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Daughters, Mothers and Grandmothers
This book is set in Africa on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in the Northern Cape, South Africa. This is a present day story and deals with HIV/AIDS.
I chose this subject after my visit to South Africa and Zambia in 2006 when I realized how overwhelming this pandemic was among all age groups and in all levels of society. On my return to Canada, I joined the Capital Grannies to work raising funds as part of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign under the auspices of the Stephen Lewis Foundation (www.stephenlewisfoundation.org).
In May 2010, I travelled with a group of 42 Canadian grandmothers to participate in the first International African Grandmothers Gathering in Manzini, Swaziland. 500 African grandmothers attended the event, which included workshops. Mingling with grandmothers from 13 African countries and hearing their stories and witnessing their strength and courage as they raise their orphaned grandchildren was a powerful experience. On the final day we marched through the streets of Manzini with grandmothers, children, young people and men - two thousand strong - to bring awareness of the grandmothers' fight to turn the tide against this pandemic.
A percentage of sales of Daughters, Mothers and Grandmothers will be part of The Capital Grannies fundraising for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign (The Stephen Lewis Foundation).
Daughters, Mothers and Grandmothers was launched on Monday, December 17, 2012 at Books on Beechwood in Ottawa. It was a double celebration as an announcement was made that the store would not close at the end of January as new owners are taking over the store.
Baico Publishing Inc.
Books on Beechwood, Ottawa, Banyen Bookstore, Vancouver and from the author.
Gogos (Grandmothers) Faith, Martha and Selina stood at the door of the meeting room, gently welcoming the elderly African women as they hesitantly came in to sit in a circle on hard metal chairs. They were dressed neatly, with scarves tightly wrapped around their heads. Their shoulders were bowed, their gnarled work-worn hands were in their laps - some busy with beading or crocheting, others twisting and turning in distress and the remaining few lying quite still.
Their faces were of different shapes and ages, but all had expressions of infinite sadness and compassion as they listened to one plump woman, her hands twisting a tissue and tears running down her cheeks as she spoke in a soft voice. The other women had to lean inwards in order to hear her words. They all felt and shared her pain as she recounted the death of her youngest daughter - the third one to die - and her struggle with the four grandchildren left in her care.
This was her first visit to the circle and she'd come with some misgiving and fear. More and more she found herself isolated from old friends and family and she kept a low profile in her neighbourhood - always aware of the stigma she now carried. It was her neighbour, Mma Selina, who'd persuaded her to come, as she too was caring for a handful of grandchildren and could empathize with her situation. She'd brought along with her the youngest twins - toddlers - and, as Mma Selina had assured her, they'd been whisked away to the nursery by two lively young women when she arrived.
As she whispered her story, she explained to the gathered women that the next child, a girl, was no trouble and was at school, but it was the teenaged boy who was causing her extra pain. He was violent at home, lashing out at her and the other children not only with words but with his hands and feet. He wasn't attending school but, she was ashamed to admit, she was glad when he was away, even though it meant he was with a gang causing trouble around the township. These four extra grandchildren joined the five other grandchildren already in her care - all attending school regularly, much to her relief. She just felt overwhelmed and at times suicidal. She scrubbed the tears from her face and, looking around at the kindly faces in the circle, said with a tiny laugh, "Not really, as who'd look after the children?"
Mma Faith stood up and embraced her, and she leant her head on the sympathetic shoulder as she sobbed. The other women in the circle stood up slowly, as their aching knees and backs needed to stretch after sitting, and one by one they began to sing and sway from side to side in solidarity. As their song became louder, they began to move and, as they sang and danced their communal cares away, for a short while they felt invigorated and happy. Their fellowship embraced them, so they felt strong and empowered to face a difficult world together.
They sang and danced for some time, until the door of the shabby portable room was flung open and two bright-faced young women came in with their lunch.
The gogos met once a week at this clinic for counseling, fellowship and a hot lunch. It was a very special time in their week, when they left their small homes and walked some distance to their meeting.
