I am Not Looking Forward to the December Holidays...
Each year, around the 30th of November, I start to feel this sense of doom creeping up on me. School is out, all the sisters are home, our friends have gone away with their families, we are eating more out of pure boredom, and there is no wi-fi. It’s bleak.
This end-of-year dread is compounded in the two week waiting period during which the final arrangements for the trek to Limpopo are made. The questions whirl around in the air. Yes, we’re really going to N’wamitwa. Yes, we’re really going to be spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve there – again. No, we don’t know when we’re coming back.
On the day of the four-hour drive, before we have even left the house, I am stressed. There are nine people, and about 20 bags. That’s excluding the groceries and meat. My dad is calling everyone to help hitch the trailer to one of the cars and then stuff all the bags in. It’s a mission that I feel I should be exempted from, since I only have one bag and all I want to do is mind my own business. But no: you can’t be exempted from your family.
Once we’re finally on the road, it’s the gospel music that plays on a loop while we go further and further away from the life I prefer – from Middelburg, through to Dullstroom and then Ogies, past Letsitele, on to N’wamitwa – that really tests my sanity.
As a general rule, I keep to myself, and choose when to interact with others. But in N’wamitwa people are always making demands on my time, space and energy. I will have to make myself available for people’s questions and comments about my life. How are you? You’ve gained weight, eh? Still in school? You should come by my house while you’re here!
For the next three weeks, I have to accept the discomfort that comes with the scorching heat and the swirling red dust. It’s best to just find a chair and stay in it, with a jug of water, until you absolutely have to get up and get food.
Soon it will be time for the big Christmas lunch. Recipes from both families are compiled and co-ordinated, and tasks are delegated. More groceries are bought, and in some years a cow is slaughtered. It’s going to be a feast. It’s also going to be a lot of hard work. For me, there is no joy in grating carrots, chopping onions, boiling chicken and tossing salads for a group that gets bigger by the hour. I have no interest in feeding the village, but this is what my parents want.
And that is an overarching theme of our time there: we have to appease our parents. That means wearing “respectable” clothing so that aboAuntie won’t give mom the side eye; it means doing any and all household chores with flair; it means laughing a good-natured laugh when adults joke about “city life” and say you should visit more often.
Having to entertain gogos and malumes and their tedious conversations is deeply frustrating. Questions about school and my future plans further highlight how different my upbringing was from that of my cousins. There is this discourse about “good sons and daughters” who go away to the city to find jobs and then, never forgetting their roots, come back home to take care of their parents.
While others seem to enjoy coming home and sharing stories about how they value life in places like N’wamitwa more deeply than they value making a life in the city, to me being in the village feels like constantly resisting being trapped in the experiences of my parents. The holiday is three solid weeks of constantly being confronted with the expectations, perspectives, and perceptions of an extended family (and sometimes their hangers on), and it is truly draining. If the time spent in N’wamitwa is a reminder of the life I don’t want to live, then coming back to Johannesburg feels like finally being back in a place where my life makes sense.