Monday, May 25, 2009

mama tembo's wedding...


on sunday morning i listened to a CD of south african music...all the old national anthems like mama tembo's wedding, from ipi tombi, and shosholoza and the click song (miriam makeba) and nkosi sikelele...i stared out over the maasai steppes, into the blue and quite suddenly and extraordinarily became emotionally overwhelmed and started blubbing over my coffee.messily...thinking i am now as north as north as any north going zax could be. oh and there were also excerpts from mandela's speech when he walked the line...

the thing is, all this music takes me back to zululand days, to my mother, to my grandmother, to south africa -  a place i have walked away from. i never looked back.  i haven't been back in nine years or longer.  only in dreams. also a long time ago...where i flew through the old farm house, through the rafters and down the back hill. i decided not to.

zululand was my mother's country.  i remember seeing the tugela river for the first time, brown and wide and furious,  and my mother explaining that this was the boundary between zululand and the rest of natal. the rest of the world, as far as i was concerned. i was new from zambia. different.  i remember her explaining why all the farm houses were on hills. because of floods. i remember her showing me the beaches for the whites, and the beaches for the coloureds and the beaches for the indians and the beaches for the blacks and she wasn't really able to explain it satisfactorily. she muttering about apartheid, the bloody nats, terrible, not like in zambia, difficult to understand darling, mumble mumble mumble "oh you'll love the garden when we get there!"... driving slowly over the rolling hills in our old diesel peugeot 504 up the north coast, through a sea of turquoise sugar cane, passing the ngoya hills, gnarly and prominent, who cast an ominous rain shadow over our farm, which was called majaja...after the rain queen, apparently.  the clouds would build and bruise and those hills would take it all...until all my friends thought we were onion farmers. not sugar farmers.  

this music makes me remember those hot zululand summer nights, countless fat yellow moon rises over the thorny hills, the elephant hill, the motor car hill, distant drums in the hot nights - old zulu war songs, faint and distorted.  the cane fires exploding in dry storms and the stabbings. monkey shoots, tennis clubs, chistenings, weddings, cattles sales. and funerals.

 my grandmother, granny isabelle,  was a full blown alcoholic, with a wit which grew sharper as the cane bottle grew emptier, who owned a fat smelly sausage dog called cindy, who smoked rothmans like no-one has ever smoked them since and wore crimpolene dresses and bata flip flops. her farm was called perseverance and she did not suffer fools gladly. when she finally succumbed to the rothmans and the cane, it was the first time i ever saw my mother really really cry.....mama tembo's wedding from the ipi tombi double LP was Granny Isabelle's favourite keep your feet on the ground and reach for the stars all time Number One Best...and woe betide anyone who tried to skip it or change the track... the music takes me back to christmases with piles of boy cousins and tins of quality streets and iced watermelons and swimming for hours in the warm green pool with the water scorpions and the frogs. until our toes had blisters on their pads and our fingers were wrinkled, our faces burnt crisp and tight...and granny "sleeping" in the doorway between the lounge and the breezeway........and the grownups getting pissed under the jade vine on the verandah....

it took me back to driving between eshowe and melmoth, after hearing my mother had just died and the zululand hills washed in blue and dotted with searing red aloes, a crystal sky shining, burning above us. i remember thinking how perfectly beautiful it was. how everything was so juxtaposed. it had to be a dream. my life was too perfect. i should've known.



oh the music dug up all these deeply buried memories...and then to make it worse, i started reading The Bang Bang Club - about the years leading up to the south african elections, ANC and the IFP, the township wars and the bastard Nats and more old wounds split open.. another entirely long and different story....

eeesh. seff efrica hey? i am only recovering from the daze now. a daze. yes. it has all been completely unexpected. how lovely. who would ever have thought?


so tooodely old toot, You. bisous, aloe red ones X.X.X. j

pps: (edited!)

23 comments:

Bill Stankus said...

Ah, that was a very nice essay. Something very real, personal and not just a thing that ends at the end of the last sentence.

Bill

PurestGreen said...

I am reading a book at the moment called Mr. Pip. It is not set in Africa, but there is an ache throughout the book. And that is the ache I sense and feel with you in this post. Nostalgia is a warm pain.

Elizabeth said...

Such a tale!
I had a friend in college whose Dad was thrown out of SA for being a Jewish lawyer. She had tapes of SA birds and used to cry too because she thought she could never go back
and there was a girl at my prep school who looked out of the window one night and saw a MAN outside in the yard then the man was shot
it was her Nanny's husband
we were not very kind to this girl
I wish we had been.

Elizabeth said...

ps we need your kitchen board

my eye and betty martin said...

