What is an identity? How do we identify ourselves?

Ruth HartleyCreativity, Family, Human rights, identity, photography2 Comments

How do we identify ourselves?

Two men are busy installing 4 large photographs on a stone wall.

Tanvir Bush’s photographs in the courtyard of the MDA Maurbourguet

What is identity? What criteria do any of us use to identify ourselves? Is it appearance? Tribe? Work? Status? Religion? Why do we need an identity? What do we use our identity for? To belong somewhere? To exclude another or many others? What identity do we think we have in someone else’s eyes?

We are always taking photographs or having them taken of us on cameras or on our smartphones. It’s the age of the selfie.

Do these images tell the truth about us?

How would or could we know?


Identities – a photographic exhibition

A man is looking at a series of phtographs displayed outside in a courtyard

Photographs in the Quinzaine exhibition of Identities

A man is looking at a serie of photographs displayed outside on a courtyard wall

Photographs in the Quinzaine exhibition of Identities








Every year Peleyre Association at St Lanne organise a fortnight’s exhibition of photographs in three places – Maubourguet, Madiran and St Lanne. Every year the exhibition is wonderfully stimulating. The photographs can be beautiful, challenging and funny. This year’s theme of Identities is especially thought-provoking and also extraordinarily varied and this year both my daughter Tanvir Bush and Read More and Comment …

The casual power of good storytelling in Zambia

Ruth HartleyPower, Writing, Zambia2 Comments

A Casualty of Power by Mukuka Chipanta

A Casualty of Power is an excellent action story that I simply couldn’t put down. It is well told and well structured and so engaging that you have to read to the end. It’s published by Weaver Books, Zimbabwe and Gadsden Publishers, Zambia 2016, 206 pages, ISBN: 978-1-77922-297-8

The hero’s plight

My heart was wrenched by the plight of the hero, Hamoonga Moya, who is a naive and honest young man with a gentle disposition, forced by circumstances of poverty, and a chance meeting with a attractive, feisty young businesswoman into a devastating encounter with a brutal politician. Read More and Comment …

Flying backwards to yesterday and arriving in tomorrow’s world

Ruth HartleyArt, Books, Creativity, The Shaping of Water, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Flying backwards to yesterday

In the forground a young blond girl cuddles a rabbit. Behind her are English cows in a field. Behind that are 3 different herds of African cattle returning home to their kraals at sunset.

‘Other Sunsets’ an oil painting by Ruth Hartley in the Lechwe collection



Was I flying backwards into a nostalgic and unreal fantasy about a past life? Even now Zambia feels like home to me, the place closest to my heart where I feel most deeply rooted. I lived in Zambia for 22 years and my dream had always been to have a plot of land, build a cottage on it and have a garden of flowers and vegetables, birds and insects, where I would always  live.



A time of change, of leaving and of returning

The Food Lovers Market at one of the big shopping malls in Lusaka

When I left Zambia in the 90s it was starting to recover after a time of political upheaval and change. There was major deforestation around the city. Many indigenous trees were being cut down for firewood so that people without electricity could cook food. I knew Zambia would be a very different place today. Lusaka, the capital city had grown enormously. I knew there were new shopping malls, offices, roads, houses and suburbs. It was a long flight from London but when I finally escaped from the airport I found myself unexpectedly in a garden city.



Lusaka – the garden city

A women sits under a tree with potted plants for sale in front of her

Selling plants at the Dutch Reform Church market in Lusaka

Zambians have embraced gardening, my friend Guida, tells me. I am stunned by how lovely the city looks. It is the end of the rainy season and so it is green and lush. Walled gardens spill out generously onto the road verges. The trees are huge and the varieties of flowers and plants are beautiful and extraordinary. I shake my head over the water bills that must be paid. Even in the poorer areas people are growing and selling plants and flowers. The house where I am staying has lemons, mangoes, grapes, raspberries, granadillas, guavas and roses. Such abundance fills my heart with joy.




Zambia – a country of artists

Cynthis zukas gestures at a painting in the Lechwe Trust Gallery. Wiulliam Miko is on the left

Cynthia Zukas explains the choice of art for the Lechwe Trust

A group of Zambian students sittin in the Lechwe Gallery

Art students from the Zambia Open University and Evelyn Hone College



When I lived in Zambia, I worked with artists who inspired me by their creativity and commitment to making art. Now on my return I am taken by Cynthia Zukas, a dear friend with whom I worked, to see the brand new Lechwe Trust Art Gallery. The gallery is the culmination of years of work and dedication by her. It is a treasure house of Zambian art kept for the nation. I meet old friends and new young artists, many busy working in the latest, new media. Zambian art and artists are alive and well and their work is as fertile and productive as the gardens of Lusaka. I also visit Gallery 37D and the stART Foundation run by Claire Chan. I am blown away by the art I see. Each gallery is also surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Arriving in tomorrow’s world

Cordyla Africana or wild mango in the forest on the old race track in the Lusaka Show Ground

Ruth with her new granddaughter












There are new bookshops in Lusaka. In Grey Matter I find a copy of my novel The Shaping of Water – that is thrilling – thank you Gadsden Publishers. I visit the old race course in the middle of Lusaka. It is now a Forest Reserve and in it I find 2 wild mangoes Cordyla Africana I planted 24 years ago. They are tall and doing well. All around me in Zambia, I see industrious, creative, kind and positive people working for a a better future for their children. Zambia is a country of energy and hope. I am here on a special visit to my family and I hold in my arms that small miracle – the blessing of my new grand-daughter. Today I have arrived in tomorrow’s world and I know that with with. these people in it, it will be a good and happy one.

