Tag Archives: ritti soncco

The Shocking Experiences of University Students with Britain’s Health Service

13 Jan

If you’re planning on moving to the UK, this is something you need to read. And if you don’t like reading, I made you a video:

This morning I was awakened by my friend’s pleas for help: her bladder infection had worsened overnight and, becoming too painful to ignore, she needed help getting to the Foresterhill Emergency Care Center in Aberdeen. As students, we cannot casually afford hiring taxis, so we met on King Street and undertook the long walk to Foresterhill. For the kind readers unaware of this distance, on a good day, this walk takes 40 mins. Walking with a lady with a painful infection, it will take up to 1 hour.

Photo 13-01-2015 14 34 01

When we finally reached the double doors of the emergency room, we were exhausted from walking and my friend was in worse pain. We quickly told the receptionist the problem and were almost settling to sit down and wait, when she replied: “I’m sorry, but we don’t accept bladder infections. That’s a problem for your GP.”

For the non-UK residents reading this: a GP is a General Practitioner, your local doctor. When you move to the UK, you can only register with the GP center in your living area and you will be provided with free service by the NHS (National Health Service).

Now the receptionist was turning us away because, as we understood it, we were arriving at the emergency room at an hour when all GPs are open. Therefore, why should the hospital accept us when doctors are open?

To say we were shocked would be an understatement. I repeated our request to the receptionist, adding: “But we are here now. We just walked for an hour to get here and my friend is in terrible pain.” The receptionist bounced off to ask a doctor on his opinion, and when she turned, she confirmed our disbelief: we would not be attended by a doctor in this emergency room because GPs are open.

At this point, the receptionist broke into a broad sunny smile and joyfully said to us : “Have a nice day!”


You could argue that now that we’ve learnt a further rule of the NHS, we won’t bother making the 1-hour walk across the city to the hospital if it is daytime. The issue at hand is not the appalling fact that in United Kingdom, treatment can be refused to you in a hospital; the issue at hand is that the NHS functions according to several rules that foreigners moving to the UK are simply not prepared for.


Firstly:  It’s Not That Easy To See Your GP 

After being turned away by the ER, we discussed doing as the receptionist had suggested and seeing my friend’s GP. The issue is that GPs don’t accept walk-ins. A GP will only see you if you have an appointment. Requesting an appointment can put you on a 1-2 week waiting list.

In the case of an emergency, you can request to speak to a doctor and leave your phone number. The doctor will then call you, ask about your symptoms and prescribe medication over the phone without ever seeing you in person. I am not exaggerating. I went through this process in September 2014. In fact, the doctor requested that I provide a urine sample in a case I could pick up at the pharmacy, (and I quote) “pop it in the mail and it will go straight to the microbiologists”.

British mailbox 928



Secondly:  An Emergency Does Not Mean the Ambulance Will Pick You Up

Last year, my former flatmate fell down the stairs at the university. She immediately called the emergency and requested an ambulance. She was denied one because (and I quote) she was conscious. As long as she was conscious and not bleeding heavily, the ambulance would not pick her up. Demanding how she should then get to the emergency room, the NHS replied: “Call a taxi.”

Without any alternatives, my flatmate called a taxi only to be told (and this is unfortunately quite common in Aberdeen) that all taxis were busy until 6pm. Almost crying with frustration, she finally got in touch with a friend with a car who drove her to the hospital.



Is this the message the United Kingdom, and Scotland, wish to portray to international and European students? By offering free higher education with an open scheme, Aberdeen is an attraction choice – but what if the medical service cannot take care of these students? For at the moment, the message we university students are receiving, is that we may receive excellent higher education, but there is no guarantee of efficient health service; no guarantee of being examined by a doctor; we may be prescribed medication over the phone; and/or be turned away by hospital emergency rooms.

I did not move to the UK in order to critise it. I enjoy living in Scotland greatly: the University of Aberdeen teaches at a high level, I have a great job here and an international array of friends. Of course as a foreigner I must learn the rules of the public sector – but speaking for many other students I must say: We fear becoming seriously ill in the UK for we don’t believe the NHS will provide an efficient service.

I therefore request that when the university tells its newly-enrolled students to register with a local GP, they also explain all the hoops the students will have to jump through in order to actually receive health care. Don’t let us find out these hoops on our own, when our health is in critical condition.

These Are the NHS Rules I Know: 

  1. Don’t bother going to see your doctor when you have a problem. Call the GP on the phone and request to speak to a doctor.
  2. Don’t bother going to the hospital during GP opening hours. The hospital will refuse to let a doctor see you.
  3. Forget ambulances. Make friends with someone who has a car. No one else will help you.
  4. When you’re healthy, make an appointment to see your GP and only then will you be able to speak to them about the health issues worrying you. The receptionist at the GP couldn’t understand why I wanted an appointment when I was perfectly healthy, so I told her: “I prefer making an appointment when I’m healthy than being turned away when I’m sick.”


And Finally, I would like to add a personal remark to the receptionist who attended us this morning. You may work as part of a medical health system that we haven’t fully understood; one which thinks it justified to turn away patients in pain; one which doesn’t consider the pain and frustration of having to return home on foot, walking for one hour, after a futile mission to a health institution you trusted would help you. But at least have the decency and basic human compassion to not smile in our faces as you slam shut the reception window, wishing us “a good day” when you know that you have just denied a person in pain her right to see a doctor and are sending her on a painful walk home.

If you’re going to work in a hospital, at least have that much basic human compassion.

Thank you for reading this. 

With Love, for Jenny. 



8 Dec


I used to absolutely despise Christmas. That was something I was very well known for among my friends. Everyone knew to not wish me a merry Christmas, get me any presents or expect any from me, and, when I was working for SWR Television, my boss knew it was me on the phone, telling her: “If you have work during Christmas, call me. I’ll be on duty for you for all the days.”

I was generally in an awful mood those days. When a friend introduced me to this song, I felt understood.

That was simply my mood. I just wasn’t a Christmas fan.

A week or so ago, I posted the following picture on my Instagram account:


We’re going from Lisa Hannigan’s solo straight to that. A friend commented: “You used to hate Christmas, now look at you!” And I have to confess that this post is very much a response to this singular comment, because since she wrote it, it’s been bugging me. So, girl, this one is for you!

This is also a post about why we choose to celebrate certain events. It’s not necessarily about what Christmas means us personally, but about why we celebrate at allTo my friend’s comment on Instagram, I replied that I was taking every opportunity life gave me to celebrate LIFE.

And yet the question didn’t seem fully answered, because her comment continued to resonate in my mind.

I think, ultimately, what happened is the United Kingdom. I’m going to go about this analysis as an anthropologist would, because my question is essentially as socio-cultural one.


