Remembering and living with our past


What triggers your mind to recall the past? For Naison Dube, a friend of mine, it is the aroma thrown up by fresh cow dung. Whenever he encounters the aroma, he, without thinking about it, abruptly stops what ever he is doing, stands up or sits still, closes his eyes and slowly inhales. The aroma caresses his nostrils and memories from his childhood flood his mind.
In an instant, he is reminded that though he now drives a Mercedes-Benz, an old donkey was once his most advanced mode of transport. Though he now lives in a six-bedroom house in the suburbs, he grew up living in a thatched hut. Though he now bathes in a sparkling bathtub with running hot and cold water, the river is the first bathing place he recalls.
The past, Naison often tells me, is always with us. Thanks to this fact, he and his wife Sarah have a running argument. This is in spite of Naison agreeing to compromise. He has long conceded that much as he loves the aroma of fresh cow dung, he can not enjoy it everyday.
Naison has suggested to Sarah that to compensate for this deprivation, they rear makhaya chickens. He believes that the delightful sight of makhaya chickens running in the yard will make up for lack of cow dung aroma.
For him, a home is not complete without road runners roaming in the yard. As he relaxes on his reclining chair at the veranda, he wants to see ten or so chickens following their mother.
The sight of a hen clawing the ground for food and teaching its off springs how to feed soothes the mind. It gives hope for tomorrow. He also loves the sight of a cock overseeing its hens and chickens. When he wakes up in the morning, he longs for the sound of a crowing cock coming from within the yard.
Sarah will have none of this. For her, a civilised person wakes up to the sound of an alarm clock. An urbanite – which is what she is struggling to turn her husband into – delights in the sight of a paved driveway, flowers along the driveway, and a manicured lawn.
A makhaya chicken in the yard? – goodness me! What will the neighbours say? Not to mention their sophisticated friends and associates. It is not as if she has not compromised. She now sparingly sprays her expensive perfumes. Apparently, they make him sneeze and cough.
For my wife, her past, is recalled by the rising fragrance from the scorched earth after insewula – the first rains. This delightful smell, she often tells me, is as pleasing as that of braaing steak. But, unlike the braai aroma, it is a forerunner of much more than an afternoon’s grub.
The fragrance sends her mind racing back to the small rural village she grew up in. These first rains marked the end of that strength-sapping heat and marked the rejuvenation of life.
Within an hour after the downpour, a fresh breeze blew and insects, beetles and frogs sprang to life. In a few days the vegetation flourished. The most memorable day of the rainy season was Christmas. Aaah what a day! The entire family got to put on new clothes father had brought from the city.
Later the children salivated as they watched mother and her sisters cut bread and placed it in baskets. Sweet red jam was smeared on the inch thick slices.
The bread was devoured and washed down with steaming milk-tea. The drink burnt their tongues but it was worth it. After all, it was not everyday that they ate bread with jam and drank tea.
My wife clearly recalls the Christmas father brought home what he said was to replace sadza. “It is called rice,” he proudly announced.
Mother was not impressed by this new delicacy. “Looks like the eggs of a grasshopper,” she frowned.
“I will stick to my sadza.” However, her sister and the rest of the family were eager to try the new food. “Not as filling as our sadza,” Aunt observed after eating a bowl-full of the rice.
The truth was, they did not mind how the sadza or rice tasted. The tastes of these starch foods were secondary to that of the relish. Relish was a proper road runner, with the full original taste of the African chicken. Aaah those were the days!
Well, dear reader, what triggers your mind to recall the past?

• Mzana Mthimkhulu writes in his own capacity