Ahh, old Granny Isabelle.....I think Andrew used to call her the blue headed lizard.She used to say "huh, the bad penny has just rolled in....Lovely memories Janelle

tut-tut said...

Very powerful, Janelle. You are able to pull such vivid images up and sew them seamlessly together.

I too am reading Mr Pip; the commenter makes me think.

SafariB said...

I have no words...

I just feel it all..

Thank you for sharing that Janelle. I'm sorry too about your mum.. I didnt know. Special hugs from me.

xxx

SafariB said...

p.s. and that photo is incredible!!!!!! Very powerful.

mighty jo said...

you write so beautifully. it's like a short but stunning trip or waking dream every time i read your blog.

expateek said...

Loved the Bang Bang Club. What a story! Great post, and fabulous photo...

Reya Mellicker said...

I feel like I'm right there with you, Janelle. Wow. What a life you've lived. Wow. Did I say that already?

Wow.

I only saw my mother cry twice. One of those occasions was the day her mother died. I'll never forget it.

Thank you.

Miranda said...

Ah just loved this post J.

I put off reading the Bang Bang club for years for this very reason...it's good tho, no?

Great picture of the TellieTubbies Hill!

Janelle said...

lovely to see you here bill. thanks. deleted the ps thingy because it came over wrong..just meant need to blog more..! a note to self...xxx j

purest green, hmmmmm, yes...i try and never look back...but sometimes things take you there...x j

hello lovely elizabeth...god. awful story...yeah. that was sa for ya...read GEMSQUASH TOKOLOSHE by Rachel Zadok....amazing story...and yes yes will reinstate the Kitchen Board..yes! thanks for the request. lots love x j

oh amanda no that was Granny Kidson..the Blue Headed Lizard...! xxx j

lovely tut tut...THANKS for always coming to read and comment..THANK-YOU! xxx

hey b! yeah. she did. when i was 17...a very very long time ago...thanks darlin'! xxx j

hey Mighty Jo! THANKS DARLIN'! xx j

expateek! yes indeed. a VERY powerful book...xxx j

hello beautiful reya...hmmm yes...guess it has been a little extraordinary...maybe...all pre planned possibly... xxx j

hello mo!!! thanks baby...you still in zed? when joo head south...? yeah its a heavy book man...whew. xxx j

Jeannie said...

Ah Janelle, so sad. I'm so sorry about your mom, even it was 'long ago'.

Seffrica is hard to leave behind... I thought I had, then my husband wanted to live here "for a while" - and here we are in Grahamstown, my old University, City of the Saints. It's a funny old world.

I must blog more too. See, you are inspiring me!

Mud in the City said...

Funny how something so small as a note from a song or a scent on the breeze has the power to plunge us into the powerful past.

Carthatic too. And we are the sun of all our experiences.

I'll be in SA next week visiting family. I don't have the depth of links there that you do - but there are still ties that bind.

nuttycow said...

Hoorah! I love it when music takes you somewhere else. Whenever I listen to "A Swingin' Safari" I am reminded of my mother and her records. It is one of her favourites and just listening to it makes me grin.

Nao said...

What an incredible picture you paint. I can smell, taste and see your world as though it's here now.

As for Granny Isabelle, she sounds like a wild one. I had to giggle, as I had a Gramma Isobel too, and by the sounds of it, they could have been best friends.

As always, two thumbs way up, on your ability to tell a good story and to illustrate the humanness of it all so beautifully.

Wil Robinson said...

It's the first time I think I've heard your accent through your writing.

Janelle said...

indeed jeannie!! blog baby blog! xxx j

hello nuttycow..its been a while! delighted to see you here..must swing by you and see what's been a happenin'! a record which always reminds me of my ma too was that first carly simon..we had no secrets...LOVE that record...xxx j

sweet nao! yeah. bet they would've..pioneering kind! x

really wil? ok then! thanks for reading as always...x j

karen said...

i'm here late.. been away! i LOVE that photo! and all the memories of that part of the world. wonderfully written as always.. x

Lover of Life said...

Very powerful. Sorry about your mother, I can relate. Your writing is beautiful about a part of the world that I know so little. Thank you.

family affairs said...

My family were bound to have known your Grandmother - especially is she was a true alcoholic!! Hope that was cathartic for you all those memories in song....beautiful as ever LXX

Bee said...

I read this through, and then I put some South African music on and read it through again. (Have you discovered Spotify? It has free downloads of any kind of music that you can think of.)

Even though I've never seen South Africa, your words have such visual power. I loved all of these layers of memory -- of mother and grandmother.