auntie esther…

i only met my biological father when i was 14. let’s just say that after years of fantasies of what he would be like, who he would be, reality fell short. it was not love at first sight for either of us. i remember exactly what i was wearing – an appalling beige outfit that could only belong to the 70’s, my hair in the ballerina bun i used to wear then. i was standing on the stoep of his house in the bo-kaap, waiting, when i saw this red-faced, brandy-boeped man come strolling up jordaan street. we looked at each other for a long minute before he said, “don’t tell me you’re sandra”. i looked right back at him, said, “no, i’m not!” and turned away. and those are the first words my father and i ever spoke to each other.

his wife, however, auntie esther, a beautiful malay woman who’d given up her muslim faith in order to marry my father, was amazing. she welcomed me with open arms, never made me feel any less than welcome and loved and would introduce me to people as her children’s sister. oh yes, i also discovered 4 half-siblings i didn’t know existed before then. when i’d go and visit on a sunday afternoon, auntie esther would make sure that she always packed some of  her amazing chicken pie – you can’t imagine how much that meant to an impoverished university student. though she was packing more than food, she was making sure that i went home with some love.

right now, auntie esther is in hospital in cape town and the doctors are stopping treatment. she’s in and out of a coma, has spreading gangrene in her legs which is poisoning her system and all her children have flown in (from as far as britain) to be with her. i wish i could be there. she didn’t birth me, but she never made me feel any less than her own, she never showed any resentment towards me for the fact that her youngest son, my half-brother, was but 6 months older than i was. she never blamed me for the fact that my father was a scallywag. and i wish i could be there to show her the same love she has always shown me and help to send her on her way to a better place. i love you auntie esther, may the next world welcome you with the same love and open arms you always showed me.

updated 17h58 RIP ESTHER VAN GRAAN.  the next world is lucky to have you.

misty memories: snapshots from a funeral

There’s a haze over Cape Town like a 25% white soft light photoshop fill as I’m headed out of town (unbeknownst to me, a volcano in Chile has coughed up part of it’s lungs into the universe like a butterfly flapping it’s wings…). I’m on my way to Franschhoek for a funeral and I’m not sure how I feel.

The car I’m driving is borrowed from my very first boyfriend. I like to say I chose well. We’re in relationships with other people, but eons later we still love each other and always will have each other’s backs. I remember my grandmother’s funeral shortly after we met, when he, effete German, braved the unknown of a Cape Flats/Franschhoek family and tramped through grave-yard mud with me as I cried hysterically for the woman who used to be the person I loved most in this world. I can’t help but take a trip down many miles of memories as I drive towards another goodbye, even if merely symbolic.

Lining the roads, the trees wear their best brocade. Russets and reds and ambers. Rich, varied textures in which to pay their respects. The wine farms of the valley race toward, then fall away one by one: Graham beck, La Motte, La Provence. The latter two are beacons from my long-ago childhood. The basin of blue mountains curve familiar, yet strange.

Pic by Andy Shader

Against the slopes the Franschhoek sign is barely visible and in need of a good coat of white-wash. How ironic that when I walked barefoot down these icy gutters (my choice – I didn’t want to stand out against everyone else who didn’t have that choice) I never imagined I would one day live in another city on the other side of the world, also famous for it’s white letters against a hill.

When I arrive I find my mom (who has a fractured wrist she conveniently forgot to mention!) scurrying between my aunt and my uncle’s neighboring houses, making last minute arrangements. When I see my aunt I’m scared by how frail and shrunken and ancient she looks. I’m scared i might be booking more funeral flights in the not too distant future.

I’m overwhelmed by all the people, extended, distant family whose faces I recognize, but whose names eternally escape me.  The house is buzzing with the busyness of funeral prep, food, flowers. Mundane yet crucial questions like, “Is there enough toilet paper ?”

One of my cousins is looking for her lipstick. She says she needs to write on her lips, which doesn’t sound quite as descriptive as her actual words and tone of voice in Afrikaans, “Ek moet op my lippe skryf!” I’m reminded of the inimitable sense of humor that runs through the inevitable tragedies of my family.

