Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Chronicles of a Granny Pekin – Growing up African

It is my grandmother’s birthday today. She is 82. I love this woman. She is the Maya to my Angelou. She is the anchor in my wild sea. She is my conscience to the destructive voice. She is the reason I want to be a better me. She is the reason I fight. If there was one person I was scared to let down, that would be my Grandma Ola. 

She is the reason…full stop!

She is a huge part of my life and anyone that knows Doris, knows Grandma Ola. So it is only right I dig up some sweet memories of the time we spent together back in Sierra Leone.

I grew up with my grandmother in Sierra Leone where we lived in a traditional colonial–era board house at Campbell Street. Everything I did was a reflection of my granny, even up to this day, consequently I was labelled granny pekin…especially in school.

Yup... I am a certified and bonafide granny pekin.

Grandma Ola is strict. She has a no nonsense streak about her that is not to be messed with. (Even our mothers don’t mess with her) She is a true disciplinarian and will stop at nothing. She is kind, honest and genuine. She is the definition of what you see is what you get. No hidden layers. Her facial expressions doesn't lie.

Virtuous Woman

As stern as she is, she is the most caring and loving woman I know. She is compassionate and a mother to all. She is packed with a wealth of wisdom which I admire. My granny is a virtuous woman. How someone so stern can be so loving and caring at the same time is actually a very powerful thing in my books.

In my early childhood, our parents left my brother and I at the mercy of our grandmother who we got to know too well after we started living with her. We thought it was a holiday until she took off the Mrs Nice guy cap and wore the captain’s hat. You know what they say, come stay with me and come visit me are two completely different things. Too right!

Boakai, my brother and I never saw what was to come. I was the quiet one and my brother well … he was more than a handful. To the point that people doubted in school if we both were related. I was quiet in comparison to my rebellious brother but I had my own share of stubbornness which wasn’t tolerated or encouraged by my grandmother.

Boakai & I on my 10th Birthday.
check my hat out - Granny pekin certified

We were provided with everything we needed but rudeness and disrespect was never tolerated. I was an ill child but that didn’t stop her from plastering few slaps across my face when I stepped out of line. The cane for my brother is normally soaked in water for days in order to increase the elasticity. When that registers on your skin…Only God can save you.

In that small board house, we lived comfortably and amicably. Even though it was crowded. I think the crowdedness got us to appreciate the little holes in the walls which we referred to as our air conditioner because I tell you…nights were sticky and hot! But guess what that taught us….contentment.

I had friends who were staying in bigger and better houses but not once did I recall me wanting to live in their houses. My granny never made us feel like we were missing out on anything.

Together with my other cousins, we all lived in this crowded board house where the bath and toilet were outside. So let me tell you now, if you need to do your business, you better do it right before the doors were bolted with several padlocks and blocked with mortar and pestle. (To prevent thieves…apparently) 

When that door closes, nothing opens it. To this very day I can tell you that I wee before bed and that’s a must and I never get up during the night. There are various types of disciplines but that was bladder discipline at its finest!

Have you ever taken a bath outside, under a running tap? Then you must add that to your bucket list. Bath time is an event in our household. My granny has zero tolerance towards bad body odour. Armpits were layered with lime and left to marinate for few minutes and the teeth is first scrubbed with charcoal before you can use your toothpaste and brush. There I learnt that my tongue is pink and not white! 

The Real MVP on them toes

This is done every Saturday as she tends to leave us during the week to do our little thing we do that we call bathing but in her books it’s rinsing. You don’t know squeaky clean until she has scrubbed you head to toe with the strongest scrub ever and your toes brushed with the ever-so-strong scrubbing brush.
After that all there’s left to do is sleep!  Now that was our lesson in cleanliness!

Saturdays are cleaning Saturday without fail and without questioning. The house must be swept, dusted, wiped and our little bath outside must be scrubbed and the gutter cleaned and the bins taken out. No hoovers!

Then you have the cooking chores where we help with the cooking preparations. No blenders or grinders. We used the mortar and pestle and the grinding stone to get things done. We had a stove but that was only used as an emergency option therefore that was a luxury. So Three-stone wood-fired stove it was.

