Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ode to the grown up boy - on leaving for University

I’m pressing my head up against your warm chest, breathing you in for those last ticking seconds.

Your sturdy arms encircle me so briefly but so tightly. There is action around us, the lights of cars and cameras, swirl around. The car horns are a dull – only barely piercing my consciousness. The suitcases and carts and people are all petty distractions, the reality around us is nothing. I am flooded with the emotion that is everything. That is my entire heart, my soul - all escape in a hot mess of tears, and my last futile attempts to hold my baby close.

Just minutes ago, we were singing along to the songs that you brought into my life, that will forever connect us through time. No One is Ever Gonna Love You More than I Do… I sang so loudly. I sang those words like an anthem. Like a Band of Horses, they were my ode to you.



We didn’t speak on that last drive through the city, on the way to this moment at the airport, where you have grown up in an instant and now you are gone.

I close my eyes and breathe you in; you, the tiny warm body against mine, just hours after your birth. I am transported for just a second. I am only twenty three. Clueless. A kid myself, but so desperate to be the mom you deserve. I pat the warm smooth fluff of your newborn hair and hold your miracle earlobe in my fingers. I weep.

I am at once elated and terrified. How will I raise you up? What will I give you? What will it take? I am only comforted that the love I have is everything. It encompasses me and it is a shield around you.

And now, as you tower above me, eighteen years have vanished behind us. There is no looking back. You are a man. Have I done the right things? Has the love been enough? Will it shield you now?

You have become so much more than that twenty three year old could imagine. We grew up together, you and me, outside the box. On the edge. Sometimes I held you close to protect you, and at times it was you who held me. Like the middle name I chose for you in those first few days of life, you are, and you have always been ‘Mompati – my companion’. I took you far far away from home. Together we crossed continents and navigated cultures. We have found love and opportunity and profound sadness. We have found joy.

And somewhere in there, you grew up. My quiet, sensitive boy, you became a shining musician and a stellar speaker. You taught yourself the things I couldn’t, and you didn’t hold my weaknesses against me. You see me, the flawed, the fragile... The girl who raised you up with the best of intentions.

And I know today that somehow, the love I had was strong enough. You in turn are stronger. The world awaits you, and it has a great surprise coming.

Please never be afraid to shine or share yourself. You are my gift to the world and I am proud to send you out there. Send you, guitar in tow, with your pile of suitcases, back across the continents, as you head down the footpath at the departures hall. And as you turn to wave goodbye, though my eyes are blurred with tears, I can see that spark, and it calms my worried mother-heart.

Go well Mompati. I love you more than these silly words can say.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Liar, Our Witch and my Wardrobe

Sometimes I am just completely blind sided by Ghana. There are moments when I am busy minding my own business, living my little expat life within the confines of this African republic, and culturally I trip over something that just has me reeling.

And then I remember that despite my hard drives full of pirated American TV series that fill us with the ultimate superficial each weekday evening, and the goat cheese in my salad, made with imported iceberg lettuce; this is NOT North America, and this little capsule called our home is situated squarely within an entirely different world.

There are undercurrents that pulsate just below the surface in Ghana, in my office, in my yard, in the strangers who pass me on the street. And there are moments when they peek out, when that reality faces me. At those times I am never prepared.

Last night I was bopping around my humid kitchen, wearing my Hello Kitty pyjama set, with my freshly washed hair tied up; I was dishing up our supper plates, anxious to head back into the relative cool of the living room to watch some mind numbing TV series.

“Madam” came the low voice from the pool of darkness beyond my kitchen window.
“Eric?” (assuming it was our gardener, (term used very loosely) who lives at the back of the house).

“Madam, I believe you are busy but I need to speak to you. Very important, very urgent. I beg.”

I begrudgingly put down my ladle and agreed to meet Eric around the side of the house.

So we met, I in cartoon pants with brightly coloured kittens scattered about my legs, opening the sliding doors, the bright and cool mixing with the dark heat. Eric stood glumly almost out of sight on the veranda.

“Yes Eric, what is wrong?” – I of course, assuming there would be a long winded story of medical or other woe, and a plea for money. But this was a different problem altogether.

Eric shifted and stuttered and said Madam a few times.

“It’s about Gilbert” (our cook and cleaner who has worked for the company over 12 years).

“Yes Eric?! What about Gilbert?”


“Well Madam, he is disturbing me in ways you won’t understand. In fact, it is very serious.”

“Ok, well you tell me and I’ll see what I can do” (me, clueless)

“Madam, in fact, he has been trying to… trying to… well he has been determined to kill me spiritually”.

Silence.

My first instinct is to laugh, which probably won’t go over well. I can see the shiny sweat on Eric’s forehead, reflecting the light from behind me. He is very serious.

“Madam, maybe these things you cannot understand. But even physically, he has been doing things. I am having so many challenges in life. Josephine has gone (this was Eric’s girlfriend, who was always way out of his league in my opinion), and Gilbert even today, he…. Well I must confess there was a problem in this house today”

Eric went on to explain that Gilbert had called a certain driver and started to talk to him loudly about how Eric had not been pulling his weight around the house, implying he was useless, and ‘damaging’ his name. Eric then came out of his room and they argued. Gilbert is a liar and possibly a witch?!

I was really not sure why the two of them would be arguing, nor what I was expected to do. But mostly I was pinching myself, wondering if really, I had been called out to hear that one of my staff was trying to kill the other spiritually. Juju. Again. This theme keeps reappearing.

And it’s not just among the relatively uneducated. Making that assumption would be to miss the undercurrent and remain completely oblivious to how this society functions.

I got up this morning with last night’s event freshly in my mind. I greeted Gilbert who was busy making eggs and saw Eric through the window. He was wielding a machete, and hacking away at the overgrown weeds. He gave me a look. His eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed. And he nodded. As if we had shared something… as if I should now understand… Yet I just smiled and carried on as the shallow obruni I am.

