To the women who raised my boyfriend
Listen, I’m a black African woman. I will pay good money to never meet my partner’s family while we are dating because of the ridiculous things families do. I know my family’s crazy please and I am not prepared to deal with my partner’s family’s crazy. My therapist long wished me good luck with this because my boyfriend and I are not islands. We have people we come from and by us choosing to stay together we are allowing our different worlds to collide.
Imagine you think you’re just going to see your boyfriend then you blink and find you’ve been involuntarily entered into the makoti Olympics in which you have to break your back to prove that you’re deserving of their son. Mark me absent ma’am. My boyfriend has been assuring me that his family is not like that but ey, when have men ever been right about anything?
Anyway, yesterday he invited me to a family braai to celebrate his niece’s and his younger brother’s birthdays. Turns out everyone has a price. For braai’d meat I was willing to risk the Olympics. So we went. I think it took me almost three years to be comfortable enough around his gran. I was scared of her. I can explain. I have never lived full-time with adults. My brother has been my guardian for most of my life. So my brain short circuits around elders.
I am aware of the cultural expectations on black African children. Respect the elders and so and so forth. Based on my interactions with my parents, I’m not quite clear on how that respect is defined. So every time I’m around an elderly person who expects respect from my child self I wing it. So I went to the braai fully prepared to wing it.
When I finally got over my irrational fear of his gran and the aunt he lives with, I confessed that I wasn’t such a great cook and I wanted them to teach me how to cook. So yesterday two more aunts were around. Listen. This deserves its own paragraph.
ALL the women in my boyfriend’s family can COOK! As in, proper-proper-lick-your-plate-delicious food. No, I did not lick my plate. Even I have standards okay. If I was in my house though I would have. I stood around the kitchen table awkwardly when we got there not sure if I should go sit outside while my boyfriend and his brother made the fire or be a decent human being and help out with the other food preparation. In that moment I thought of what my therapist would say. Help not because you want to prove your worth or that you are deserving of their son but because you’re a decent human being. I liked that a lot.
So I put my bag down and chose to be a decent human being. I became a sous chef. Honestly? I cannot imagine anything better or more fun I could have spent my afternoon doing. His gran is their mom and also his mom’s mom. I’m telling you, from granny all through to the youngest they COOK! And they are hilarious! I laughed until it hurt.
I had moments of just being an observer and it seemed like food and humor were the invisible thread tying this family together. When my boyfriend brought me back home so I could put my plants to bed (that’s what one of his aunts said not me. Hilarious. I told you!) I told him the hilarious things his gran and her daughters were saying and omg. We laughed until we cried. I was half laughing half crying thinking of how hilarious his mom must have been and what a great cook she must have been also. That thought used to make me cry but yesterday it made me laugh and cry all at once because wow, she must have been effortlessly funny.
I cannot imagine the pain of losing a sibling but somehow I think that must have brought these sisters and their mommy closer cos I don’t think there’s anything that makes you hyper aware of your mortality than losing someone close to you so you hold on to those you still have even closer.
No, I was not entered into the makoti Olympics. He was right about that. There is a God. However I got to take part in the making of a really delicious meal, sitting at these master chefs’ feet and learning! I cannot wait to make the dishes I got recipes for. Listen, I am thankful for my therapist for long telling me to always choose basic human decency over all my preconceived notions.
My boyfriend does not possess even an ounce of hyper masculinity. He’s my soft, squishy teddy bear. And I attribute that to being raised by women. That is a hill I’m willing to die on. And you know what, I could have just sent all of them individual notes to thank them for being part of the village that raised my boyfriend but I thought of no higher honor than immortalizing them here so they can receive their roses while they live.
Humor. Food. In the face of the worst tragedies- granny and the aunties, never lose that.