Thursday, November 17, 2005

Home is.. sand? - by Michelle

I was looking at Prema's name "KOMBAI - THE HOME TOWN" and it got me thinking. I have lived in several towns, but there's really only been one that felt like home - the town I was born in. And yet I've lived in some very nice places. I can't say my home town was prettier or bigger or had more shops. So why is it the place I still think of as "home"?

What place do you think of when I say "home"? Is it where you were born? Where you lived as a child? Where you live now? What makes a town a home town?

I've sat and thought about this for three days now and I still can't find an answer. So instead I started to write down what I remember about my home town. The things that still make me homesick after all these years. The thing that stood out was - sand. Home is sand.

My home town is where I was born and spent my childhood. It is called Bulawayo, which means "place of slaughter". Not the best of names! It is where King Lobengula built his capital city in 1870. He named it after a great battle he won in 1872.

My most earliest memories of Bulawayo are of sand. I still miss sand. Red sand, orange sand, golden sand. Baked hard by the sun and wonderful for playing games on. Grass was a luxury you saw in parks and the gardens of rich people. Our house had grass in the front yard and sand in the rest. My dad did try growing grass down the side, but it never worked. I grew up with sand and I still love it. Grass always looks dirty to me. It's fussy and itchy and it has insects hiding in it. Snakes hide in long grass too. Nope, I don't want grass. I like sand. :)

Our back yard had a vegetable garden with chickens and behind that there were the fruit trees. A pomegranate, an avocado, an orange tree with dark dark green leaves and two sad skinny wobbly pawpaw (papaya) trees. The sand was so hard that my dad never got root vegetables to grow. the carrots were too weak to push through the ground and they always came out small and crooked, but the green beans were tougher and they grew ok. We ate a lot of beans! And sometimes I'd eat a pomegranate. It only got a few fruit, it wasn't a big tree, so fruit was a treat. I'd sit against the kitchen wall in the shade and peel away the thick skin. Eat the seeds one by one, spitting out the centres on the sand. There was something magical about those seeds with their clear red flesh. They were so shiny and pretty. It was like eating beads.

Outside our house the pavement was sand too. All pavements were sand. With big trees spreading out wide and keeping you cool as you rode your bicycle or walked to the shops. In town the park had grass, but the town hall had wide sand pavements with huge trees. The flower sellers sat there in the shade. When my mother went to town we'd stop there and look at all the flowers. Behind them there were fountains that hissed and spread cool mist in the air that you could feel on your skin as you walked past. I loved the trees in town as well. Silver oaks, flamboyants and Jacarandas mostly. I never understood why they called the ones with the beautiful glowing gold flowers "Silver" oaks. Grown-ups were so stupid. Everyone could see the flowers were GOLD, not silver! And they were full of nectar as sweet as honey and so thick it was like tar. The grown-ups hated them. If you parked your car under a silver oak the nectar would drip on the car and set like tar too. It was almost impossible to get off. I loved them, they were pretty and tasted good, but my favourite were the Jacarandas. In spring they'd flower and it would be Jacaranda festival. The shops in town would decorate their windows and entrances with paper and tissue flowers to match the blue and lavender Jacarandas. And outside the trees would be covered in flowers that would fall down and lie like carpets on the orange and red brown sand. My mom's favourite were the flamboyant with their huge "umbrellas" of deep red flowers, but I loved the soft blues of the jacarandas.



My grandmother had grass. I'd forgotten that. There was sand at the back by the kitchen, but grass around her fruit trees by the bedrooms. She had peach trees and apple trees, grape vines and guavas. The grass was thick there for some reason. The back section where it was sand was a strange place for us grandkids. It was where gran buried her pets. Rows of tiny wooden markers for all the cats, dogs, birds that had passed through that house for two generations. We'd kneel in the sand and read the names and dates of animals that had died before we were even born. There was even a monkey grave. My mom had raised it from a baby after it's mother was shot by a hunter.