Silence descends on the house as everyone leaves for the service next door. I take a deep breath and jot down some thoughts before I join them.

Last time I saw my uncle we sat around a Xmas dinner and he talked about the family history. How our clan is made up of a mix of Mozambicans and people from Malabar, off the coast of India, various European explorers,  with a huge dollop of Khoi San and Xhosa and whoever else was to be found wandering these rich hills and southern shores. I meant to get a video-camera and get an oral history record of what he remembers. Remembered. Now it’s too late. Time steamrollers everything with not a shred of sentimentality under its steel wheels.

At the church I’m once more overwhelmed by memories. It looks almost exactly the same as when I practiced my piano lessons in here as a 9 yr old (a concession made because we did not own a piano). I wish now that I’d continued those piano lessons. I have a life-long regret that I gave up music because of the dirty-old-man-piano-teacher who tried to feel me up (one of the countless predators I’ve had to deal with in my life). Another thing which I now realize I allowed to be taken from me.

The service goes on and on. I realize that just about everyone in the packed church is somehow related. Cousins, second-cousins, nephews, second-second cousins twice removed… Everyone seems to be made from 1 of 3 or 4  basic templates and you can see that so and so is related to auntie so and so and that one looks like uncle whatsisname… There’s a singer with a lovely voice, accompanied by a man on a concertina. It’s bizarre. I’ve been asked to read the thanks and can barely get through it. I who was never able to cry, now seem to be capable of deluges.

We push the coffin in which my uncle’s body lies cold, a mere avatar for someone no longer here, out of the church. The white hearse lurches out of the churchyard and with it, that empty shell, too, is gone. Off to the crematorium. An obvious choice for someone like me, I’m surprised that it was his…

At the hall where people have been invited for refreshments, the (mostly enormous) women of the family are bustling,  feeding everyone, amazingly nimble with their amazonian breasts and thighs and hips. There are probably 5 generations present, toddlers, to great-grandmothers. Cups of soup on trays fly out of the kitchen, followed by the ubiquitous chicken curry and rice and plates of samoosas and savories.  People eat and then just as fast, the hall empties and in the kitchen it’s a mess of dirty dishes and sorting of which empty pot belongs to whom. A typical “colored” funeral.

When I’m done with my stint in the kitchen, out in the street I join the cousins from far off places who have been pulled back together by the gravitational force of this death. We congregate on the open tailgate of a car and I smile to see my teenaged niece nestled in the crook of my mountainous brother’s arm. It’s nice to see them both smiling.

It’s nice to see my brother – we have  probably spent no more than 1 day together over the last 15 yrs, if you add up the hours. Not my choice.

My brother is basking in the testosterone of “hanging with the boys. I love seeing him this relaxed.

I see the empty beer-bottles in the trunk and say, “Organize vir my…” and the boys scurry off  and find me a cider. Slowly everyone disperses. The older crowd washes up at my aunt’s house and before the younger guys float off with an ice chest to go and hold an old-fashioned post-funeral wake, we stand around in the street and shoot the sh*t and laugh at each other’s stories. It’s good to see everyone together. Uncle Willie would have approved.

Long before I even thought of becoming an actress, my uncle was the rockstar of the family. He even went by a single moniker. Uncle. That was it. He was the “crown prince” of the family and he was a rapscallion. The 6 children he sired are proof of the fact that women loved him! He always seemed to have an impish smile on his face that said, “I know something that you’re dying to find out!”.  As a family member read in the eulogy, he was not a perfect man… In fact, in many ways he was deeply flawed, but swaggering in his 10-gallon hats like an outlaw from the westerns he loved, he lived! And he lived most of all, for  fishing at his favorite Hentie’s bay. I have fond memories of trips to Namibia to spend salty holidays by the sea. He was gruff, rough and funny and educated, lived to educate in his role as teacher and was one of those people who was always the focus of any crowd. He always had  an enthralled audience and a great story and I guess it’s a good gauge of his life that he had so many of them to tell.

For all his flaws, I guess love, the fact that he loved and was loved, is what made him perfect..

RIP Uncle.