Point 1

Being a university student, I am strongly exposed to the world of social media. I know in Germany most of my friends don’t use Twitter, few have Instagram and some are still resisting Facebook. To the UK, that sounds a bit Middle Ages! All our circus society news is shared on our Facebook page, such as impromptu trainings or hilarious/beautiful pictures from our last sessions. I communicate with all my university friends on Facebook (because I’m in the Middle Ages and still don’t have a cell phone); I hashtag vicariously and hey! I blog.

Living half my life on the internet, one of my guilty pleasures is googling memes. Memes can be as smart, stupid or delightful as you desire, and in the midst of all the memes, I found one that is just my sense of humour, touching upon my touchiest topic.




People don’t know this, but I am terribly attracted to grumpiness. Again an SWR Television anecdote: a colleague called me to inform me that I would, unfortunately, be working with a certain camera man who I shall only call P. I asked her, “Why ‘unfortunately’?” She replied: “Because you’re such a ball of sunshine and he’s more on the grumpy side.”

I hide very well just how grumpy I am, because I’m usually sitting behind a book somewhere chanting Pacha Mama, Pacha Mama.

Hell, I loved working with Patrick. YES I SAID IT. Much like Garfield, he acted like he had bathed in dark matter, wore dark clouds as rings under his eyes, and when working with him, I knew to always bring him coffee. I adored him; he was sharp-witted, straight-edged, said what he thought and didn’t suck-up to the journalists. I respected him greatly for it. Here is a very old photo of us with a fellow camera man, at the firm’s Christmas (ironic) party. And yes, my sweater had the fattest stripes.


But back to Grumpy Cat.



In a world where Grumpy Cat exists, I think I can deal with Christmas just a little bit more.



Point 2

After spending the majority of 2012 in Perú, a country where every second week a new national holiday is celebrated, I moved to Scotland. Scotland is cold. During the winter, the sun begins to set around 3pm. And in the midst of all this darkness, I became exposed to a fine British tradition. Tacky Christmas jumpers.

Photo 08-12-2014 00 59 25

And these really aren’t the tackiest. I will try to hunt some tacky ones down and photograph them for you.

The best part is that it’s mostly men who wear these, so we have grown men prancing about our uni campus sporting the most appalling jumpers, so cringe-worthy, that they are nothing short of brilliant. When one of our circus members showed up to our Christmas dinner without wearing something festive, we dressed him up in this:

Photo 08-12-2014 01 05 10

When you rock Santa’s belly, he HO HO HO’s endlessly. We did it non-stop.

Considering this new level of self deprecating humour on behalf of the Brits, you really can’t hate Christmas because you will burt into laughter just walking aroun campus. And if that isn’t enough, there’s always the ostentatious-creative side to it.

Photo 08-12-2014 00 06 40


This is what she means: Photo 08-12-2014 01 12 56

Yes, you can get them on Ebay: http://www.ebay.co.uk/bhp/christmas-nail-stickers

Celebrating in Germany was never as mad as this. We were always quite calm, with hot chocolate.

This, on the other hand, is what a Christmas tree looks like in Peru:


So perhaps I genetically sign up to the mode of living that is 50% more lavish, more ostentatious and, well, more mad.

But how to celebrate in Scotland? My friends at Studio 202 suggested I fill my Christmas tree up with X-Men figurines, aerialists and pole dancers. A friend of mine decorated her entire flat, including the bathroom, with Christmas decorations to the point that we diagnosed her with OCD, Obsessive Christmas Disorder. And just when we thought we had seen it all…



These are people who are having so much fun with Christmas – and by that I don’t mean Christmas-carolling about how peaceful the world is (here’s a link to BBC News), or how silent (lend an ear to Ferguson, or to the entire country of Syria), or how much they’re going to let it go, let it go, the snow never bothered me anyway – because that’s what I enjoyed about Lisa Hannigan’s version in the first place: it wasn’t hypocritical. It was explaining how people actually feel during Christmas, and the shocking truth that not everyone is jolly on Christmas. A lot of people are alone, don’t want to / can’t see their families and avoid public spaces because they can’t stand the Christmas jingles anymore; many people suffer from depressions, suffer silently, and pray these days will be over soon and the world will go back to normal. We really need to think about these people more.

No – these are people making fun with Christmas. Just as they ignore the nay-sayers who state Halloween is merely a commercial byproduct of the United States, and get all dressed up nonetheless, they’re celebrating life. They are making fun with what they’re given, and I want to be a part of that fun.

I must conclude that I, the project subject, have started enjoying Christmas due to the influence of what “celebrating Christmas” means in the British socio-cultural environment.

And I can’t wait to see what Grumpy Cat does on Easter.


The ChristmaSassy Idea 

So I’d like to end this post with a small idea. Wherever you are, however you’re spending Christmas, JOIN ME and post up your very own ChristmaSassy Memes. You can go mad on Photoshop/Gimp (a free, OpenSource version), or you can download a meme-creating app onto your phone like MakeAMeme+

You can make as many or as few as you like. Send them to me via Twitter/Instagram @rittisoncco, or rittisoncco@gmail.com. If we get a decent collection, I’ll post them up on my next post! You can always google for inspiration; you’ll see they can be whatever you want.


Another way to Make Fun With Xmas: here’s a silly Christmas Drinking Game I heard about. Put a Christmas hat on your tv. Every time someone wears it, take a shot.


And yes, I’m aware that all this is very First World Problems. That just happens to be where I am at the moment. So wherever you are, whatever you want to say – say it & send it to me. I look forward to it very very much.

Now, I really should get back to studying for my exams.

Aerials at Crathes Enchanted Castle

26 Nov


University started back up with a bang. 3 months ago, I was in Peru with plenty of time to blog, structure Qayqa and social-medialise.  Since my return to Aberdeen, however, I’ve been living a demanding, well-structured life full of exercise and aerials. I teach 4 times a week.


Mondays, 7-9 pm:  Acrobatics at the University of Aberdeen

Tuesdays, 7-9 pm:  Flexibility class for working professionals at Studio 202

Thursdays, 6-9 pm:  Aerial Silks & Trapeze for students at Studio 202

Fridays, 7-9 pm:  Aerial Silks & Trapeze for working professionals at Studio 202


I’ve had a few people tell me they stumbled over this blog when they were looking up aerial classes in Aberdeen, and either accidentally bump into me at Studio 202 and make the connection later; or write me and join my classes. So if you’re out there, eager to start aerials or have a good stretch, this is my routine. Come to my classes!

Last week, however, all my classes went on hold because the Circus Society had been booked by Crathes Enchanted Castle to perform for 5 days – and I had been booked with them, on my aerial silks for the very first time in Scotland.

4 performances a night… for 5 days… In November.

I agreed to this in July, when I couldn’t imagine what “cold” felt like. By October, I was terrified. I woke up the morning of the performance at 6am, genuinely scared. I went to an Outdoor Adventure Clothing store and paid a ridiculously high price for thermal underwear.

