Friday, December 07, 2007

In Praise of Grandmothers

Just one more blog inspired by traveling with Ema, lest you all think the other boys have disappeared. During our trip to Moshi, I had a chance to meet Ema’s maternal grandmother, the woman who raised him. We got off the bumpy dala dala and Ema went to go get her in the bean fields. When I met her she wore a faded skirt and headwrap that had once been brightly colored. Her hands and feet were caked with black dirt. She put down her hoe to hug me and thank me for being a mother to Ema to replace her daughter, taken by AIDS. It took all I could do to hold back tears which I knew would be so strange to her. She walked far ahead of us on the way to her house. We walked about a half mile, slogging through rich earthy mud, so unlike the sandy soil of Bagamoyo. Each house along the way was made from red brown earth and trees and everywhere there were mango, avocado, and coffee trees and 5 or 6 different kinds of banana trees.

She is 87. She birthed Ema’s mother when she was 47, her last of 8 children. Only 2 are still alive, but she cares for most of her grandchildren. She never went to school herself, but she tries so hard to keep her grandkids in school. She now has one in primary still and two in secondary. Although the schools they attend are not of great quality, the kids feel purposeful and they are learning. At home I remember people loving grandparenthood for the precise reason that the responsibility level drops and it’s just love, love, love. But to be 87 and still having the breadwinner instinct cranked up to full volume? Retirement? What is that? She tried to take MY back to relieve me of my load when we were walking.

Antiretroviral therapy is changing the face of HIV/AIDS in Africa, but it will take a long time. These grandmothers, and aunts and uncles are still the ones on the front lines doing most of the work. Bibi Issa, Bibi Idrissa, Bibi Fatuma, Bibi Omari, Gertrude in Uganda are just a few of the outstanding grandmothers and great grandmothers who have helped us to help kids. Asanteni.

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