Friday, September 9, 2011

the real diva


I woke up missing Bhele today, my granny. In spite of having a few memories of her, those I have are profound. The last time I saw her was last year, two weeks before she passed away. We had a date, which really means I just spent the afternoon in her room with her as she was already bed-ridden. A date with my gran usually meant chatting with her while people came in and out of her house. She would often boast about her granddaughter from Rhodes coming to visit her. Many people would be stunned as they last saw me as a toddler.

The visit also included digging around for pictures and memories in my gran's room. Above her bed there was always a picture of her in her 20s,looking beautiful and still, as well as pictures of her son and her grandchildren wearing their school uniforms. A picture of me in grade 1 was placed above her mirror opposite her bed. It always made me feel special knowing my picture was in a position where she could see it every morning when she awoke.

We had a great conversation about her experience of raising 6 children in the 1960s and being uprooted from her community to a new place eMdanstane(a township in East London). She was financially independent as a seamstress in town; she never married and became part of a growing and struggling community. She admitted that she was not politically active nor was she religious. Being the daughter of a strict Baptist minister, she was a peg in a round hole. She never conformed to what was expected of her as a woman of her time.She was educated and was later able to open a small business where she sewed clothes for many churches and people in her community.

She has always been a symbol of what is possible for women in spite of the limited choices and oppression we often face. I am always suprised when people say that men are the head of households and women submit to their husbands. In my granny's case, she was her own head. She has always been fondly called Bhele (her clan name) instead of Bhelekazi(which is the female version of the clan name). This has always interested me given the obsession Xhosa people have with the names and titles for the purpose of differentating gender roles.My gran broke many rules and she survived in spite of what society does to women who break the rules and upset social norms of what it means to be a man or a woman.

Some friends often refer to me as a diva. I always laugh at this because I can't help but think of my gran,the real diva in my life. I haven't broken many rules as a growing woman and I often think I should, I think it would make Bhele smile,wherever she is.

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