crazy Love
crazy right?

A few years ago I bought a book, thick, heavy, a hard cover. It’s the sort of book I bought more as a collector’s item, meaning I had no real intention of actually reading it.  But it turned out to be more than just a pretty totem – I soon got really into it, or more specifically I got hooked into its premise, the idea behind the book. Unfortunately, as luck would have it I have completely forgotten the name of the book, which is ironic because the book is about memory, in fact it is a collection of some of the worlds’ most famous peoples’ earliest memories.  The question: What is your earliest memory? The very first time you remember remembering something? The first time you became aware of yourself in other words, fascinated me. Inspired by the book I started asking people this question and I was intrigued by the responses I got and the subsequent conversations around memory that these questions brought to the surface. From all the “research” I did I remember two memories by two friends mostly because they were told with such finesse, my little quotes at the bottom don’t do them justice, and I think I remember them because they are so cute:

“Shoes. I just remember seeing shoes lined up on the floor, then I saw for the first time that mine were the smallest pair in the line. I think that was the first time I was aware of my size in relation everyone else at home.”  (A photographer)

“I remember losing my glasses in the veld and not being able to see, I remember feeling scared and searching though the grass which was taller than me” (writer, actor, filmmaker)

There are moments which I “remember” vividly from my childhood which of course cannot be corroborated/validated by anyone, especially with regard to my very first memory. So how does one know if the memory one holds dear or just simply holds on to is true or imagined or if it’s a memory borrowed or aided by pictures, conversations or stories told by parents, relatives? For example my younger brother used to love saying “I remember when I used to do this and this as a child” and I would ask him how do you remember? You were just two years old then? Mom told you this story! I would conclude. But in all honesty how do I know that he does in fact remember his childhood from as early as two years old and even younger? Some of the famous people’s earliest memories in this book of memories whose title I can’t seem to remember go as far back as 9 months, something which I found so incredible it was unbelievable. So just because I can’t remember what I did at six months doesn’t mean that next person won’t right?

Another thing with this earliest memory story is I have a lot of childhood memories and they are very specific to a particular moments in time, a frame, a scene, a slice of film so often I can’t really say if my most vivid childhood memory is my earliest (read first) memory because I will have to have a context in order to create a timeline. For example this is what I remembered then to be my earliest memory:

“I am walking with my mother, who is pregnant and my older sister, we are in the middle of the city of Johannesburg, there are lots of cars and my mother is shouting at me, she’s annoyed with me, because I am not paying attention to where she’s going, I’m falling behind, distracted,  I’m looking at everything everywhere, following cars, people, sounds, the city is intoxicating, at the same time I am timid, scared of cars so she must have really had her hands full. We walk into a department store a few minutes later, to get in my mother has to push the heavy glass doors with gold-plated boarders open, as she opens the door, the first thing I see are brown leather (veldskoene) shoes and as I look up a big white man is holding a packet of Simba chips in his hands, he was so high up i couldn’t see past the one golden chip held between his fingers which, surprise, surprise, he is was offering to me. I look up at my mother whose hand tightens its grip around mine, and drags me inside the store before I could say yes or no – Her facial expression threatening blue murder. If I so much as dared to protest”

.When I went home next I asked my mother if she remembers an incident like this, she emphatically said no. I was really disappointed, because I wanted to eliminate the possibility that it was a “dream”, I wanted to establish it as something that actually took place, an undisputable fact of my life. I used to talk about this “first” memory of mine and analyze it within a context of my first real experience of racism or apartheid South Africa, which I now think is probably not true in the classic sense, because I see that generally mothers, regardless of skin colour would not want their kids taking/ eating food from strangers, if it is a white (probably racist) stranger in downtown Johannesburg in 1983/4 one could easily infer racial undertones to that scene without any fear of judgment,but it doesn’t make it a racial incident necessarily. There’s so much talk about race in South Africa today it’s almost comical. It’s almost as if the country is suddenly waking up with surprise: “guys we’re black!” “Jesus, we are white!!” Everyone seems to be shocked by this. Shocking.