Where the magic happened

We all thought this woman liked working for no reason and there were no happy faces around, just mere frowns and murmurs and when she sees that frown she will ask you to fix your face before she fixes it for you. Trust me, you do not want her to fix your face (more like dismantle)

As for the murmurs…when asked to repeat what we just said, we lie and say we weren’t talking to you. Yes you have to lie at this point to save your jawbones and teeth because they will all go flying and calling for help when that slap registers.
Now that taught us the importance of hard work.

Sundays were to stew as Saturdays were to foo-foo and Saturday soup, okra and the likes. Now the only problem is I love my cassava leaves and that Sunday stew was becoming my nightmare. I hated it but do I dare tell my grandmother? Nope…I swallow it like it’s my Sunday best. After which we all sit and listen to Bongo, a Sierra Leone radio comedy show. No TV!

I can tell you that I am a world class human dishwasher. When asked to wash dishes and bowls and kitchen utensils they all have to pass my grandma’s approval. If not then I’m sorry but you’re going to do it until you do it right….cheerfully too. Glasses and tumblers must be so clean that the water must not be seen dripping in should flow. Plates squeaky clean and bowls no sign of oil or smell from cooking ingredients. Her face must be seen in the reflection of the spoons. This taught us lesson on doing something well or don’t do it at all.

She instilled in us the importance of knowing God and being in the house of the Lord. Sundays were set aside for church. Period! If we couldn’t make it to church we prayed together and I can recite a lot of psalms in the bible. Psalms 23, 91, 123, 100 and more. As for the songs…don’t try me. Hehe. In everything in life, my grandmother encouraged us to pray about it first. This taught us to be grateful and never take things for granted.

My granny taught us simple courtesies, like serving tea and drinks with a saucer (I don’t see that these days) and waiting for the glass if need be. The please and thank you must never go unsaid. She taught us the eye language which she used anywhere and any day. That eye is your cue to stop whatever rudeness you’re up to, get your life together and register it in your brain that you’re about to have the whooping of a lifetime when you get home. That eye really does spoil your day…it’s like a warning of what is to come.

Still Magic...

When you get home, prepare yourself mentally because the slap or the whooping can happen anytime, yea even in your sleep. You’ll be there thinking you’re dreaming, no darling your being whooped for that misbehaviour.

After that she will then explain to you that it is for your own good and that you’ll thank her later. (Am I thanking her now…hmm I’m not sure man, I’m not sure. Lool) at that very moment, those words are not what you want to hear so your anger level rockets. But you have to sit still, keep a very broad smile on your face and nod accordingly. Now that was respect!

At school I never show up at all the parties. I wasn’t allowed. My friends know this. If I am invited somewhere and want to go, I must earn it. I mean all my house chores must be done and everywhere clean and tidy. I must be on my best behaviour all week and there was no room for errors because one mistake could mean I won’t be going to any social function and guess what, I can’t fight that decision. It’s final! 

And I had curfew too...which was 10pm! Imagine when the party starts, Doris is heading home.

Chronicles of a granny pekin!

Once I was invited to my friend’s birthday party, I gave my grandmother 3 weeks’ notice and a daily weekly reminder. I was the nicest grandchild that month. I did all I was told to do, came back home on time from school and my smile was exceptionally cheesy and bright. Yes all for an answer to this birthday party.

So the day came, I woke up earlier than usual and I did all I had to do. Scrub my mouth and greeted my grandmother good morning, (yes you weren’t allowed to say good morning with a smelly overnight mouth.) and she asked why are you up so early, I replied, no reason with the gummiest smile ever. But my granny is no fool, she knew what was up. She piled more chores on me and diligently I carried all out. All for a party. I really wanted to go so I had no choice.

It was approaching 4pm when I started getting dressed slowly and her reaction nearly gave me a heart attack. She was like where do you think you’re going? (The eyes came out too.)

To which I replied, the party I told you about, my friend’s birthday. I said you promised I could go if I did all my house chores. (Her head did a U-turn and the eyes changed again only this time she squinted it as if she was trying to see if I’m ok in the head, her body did a little vibration) she went quiet and I nearly peed my pants (yep, an African parent’s promise holds no guarantee.) she did this thing where her breathing goes with her eyes and she tilted her screw face at me and I tell ya my eyes started running water (because I wasn’t sure if I was crying or just fearing for my life at this point)

She leaned forward and whispered calmly, take that clothes off, you’re going nowhere. I nearly collapsed. My heart sunk and now I started shedding real tears like I lost my dog.

