Friday, February 06, 2015

Waving goodbye to childhood

Venda Sun 23 Farewells - leaving Mani and the family

Childhood officially ended for Giya about a month after we returned from South Africa in 2012 but I had a year's grace before waving her off. A photography course at City College, Brighton turned out to be her proper launch into adult life.
Since September last year I have been readjusting. Transcribing these diaries is part of that. They don't tell the whole story of 21 years of parenting, even the whole story of the trips to Risenga's country.
Giya with her uncle, aunt and cousins in Palm Springs

So the big work is to try and make something of these transcribed pages and observations.
What I value about blogging is it can capture the energy of a moment, passing thoughts which, given time and attention, might help me understand what I'm noticing and experiencing. 
I blog selfishly, to try things out. This place is a record and the South African posts are a notebook made from of notebooks.
South Africa is so far away, so expensive to visit but Mrisi and Giya's childhood was altered by the trips. They share two countries' histories, even though they have only lived in one but more importantly, they have two families.
In Nwamatatane, Limpopo
Poems that resonated for me throughout their growing up are the early ones written by Moniza Alvi about Pakistan. Moniza's a good friend as well as one of my favourite poets. Her collection, The Country at my Shoulder was published in 1993, in between the births of Mrisi and Giya. Her poem 'The Sari' ends with the line: 'Your body is your country' and I think this has come to underline the importance of the country my children are linked to. In her early poems, Moniza created new imagery of identity. These poems are vital and brave - they fed me, they provided an imaginative backdrop to some of the issues mixed race children face.
Moniza's work covers many other aspects of human existence so these poems are a relatively small aspect of her writing, although she has returned to the country of her birth in her most recent collection, At the Time of Partition, showing the power of that imaginative drive to explore identity and the history that informs it.
Back to the diaries. They rarely refer to poetry. They occasionally mention visual artists. In 2012, I realised how hard it is to devote time to writing when cooking on wood, washing up and washing clothes with precious water fetched from a standpipe take up so many hours of the day.
After every trip, though, poems have emerged. Sometimes they were in the notebooks, sometimes they've come from a line or a memory I didn't write down. They will never be all I write, and unless I go again, perhaps the most recent batch of poems from SA are the last. Just as the trips have punctuated my bank statements, poems from South Africa have punctuated my last four collections. A handful of new ones may survive for the next one, whenever that happens.


Friday August 10

We have one more day in Mashau. For most people here life is taken up with collecting water and wood, making just enough money to eat and stay in one place. Why would you make art and dream about anything else when you are exhausted from that? Why not sleep?
The sun's higher now and the sky's turning yellow. I am thinking about the road from the north. The monkeys have been here and moved on. There's still one in the tree below the houses, others are rustling in the bushes and earlier walked along the terrace wall. G didn't sleep because I was snoring. It's the dust.
G and R go to the dam near Thoyandou without me. I couldn't be in the car again. I wash clothes and dishes, cook a pumpkin and lentil curry. Write a bit.
I am still making lists. I make a list of birds on the land near the house.  Black headed oriole, speckled mousebird. Is the one with a red beak a Cape bunting or African quailfinch, or red billed fire finch?
saying goodbye to the neighbours

Saturday August 11 - Secret water caught in the sun

My last Mashau dawn. I'm sitting by the fire with water for coffee. Traffic interrupts the silence along with a cockerell and now a bird that sounds like it's singing in a tunnel, more an echo, or a mechanical winding down, a bell petering out.
The other birds I heard as I woke up are quiet now and for the first time I imagine I hear the watery sounding birds I remember from this hillside. Perhaps it's because the weather's heating up. Last night I had to unzip the sleeping bag.
We went to the Malmedi Lodge for a drink last night and it was almost empty. The barman was chatty, telling us he'd never left Limpopo province.
There was a fire by the road, spreading when we got back from our drink. 
I am at last starting to relax and we're due to leave. Now the valley's smoky. In full sun, what you see is the charcoal-black patches of roadside, of places where there have been fires. At a certain angle I can see the Nandani dam for the first time - a very distant glint on the horizon. I've never noticed it before and as the day goes on it'll disappear. But right now the sun's highlighting that vast expanse of water, and water being what it is here, it'll be secret soon, hiding between trees and in them.
Today we go to see Grace and the mother of R's cousin, the dead chief whose inauguration we went to once, in Nwamatatane. Only one of his three wives is still alive.
Sad to leave

Sunday August 12 - Souvenir shopping and relatives

We're in Jo'burg by about 10 and go straight to Rosebank for the Sunday antique market. I buy an embroidered table cloth for Mum from Madagasgar and G finds bracelets for her friends. The to Eldorado Park to see Harry and Pearl, Dolly and Netto. Harry's doing the house up. They're so welcoming. Pearl is especially happy to see G and is incredibly upbeat. We watch Nigerian films while R goes to find coal with Netto.
Giya and Pearl
We stay too long and go to Orange Farm. R's mother's gone to church, so we go to Palm Springs where Nkateko's on her way out. It turns out that R had promised we'd be there at midday and we turn up at 5. Margaret had gone to the trouble to make food. It's frosty when we get back to Flora Street.

Monday August 13-  Eet sum mor

There's a patch by the garage that's warm. The ibis remind me of seagulls. We're going to Oriental Plaza for presents and to meet R's mum for lunch. I've been to the Plaza before. But I discover a wonderful vegetarian Indian restaurant where I get a spinach dahl with potato paratha while R and in his mum sit in KFC. The area around Oriental Plaza is relaxed, the architecture is old, lots of women are veiled. We get a taxi back to the house but on the way stop at the Maboteng quarter which is closing. R sees someone he knows, a guy called Lucky who's a dancer living in SA and Germany. We join him and a guy who runs a new Ethiopian restaurant. It's a lovely relaxed end to the day before carrying on to Eastgate mall where we have to buy stuff for Mrisi - Simba chips and Eet Sum Mor (!) biscuits.
Giya and her grandma

Tuesday August 14 - Flying home to Herbie Hancock

I'm listening to Herbie Hancock on the plane. Yesterday was all goodbyes, from the morning ride around J'burg to lunch in the house with Jo and Margaret. The story of R and Jo's childhood came out. The conversation happened like a catalyst in the sun as the weaver bird finished off its nest. 
Then waiting in departures. I don't sleep much, upright for about 11 hours watching films, but there's a sunrise, possibly over the Sahara. We arrive back to rain and a grim taxi driver in Brighton. But how lovely to see Mrisi. He waits to go into work late to welcome us back. We chat and chat.