Thanks to Nandi Jola for her Christmas guest blog. She’s a poet and performer to to watch out for and a seriously good woman too. Formerly of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, she now lives in Portadown.
Absent Daughters Make Fantastic Mothers
Whilst you trying to learn their ways, turkey, mince pies and carols, you are forgetting your own. Christmas is about visiting and cleaning of the graves, offering the ancestors with a sacrifice like a goat or a sheep. It is about the visiting the sick and serving the elderly and orphaned children.(my inner voice tells me)
Phone calls from home are no longer ways of keeping in touch, rather they are the next bad news “because social media is very good at that” making us jealous …wish you were here kind of thang!
Yes I love it here of course, do you think I would still be here? I just wish to pause some things, like my mother (Esther)I don’t want to see her sad eyes, hidden under that beautiful smile, I want to see her when she opens my parcels from Northern Ireland, even if she still thinks I am in London and tells everyone that. Anyway I want to see her smile, eyes wide open and joyous heart all the way from Africa, that is why I want to pause some things, like those moments. I would write her a letter every time I send a parcel, but I know her eye sight is getting worse.
I wish I could listen to the conversation on what I would call the last of the “good old days” postal services, we still have that because we live in the suburbs of Port Elizabeth, our post gets delivered every morning and the dogs bark behind locked gates and the bins get collected every Friday. The water is expensive there but the electricity is the same as the townships, we get power cuts like them or what they call “load shedding”. When the parcel slip arrives my mother always tells me that is always a good day for her – even though it’s a walking distance to collect it, she always drives, just in case she gets mugged on the way back, she says when she enters they know her, they always give her that look, especially the (lady) staff with the big hoop earrings and shaved eyebrows, she always ask her with curiosity whether it is from Nandi.
My mother would then go on and on about how I spoil her, how I always buy her perfume, designer bags and beautiful clothes from Marks and Spenser. Little does she know that we have great charity shops back here, however what she doesn’t know won’t do her no harm. Mother only seen her granddaughter twice in ten years and in all that time, she can’t make her out and have little conversations if any at all, if you ask Anesu about granny, she laughs and recalls the day I left her with her because I had to attend a funeral, she says she asked granny where she kept olive oil and she says “mummy I gave up” the woman just can’t understand the Irish accent – Northern Irish, to be politically correct. I don’t know if she will ever post us a Christmas card or a birthday card from Africa, nor will she ever visit Ireland, I doubt.
I have been absent for fifteen years now and counting, but I have been a fantastic mother for thirteen, sometimes in life we have to be absent daughters to be brilliant mothers and learn a few things along the way.
Every Christmas now I light a candle for my loved ones that have passed, I sit with my best friend (Anesu) around the table and we gather in their presence, that is why we spend Christmas alone at our house, and I always feel bad for people I turn down their invitation to spend Christmas with them, because for me Christmas is not about turkey, mince pies or carols, it’s about the journey, I liken it to T.S Elliot poem “Journey of the Magi”. It is the year-long of memories you are trying to hold on to, the smells that you are trying to create from spices you find along Ormeau Road on a rainy day and all of a sudden you are OK, you dust off any negative vibes just by drinking Rooibos tea and then you continue again, or when you find out that Asda sell butternut squash and suddenly you have an epiphany and some hope that change will come!
One day I will become a grandmother too, I will be the keeper of the tradition and my spirit will linger around the Christmas table to remind my grandchildren of the journey I had to make, I hope that my grave will be close, so they can visit and clean it, but most of all I do not wish for my Anesu to be an absent daughter from me nor an absent mother to her children, but to understand my journey.
The Journey Of The Magi
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.