Although they enjoyed the whole experience, learned much from the counseling and talks, and loved the fellowship, they especially looked forward to the food, as often they ate little themselves at home in order to have enough for the grandchildren in their care. They all tried to give them one adequate meal each day. Sometimes it was difficult to stretch the food, especially as the teenagers were hungry after a long day at school, so they themselves would go without.
This day, lunch was baked chicken legs, mounds of rice and green salad from the clinic's own garden. They sucked the bones clean and then licked their fingers, not wanting to leave a single morsel, and they wiped the plates clean with slices of white store-bought bread. Tea was poured from a large metal teapot into tin cups with lots of sugar and there were bananas for dessert. Some of the women wrapped the bananas in the spare scarves they carried and stashed them in their bags to take home for the grandchildren.
Then, feeling content and sleepy, they sang one more song of solidarity, collected their equally contented young grandchildren and slowly made their way home - not for an afternoon siesta, but to deal with their returning grandchildren and their troubles. But they themselves felt good and strong, and hopefully one of the children would have an equally good story to tell.
Mmas Faith, Martha and Selina sat down again for five more silent minutes to collect their thoughts and strength after another successful gathering. On their way home to their own grandchildren, they would each be stopping off at the home of the very sick to give a gentle massage, to share a story or to offer a tempting bite or two of banana.
"But Mom, it's not fair. I didn't steal him. They broke up weeks ago, but now no one will speak to me." Lydia's voice rose to a high-pitched wail of despair.
Lydia was sixteen, of medium height, with bouncy light brown shoulder-length hair and bright hazel eyes. She was sitting across the verandah table from her mother, under a canopy of leafy vines.
Her mother, Susan, looked down the tree-shaded garden to the river, and slowly took a sip of iced tea before responding. She was relieved to see that, although Lydia proclaimed to be devastated that she was being shunned by the girls in her class, it hadn't affected her appetite, as she wolfed down a plate of sandwiches and a glass of milk. She looked at her daughter with a mixture of compassion and slight amusement.
Lydia noticed her mother's expression and mumbled with a full mouth, "I know, you think I should be pining away if I'm so devastated. I am - really. It's just that I'm starving after an awful morning at school and I always eat when I'm upset - you know that. I'll probably put on pounds and pounds. It's just not fair. Please, help me - tell me what to do!"
"Darling, what can I say? I understand that it's the code not to take up with a friend's discarded boyfriend. So why did you do it? Even if they're not a couple any longer, you must've realized that this would happen. Didn't you?"
"Yes, but Mandisa had been bad-mouthing Amos ever since they broke up ages ago. When they were a couple, Mandisa raved about him, as he's gorgeous - tall and athletic, with blue eyes and blond hair. A typical Afrikaner! I suppose that's why - I was curious to see what he's really like. He sounded so romantic and caring - very different from all the other boys. I was so envious of her, and I didn't go out with him until weeks after he asked me to go to a movie. Then before I caved in, I asked Mandisa if it was okay and she said yes, she didn't care at all. But she did care, and now she's being really mean to me and all the other girls back her up."
Lydia angrily pushed away her empty plate, tipping over her not quite empty glass, and a stream of milk spread across the table as it rolled and dropped off the edge onto the paving stones, splintering in all directions. The two dogs, which had been sleeping under the table, leapt up in consternation and rushed down the steps to the garden before stopping to turn and view the scene.
"Sorry, Mom," sobbed Lydia, bursting into tears of remorse, as she too leapt up and rushed into the house. Susan listened to the sound of her footsteps on the stairs and the distant bang of her bedroom door.... She sighed loudly, unsure what to do.
Molly's Story: Aftermath of War and Love
Windsong on the Silver River
Fourteen year old Eric lives at Windsong, an old stone farmhouse, overlooking the Silver River and the Two Moons First Nation's lands where Tom, his best friend, and Rolf, his sister Rachel's fiancÚ, live. Eric's life revolves around school, horses and his family. With the arrival of spring his alcoholic father returns from a long absence in the city and much to Eric's relief, he is no longer drinking. However, there is another challenge lurking for his father.
Find out what happens when Eric and Tom go off on their horses for a long weekend; when the younger children - Noah, Abbey and Eddie - encounter wolves and smugglers and when journalist Rachel takes to the dangerous water to see how the smugglers operate. Share in Eric's adventures, from the pastoral lands of the reserve to the seedier side of Ottawa.