Tremulously I said but you promised! It was after I uttered the words that I wondered where I summoned that bravery from. I quickly recollected myself and my face flushed with regret.

She was walking away when she stopped dead in her tracks and gave me the eye one more time. That was to say I am finished with you.

Few minutes later after I was done crying, I was in a corner sulking when she walked in on me with a plate of biscuits and a pint of Vimto (she knew Vimto was my favourite) and she was like, why would you want to go out? You don’t want to keep my company? Is it for the food or the drink? Then she offered me the plate and the Vimto while saying if it is for the food, here you go eat or the drink, take this cold Vimto and drink. Oh wait the music? She went on and put the radio on with a smile on her face.

I can’t say I didn’t laugh, I laughed (because that’s what you do) but I was still upset. I went to school the next day and faced the most dreaded question…why weren’t you at the party? They all knew the answer so I thought to just say it one more time. My grandma said I wasn’t allowed and the tales of what I missed started rolling out.

That was my life…I wasn’t allowed to show up at every occasion. And to this day I choose where I go because once upon a time, granny said ‘’you don’t have to show up everywhere.’’

Boys were more scared of my grandma than they were of my dogs...and we had lots of dogs.

It wasn't easy.

We are such a large family but my grandmother is the cotton tree. She keeps everyone grounded and everything centred. No matter how angry or stubborn you are when she intervenes, she will solve it with her carefully selected words of wisdom, you tend to see things in different perspective and with a large family, you learn that it is not always about you. Grandma Ola taught us family values and up to this day we are a closed knitted family despite everything. 

Family is all we’ve got.

She showed no favouritism towards anyone. We were all equal in her eyes. We were rewarded for good behaviour and good grades in school as she always emphasises the importance of education. Rose Apple was our favourite treat which was divided into four pieces and shared amongst us.

She taught us the true meaning of love. My grandmother loves me endlessly. There are things I question in my life but one thing I will never question is her love for me. She expresses her love at every given opportunity. She will check that I have enough to eat and drink at all times. She will make sure my clothes on my back are clean, hair braided and I smell good. She knows when I am about to fall ill, she is observant, attentive and always present. She will stand up for us when need be and never allow anyone to take advantage of us…not even our mothers.

Up to this day, her love for me still stands strong. She will call up and check on me regularly, ask if I’m keeping warm, visit me in the hospital and she never fails to leave half of her sandwich for me from her breakfast every Sunday. She will always have her scarf ready to hand me when I’m cold.

A love like that…. Unconditional and incomparable.

My grandma taught me how to bridle my tongue. To this present day, I do not swear at no one. I’m not saying I am a saint, I do use the words every now and again because I am rebellious like that but I do not swear at people. Never! In my grandma’s eyes, that was a no go! No compromise and no excuses. She was a disciplinarian but she never believed in vulgarity. This taught us the importance of words and the effect it has on people. The tongue is a powerful weapon.

As a granny of creole descendant, Grandma Ola communicated mostly in parables and I must say I learnt because there are few parables I can’t decipher. Yup, chronicles of a granny pekin.

We later moved to my grandmother’s newly built three-storey concrete house where we were living it up large. From oven to washing machine to hoovers and was fully furnished and equipped. No more bath outside…YAY! Yea I was happy because I was getting to that age where I needed my privacy but my grandmother didn’t think so though…lol In an African household, you’re forever a child….regardless!

We came from humble beginnings which helped shape and mould our characters. Today I am a content and happy girl, seen it all. Been there done that and I won’t change a thing. (Maybe reverse some of the whoopings….yea!)

My childhood was great and I never felt like I missed anything. All I needed, was provided. Today, Material things do not move me but a good character in a person entices me and I do not value material things over people. Yea all thanks to my grandmother.

My foundation was solid for that I am grateful. I am implementing all these values in my daily life and I am ever so grateful for such upbringing.

If this is what they mean when they labelled me granny pekin…then I gladly claim the title.
I haven’t turned out too bad….hehe

And more importantly, my grandmother approves and that’s all that matters.  (She’s only waiting on the great grand kids now)

And I will pass these values on to them….by God’s grace!

Unconditional Love

Grandma Ola I wish you many more years to come in good health because at this stage in your life, all you need is more years in good health. I love you and I love you.

Till then