I’ll philosophise about the Role of the Cold in my life in a bit, but first I would like to show you some pictures of the event. Here are a few I took, but I also strongly encourage you to visit the website of the event’s official photographer, Martin Parker, here. He has some stunning photographs of the castle and its grounds all magically lit up, like this:

Crathes Castle. Photograph by Martin Parker

Crathes Castle. Photograph by Martin Parker

Crathes Castle Grounds. Photograph by Martin Parker.

Crathes Castle Grounds. Photograph by Martin Parker.

Meanwhile, here are a few I took of our team on the first night. Missing only is a picture of Sandra, but you’ll find her in Martin Parker’s collection.

Big Man Barnaby

Big Man Barny

Hannah firebreathing while Emma hoola-hooped

Hannah firebreathing while Emma hoola-hooped

Emma's Mysterious Frolicking Creature, anything from Gollum to... a goat

Emma’s Mysterious Frolicking Creature, anything from Gollum to… a goat

the view to my office

where I danced

My area had Talking Trees, who discussed one another’s growth spurts, the fashion of the audience, and spiderwebs. This was the first time I didn’t have music for my performance, but the conversation of trees instead. It was a challenge. I spent the first 2 days fighting for music, but by the end of the 2nd day, friends assured me that not having music added a somewhat mystical value to my performance. I remembered that a lot of circus performances have begun to take place in total silence, and I accepted the challenge.

did get feedback that it would have been even more surreal had the trees stopped talking entirely while I performed. Personally, I have to agree. Total silence would have been nice. But towards the end of 5 days, I barely even heard them anymore.

I’ll let YOU decide, dear ayllu, and tell me what you think. Here is a video of my performance amongst slight raindrops, courtesy of My Special Man:

There’s a brilliant anecdote to this video.

This evening was was the very first time my man saw me perform live on the silks, so afterwards, I ran to hug him and hear all about it. I was so eager to hear his thoughts. “Did I scare you, in the end?” I asked excitedly, “When I dropped suddenly, did I scare you?”

“Oh, I knew you were always in control,” he bluffed.

“Seriously?” I was so annoyed with myself. “I didn’t scare you?”

“Well, the truth is…” he slowly began to admit, “I kinda missed the drop…”

“What? Why? What were you doing?”

You see, in the seconds before my final drop, my proud boyfriend had turned his back in order to take a selfie with his aerial girlfriend. . .

. . .When suddenly, the crowd shouted in surprise, and he turned, wondering: What? What did I miss??? 

The Selfie

The Selfie

This performance was not only my very first aerial performance in Scotland… It is also my goodbye to my red silks. Over the last 5 years, we’ve worked so well together: in short films, hanging from a 10 meter crane, teaching my very first students in Aberdeen how to fly… They are well over their retirement age and have certainly lost a lot of elasticity. Silks are usually used for 2-3 years; mine are over 5 years old. It is time to say goodbye to my darlings.

I think this was a more than worthy farewell.

During the performance, knowing that this will be the last time we work together, I became aware of how much I trust them. How I reach for them without looking, because I know they are where my hands expect them to be. Before every performance, I touch them gently, look up at their securing point and whisper Please take care of me. We’ll do this together. And they’ve never let me fall.

This is the most beautiful, heart-stopping view to me.

Photo 20-11-2014 00 44 06

Here are a few more images from the nights at Crathes Enchanted Castle:

Photo 21-11-2014 23 15 56

my favourite by Elsie Liontou


And favourites by Martin Parker:

copyright Martin Parker

copyright Martin Parker Photography

copyright Martin Parker

copyright Martin Parker Photography

copyright Martin Parker

copyright Martin Parker Photography

Now I wasn’t too delighted at performing in the cold. If anything, most aspects of my life in Scotland revolve around The Art Of Not Feeling Cold. I arrived in Scotland complete with a UV light therapy gadget. My man has nicknamed me “the Firefighter” because of my winter fashion.

Other girls and me

The cold usually makes me very bad-tempered, unhappy and generally super bitchy.

Photo 21-11-2014 13 31 13

And if you’re wondering where I’m getting all these pictures from, check out this great page: 27 Things Girls Who Are Always Cold Know To Be True. Story of my life.

So I find it interesting that the one time I perform on the aerial silks in Scotland, it’s in the dead of winter. Barefoot. Or that the one time I decide to go to university, it’s in the north of Scotland. Etc etc ad infinitum.

You have to admit that Life really is throwing almost a lot of the things at me which I happen to despise the most. And yet, I’m enjoying my time in Scotland so much.

Life, in its Infinite Wisdom, is throwing the things at me that will challenge me the most. And thanks to that, I am learning.

Learning how to stay warm for 5 days and not get sick afterwards.

Finally buying thermal underwear so I don’t freeze.

Finding the strength within me to suck it up and perform barefoot.

Maybe living in a country that has four seasons (my main complaint) isn’t so bad for the value of the lessons I’m learning. Because after the 3rd night of performing, when it was windy and freezing, I heard myself say on the 4th night: “8 degrees? Wow, it’s warm!”

This is how we change.

Or maybe Life just has a sadistic sense of humour and loves picking on me. I prefer to believe the former!

Yes We Can!

We Can Do It!

Dear ayllu, in 2 weeks, we university students have our winter exams. After this, we’re away on our Christmas break and I will be able to blog more and tell you all about Qayqa. I skyped with Mark today, who is in Cologne, also performing, and we quickly discussed the last bits and pieces. I’ll keep you informed on the process.

Finally, I would like to leave you with a short clip I shot just for you, for this blog. I’ll explain: for 5 long nights, opera music was put in an endless 5-hour-long loop to accompany the hoola hoop fire performances. Pleasant as it was, it didn’t take very long to exhaust everyone’s eardrums. I once did the entire walk through the Enchanted Forest, looking at the lit-up trees, hearing the bizarre and spooky sound effects, and I commented to the sound technician: “If you took LSD then walked through that forest, it would the trip of your life!”

He joked back: “Then maybe on the last night we should have a rave!”

On the last night, after the audience had left, the gates had closed and everyone was taking down their stuff, he put on delicious trance beats that fit remarkably well to the projections on the castle. I just had to film it.

So here it is, from me to you, sending you love from Scotland.

What Other Artists Are Doing

5 Sep
urban pole at the International Potato Center

urban pole at the International Potato Center

Dear ayllu,

In a few days, I’ll be flying back to Scotland and from what I’ve heard from my friends, the welcoming parties for the new students are already starting in full swing. The day after I land, I will be running to registration offices… attending the Freshers’ Fair, where our Circus Society will be telling the newbies what we’re all about… spending the afternoon at Give-It-a-Go, in which we’ll perform and give sporadic trapeze & silks workshops on the university lawn… and see all my friends again after a 3 month summer break.