I arrived at work, thinking I’d left behind the sinister world of magic cooks and revengeful gardeners… and then I saw this.

A respected Member of Parliament in Ghana’s opposition party, on Ghana’s most popular morning television talk show this week, has claimed he has ‘conclusive evidence’ that the current president, John Atta-Mills, used a magic ring to win the election. He apparently wore the ring only during the election campaign – never before and never after. That is the only proof needed apparently. So there it is. Juju. Things I’ll never understand.

Eric left me with one final comment/warning as we parted ways at my sliding door last night.

“Madam- there are other things. When you go away Gilbert brings his own things to wash at your house. He delays in doing your things. And madam, I just want to say, THAT IS THE MAN WHO MAKES YOUR FOOD.”

And he wandered off pensively into the night.

And there I stood. I looked down. Hello Kitty smiled innocently back up at me. And I acknowledged that I who knows nothing, will have to resign myself to that fact.



Above - a table at a fetish market - selling ingredients for magic brews and curses....

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Walking in My Shoes - a trip and a loss.

Right now, in a tiny fishing village on South Africa’s arid West Coast called Doringbaai, my favourite shoes are living an entirely new life.

With the affection others reserve for beloved pets, loyal and by your side through thick and thin, I regarded my little black flats. They have literally toured the world with me. I confess that I can’t remember what country I bought them in originally, but I quickly discovered that they were more comfortable than slippers, yet worked in almost any scenario. And being flat and pliable, they packed so well too!

I have always had a difficult relationship with shoes. My wide feet and painful hereditary bunions (what a word), (thanks for that mom), have always meant that I’ve had to respect function before fashion. Most heels are excruciating and dainty shoes with thin straps across the foot are OUT in my world.

Then I found THE SHOES. Made by Nike – but never to be found again, despite searching in every mall ever since – they were crafted from real soft leather, flat, chinese slipper style, with a solid, athletic hidden sole. They were my saviour in so many situations. My comfort on long walks, in shopping malls, on rough trails, on my feet for hours at trade shows, dinners, cocktails, long plane rides across continents, office hours, party hours, market jaunts across Africa. How many shoes can say the same?!

So naturally I took them along (as always) on my latest trip – a meeting in Johannesburg, followed by a tack-on, sanity restoring, leisurely holiday to Cape Town.



We decided once in Cape Town, that having toured most of the Southern Cape, it would be a new adventure to travel northward up the west coast. It was a great trip. Unlike the touristy garden route and numerous wine routes, the west coast is dotted with genuine, hard working fishing villages.

The roads out to the coast from the main highway, branch like spindles on a spiders web, each country road opening up to the raging waves of the Atlantic, with a small settlement at each, clinging to the history of fishing that has been their livelihood and defined them all forever. It was quaint, and sometimes beautiful. It was small wooden brightly painted boats and toothless smiles. It was Afrikaans signposts and tiny galleries, small local restaurants and a persistent mist that blanketed the area each evening by 5.




We walked and walked, we shivered basked in the sun, and investigated all the corners we could. We met some great locals. We ate some fresh calamari. We saw the sets of seasonal campers from local inland towns, come to the coast for their seaside holidays.
My little black flats accompanied us everywhere (there they were below, on one of our last days together).



And then we came to Strandfontein.



The northern most stop on our trip, before the 5 hour journey back down the main highway to Cape Town. It was a sterile little town, built up a sloping hill, populated by a mosaic of modern guest houses and holiday retreats. The beach was long and flat and gorgeous. We knocked on some doors, inquired about accommodation for one night, found a friendly flat manager and booked in to a full little apartment.

We asked of restaurants and discovered there were none. We were told that 5km down the road, in the ‘coloured village’ of Doringbaai, there was a great little seafood place, run by an Afrikaans ‘tannie’ (aunty) and we should head over to book. We took a drive over to have a look. It was a tiny, non-descript village, built on the small fishing industry, and teeming with workers from the next town.


South Africa’s history, as we all know, is uncomfortable to say the least, when it comes to races and race relations. All over the Cape, there are coloured towns and villages. These people are truly a mixed group, each carrying blood from the original Kung San, Afrikaans whites, Malay, Indian, black and others. Despite the fact that the wide mixes mean that everyone looks so different, they are a distinct group with a certain accent, culture and community. They refer to themselves as coloured, so I had to overcome my North American hesitation, given the history of the word on our side of the world!

The fact is, that the coloured communities remain relatively poor, despite apartheid ending close to two decades ago. Laws can change overnight, but societies take a lot longer!

The small, majority coloured community of Doringbaai, are mostly fishermen and many work as domestics in the houses down the road in Strandfontein.

As we arrived for check-in, we met two of them. Both were maids, taking a no doubt well deserved break, after a day of cleaning. We greeted them, put down our things and headed out. The next morning we saw them padding along the road to start work as we left, and waved. Little did I know I’d left a piece of myself behind in that bedroom, that would link us forever. My favourite shoes.

I’m of course assuming here, that anyone would want my old beaten up shoes, as people’s forgotten gems are surely part of the job perks of being a maid in Strandfontein. I can only hope that they were in fact discovered, scooped up and brought home, the 5km stretch down the dirt road, to a little block house, full of life and chatter, and that someone has their soft reassurance under foot, even now.

My shoes will never see another continent again. They will not tread long arrival halls in Toronto or Dubai. They will not find themselves tucked into a suitcase, off on another adventure, ready to hit the streets of a new city somewhere else.

They are home forever in South Africa’s West Coast. They will see harder times and more work, will be filled with sand and the scent of the ocean, and hopefully they will be a soft comfort.

They live in Doringbaai now.

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