18 October 2009

The Old One has Left Us

18 October 2009

“The old one has left us”

“Our old woman has left us” she told me, the calluses of her right hand pushing against mine as she squeezed my hand in sympathy. I felt a tear land on my collarbone and looked up at her, my vision blurry.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry” she embraced me and brought me over to join the circle of plastic chairs holding an odd assortment of extended family and friends. I bypassed the chair offered to me to go sit beside Adjo, one of my landlord’s sisters who lives in the house across from me most of the year. I have a sudden memory of her baptism in the river Zio last year, just after New Year’s. Her eyes wide with barely controlled fear of the water. Now her eyes are lowed, she seems to have aged twenty years in the 24 hours I’ve been gone.
I want to hug her, but content myself with a single touch on the shoulder. My continued ignorance of cultural norms surprises me. I thought I was “bien-integree” (well integrated) but I have no idea what I’m supposed to do now.
On Thursday, as is my habit, I went into Lome to use the internet, computer, get my mail, etc. Then I spent the night in Tsevie with L and I enjoying their fabulous cooking – it was spaghetti with delicious marinara sauce and chunks of fried wagash (local cheese). I and I worked on some Spansh review. It is actually less absurd that it sounds to be working on Spanish while living in a Francophone country.
In the morning, I felt reluctant to exit this American oasis so I stuck around to watch Resident Evil before heading home at 10. I didn’t have any meetings until 15H00, so I wasn’t rushed. I chose to wait for a car to fill up rather than take a moto. This process is always unpredictable but aggravation is guaranteed. We sat waiting for one more passenger for a full hour. By the time I reached village, covered in dust because the two beautiful rains we had this week were immediately sucked up by the desperately parched earth, leaving the roads suffocatingly dusty. I was in an awful mood.
I saw the group of chairs gathered under the trees in my compound and the only thing I could think was: “I don’t want to talk to ANYONE right now” I said hello to my landlord and let myself into the house to set my heavy bags down, change into one of my cool, loose housedresses and open the windows. Then, reluctantly, I ventured outside to greet all the visitors, not looking forward to the inevitable “Oh you look so fat! How nice to have a white girl! Are you married?”
But instead, my landlord’s sister who lives in Lome took my hand, greeted me solemnly, and told me that Grandmama had left us.
Since I came back from California, Grandmama, “La vieille,” has been ill. I’ve rarely seen her, Tasi has been taking care of her inside the house. Family members started coming by more frequently to visit her. Occasionally I would hear her crying out in pain, at one point she tried to get up and walk but fell and hurt her foot.
But that’s the end, not the majority of the time I knew her. She used to sing all the time. Well, warble really. Her voice obviously used to be strong and clear but with age and effort had gotten distorted like an old record. I could hear what used to be there/what it should sound like, but there was no way to get back that clarity. She also sounded like an old record in her constant repetition. From 5am to 10pm, the same warbling tune with incomprehensible words. Occasionally visitors to my house would hear her singing and join in, their voices bringing out the tune and words to a recognizable cadence and tone.
We used to sing together too. Tasi taught me a call and answer song:

Me van e dogbe na mi loo
E xo gbe na wo
Leke mie fo afemeto
Oh! Mie fo nyuie na mi loo
Mie fo nyuie na mi loo
Mi fo nyuie !

Which basically means : I’ve come to greet you ! How are you and your family? We are all well, let’s celebrate!
There is also a dance that goes with the song which involves flapping your elbows in the air behind you and doing a shoulder roll/head turn thing that’s very similar to what we’d call in the states the ‘Chicken Dance’.
It’s brilliant.
I would come over to say hello int eh morning and she would blink “Oh! Da Yovo!” I’d do my best Ewe for her and her face would light up with pleasure, her rheumy eyes picking me out simply by the colour of my skin. She might be the only person who I’ve never been annoyed at for calling me Yovo.

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