I’ve had such a great time blogging more often. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too! As always, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to blog once I’m back in Scotland, but I’m optimistic (as usual) that since I now know what university’s about, I’ll be able to balance it better.

Today is my last day at the International Potato Center. I’m just finishing up my work. The two videos I worked on have been shown at several conferences and the feedback was very good, especially for the project trailer. The minute it’s up on the CIP website / YouTube page, I’ll publish the link. It will best explain the project I’ve been a part of this past month.

with my supervisor Veronique and my fellow crazy intern Kathleen

with my supervisor Veronique and my fellow crazy intern Kathleen

So before I leave the country, I wanted to leave you with some videos of artists who have been influencing me, and who I have cast a firm and fascinated eye on. If you follow me on Twitter or Tumblr, then you’ll already know most of this, but I did want to dedicate a blog to what other artists are doing.

Firstly, with love from Scotland, the man who was supposed to follow his father’s footsteps and take over the local fish and chips shop:


Who knows where the audio track in the middle of the song is from? Here’s a clue:


Secondly, a short report introducing a fantastic new band and Grammy nominee, with love from Lima, Peru:

Visit their Official Website to know how you can get their music!


This is a fascinating film, based on a true story, that I cannot wait to see. It might be in your local indie cinema at the moment, so please rush to see it if you can.

I spent this week reading the following memoir and, because I am superstitious, I’m raced to finish it before my flight. It’s the true story of Juliane Koepke, who, when she was 17, became the sole survivor of a plane crash en route to the jungle city Pucalpa. She fought her way through the Amazon rainforest for 11 days with fractured bones, eventually finding her way out and discovering that everyone else, including her mother, had perished in the accident. Approximately 50 years later, she published her memoirs.

Juliane Koepke

Juliane Koepke

As “chance” will have it, her book has just been translated into Spanish and in a few days times, Juliane Koepke will be arriving and signing this book in Lima. I, unfortunately, will have left by then, so I urge everyone who will be here to go to the event, meet her, and get a copy of her book. It is very very good.

Here is the official invitation:


If you happen to not be in Peru, you can console yourself with an excellent documentary about Juliane’s survival by German director Werner Herzog, entitled Wings Of Hope. As “chance” would have it, he was desperately trying to get on that fated flight as well, as he was in the middle of finding Aguirre in the Peruvian Amazon. The flight, however, was overbooked, and he and his film team couldn’t get on.

Scoot up, I’m trying to watch this too:

Well, my friends, I have to get some work done before the day is through. I hope you enjoyed this first round of What Other Artists Are Doing. I’ll keep you informed on good art I discover along the way. Until then, I leave you with something I have been doing… with you… MY BLURB.

Thank you to everyone who gave me such excellent feedback; who wasn’t annoyed at me for bugging them about it. This is it. Unless I change something else.

You’re a fool if you think we work the fields! The fields work us!”

This foreboding riddle could have led Damian to be more careful with the Earth, but not much makes sense when you have knots growing out of your head. The young traveller works at a circus of flying people. He learns how to help others with magical plants, but neglects opening his own knots.

When Damian thoroughly loses what is left of his balance, he falls over the horizon. He wakes up to find himself in a desolate desert where the Earth sees him as a seed that refuses to grow. Only by striking a friendship with a charming but cheeky potato and learning to look the Earth in the eye, can Damian hope to open his knots and return to his side of the horizon.

Rooted in Peruvian mythology, Qayqa is a novel about the living energy of the universe, a fairytale about finding yourself.

Got thoughts on it? Let me know what you think!

Love, Ritti

The Making Of Of Qayqa

11 Aug

photo 2

Work at the institute is going well. I finished a rough cut of the final material and ran into the weekend feeling I had accomplished something. But the city of Lima is driving me nuts and with Peru being so large, it’s hard to get very far with only a weekend to escape. So I complain to friends who raise their eyebrows and snigger: “Ritti, that’s the life we’ve been having for years. It’s what life is like if you’ve got a normal job.”

I did not know that.

The most normal job I’ve had is working at regional television with spontaneous working hours… And cafes / bars. I’ve never done a 9-5. Currently I’m doing a 7:30-4:30 job. In Peru’s winter. What the hell was I thinking.


The Making Of… Of… Qayqa

Last week I requested on Twitter for people to send me questions about Qayqa and my life / work as a writer. The reason for this is that I’m currently preparing a Qayqa Making Of book: a side-project which is designed to keep me sane (and motivated) while I walk Qayqa through the last steps of her birth. I got some excellent questions from a friend and stayed up way past my working-hours-bedtime having fun answering them. I found them to be so insightful and delicious. Here are 3 that made me snigger with delight:

We know that your life at the circus inspired elements of Qayqa, such as the Flying People, but how did your work on Qayqa have an influence on your work as an aerial artist?

Are there elements of Qayqa that you wrote knowing they would give away a lot of yourself, and if so, how did you manage to trust your readers and your audience enough to open up to them like this?

Many people are looking forward to learn more about The Flying People, do you feel like the great interest of people on THEIR story is somehow betraying Damian’s journey and HIS story?

Insightful, ey?

Some people will be receiving the Making Of book as their reward for supporting the crowd funding project. I’m going to print a limited edition and sell the rest during my book tour. So grab ’em while they’re out!

Chatting with a friend in Lima, I mentioned that I couldn’t think of a good title for the book. “I can’t really call it: the making of of Qayqa, can I?” He stared at me and immediately gave me the best idea. It’s brilliant because it’s to short, explanatory… and references X Men. I love X Men. This is how much I love X Men:

at Universal Studios in 2008

at Universal Studios in 2008

at the "Days of Future Past" premiere in Aberdeen

at the “Days of Future Past” premiere in 2013

I’ll be calling the making of book QAYQA: ORIGINS.

Get it?


My friend was amazed that I hadn’t thought of it myself.

I’ve sent Mark some questions for the book as well. I’m hoping it will give you an insight into the thought processes, the stories, the coincidences that all came together to make my first novel. And perhaps a sneak-peak into Munay, the sequel.

I spent the weekend finding my ideal café where I could write and go over Mark’s illustrations.

by Mark Klawikowski

by Mark Klawikowski

I also wrote for Munay. I realised (again) that she is much more done than I had thought. I’m connecting her dots and it’s so much fun to re-read all the old sections I wrote, knowing where I was in my life at that time, and where I was traveling too.

While I was seeping through, I discovered a passage that I’m not so sure will stay in Munay any more. I wrote it in Cusco two years ago, after a lovers quarrel, and now I realise it’s out of place in Munay. I may change my mind, but until then, what to do with it?

Put it in the blog, I thought.