I have vague memories of being in my father’s car the night before his wedding and being scared. Who can I ask about that? I have a memory of a car accident – the first time I smelled the scent, the metallic taste of blood, the first time I felt real fear of death, of dying. I have memories of my mother’s shoes, all high heels, boots wedges, she had beautiful shoes which I wore every chance I got, often when she wasn’t looking, I thought they were beautiful, the grey knee-high velvet winter boots, the red/burgundy stilettos, the golden wedges, I wish I could bring those shoes to life today, to fulfill my childhood fantasy – I loved my mother’s shoes and clothes. I have no real memory of the moment I knew I had a new brother – which would make me around two years old at the time. My grandmother used to love telling the story of my initial reaction to my brother’s birth she said “I came to her one day and said, “ai, sekaya qhosha, ngalomntwan’akhe omusha” which made them laugh until tears roll down their faces. Loosely translated in English I said my mother …. Guys seriously I don’t really know how to translate that, but the sentiment is that my mother was so protective of her new baby it was like she’d just met a new man, a boyfriend. So my white guy with a chip memory, would be my earliest memory because my mother was pregnant at the time, presumably with my brother, then I would have two memories of my mother being pregnant as a child, first with my brother and then with my sister – which is which? So I have to “trust” that what  I remember as my earliest memory is in fact my earliest memory even though I can’t be sure that it actually is, because no one else or more importantly my mother does not remember a white man offering me a golden chip during a trip to Johannesburg, why she must have been so pre-occupied!  Memory is such a fascinating subject as recently demonstrated by my mother and sister  who asked me if I still remember which soup bowl is mine one night when we were having soup. And I honestly didn’t remember:  they qualified that with I wouldn’t be the real Jedi if I didn’t remember.

So for that night I was an adoption case, until I saw the soup bowl, which I didn’t see that night on another day and said, this is it. My sister didn’t seem impressed. So that was a very  peculiar incident for  me that they should “test” me in such a way as if somebody had stolen the real Jedi and this person standing in their kitchen is a fraud. I have travelled a lot; lived in so many places and seen things I wish to forget that remembering my soup bowl might seem negligible, to me. But it is not, to my mom and sister. Simply because they’ve seen so little of me in the past ten years, the memories we “share” together have become so preciously few they are even tied to utensils, I mean crockery where are my manners? They think of me when they see that soup bowl. That soup bowl would always be prefaced with its Jedi’s soup bowl. So birthdays become important, events, gatherings, where families can share a memory together like a dream, become crucial in keeping a family together. The more happy memories or sad ones for that matter you have together the closer the relationship.

So I have a lot of memories of doing things and travelling the world all on my own and for the reasons mentioned above, I’m really looking forward to a time when I can create share, dreams which will become memories with another person, or other people in this blogging case. This movie Inception keeps showing ups as I write this, it is a really good movie, so I want to find a co-architect as it were, a witness to my life and I theirs. But it’s  all tied up in dreams, those are the strings attached. I think it’s natural really to want that – it is such a human, a basic human desire, otherwise, you’ll live in your own universe and be called crazy by other people who don’t share your universe. No one will say “How do you remember that? You were drunk out of your mind” or something like that. I think having been a lone ranger for so many years, I now think, or seriously believe that life is infinitely done better  in pairs, its more fun!  I was laughing at a memory I have in the kitchen the other day, and my sister asked what it was, and I realized that to her I must seem crazy because she doesn’t share in the humour, or memory of the humourous incident , even if I tell it, it’ll still be a had to be there kind of thing or else I’d be Trevor Noah. I have become so used to my own company, hanging out with myself that I could literally roll down on the floor laughing out loud at my own private jokes –alone or in company and that would seem quite, normal to me. But I can also see why that  would send all the red lights of crazy flashing.

In isiZulu there’s a name for that they call it “Umuntu wakho” or “Motho Wagago” In seSotho which directly translated means your person.  I think I do believe that every person should have a person. My sister once told me  even Micky Mouse has a mini.   I don’t remember being “alone” in my childhood, I always had a partner, I always had someone I dreamed with, first my older sister, then my cousin Lebo, then my cousin Fungile, then Sthembisile, then my little sister D, then my brother Peace, and now that they all have their own people and they are sharing the bulk of their dreams with others, there’s not enough room for my Fantastic dream world. So I guess I should find my own dream partner. Tjo! How did I get here… yes, yes, memories, well it’s good to remember that it’s not good for a man or woman to be alone, but the trick is about balance – know how to be alone, without isolating yourself. And then there’s the dream bit, we must share a dream.  My person must be really crazy wherever they are, for surviving this long without me! I’m proud of you already… see what I mean? Come on now before I get committed…


Charlie and the Sky Factory

Love at first sight. Charlie  arriving back from School
Love at first sight. Charlie arriving back from School Pic: Jedi Ramalapa

By Jedi Ramalapa

October 2013.   On the 31st of August during a fundraising event for the Soweto Kliptown Youth   (SKY) Center, Charlie called me “mama” and I was so touched to hear this – I didn’t even know I yearned so much to have a child of my own or that I had hidden secrete desire to be called “Mama”. And there he was, ready-made, calling me mama and I took the bait. It wasn’t much but he came to me saying his hands were dry and I had a number of  hand lotions.  I physically oiled his hands, with natural honey face cream, vaseline-hand lotion, baby oil, all the lotions I could find in my bag  and then some. I bought him food – hot-dog- he in turn looked after my bag. For a day I could  pretend that I was actually his real mother. I was a guardian to someone, was responsible for somebody’s existence. Somebody needed me, wanted me, somebody’s life depended on me.  For a day I fully belonged somewhere – to someone, at least in my mind.