Ruth holds up a copy of her novel The Shaping of Water which was on display in the Grey Matter bookshop



The Ballad of the Public Library

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Zambia6 Comments

A man holds new bank notes in his left hand and old bank notes in his right hand

A Zambian man looks at the old and new Zambian kwacha notes at a time of devaluation of the currency


I walked past the *UBL*C LIBRARY

where the pavement is piled up in heaps

to the shop with non-see wood windows



As I strolled past a man selling apples

I saw a gutter where dealers deal dollars

and a man keeps a rainbow in bottles

and a woman without any eyes.


So I Cha-cha-cha’d on to the Gift Box

wrapped and tied up with burglar bars

Where the cinema is doing big business

in ancient and violent dreams.


Then I ran past a man dressed in tatters

who was screaming out words of abuse.

I ran past the kids who run rackets,

guard your car for some glue or a coke.


The roads are called Freedom and Dancing,

The drains smell of death and disease.

There are bricks that are handy for riots

and off duty police who are thieves.


There are barrows of money for burning

and rich guys who’ll flog you some dope.

There are Daddies who promise you sugar

but ladies, you’ll only get Slim.

So ‘Zikomo Lusaka’ – we’re leaving’

We are off to the village again.


An aerial view of Lusaka taken from the north looking down the main tree-lined road known as Cairo Road.

A view of Cairo Road, the main street through Lusaka with the railway line to the east

Alarge building on the left shades a concourse fiilled with Zambian people waiting for transport

Lusaka Bus Terminus – a later view tp give an idea of the city

The background story of this poem from 1991 is of a time of riots and political change. I wrote it with affection and in a state of  fury about the town I worked in. Zambia was suffering economic disaster. The currency was worthless. 99% of the people survived by working in the black economy. The liberation wars were ending but not their effect on Zambia. There were riots, an attempted coup, and at last a promise of new elections. Here is my explanation of the Ballad.

If you haven’t guessed – the sign outside the library had missing letters. I liked the idea of an ‘ubl clibrary’ and wondered what was inside it. Work had begun on the pavement but been abandoned. No one could afford to replace broken glass in shop windows so often they were boarded up. We had no idea what was really sold at the Lebanese shop.

Apples were imported and expensive so how did they get on the sold on the street? Men sat on the pavement surrounded by an arc of bottles of different coloured liquid ostensibly for shoe cleaning. Blind women were sent out to beg. I worked on Cha Cha Cha Road. It was named for a freedom movement and also a dance like toyitoying. Parallel with it was  a road called the Freedom Way. The Gift Box was a posh shop fenced all around with thick black iron burglar bars. Cinemas could only show old films and the favourites were of Ninjas.

People with mental health problems lived in poverty on the streets and so did orphans and street kids.  Dollars were exchanged illegally in the back streets. Finally the currency was devalued and wheelbarrows of old notes were exchanged for a few new ones. To survive women often had to accept the protection of a ‘Sugar Daddy’  Slim disease was the word for HIV/AIDS. Zikomo means thank you. It was a tough  time to be in Lusaka. In my novel  The Tin Heart Gold Mine Lara experiences these riots first hand.

I will be back in Lusaka when this post is published. I know it will be very different to this poem and I won’t recognise it. I failed to find any photos from 1991 so these are simply to give you a flavour of the place.

The Shaping of Water

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Colonialism, Displacement, Freedom Fighters, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, Writing, Zambia4 Comments

The Shaping of Water

The Shaping of Water book coverSuch a lovely thing happened to me today. My first novel The Shaping of Water has appeared on the Facebook Page and Website of Gadsden Publishers in Lusaka Zambia. This is the right place for my book to be – Zambia is the home of this novel. You can see the video about the book here at – The Shaping of Water . It is the story of the people connected with a holiday cottage on one of the biggest dam projects in the world Lake Kariba built on the Zambezi River in the heart of Africa. The dam is shaped by the political ambitions of a colonial power but it  itself shapes the region – the story tells of the displacement of people, of power, and of the environment by water, by love, by hate and by war.

“As ideals and dreams founder on the rocks of political reality, three couples search for ways to keep faith.”

Ruth Hartley Writer

The roots of the story go back to my first visit to see Kariba Dam before it was finished – even before it was opened by the Queen Mother. I was  16. As a young adult I lived on Lake Kariba with my family for a year from May 1972. That was at a time when political unrest and war began to engulf the region. A few years later my family was lucky enough to regularly visit and enjoy a holiday cottage on the shores above the lake. That was the start of my love for Lake Kariba and the despair and hope that became part of my life in Zambia. The idea for the novel Read More and Comment …