“How Women Argue” by Ritti Soncco 

Allow me to generalise without apology: the trouble is that women are not as accustomed to sidestepping, not as accustomed to waiting with the patience of cavaliers. We do not harbour as little judgment as men who seem born with the knowledge that we must accept what is given and never demand more because “woman are fundamentally different, my son”. Instead, we are creatures of passion whose cries of strength and cries of insecurity sound identical. Who want “everything is fine” to mean “stay here and talk to me because nothing is alright”.

And so we fall into the dilemma of being a woman. A dilemma we ourselves do not approve of. We do not want to stand in a corner overcrowded with clichés. We despise the confrontation of man versus woman; the one which ends with the evolutionary argument that we are fundamentally different. What rubbish. We prefer the school of thought “everything is only as complicated as you make it”. We insist that we are not complicated.

And so we find ourselves increasingly demanding a sphere of our own. Why should the ionosphere be as unarguable as this and have all the fun? Where is our world where the rules of gravity and air agree that we are in the right? One sphere to call our own, into which the world can enter and understand what we meant when we said _______________; understand why we needed that hug to last longer or those extra words of praise. Understand that we weren’t being needy, we weren’t feeding a cliché; we will not be branded and used as an example of Venus.

Breathe the air of our sphere and you’ll know how a woman feels. Fly around in our wind and you’ll understand why we fall so hard in love, why it makes us feel insecure, perfect, insufficient, and divine. I tell you if we could have a sphere of our own we would never be cornered with clichés again. We’d be an aerial fact, something to be measured. Rational minds would agree on the degrees of feminine passion, the knots of feminine insecurity and the average speed of feminine stability.

Was my anger in our last fight a moderate gale or a deep depression? I meant it to scatter the clouds but I fear it called forth a storm instead. In my passion, as analysed by the Beaufort Scale and therefore measured by observed conditions on land or sea (you choose), we are now flying over the India of my love and experiencing a moderate tropical storm. According to the anemometers this is the average wind speed for a monsoon. You know what to do.

A sphere for our emotional weather, where women can remain as understandable and elusive as the clouds of every other sphere.


If you have any questions you would like me to include in QAYQA: ORIGINS (snigger), write me! I’m here for ya.

“In the Long & Grand Narrative of Your Life”

15 Jul

I have not been happy about the post I have to write, so I went did a very human thing: I pulled the covers over my head and ignored the world for a bit. I know it’s a shit thing to do when YOU are out there, possibly waiting, possible wondering what’s going on, and I hope you will understand that I crawled into a little hole for a bit.

Dearest ayllu, we have to postphone the book tour. This is the story about WHY.

After posting my book tour video, so many of you got in touch and invited me over. There was beautiful, exciting enthusiasm in the air. Mark was painting his hand off to complete the last suggestions on the cover. Everything was going very well.

Then I drew up a basic plan for my tour and realised how mad it was.

photo 1

But hey, it always was. I figured I could sleep on night trains and, dizzy as the tour may make me, at the end of the day: who cares? I’ll sleep on the plane. I’ll rest when I’m dead.

Everything was coming together, so I called my Book Printing Company Of Choice (where I also had Overripe Fruits printed) to ensure that everything would go according to plan. And this is where I met my iceberg.

The lady on the phone told me that the Printing Company had received an extraordinary amount of commissions that month that they could not guarantee meeting their own printing deadlines. “You’ll be lucky to have your books in 15 days,” she said, “but if I were you, I’d count on 20 days.”

This, of course, would not leave me with enough time to do the entire book tour as I wanted. I went back to my drawing board and desperately started moving cities around. And I started doing this:


And I hated it.

My vow has always been that if you want me to come, I will do everything humanly possible to come. How can I justify leaving someone out?! How can I look someone in the face and say: “No, I’m not coming to see you”?! I don’t care how tiny the village is; how obscure or difficult to get to. If you want me to come, I’ll be there.

In art, a living room performance is never worth less than a stage performance. At least not on my f*ing planet.

So then, Ritti, what the hell are you going to do. Well, I took to the bed for a few days and pretended not to feel the iceberg. In fact, a while back a circus friend shared this fantastic image with me, which I think is incredibly fitting for this and all art-related situations:

(and a friend just commented: "I don't think the sub-surface part is big enough")

(and a friend just commented: “I don’t think the sub-surface part is big enough”)

I felt humiliation, anger, shame, embarrassment. How could I face any of you now? Even though this an be counted as a force majeur, I felt as though it were an account of my personal failure. I was failing to get my own book tour organised on time. I was losing credibility. I was so ashamed.

I cautiously tweeted something to the world, letting them know I had hit a rock. And, in the ways in which social media likes to play Jesus, a writer friend replied:

It’ll happen eventually, and by the time it does it will be better! Don’t worry about that. In the long run and the grand narrative of your life, this means nothing.

We wrote back & forth, me spilling all my woes, and he continued to comfort me and minimalise my extreme worries and fears.

photo 2

In an ironic turn of emotions, I asked myself: “Dare I hope this?”

So I shook the covers off and began consulting with some friends. I received a few suggestions (“do one half of the tour now and the other half later”, “do the tour without the books and take pre-orders”, “go only to big cities”, etc) and thought them through carefully, and the best alternative I could find was to POSTPHONE THE BOOK TOUR.

Again: How can I justify restricting myself to certain cities and not going to see as many of you as possible?! Or how can I justify that some of you get Qayqa now while others have to wait? Pre-orders just aren’t ideal. In the words of the great Hunter S Thompson:

If there’s something worth doing, it’s worth doing it right.

So I am back at my desk, planning. I have more time to shift illustrations around the digital Qayqa  platform. Generally speaking, I have more time. I can’t say I’m upset about that. I was starting to feel incredibly rushed, and this is, after all, my first novel. I want to do this right.

I want to thank everyone who was enthusiastic & messaging me about the tour; who was inviting friends & buying chips & organising everything. I know who you are and I’m looking right at you saying THANK YOU. I apologise for any inconvenience. I will come to read for you, this is a vow. Thank you for supporting me and for continuing to believe in me. You have always been my ayllu.

To my critics out there: If you think you can do it better, do it. I’ll be happy to learn from you.

And suddenly I’m starting to feel a lot stronger. I just listened to Björk’s Cover Me a few times. From where I placed it, it was about hiding. From now, towards the end of this post, I’m focussing on this sentence: “I’m going to prove the impossible really exists.”

By the way…

"Qayqa" by Ritti Soncco. Cover by Mark Klawikowski

“Qayqa” by Ritti Soncco. Cover by Mark Klawikowski

So I was thinking of doing the tour in December . December is good because that’s when I have university holidays and you might want to get Qayqa as a Christmas present. It’s bad because it is far far away (how can I justify telling y’all to wait another 5 months?) and (as has been pointed out to me) will be busy enough as is. Running around, getting your Christmas shopping done; so many extra-curricular events to attend to…

I thought about September. It’s sooner; you’re all back from your holidays but still looking for reasons to dream; still wanting to relax, close your eyes and listen to me read instead of going to the office…

What do you think???