I first noticed Charlie during  my day visits to SKY while making preparations for the fund-raising-event.  Unbeknown to him he got me  at my softest, softest spot  the very first time i laid eyes on him – through his  books.

I was sitting out in the sun taking pictures of an artist painting a portrait of the late midwife and  Kliptown community  worker and builder   Eva Mokoka on the wall of her former house (which she used as a  community clinic). I was also taking pictures of sister Ntombi and Gloria  who were busy cooking the days’ meal on an outdoor fire, with extreme dedication and focus. They spent the whole day cooking!

I was truly minding my own business when Charlie arrived back from school, neatly  kitted out in full school uniform.He me  greeted respectfully  and stood to stare at  the evolving  picture of Eva Mokoka, in what I read as complete admiration (see above) and then he proceeded to go the book storage/container kept outside bob’s door – I assumed they kept their home-work.  He took his books out  and proceeded to show Jabu and other volunteers his work. They all sounded impressed with his achievements. I  thought wow, at least they are getting something right.

So I was already in love with Charlie by the time he uttered that four letter word. Mama. I wanted to adopt him, make  him mine.  I already had thoughts of having a constant, loyal companion ( life can be unbearably lonely sometimes, when you are me: -an independent, single,  childless ,uncompromising woman), travelling the world etc. I told my brother that Saturday.  “Something amazing happened today – Charlie called me mama” I exclaimed. He just looked at me and smiled his beautiful big eyes. I had now found another solid moral reason to exist.

The next day, Charlie watched me gather my things and asked me where I was going, and when I would come back.   He wanted me to stay he said. “When people come with bags it means they are staying” He said removing a piece of paint from the wall. Mama I would like you to stay he said. It broke my heart to leave him there in that place like that – what kind of “mama” am I? I felt as if I was betraying him, abandoning him “again” –  taking away his only chance at being “loved, cared for”.

When I returned to last SKY and this time to stay I was looking forward to seeing Charlie and  to spending more time with him. But Charlie had disappeared, he was nowhere to be found, nobody knew what had happened to him.  I was quite surprised  and shocked that nobody seemed too bothered about his where abouts. People just moved on.

I asked everyone what happened to Charlie.  The the story slowly emerged that  Charlie was not the sweet little boy I had met or thought I knew. Charlie always dressed neatly in the morning as if going to school, while in actual fact he would go elsewhere, and spent days only God knows what in  Johannesburg’s CBD. He must be around 12 or 13.  I didn’t know him well enough.  Never had a detailed conversation with him actually. I did not ask any questions. He was a great performer, and he knew exactly what to say to get the right response from adults. It was his MO they told me, to disappear into thin air. “He always used to lie to me about going to school, ha  uCharlie!’ they exclaimed.   But has anyone even tried to search for him to find him?  i asked softly, hesitantly, trying not to sound worried, alarmed or disappointed.  “Yes,  we went to his school and found that  hadn’t been there for weeks, even though he woke up every morning going to school and back”

I realized then that there  was no point  in burdening my little heart further inquiries of Charlies whereabouts.  It seemed to me right then that life for people at  SKY is highly transient and unpredictable. Members of the “youth club” came and went as they pleased and there was no one who was the wiser   about the goings’ on the children’s lives  except perhaps bra Bob Nameng who understandably shared very little about the people’s personal histories.  They were accountable to no-one, and no-one could be held accountable for their disappearance.   At the time there were no records of how many children  lived at SKY, when they came in or when they left.  Somebody later added “Maybe he is at the suburbs with a relatives, an aunt or something”.  I slowly began to realize that though they may indeed be vulnerable and be troubled – the children and the youth at SKY were not  necessarily  “orphans” and I should not get emotionally involved thinking they had no one, even if they were, orphans, I could not “save” anyone let alone myself. SKY is a free thinking society.  ‘Here you are free to be and express yourself, no one can be the judge”.

Food - Gloria's Food!
Food – Gloria’s Food!

