I’ve been to Umtata twice this year, which is quite the world record. The first time was in January to visit my grandmother, and the second time was in May to see her off to heaven. I say that more literally than figuratively because I genuinely believe there is nowhere else Makhulu could have possibly gone to, and if there has never been a heaven before, one must have been created when this particular soul left the world that we know.
Umtata is home to many of the things I love; breath taking landscapes, simplicity, tranquillity, ubuntu and love. Before January I had not been to Umtata in a long time; it felt so new to me, nothing about it had changed, I just looked at it differently. I was awoken to its beauty, and since I am obsessed with taking photographs, I appreciated the grand show Umtata put on for me and my lens. I was in visual heaven. Not only is this humble paradise stimulating to the eye, it is stimulating to the heart as well. It feels as good as it looks. It reminds me of a person who is beautiful on the inside and out. I’m proud to call it home. I love the fact that the woman that gave birth to me was born and raised there.
It’s the little details about Umtata that warm my heart: The crows you hear at 5am, the freshly baked bread you have with your tea for breakfast, the people that greet you and have time to find out how you are; the flawless flow of the language and the calm of the atmosphere. I love how the days are so much longer because they begin so early. The walls don’t quite touch the ceiling, so a conversation can travel to everyone in the house. One doesn’t have to worry about how they look because being alive and well is all the dressing up you need to do. The cows know their curfew and buckets must be brought into the bedrooms at the end of the day because the toilets are too far to go to at night.
Tradition and culture is still very prevalent in Umtata; it’s a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of. Whenever my mother shares stories of her upbringing I am left envious and realise how much you miss out on when you are from the city. I try to take in as much as I can from mom’s tales; they are the details that led to my creation after all.
A soul of gold
Makhulu loved. She adored her family and cared about people in general; she was also completely devoted to God. She looked at us with sincere admiration; she smiled because we lived. Our mere existence made her heart glow; we were beautiful in her eyes. With Makhulu all you had to do was breathe.
The last time we visited her; my mom, brother and I, we discovered that she had taken a liking to a popular song by Thandiswa Mazwai; “Yindaba kaban’ umandilahlumlenze,” she would sing. Translation:”Whose business is it if I throw my legs in the air”. Yes, at the age of 82 with sore knees that was her jam. No she DID NOT throw her legs in the air when she sang it. Thank goodness. One of her favourite gospel hymns was “Mazithi’nqondo zethu”, she welcomed us with that song whenever we visited her; it has officially become my Umtata soundtrack.
Makhulu wanted people to be happy around her; if you didn’t have a smile on your face for so much as two seconds, she would sternly ask everyone in the room why they had hit you. You were lucky if she knew you because if she knew you she loved you. It was that simple.
About two days before her passing, she casually mentioned that her children and grandchildren’s cars would be parked in her yard;it was so random that nobody paid much attention to what she could have meant. The night before she passed away she lay in her bed and sang gospel hymns. It is clear from these two incidents that she knew her fate and happily accepted it. The following weekend her children and grandchildren’s cars were indeed parked in her yard just as she had revealed.
A queen’s farewell
Makhulu’s farewell was absolutely beautiful. A church service took place on the Friday night, and on the Saturday she was buried. The church service carried on until the early hours of Saturday morning. Everybody was awake before the sunrise; on that particular day that a queen was being laid to rest the roosters didn’t need to wake us up.
Her funeral service was four hours long (That’s excluding the actual burial) which is not out of the ordinary for a funeral in Umtata. Stories of inspiration, courage, faith and love echoed through the tent as people relayed the wonderful memories they had of her.
We cried. We laughed. We sang. We danced. We shared touching and hilarious stories of her and the family in general. We ate and ate and ate. It was a weekend filled with so much more joy than pain, leaving my soul refreshed.
We will miss her forever, especially when we go to Umtata and she is not seated in her favourite chair watching people pass by and calling them into the house. Our arrivals in Umtata will no longer be met with her singing, rejoicing, warm hugs and wet kisses. I now realise that a large part of what made visits to Umtata sweet was this woman’s love
One more gift, one more lesson.
My grandmother’s passing left me enriched and inspired; from the fact that she sang to the Lord in her final hour, to witnessing an entire community come together with the family to honour her life. Her farewell was led by love, the very thing that she was, and from that I picked up so many lessons that I have started applying in my own life. Trust her to find a way to bless me in her absence.
I’m honoured to have had a place in her precious heart during her time here on earth.
The beautiful land of Umtata carries her spirit and I will now feel her warmth through its wind.
I was loved by a queen.
Lala ngoxolo Madlomo 🙂