If we decide on September, I need to have a good & careful think about how I’m going to do it because my university starts up then. I will try to bend things so I don’t miss (many) classes.

Let’s be in touch.



Book Tour // Buchtournee

12 Jun

Today we made you a video about how you can “Book the Book” tour. It’s in German because I’ll be starting my book tour in all German-speaking countries. Keep scrolling for some photos & a random video!

Now that you’ve seen it, join in the BOOK MY BOOK tour and book me via:

  • rittisoncco@gmail.com
  • facebook.com/rittisoncco
  • twitter  @ritti soncco

So how all this happened was, yesterday I was rambling to my good friend, Jamie the Pict, about making a video for y’all. He immediately offered to film it for me because he’s a Very Kind Man who loves doing Weird Things. Hence I say good friend!

on our way!

on our way!

He knows Aberdeen like his own “westentasche” (haha inside joke) so when I said I wanted to be in a tree, he suggested filming at Hazelhead Park. Like most things in Scotland, Hazelhead Park is partly a golf course, but this summer, it’ll host the Highland Games for Aberdeenshire, wherein ole Scottish things are done, such as throwing cabers and looking like badly-hidden euphemisms which would prove Freud right.

Anyway, we drove around the park until I screamed: “THERE’S OUR TREE!”


We tried different angles, Jamie fought with my iPod’s focus, and we grr’d when golf cars or horse trunks rumbled by… But we got our shot!

And here are some photos of how we fell in love with this beautiful tree.

Jamie's filming position

Jamie’s filming position

film pose

film pose


And some video nonsense.

There, dear ayllu, now you know how to BOOK MY BOOK. Remember I’m open to all your suggestions. I’ll read by your favourite river. If you play a musical instrument, maybe we can do a literary-musical fusion? I’ll read at midnight, at noon. Make it exciting, let your imagination go wild. I’m up for all sorts of epic nonsense.

So BOOK MY BOOK and tell all yer friends Qayqa is coming!

Thank you so much. Have an orchid.


Phalaenopsis Orchid

(This comes from a link a good friend sent me of plants looking like creatures. You’ll love it, so click here, then BOOK MY BOOK tour!)

My Book Tour

9 Jun
photo 2

trees on the way up the Bennachie

Dearest ayllu,

Summer is here and my first year of university in Aberdeen is over. It is warm and beautiful in Scotland, in 12 days I will turn 30 years old, and this is the “joie de vivre” music I am listening to as I write this. So if you want the full experience, turn it up and continue to read!


University has been beautiful to me but I really felt the end of it: the first morning that exams were over, I wore flamboyant clothes, make-up and earrings, caught myself in the mirror and thought: The artist is back. 

Some of my friends had a different way of celebrating.

swimming in the North Sea!

swimming in the North Sea!

By now, most of my friends have left Scotland and gone back to their countries. Of my  five flatmates, only Chinchin and I are left, so whenever we bump into each other in the corridor, we celebrate it.

Shortly before the majority of my Acrobats & Aerialists left for the summer, they surprised me with a THANK YOU bottle of champagne and card for founding our beautiful group, and a pre-birthday surprise!

photo 3


People have been asking how I feel about turning 30, and my standard reply has been, “I think it’s a great idea.” I really couldn’t be more pleased. 30 sounds like an exciting but calm age; I feel less like (to use Doris Lessing’s words) “an awkwardly put-together parcel” and more like ME – that enigma I have been trying to figure out. Reaching 30, I feel as thought I finally understand the coat I am wearing. Like I know its moth-eaten holes, which buttons are wobbly, why it sometimes seems of cigarettes and booze, and how snug it feels when I wrap it over myself and head out into the sun.

photo 3

climbing Bennachie on Saturday



As I prepare to travel down to Germany, I am of course preparing my NOVEL Qayqa for publication. Mark and I have been abusing Skype and Dropbox as we try to meet our deadlines. Last week I received an email with a beautiful attachment: the almost-finished cover. This was followed by 3 emails: “Well? Give me feedback! Hello? I need your feedback! Are you there? Tell me what you think!” So we skyped, chatted about this & that, and I almost cried because of the details he thought to include.

Photo 02-06-2014 12 57 38

yes, I document *everything*

Can you spot them? Can you see how well he knows me?

the cover for my first novel QAYQA by Mark Klawikowski

the cover for my first novel QAYQA by Mark Klawikowski

Now it’s not done yet: Damian is missing some hair… as you may have noticed! It’s only the main part of the bloody book… Hah. I wrote a book about hair. Typical.

What surprised the hell out of me is that it looks very much like the African childrens’ books I used to read when I was small in Nigeria. It has the same organic, magical, colourful feel. How amazing is it to have someone else paint a cover for a book I wrote that looks just like the books that inspired me as a child to write this very book in the first place.

The one thing we couldn’t quite decide on is: should the title QAYQA be left against a white background – or should it be surrounded by tree leaves? What do YOU think? Please write me!! I need your advice:  rittisoncco@gmail.com or @rittisoncco (tweet, tweet) or facebook.com/rittisoncco or COMMENT at the end of the post!

book hangover




This. Is. It. We are finally doing this, querido ayllu!! And here is the idea I have:

We are a community. We are making Qayqa‘s publication possible through crowdfunding. I would not be here without you. If I were a musician, I’d love to sell you my cassettes out of the back of my car. But I’m not a musician. So my plan is this.

I will come to you.

Wherever you are. You can book me.

I will read for you.

All you have to do for this to happen, is this:

  1. Write me before the 21st June (if you include a small Happy Birthday! it’ll make me smile)
  2. Tell me where you are / want me to come to. I will come to your living room, local pub, favourite café, community center, etc.
  3. Tell me when would be best for you – give me a few possible dates so that we can make this work. I am available for you all of July.
  4. Tell all your friends. Organise a little party in your living room, your pub / café / community center. Get everyone to come round, have a few drinks, some snacks, and we will begin. I can perform for up to 2 hours and a half.
  5. Got any friends in the press? Let them know! Tell your community this is happening. If you need any information from me (photos, short description of Qayqa, short biography, poster, etc) let me know. The sooner the better.

If you can offer me a sofa to crash, hurray! I’d love to stay with you and spend more time chatting. If not, don’t worry.

As soon as your dates start coming in, I’ll begin planning the tour, so please don’t hesitate. If you are interested, LET ME KNOW and I’ll put you on the list. Just let me know ASAP that you want me to come to you and I’ll bend myself to make it.