I’m sure he’s regaling everyone with a fabulously fishy tale wherever he is right about now.

Willem Johannes Davids 1935 - 2011

feeling the flow…

this is the xmas letter i sent out this evening…

Father Christmas in Nainital, Indiahello my friends and family

i’m writing you this from an internet cafe on beach road, arambol, goa, in india where what with no newspapers and no radio or television blaring xmas jingles, no xmas decorations, no tinsel, none of the commercial western trappings that shout give me your money!, one can almost forget that it’s xmas.

i’m halfway through a 3 week stay in india where i have been caught up in the most incredible flow, where whatever i’ve needed has presented itself almost effortlessly and most timeously.

scenario: late night in anjuna on a deserted stretch of beach, 45 minutes away from arambol where we’re staying, the scooter won’t start. 5 seconds later a stranger appears, starts the bike and proceeds to push it through the sand and out onto the road for us. we realize we’re about to run out of gas. along the road another stranger upon inquiry, points us round the corner. round the corner, we get gas at, of all things, an internet cafe. don’t ask. 1/4 of the way home on our said rickety scooter whose lights light up the side of the road and very little infront of us, we stop at an intersection, not sure which way to go. suddenly 2 guys (one sudanese, one french) appear, and upon our asking the way to arambol, they proceed to escort us (and because we’re helmetless, i’m driving REALLY slowly) all the way home. one leading the way, the other behind. when we offer to buy them a drink as thanks, with typical goan hospitality, they instead feed us and offer us our first taste of the local honeybee brandy. one of them a few days later takes me to a place where i get incredible hammocks, and then when i cannot seem to locate a ticket back to mumbai for my connecting flight, takes me to a travel agent he knows and i get an impossible to get train ticket for a fraction of the price i would have had to pay for a flight.

talk about manifesting!

ok, so admittedly my friend crystal and i have been felled for the last two days by what i call “goan gut”, resulting in us having a white xmas dinner – rice and curd, lassee and ginger-lemon tea; the only things our bodies can stomach – and we’re both achy and sore from head to toe with kidneys feeling like we’ve done a few rounds with a prize-fighter, but still, it’s all worth it. we’re staying next door to a place called magic park and it really is magical. despite the flies and the mosquitoes. they have futons and pillows where one can hang out to one’s heart’s content, reading and order incredible vegetarian food like spirulina sunrise smoothies, or you can do a yoga class or mandala dance or play with the jugglers in town for the juggling convention which unfortunately only starts a few days after i leave. or you can go 400 meters down to the beach and drift for ages in the unbelievably warm water, feeling like you’re being cradled and nurtured. or hoola hoop on the beach and play with whoever stops by and buy coconut water from the woman who walks by with a basket on her head and chops it open right infront of you.

today i bumped into koren, who is someone i know from my moontribe days back in l.a. and though she has an incredibly sad story, we could laugh and cry together and find the positive and later i managed to get a massage therapist to change his plans and give my incredibly sore body some bodywork. at his house, i bumped into a woman from san francisco, who also used to go to burning man. the world grows increasingly smaller… shrinking with each amazing connection.

and so even though i was halfway through this email earlier in the evening before i lost everything to a dodgy internet connection, i decided to come back and try again. i wasn’t planning quite such a missive. all i wanted to say, was that you each, in your own way, have a very special piece of my heart and i’m glad to have you in my life, whether it’s 10 000 miles away or in my everyday and i wish you a magical holiday in whatever way you choose to celebrate it – or not.

love and blessings

cleaning up the past…/all in the family.

johnny, moses and willie davids
circa 1940

my mom mailed (yes, via the post office, not email, can you believe it?! 😉 ) me this pic and asked that i photoshop and make copies of it. it’s from circa 1940 (i think) and in it are my 2 uncles and my now long-dead grand-dad. i quite like the fact that’s it’s all crinkled and dirty. it’s vintage, after all, but my mom requested, and it being mother’s day after all (happy mother’s day to all the moms!), i spent some time this afternoon cleaning it up. i don’t know if it’s any better. different, cleaner, but better? not sure.