried dormant beneath the surface; one good soaking and they spring into life, coating the tinderbox earth with a thick, moist layer of vegetation.

So when I break the fast at dusk, watching the the pink light disappear from the mountain tops before me, a litre of liquid in various forms (iced hibiscus tea, 0.0 % beer, juice, or just cold Lanjaron spring water) goes down with startling alacrity. I timed it yesterday; one litre of water in seven and a half minutes. I must have had a desert on the inside on my body that absorbed it gratefully in seconds; my skin even felt plumper afterwards.

Many people will think it’s too extreme, and it’s true, in a way, but like any test of endurance, you will always be astonished at how easy it was after all, how much stamina you had and didn’t know it, how much resolve that was there, just waiting to be necessary.

Our lives in the developed world are a doddle compared to those of women who traipse for five miles under African sun to fetch a pot of water and carry it home on their heads. The very fact that we have water piped into our houses means that we waste it. If we had to carry it five miles ourselves, would we leave a tap running while we brushed our teeth? Would we let a single drop go to waste?

Stream above Capileira

Arduous as it may be to fast for a whole month, to shine up a copper pot you’ve got to rub it hard. And the payoff, every evening, is to feel what it must be like to be a desert plain under a monsoon. There is a hadith that says that when a person breaks his fast at the end of a day, there is nothing between him and Allah. Union with the Divine tastes of cold, pure water after sixteen hours’ drought in the baking August heat.

And by God that tastes good.

Las Acequias: Veins of the Alpujarras

Autumn is in full swing here in Spain; the grapevine at the bottom of our land has turned a heavenly pumpkin orange, crunching brown at the edges; bougainvillia is shedding its three-fold paper lanterns to the high winds, each one a different shade of fuchsia, violet, ochre, or something in between, and each leaf carrying a tiny twisted seed. Jasmine is still exploding into ecstatic white windmills.

The Bougainvillia's last gasp

Though the oranges on the trees are still green, this house saluted those gorgeous round baubles that dangle juicily like little scattered planets:

Orange on the edge

The eucalyptus wood we talked through this afternoon was lush with greenery, the last few whisperings of the acequia gushing along the path on its way to meet the river. We were trying to cut across the countryside to the little place my mother-in-law had rented on the other side of town, Shamsie on Caveman’s shoulders, baby Rosa in a rucksack on my back, dozing off.

Caveman and boy

We got stuck at a reedy marsh, wood spears blocking the path: None shall pass. The road was tantalisingly visible above, but we had to turn back and tramp up another hill. I thought of the Sherpas I’d been watching on a Michael Palin documentary the day before, hauling twice that weight at more than 6,000 metres. Tried not to complain, told my inner whingebag to shut its trap, and was rewarded by a cunning little short-cut that led along another acequia to the main road. Acequias, from the Arabic as-saqiyya (saqaa is to quench one’s thirst), are the canals that slope along the sides of the mountains carrying snowmelt to the smallholdings. Originally cut by the Romans but massively extended by the Moors, they are what turned this valley from the wild, semi-barren string of crags into the lush hills we see today. As such they are (almost)* universally respected, and one can always walk along them; they cannot be bought and are common property.

Acequia hard at work

Water rules all here. Three solid months of torrential rain last winter made the ordinarily dry Rio Chico burst its banks, ripping metres of earth away from people’s bankside gardens, undermining house foundations and carrying hippie vans off into the river. Yet without it there would be no greenery, no fruit on the trees, no almonds or pomegranates or olives or oranges, no reason for tourists to come and rent houses and bask beside swimming pools, gazing up at fountains of bougainvillia and jasmine spilling over walls. There would be no colour. What can destroy us also makes alive.

Pommes de Granada

* The exceptions (surprise surprise) are big businesses. Lanjarón, the waters sourced above the town of the same name, from the Arabic al-‘Aynu Harun or Aaron’s Spring, are bottled by the company that sells it nationally, owned by Danone. Elsewhere in the Alpujarras (from al-Bushra, Joyous News), acequias have been hijacked by the ravenous thirst of the greenhouses, lying like vat rippling plastic lakes on the warm slopes by the sea. The acequias high above the towns away, from public view, have too often being cemented, preventing the vegetation of the high slopes receiving any water as it passes by. These slopes are now brown and dry, trees dead, olive and almonds groves begun five centuries ago rendered barren. A great film about the Alpujarras and the water systems here is El Canto del Agua, in Spanish and English, by Lilian Simonsson, Kirian Scheuplein and Isabel Wolfes (www.liliansimonsson.tv).

Pirouette for Rays

Swinging you
my arms your hammock
I feel an arm drop limply
with surrender against my side.

Sleep is your ocean
muffling sounds as though
through deep tranquil swells;
water, your oxygen.

I am the boat that carried
you here, but I could never be
the captain.

Milk lies drying on your lips
like salt, returning from
a seaborne dream of sailing
on the backs of blue marlins
speaking whale
befriending the surf.

I first saw you through the water.
Now you are pulling me under
to sing for the coral
and pirouette for rays.

Dissolve this me-ness in
rollicking tides and
scrub me clean of
victory self-ascribed and
drown my fear
of the lover’s death:

What is there but the water?