You can reach me: 

  • in the comments below
  • facebook.com/rittisoncco
  • twitter:  @rittisoncco
  • email:  rittisoncco@gmail.com

As soon as I’m done planning, I’ll publish the tour dates on my blog. I’ll bring copies of Qayqa and if you were a supporter, you’ll be getting a big kiss from me as well as your support stuff!

Any questions?

photo 1

I’ll be in my hut


We’ll have us a damn good book tour!

We’ll open bottles of wine, laugh loudly and love literature, sing, dance, and hug Qayqa.

She’s finally coming out!

photo 4

All my Love to you, ayllu. I’ll post this now, bug the shit out of everyone on Facebook, and wait for your emails / messages.

As the Scots would say: I cannae wait!!! 

In Which I Doubt Occasionally

20 May
obviously paying close attention in class

obviously paying close attention in class

University life is quickly coming to an end for the summer, which means I will be more active on my blog in the next few months. Hurray! University has been great to me and just earlier, walking through the quiet campus, I felt very happy to be a part of this place. I think it was definitely the right decision to come here.

But I am not without my doubts. Truth be told – especially when I hear about how amazingly well my friend Ben is doing. He moved to Berlin a year ago to do an internship with a StartUp and has been doing amazingly for himself since then. He sends me all his updates and I am overwhelmed and proudly happy for him – with a human tinge of envy. If you want to know what Ben’s been up, check out this great interview he gave for Die Zeit, which really explains it best: http://www.zeit.de/studium/uni-leben/2014-04/selbststudium-education-hacking

I know it’s normal to ask myself if, maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t be using this time better: What if I were focussing on my writing instead of being at university? What if I were giving readings night after night instead?

photo 4


Where would I be instead? Could I achieve more?

These are very normal doubts and I am filled with them occasionally – but they are never strong enough for me to consider packing my bags. I love everything my university life has to offer, from the studying to the carefree enjoyment of life (which, if we’re calling a duck a duck, is terribly relaxing after constantly worrying how to pay the rent… suffer the antagonism of being the black sheep in the family who just won’t get a normal job… wonder how to get more gigs… and how I’m going to buy food).

My greatest joy in Aberdeen is the Aerials & Acrobatics group I founded.

silks hanging

A few weeks ago, I invited my friend Philipp (who I met at the EJC in France last summer) to give an acrobatics workshop to my acrobats. As chance would have it, the hall we had (thought we had) booked wasn’t open to us on the weekend, which forced us to look around Aberdeen for a quick alternative.

We got lucky. Philipp had spotted something on his way in to Aberdeen – something I had seen, and forgotten.

studio 202

A studio promising trapeze and aerial hoops… I gave the owner, Sandi, a call, and asked if we could super spontaneously host our workshop at her studio. She asked when. I said: “In an hour?”

Sandi said yes.

There’s photographic evidence of this moment:



Thanks to this happy blessing-in-disguise, we had a home for our acrobatics workshop and, as it would turn out, we would have a new place to train every week. This is perfect because the hall where we sometimes train aerials isn’t always available to us – whereas Sandi has made Studio 202 always available to us.

photo 4

Sandi on the far right, recognisable thanks to her blue hair

Thanks to Philipp from Codarts Circus School in Rotterdam for coming and giving us such excellent teaching!

photo 2


photo 3

Seeing as acrobatics and aerials has become such a big part of the society, we recently had a meeting concerning the name of the society we are operating under: Juggling & Slacklining Society. We voted to change it. I was voted into the committee as Aerials & Acrobatics president. Yesterday, we met on King’s Lawn at the university and had an official photo shoot for our new society.


photograph by Jamie Hughes

photograph by Jamie Hughes

This photograph will go into the Freshers’ Manual for next year so we can advertise our society to all new students. I think we look like a very fun society!

The people in this society have become my family. I now also have a regular job teaching acrobatics to adults in Studio 202. Things are really coming together.

With all the colours in my life in Aberdeen, I still look wistfully across the water at the Other Life I could be living – but I’ve lived it, haven’t I? Now it’s time for this.

a studious writer

(but like everyone else, I need occasional reminding)

So summer is coming and I’m back on Skype a lot with Mark. I post the occasional picture of our digital conversations, which must be completely fascinating (ah, the sarcasm) but I have no other way of letting you know that we’re hard at work!

this is the one I mean

this is the one I mean

Mark is magical. I don’t know if I have said that enough: we have had our share of ups and downs concerning the ILLUSTRATIONS. Then, last week, he sent me a DROPBOX LINK. “Here it is. Have fun.”



I might have gone crazy that day. All the illustrations were in there. ALL! (Except the cover.)

I can’t publish any spoilers but I do want to share one or two illustrations with you, because you have been so wonderfully patient and supportive all these years. This share is just for my beautiful ayllu – and you know who you are. Here are a few, not-photoshopped.

I once knew a group of flying men and women, and although they were born with their gifts, they worked very hard to perfect it and be graceful in the air. I met them at a time when my head was in a muddle and I walked around looking like a baba, all my thoughts in confused knots on top of my head. After making love to one of the flying women, I agreed to travel with their caravans for a while and see if I could do something about my knots…


by Mark Klawikowski for “Qayqa” by Ritti Soncco

by Mark Klawikowski for "Qayqa" by Ritti Soncco

by Mark Klawikowski for “Qayqa” by Ritti Soncco

by Mark Klawikowski for "Qayqa" by Ritti Soncco

by Mark Klawikowski for “Qayqa” by Ritti Soncco

I called him to congratulate him – and we ended up discussing the cover for an hour. This is what it’s not going to be, but a rough idea of what it will look like. If you’ll remember, this was the sketch I gave Mark:

photo 3

And this is what Mark transformed it into:

rough sketch by Mark Klawikowski

rough sketch by Mark Klawikowski


It won’t be this one because he’s messing around with what kind of water colours / ink to use. Why did we spend one hour talking about it? We discussed if Damian should stand still (as he does in my sketch) or if he should be walking (as in Mark’s). We agreed immediately that he should be walking. We discussed the edges of the words, which I want to be natural, organic and full of rough edges. I wouldn’t want them to be clean & clear. Mark said you couldn’t see it, but he had already started giving them rough edges. We discussed if you could see the desert behind Damian, and if not, how to hint at it. We discussed what Damian is carrying in his hand.

You know, details.

Well, my dearest ayllu, I must be off. This week, I’ll be studying for my exams next week and, during my breaks, I’ll do the last digital editing on the illustrations and begin to lay them into the book.

The final stages are upon us… Soon, I’ll blog about the BOOK TOUR.

So please stay tuned.

And thank you for your continuous support, dearest ayllu. This dialogue has been my continuous support to continue fighting for my work to be published – and to fight off my snide little doubts. Some of my occasional Skype chats with Ben have been about our doubts, and yet we continue fighting. As long as we support each other, there’s no need to give up, is there?

