Pride with oGogo bethu (Our grandmothers)
Age is strange. I’m in my mid-twenties and true to form I have been flirting with a quarter life crisis. I now have enough identity, memory and experience behind me to truly reflect. It is a bizarre feeling which plays directly into my over-analytical self. Besides being a bit annoyingly esoteric (what is the meaning of life? who am I? etc), I have started trying to explain life’s moments to myself. The good and the bad. It is not an easy venture, and some would say it is pointless – mostly I would agree with them. Nevertheless, it has become habit and I have learnt some lessons from this ritual contemplation. Ironically, a large part of what I have realised is that triviality and complexity are equally inexplicable. However, my mental explorations have also shown me that there are some moments in life that are so beautiful – real beauty – that to explain them is to exhale divinity. As I am no messenger from the Universe/the ancestors/God/Allah/Ganesh or any other Higher Beings, writing this story is very difficult to do. I know from the very start I can not do it justice; the risk of not capturing the moment is enormous; and yet, as all of us humans do, I will try.
The purpose of the weekend was to get away, get out of myself and the ordinariness of life. I wanted to replace dullness with colour and round off my South African Pride trifector (having been to Durban and JHB Prides last year). For all its controversies, from queer and straight people alike, I can not but be grateful for some of the moments Pride has given to me. And no, I’m not talking about drunken debauchery and fabulous one night stands – although I must admit that those are wonderfully fun and freeing.
Amidst the queens and boas and white vests and rainbows, the most poignant moment for me walking the streets of Cape Town was a chance interaction with two unassuming elderly women. These 70 year old ladies waving ‘Proud Gogo’ signs and the gay South African flag, were not your average Pride revellers and protestors. I was drawn to them because I am lucky enough to have a grandmother who one could also label ‘Proud’. So much so that my Grandmere (in her smokey French accent) has had many conversations with me about my ex (who she met and adored), the possibilities of a future partner, and my life as a lesbian. All of this from an 80 year old Catholic Mauritian woman. I didn’t ever think that I would be having those conversations with someone 2 generations from me and who is generally quite conservative in her views. She speaks wisdom, as our elders do, and she speaks of love. My grandmere’s greatest achievement (and it is a rare and beautiful one) is her loving relationship with my grandfather and her seven children. She has created a dynasty of social cohesion and real love. Her example has touched all of us in the family.
With the image of my Grandmere and supportive family (rare for many queer individuals) I jumped up to ogogo bethu (our grandmothers). I was all smiles and admiration – and lots of babbling… I tend to babble when I get overexcited.
We went and sat under a tree while the Pride train made a fabulous about turn; a break from the heat was needed. In typical tourist fashion (and as a Durbanite I am most definitely a tourist in Cape Town) I asked for a photo with them. They welcomed me with warm lined smiles. I sat in between them. I helped one of ogogo bethu on to the ground. Considering she was out on a Pride march I was suddenly made aware of her frailty and the effort she had made to be there. As my friend took the photo we got to chatting. I asked ogogo bethu where their grandchildren were – wanting to meet the people who share with me the gift of having truly wise women in their family to support them. Ugogo wethu to my left tilted her head indicating it was not she who I should be addressing. She was supporting her friend. I turned to my right, and the amazing woman who sat their – ugogo wethu – told her story.
It is a story of violence we know too well. Her granddaughter was a lesbian who was shot in front of her and her younger granddaughter at their home. The first bullet hit the wall, the second did not. As she spoke these horrendous words her eyes glistened sadness and strength. “I am so sorry to hear that,” is the inadequate phrase I could muster. My words fell into ugogo wethu’s pause for breath, dry mouthed and tasteless. It is hard to know what to say when faced with such common senseless evil. I looked down at my hands, awkward and emotional. When I raised my eyes I met a moment – one of The Moments – of true human beauty. It was not pompous and ceremonial; it was subtle and earthy and real. Ugogo wethu took my hand and holding my gaze showed me something truly incredible – the triumph of love and peace over hate. All she said was, ‘It’s ok. It’s over now…’; the rest I felt. Her strength and resilience was in her hands as she cupped mine, her love and peace illuminated from dark knowing eyes. Revenge, bitterness, fear – I would expect these but I did not find them. This woman was more than all of that, more than me, and (if I dare to generalise) more than most of us. Unutterable violence did not break her. She is in a realm beyond the worst part of humanity, and fortunately and unfortunately there are more like her all over our country.
I will remember and cherish her triumph.