At school we had more grass. The boys played cricket on it and we girls watched from under the trees.. where the sand was. We'd draw in the sand with sticks or play games. It was nicer under the trees in the shade than out on the grass where the boys were. And your lunch was safer too. Out above the grass the crows kept circling watching and waiting. Every day there'd be screams and yelling as some kid forgot to watch and had his sandwiches grabbed by a crow. Much safer under trees on the sand then on the grass.


Premalatha said...

Lovely post Michelle. It makes sense now, why the house I live in doesn't feel home. I guess this is what it is.


lata said...

very interesting and informative too...beautiful pictures...and it was worth the wait! :)

Premalatha said...

Hi Michelle,

Jacaranda is very beautiful. It makes me want to go there. it is a very nice picture.

we have Flamboyant in india. it is alright. the yellow flower tree (forgot the name) is the one I like in india.

Premalatha said...

Hi Lata,

Thanks for dropping by. I didn't know someone even waits for this blog!!! :) Thanks.

lata said...

Why not? I can relate with many of those things that you and Michelle talk about (or write about). That makes me check this blog atleast once everyday!

Premalatha said...

Hi lata,

You have made my day:)

(Michelle, did you hear that, we have another regular in our list!!!! that too she checks EVERY DAY, you know everyday as in EVERY DAY:))


lata said...

Well...what can I say...I'm a mongrel myself, so that's what got me hooked to this site :)

A big thankyou to you and to Michelle for sharing your childhood experiences!

venusian_observer said...

for an excellent discussion on what 'home' means to someone.. see the part between zach braff and natalie portman in 'the garden state'. or if u already have, what do you think?

Premalatha said...

hiya Lata,

The pleasure is ours.

You are welcome to share as well. Please do write more. And please do come back. Hope we will have more to keep you continue to like our site. :)

Premalatha said...

Hi VO,

I haven't seen that movie. I don't know if Michelle has. I will surely see it, and will report back. thanks for the suggestion.

Thanks for dropping by and do come back when you have time.

LAK said...

Nice blog. I think Flamboyant looks like Flame of the Forest/Gulmohur(earlier goldmohur). In your post, I first mistook flamboyant for an adjective, and thought you had missed writing the name of the actual plant! as in "My mother's favourite was the flamboyant--what"?

Michelle said...

Hi Lata

Wow. :) That's a great compliment. I'll be sitting here grinning all day. At the moment I'm busy with work so it's been tough getting time to write, but I will be back as fast as I can. Can't keep you waiting too many days! :)

Michelle said...

Hi Lak

That must have read so weird! :D Namesof plants seem to be very personal to different cultures and even different regions. The tree we called "Fragipani" was caled "frangy pangy" by my great aunt. Now that i'm in Scotland I'm pointing at flowers in gardens and saying "That's a ..." and people shake their heads and say "No, it's not! It's a ..."

It gets confusing. I'm glad you enjoyed my story. I hope you come again often to our stories.:)

Michelle said...

Hi Prema

Oh, you reminded me of another tree! on our front pavement there were two trees with flowers that looked like orchids. I know they came from India, but I never knew their name. THe flowers are white, pinks or purples. I'm thinking something like "Orchid tree of India" but I doubt that this was the real name.

Michelle said...


Do you have a link to anywhere discussing the movie you've mentioned? I've never heard of it.

ShastriX said...

Thanks for pointing me to this post, Michelle.

I have similar feelings about Vizag, where I was born and stayed the first 20 years of my Life.

We stayed very close to Ramakrishna* Beach and it was a joy to see the waves pounding in from our place, which was on a sort of a promontory.

Only when I left the place did I realize what it was to live on the edge of Infinity.

Some astrologer predicted that I would go back there.

* It's His 170th birth anniversary today.

Alexandra said...

Maybe quite a late comment but I would like to say it was nice to read the posts, because at last I see that I´m not the only one liking sand. I never lived particularly with sand or red sand at home, but I notice that I have a strong feeling of belonging to it or nostalgy or something...weird; we´ll see :)