Congratulations, once again, dear Ben, for everything you are doing. For not giving up, for believing in your voice, and – above all – for staying so humble. You’re doing a damn fucking amazing thing, and you can really give yourself more pats on the back! There’s a part of me that really believes that everything you touch becomes gold.


Love, Ritti

Love Letters in Ulm

8 Apr

It’s a cloudy, moody day in Ulm; the kind that brings out the green in trees. I’m sitting in an empty house near the park, near the city center. My host family is out and about, living their lives and going to school, and I am loving the quiet nothingness.

my host family

my host family

My host children are circus students of mine, and back in June 2013 the family showed me their guest room and said, “When you come back to Ulm in 6 months, you can stay here, for as long as you like.”

6 months later, the children wrote me: “Are you coming? Are you staying with us?”

Who am I to say no! It has been such an uncomplicated, relaxed and fun stay that I am already sad to leave at the end of the week. An example of how lovely it’s been is a quote I tweeted last night:

Just told my host it’s coincidence that every time they’re about to eat, I walk in. He said: I think it’s evidence of pre-established harmony.

cuddle puddle

cuddle puddle

I’ve been uploading pictures like mad onto Facebook and, looking over the album two nights ago, I realised I could boil my life in Germany down to two things: friends and the circus.

my host girl

my host girl

Or even a fusion: circusfriends.

family portrait

family portrait

The evening I arrived in Ulm, I went straight to the Ulmer Messe for the Kunstschimmern art event, where Mark was showing our films and performing afterwards. It was a great way to see many artist friends at once, but it was also very emotional and I felt on the verge of tears for most of the night.

There I was, the beraggled university student – and people still remembered me as the writer. I was having a lovely conversation with a young lady when a man joined us and she turned and introduced me for me: “This is Ritti, she wrote that book.” I didn’t know she knew who I was! Everyone still remembered my crowdfunding project; everyone still asked me about Qayqa. And there was, the beraggled university student.

So to answer all your questions ABOUT QAYQA.

The Easter holidays are just too short a time to do much with Qayqa in terms of publishing and touring. Lucky for me, Scottish university closes earlier than schools in Germany, leaving me with the whole month of July to perform in Germany. That, at the moment, is the plan. I’ll return to Germany in July, publish and perform Qayqa, and everyone will get their book.

I know it’s taken a lot longer than people wanted, and I myself am quite torn about this. On the one hand, a lot changed in my life: I went from being an artist to a university student! On the other hand, I would have loved to have closed the Qayqa chapter before opening the university one.

But it wasn’t possible. The illustrations weren’t done, and I still had some editing to do on Qayqa. I apologise to the people who have been waiting, but I really am not about to rush the publication of my first novel. I hope they can understand that.

And perhaps it’s good that I couldn’t close the chapter, because this way, Qayqa is alive during my university experience, and I haven’t quite shaken loose of my artist identity. So while it’s a bit crazy to have two identities at once… Perhaps it’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, and I really should be used to it by now.

Robotermark performing at Kunstschimmern

Robotermark performing at Kunstschimmern

Working with Mark has not always been easy. I’ve been keeping relatively quiet about it on my blog, but last night I thought there are some things that can be said.

Mark is my best friend, and – in my opinion – one of the greatest artists of our time. His potential is limitless. The Kunstschimmern was an epic example of this. He can seamlessly slip from the role of film maker to comedy-singer who improvises all his lyrics, makes them rhyme, and inspires other musicians to be swept away by his current…

Mark Klawikowski with his makeshift band concept "Songlotterie"

Mark Klawikowski with his makeshift band concept “Songlotterie”

… to creator of giant robot suits …

robot suit

… to painter, to illustrator

… to my best friend.

Mark & I

Mark & I

Mark creates art I didn’t understand, and through our many conversations over the years, he explained his thoughts, passions, motivations and I came to understand and love an art form I had never cared much for before. We supported and motivated one another, and in our three years together, we made 5 films, won awards, toured Peru, gave workshops in the Netherlands and Germany, gave exhibitions and wrote books.

We were together while I was writing Qayqa and it was clear, from those early days, that he would do the illustrations. Our separation didn’t change that desire – not for either of us – but our separation did block us. For people who don’t understand why the illustration process has taken so long: artists are also people.

That’s not to say I was always understanding and patient. That’s not to say we didn’t occasionally rip each others’ hair out. But we worked – in all senses of the word.

The year I met Mark, the Ulmer Museum had an exhibition whose posters rocked my circle of friends. Everyone I knew was tearing the posters off the walls and hanging them in their rooms. All I can find on the internet is this:

Niki & Jean

Niki & Jean

The exhibiton was called L’art et l’amour, art and love.

Shortly after the exhibition closed, Mark and I drove to Tuscany to visit Niki de Saint-Phalle’s magnificent Tarot Garden. If you’ve never been there, I cannot recommend it enough.

tarot garden



There was a pillar that, over the years, I have never managed to shake out of my head. I just found it in an album; it’s called “Love Letters”.

love letters

It is a dedication from Niki de Saint-Phalle to her artist partner and long-time partner Jean Tinguely.

my brain


Somewhere amongst the Love Letters is a small panel that struck me the most, and I didn’t take a photograph of it, perhaps because I didn’t want to think about it at the time. It is a drawing of both Niki and Jean, and the words above them: CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS? And between them the word: YES.

I knew returning to Ulm would be emotional. This wasn’t something I was going to blog about, but now I understand it’s just an important testimony to artist cooperation, as everything else I have blogged about in the past. To artists who separate and continue working together, all I can say from my experience is: It can work, but it will be work.

Mark and I will always be artist partners because it enriches our lives. With every reason I have to strangle him, he just hugs me back.

And when people hear my frustration about how long the illustrations are taking, about how many deadlines we have missed, they (quite rightly) ask me: “Why do you want him to do the illustrations?? Why don’t you just ask someone else?”

Well we met the other day and Mark showed me the illustrations. All but one are complete. I looked them over and although he had no idea what I was talking about, I blurted: “- Because you get it.”

Every single illustration he showed me shone with love, beauty and understanding for Qayqa. Every single one caused a minor tremble within me that made me, the author, fall in love with Qayqa again. He understood details I had forgotten all about. He understood moods I hadn’t created on purpose. I look at his illustrations and it inspires me for Munay. 

I don’t know if anyone else, looking at the illustrations in the finished book, will feel the minor tremble. I am curious if you do. But through the illustrations I felt a deep connection to my artist partner and best friend – one that has survived all these years – and that’s a damn good connection.

We’re working on the cover for Qayqa now. I had this idea.

photo 1

Sketched, it looked like this.

photo 2

Mark didn’t like it. So we threw ideas back and forth some more, and then I had this idea.

photo 3

I drew it down; Mark laughed at my stick figures and terrible trees. We liked it.

And this, dear ayllu, has been my love letter from Ulm.