Re-union: Re-connect, Re-discover (by Sumanthra Govender

One year ago I lost my father. He passed away while visiting family and friends… returning home to… South Africa. At that time, I had not been back to Durban in 37 years. My memories from many decades before are simple snap shots in time. I remember visiting my uncle’s farm, eating freshly cut sugar cane on the fields, devouring curries that filled the table, being at my uncles’ weddings, spending time with the maid’s daughter at my auntie’s house… random pictures to be honest.

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(Photo 1: Farm that was once owned by my uncle)(Photo 2: The sugar cane fields once owned by my grandfather and his rest of the family)

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(Photo 3: Homemade meals) (Photo 4: Bites for afternoon tea)

Going back to South Africa last year was bitter sweet. I went for my father’s funeral and re-connected with my roots. This moment of profound sadness ushered in a great re-union. I re-discovered my sense of belonging to a family, community, city, land that I had mostly experienced through stories or from the occasional visit from an overseas relative. Language was not a marker of our differences or a barrier, but our perspectives on life and community showed that our lived realities were markedly different. Even though they lived through apartheid, they had a very culturally rich East Indian life. I lived in Canada where the area I lived and how I lived was not politically assigned or designated to me because of my race. I feel I grew up multi-culturally. Regardless of our different experiences, our separate lived experiences become our shared family history.

This year, to mark the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing, the whole North American/ European family went back to South Africa to hold his one-year prayer at the family temple in Umzinto. I was excited to take my husband and daughter to a place that is foundational to who I am. Other than doing the prayers for my father, I took advantage of this trip as an opportunity to introduce my husband and daughter to my “extended” aunties, uncles, and cousins. The joy on their faces to see the great grandkids is indescribable. The questions were abundant and the hugs were intense. At the memorial, I remember telling everyone that our travels to South Africa were not a one-time event. We have reconnected and will now continue the ties to our roots. We will be back.

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(Photo 5 & 6: Shri Siva Soobramiar Temple – Umzinto, Kwa-Zulu Natal)

My elderly aunties, they were curious to know if my husband ate Indian food, and if I cook curries regularly, and if my daughter knows basic Hindu prayers. It seemed as if it was important for them to see where their kin is going and how their kin growing. I welcomed all their questions, and so did my husband and daughter. I’m sure for them, meeting the North American and European based kiddies was joyful but also slightly guarded. For as much as these kiddies are family to the elderly aunties, uncles, and cousins, the kids make up a different type of family. They don’t live and won’t live the same day-to day realities that my aunties, uncles, and cousins have lived in South Africa. Our kids are from a bi-racial and bi-cultural background and live bi-racial/bi-cultural realities.

When the two weeks of our time in South Africa drew to a close, I told everyone we’ll be back and I told my daughter to always know that this is also her home. I know that many of my relatives will pass before I get the chance to see them again. However, this trip allowed me to achieve one big goal for my daughter and nephews and niece: names now have faces, faces now have voices, voices are telling their stories, and the stories are now completing my history and adding to the next generations. What a great gift I received from father; I have received a sense of belonging.

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