Now that I have time to reflect, I can see how easily children can be used or manipulated. How they also quickly learn to manipulate if such behavior is rewarded. Food is  often used to lure children ( even adults) to do all sorts of  crazy things. Children are  beautiful and innocent – and that is why they will always be so vulnerable, they learn by doing what you are doing. They repeat often, always and almost without fail, the same things you say to them or to others in private or public as truth. They are sponges that take in everything – especially behaviour. They emulate. They are what we make them. They didn’t ask to be “born” or exist. So you  place them in conditions  that would generate untold sympathy from ‘adults”  who see themselves reflected in their innocent eyes, and hope to somehow use the children as a way of attaining some form of salvation – healing or “good karma”.

Mothers begging with infants on the street is becoming a common scene on the streets of Johannesburg.  People may not sympathise with you as an individual, but for the sake of the “innocent” child they will give you something, do something which you as the bearer of the child will invariably benefit from their “donations” anyway since you are the custodian.  Both men and women (consciously or subconsciously) to get their way in life sometimes, to stay together or to separate, in divorces, in marriages, use children to justify their actions “I’m doing it for the children” is always the righteous response of people who insist on staying in toxic relationships,  having children when they know they are in no position to take good care of them,  to gain power, hoping that they  can “change” people and sometimes they do, but often people don’t change for anyone except for themselves.

It tore me up inside when  in  Dakar and St Louis in Senegal. So many children as young as  two years old with huge bowls begging on the streets  at all hours of the day, working, while  their parents stay at home  feeling sorry for themselves.  Life on the streets is no childs’ play and I think that children who live like that  in many ways are no longer children, they grow up, they become mini hardened adults.  In South Africa,  I have seen and observed how women with children –  used them as pawns to keep and or control men, get cash, have a roof over one’s heads, get married etc. It works because men want to fertilize the world with their seed, leave some kind of a  legacy. In some cases children have become real life-sized dolls, their personal toys, mini-mes,  machines. ?Things people – someone  they can finally have “control” over, indoctrinate , brain wash.  A “second” chance at creating a life you never lived. Your very  own creation, personal DNA – your blood  that you can direct,  control, this is what children have become.

Their innocence is continuously being manipulated by everyone.  Everyone “says” they “care” for children because they are “innocent’ but most often as with everything else they are just using them to fill a void, to “get” something and when they become “too-much” we abandon them – discard them – blame them, for  everything. For money spent or wasted after they fail to become our perfect creations.  We do all this to suit our personal needs, dreams, to make us feel “better’ about ourselves. Who has the children’s best interest?

Children are a dream for advertisers or anyone in business, who wants to make a quick buck – ‘for the children”. They are fertile ground to plant all kinds of  ideas good and bad. Children = money. Everyone wants to give to children… something or inversely everyone uses children to gain some advantage in life, women do this more than men.

It’s a dangerous trend ( even though it’s part of human nature to have children) a fait a compli.  I just shudder when I see how people treat  children today. I am scared almost to live in a world where these children will be all grown up, all-knowing and seeking revenge.

It’s easy to want to help, to be a do-gooder, to feel good about our good deeds. But I think we should all ask ourselves more honestly,  really interrogate ourselves critically and honestly answer the question why? We do what we do  with, for, on behalf of children? Is it really for their benefit? for the benefit of the individual child? Or are we part of a machinery that is producing children who will become machines, clones, extensions of our super Egos?  Capitalism, society, is creating people machines and soon machines will be more valuable than human beings.  A computer rarely questions your motives and reasons. You press click and it does what you want, if it fails, you can always get another one.  It reminds me of a verse in the Bible where some general was asking Jesus to heal his daughter, Jesus asked him if he believed, and he said “I am a man of authority, I have servants under me. I tell this one to go and he goes, and I tell this one to do this and he does it. Just say the word and I know my daughter will be healed.” We want to live in a world where can remote control people like we do  machines, robots. We want  people we can  have complete  and “absolute” control over – children are easier to control and manipulate because they are completely powerless.  We want people to obey us, to have authority over,  we need to be needed, wanted. So we practice with our children and used them as an experiment for our failed lives, projects. We want to  own them like a prized pair of expensive shoes, which we use step on still  regardless of  their value.  Charlies’ disappearance made me realize how easily I fell into the trap of trying to “own” someone so I can feel “worthy, needed, wanted, to leave  some kind of a  “legacy”, “immortalize myself forever” .    Out of all the selfish things that we humans  do and are capable of the need to live vicariously through other human beings, to decide on people’s destiny’s to rule over and to control them; make them do our bidding – must count as the most despicable and deplorable of them all.

A girl Childs' Shoes. Pic Jedi ramalapa
A girl Childs’ Shoes. Pic Jedi Ramalapa