Two Truths and a Lie
By Shameelah Khan and Pumulo Ngoma
“Let’s Grow together South Africa”
by Pumulo Ngoma
Late last night, I read a post about a human library. At this human library one does not take out any books, but rather pulls out a seat and speaks to the elderly – people who have gone before and people whose lives hold the intangible wealth of a nation. At other human libraries, people from various backgrounds engage in dialogue. Human books, as they are called, are asked to reveal their deepest selves, their trauma and their triumph, the light and shade of this thing we call life. What is the evidence that you have lived? Show us the scars to prove you’re one of us. Tell us the time life won you over. Tell us about how new love becomes old. I wondered what it would be like if we had one such library in my suburb – an art installation, as a cultural experiment, as a celebration of our heritage. Who would I want to speak with, living or dead; what moment in history would you enquire about, what was it like to be in the room where it happened? The elderly often carry the weight of the past with an incredible amount of grace. Human books, an author writes, create open spaces for dialogue, and publish people as open books. On the 24th of September, South Africa will celebrate Heritage Day – an acknowledgement of a fractured past, a call to embrace our own heritage, a call to unite and set aside difference, or perhaps celebrate unity in spite of difference. On heritage day, workers line the streets; swap their monochrome uniform for splatters of brightly coloured dress, ordinary hair becomes elaborate isicholo (Zulu headdress), coloured beads and leather loosely adorn waists and ankles.
“Just Tick one”
by Shameelah Khan
I have no Heritage to hold on to, but I carry it around with me like a spiritual plague. Trapped in a snow globe of my own imagination, I found solace in between the jump ropes of my childhood. The born-frees. The generation meant to represent the so-called rainbow nation South Africa had democratically stepped into. Growing up, I had only engaged with myself through the whims of my expressive curiosity, eager to create new worlds of stories playing hand in hand with my cousin who lived next door. We would play outside, run with the wind, chase the candy floss sunsets, and host Barbie tea parties, holding in our hands white naked bodies that we dressed and undressed, calling them “Aneesa” or “Amber” and giving them new lives each time. I was too young to understand what I understand now, but I hold the elders in my family accountable for this. How do we remember ourselves if we remembered at all? The “grown-ups” were speaking, and the children were told to “not speak back.” In grade 2, my teacher Mrs. McWilliam, a white woman who always had a jar of gifts at the ready for her top students, handed me a form to take home and tick.I didn’t understand it, but this form would dictate the rest of my life in South Africa, a country where the intersections of race, gender, class, culture, and history are embedded in our DNA. I took the form home so that my parents could fill it out, on my behalf. The next day my teacher said, “you can’t pick two, only one. Are you Indian or are you coloured?” I looked up at her, “uhmmm, I don’t know.” She took a step back, looked at me, squinted her eyes, and pursed her lips. “Let’s see… I think you are Indian. Let’s pick that one for now, okay?” I swallowed something that day- shame maybe and I had really hoped that my mother would never find out I did that.
Because I wanted to be like her.
I thought back to the night before. My mother told me that she was coloured, because she was never accepted as Indian, and she grew up in a predominantly coloured area. My father said that he was Indian, but he grew up in the same area as my mother. My mother said we would never be accepted by Indians, and my father said that he was Indian, even though his ID had read “Malay”.
When I got older, I realized that I was not the trauma that my mother had carried with her from feelings of “being less than” nor my father’s ‘liberal’ politics that were never really rooted in race or culture. Did my parents really know who they were when they ticked the form?
People began to hold in their hands the snow globe and shook me about. Snow, in hues of rain, drizzled onto me, drowning me in their questions, “but what are you?”, “you kinda sound coloured”, “but your eyes are green”, “you look a bit Indian actually”, “what’s your father’s race? Usually you take your father’s genes”, “are you a mixed breed?”.
“Faces that are mine”
by Shameelah Khan
We, South Africans, never realise just how South African we actually are until we travel. Be that in Ghana or Brazil. I walked through the dimly lit streets of Sao Paulo; a strong resemblance to my home city, but so far away from it. The street art and freshly baked bread met me at almost every turn. Nobody had questioned my identity (surprisingly) because the faces I walked upon were faces that resembled my own. The waitress in the restaurant looked at me and asked me something in Portuguese. Realising that I was not from Brazil, there seemed to be a confused look and then he came back “Africa?” and I smiled, nodding. I was sick with the flu but also- homesick. I longed for the food in my grandmother’s home. Regardless of how she had seen herself, my grandmother carried the recipes of her mother and her grandmother in her hands. From that, I digested love and a culture made up of turmeric, jeera, and elaichi. I missed seeing her doilies hang over the overworn suede maroon couches. And the crockery that hangs low from her ceiling or the overly sweet Oros in her fridge that housed our Summer childhood memories. The old box TV that my papa never got rid of until it broke or the gold-patterned Islamic frames that decorated the paper-thin walls. I got some Vix and rubbed it under my feet and on my chest, praising the hands that touched me in healing ways as a child. Beyond race, culture, and a colonial history steeped in violence, I was home in the hands of the women who birthed me.
On my last day there, I went for coffee with my colleague, and we walked across the road from our hotel to a vegan café. The beautiful mixed-race woman, who I assumed was Brazilian, greeted us in Portuguese and immediately, after hearing me speak English asked, “oh my word, are you from Cape Town?” and her familiar, curvy, delicious South African accent (that never knows one way to sound) travelled through my heart in a monumental way. I wanted to hug and embrace her for being from my country and for being proudly “coloured” with her curly locks dangling off her shoulders in a vegan café in Sao Paulo where people also – looked just like her.
In this Issue:
CISE Heritage Collection — Alun Robert
Your Heritage’s Echo — Ashley Moyo
Human — Ayesha Kajee
Eku Sunguleni — My Face Maps My Heritage — Nkateko Masinga
A way back to the Crown — Palesa Motsoeneng
Heritage Honours Collection — Singular Poet
Imbeleko _ Unathi Nopec
Odd Interview: Neo Cholo — By Angelo de Klerk
KUTSVAGA — Art Profile by Odd Magazine
Mixtape: Heritage Honours — By Nkhondo
In Passing- Shameelah khan and Aasif Bulbulia
An Odd Journey: Heritage — Amir Bagheri
Photographic Series – by Nidaa Husain
Nature Crackers — Raju Das