Baico Publishing Inc. and the author.
"At 14 Eric was almost six feet tall and skinny. He was skinny because he had suddenly shot up like a weed. It seemed to happen almost overnight. Gem had told him not to worry, as he had always grown in spurts and, with his appetite, he would soon fill out. If anyone should worry it was Gem, as she had to feed his voracious appetite.
It all began one Saturday afternoon just as spring was tentatively appearing. The snow had melted, and the birds were singing at full pitch when they took a break from frantically flying around searching for nesting material. The tips of plants were breaking through the saturated ground. The sounds, smells and a gentle breeze, which thread its way through the slightly opened window, were beckoning him outside.
Eric was in his room doing a school assignment. He stretched, rubbed his eyes hard and flexed his fingers, before he hunched forward again over his keyboard to read what he had written. He changed a word or two, used the spell-check and saved the document. Finally, it was done. He pressed "print", and the printer obligingly spat out the completed pages. With a sigh of relief, he removed the diskette and switched off his computer. He put the typed pages neatly into a transparent sleeve and put it into his backpack with the diskette, ready to take to school on Monday morning. He stood up, yawned and stretched again before walking over to the window and looking out.
Eric lived in a grey stone farmhouse called Windsong, which stood well above the bank of the Silver River and looked across at the Two Moons First Nation's lands on the far bank. Behind the house were dense woods, and to the east, beyond the barn and paddocks, ploughed fields stretched to the boundary fence. A gravel road ran along the western boundary beside the orchard and vegetable garden. Flower beds and lawns were gently terraced down to the riverbank where there was a small boathouse and dock. A large stone cairn stood in the river marking both ford and boundary.
He could see Gem sitting daydreaming at the weathered wooden picnic table at the side of the house. She was bundled up in his dad's old parka against the cool wind from the river, and was warming her hands around a mug of steaming coffee. Tabby and Sam, the two house-cats, were curled into tight balls on the sun-warmed hood of the truck. Blue, a lean, leggy dog, was scrabbling frantically beneath the table for last year's bones.
Gem looked sad as she sipped the scalding coffee. No doubt she was thinking about his dad. He sighed deeply. He was thankful that Gem loved his dad so much that she put up with his disappearances to the city. The attractions of the taverns had again lured him away some weeks ago from the slumbering countryside. Jean-Paul, Johnny, was an alcoholic.
Eric had been living with Gem and his dad for eight years now. Although he did not dwell on the past, except when Gem was really low like today, he did sometimes think back to the day when he had come to Windsong.
He had been six when his mum had packed up his things in a small bag and bluntly told him that from now on he would be living with his dad in the country.
"You'll like it there," she had said, not looking him in the eye. "He lives on a sort of farm with lots of animals."
He still remembered how scared he had felt. He had hardly known the man who was his dad. His dad had visited them once or twice but the visits had been cut short because the two adults always began to argue and his dad would leave -- banging the door shut behind him and not saying goodbye to his son. His mother would throw something at the closed door and then yell at Eric, although he had done nothing but sit silently watching and listening. Then his mum had a new man who did not like him. He had been mean to Eric when his mum was not around. So he had been glad he was leaving -- but he had been scared.
His mum had given him a hug and told him to be a good boy. Then she had given him a push towards his dad when he came for him. He had never seen her again.
His dad had taken his hand in his big one, and his small bag in the other, and they had gone down in the elevator in an uneasy silence. As his dad had opened the back door into the parking lot, he remembered how the sun was shining and Gem had been standing beside the truck.
"This is Gem. Gem, Eric." They had solemnly shaken hands and, whenever Eric thought back to that day, he remembered how struck he had been by Gem's friendly blue eyes. She had smiled and said, "Hello Eric," and then she had given him a big, warm hug and said, "I hope we'll be friends," and he had nodded in silence.
Then he had noticed the large dog sitting in the back of the truck with a big smile on his face and a large lolling pink tongue. He had given Eric a big wet kiss as soon as he climbed in beside him. He had been too busy stroking Blue to even look back as they drove away to his new home at Windsong."
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