‘Mummy aunty Precious is on the phone’ my daughter called
‘Tell her I said good morning and I’ll call her back’ I shouted back to Ams in the other room
‘She said it’s important mummy’. Came back the response
I loved Precious but with her children all grown up, she had a lot more time on her hands that I with my two small ones at two and seven years old.
‘Marning Sis. What’s up?’ I asked whilst thinking about the green gungo soup I was trying to master.
‘Everyting cool! What you up today?’ I could hear that Nat King Cole album playing in the background. She played it a lot all by herself up there in red hills
‘Nothing planned. Just cooking breakfast and dinner now. Plan to chillax today. Why what’s occurring?
‘You want to meet Winnie?’ Precious asked. She was always inviting me to things.
‘Winnie who?’ I asked whilst thinking about where I could source a coconut this morning. The soup tasted better with fresh coconut milk.
‘Winnie Mandela!’ she said casually
‘Precious how you can ask me dat!’ I screamed back laughing! The children jumped up and started to laugh too. ‘Of course, me waaan fe meet dah great Winnie Mandela! Where and what time? Jamaicans were often so casual about super important things. I had come to the conclusion that Jamaica had so many internationally renowned famous people from this ‘small island’, that everyone had simply stopped thinking fame was any ‘big ting’
‘3pm at the Pegasus. Come for 2 pm if you can’. She laughed.
‘Will be there by 1.30!’ I responded as I started to think about what the children and I would wear.
I heard Precious laugh and mutter to herself as we hung up.
Out came our best African matching outfits. Royal blue or Orange? I couldn’t decide. Both seemed perfect for the occasion The Pegasus was close by so we dressed and walked across emancipation park to the hotel lobby. The children and I looked and felt fine and people commented on as we passed by. ‘Yes Queen’ and ‘Africa fambly’ came from many passers-by. All three of us smiled.
The park was a mess although there were great stories of the plans to renovate it. They would turn it into a space that Jamaicans would be proud of. A place that celebrated ‘Jamaica’s emancipation’. I looked forward to that day. Joggers were happy to just have something other than the pavement even though it meant jumping over rubble and garbage, it was an open space all the same.
I sat in the foyer and the children ran around. Hotel lobbies were great places for people watching as families, couples and young groups came and went. Jamaica was the place that people dreamed of going to and, for many, once they arrived, it was just one long hot sunny and sexy party. An opportunity to do and play in a way that only Jamaica allowed for.
The South African football team emerged and like all good Pan Africanist, I knew their flag alongside most of the African countries. They looked like kings with reporters and photographers surrounding them. I so wanted to push them out of the way to just get one photograph but, alas, there wasn’t a hope in Jamaica of that happening. I sat enjoying the show that celebrities have to put on for the cameramen and women. Precious appeared at 1.45 and I was glad I had shown up early.
She beckoned me over.
‘You have yoh camera Sis?’ she asked whilst talking on her phone.
‘Of course!’, I mimed back.
‘Good. We going upstairs. Winnie here already and Muta comin over too,’ she confirmed
‘Great’. I said calling the children over as we followed obediently.
Precious smiled at the security guards who already knew her. They are with me. She said and they escorted us all to the lift play fighting with my son and telling my daughter she was a ‘beautiful African princess’. We all felt super proud. I could hear Winnies’ rich textured south African voice, on exiting the lift. Walking towards the room, I remembered all of the times I had watched her with fist raised on the TV. Winnie had symbolized the struggle against Apartheid more than Nelson had ever done for me. For, whilst he had been locked away on Robbin island, she had carried the baton like a warrior queen. As a human being, she had made some mistakes. They say she had lovers and I had wondered why she wouldn’t. Twenty-odd years with her husband in jail. She was not a nun. The killing of Stompie was a media story I had not been comfortable with. I had also learned how hard it was to trust the media though She had danced the warrior dance society was always unjust with women leaders. As I had watched the announcement of the separation of her and Nelson and saw the meek-mannered Graca Machel take her place, I knew it was a victory for patriarchal, capitalist society. There would be no justice and no peace for warrior queens…not now anyway.
Time was of the essence. I didn’t want my picture taken with her but if she could just hold my son…I handed him to Winnie and he looked at her strangely. He didn’t know who this woman was but he was a sociable child. My daughter was playing with the other children and as soon as the photograph with Khu was taken, Muta arrived. He hugged Winnie like an old friend. Greeting me like a new friend. I was still yet to be positioned in Jamaican society. I hadn’t been there long enough and whilst people knew I was a teacher, they had also seen me with a ‘real camera’ and knew I wrote for the African Business magazine in the UK. In this class based society with colorism and so many uptown and downtown judgments at play, they were still unpacking me. Precious was one for picking up strays like me though so it was not surprising that we had this ‘kinda friendship ting’ going on.
Muta did not want a photograph of him standing and Winnie seated. He chanted that down as ‘Victorian’ and was clear that was not how he wanted to depict. He kneeled down next to Winnie, happy to be in that position. Winnie laughed a deep throaty genuine laugh. I wanted to bottle the feeling of gratitude I had for being there at that moment.
L’Acadco dance group performed and L’Antoinette conjured all she could with her Yoruba high priestess training. The first piece was a powerful dance of a people in exile and the pain which this brings. The second piece was a celebratory dance with African moves from Ghana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Phenomenal dance pieces from African Jamaicans through which Winnie’s gaze never shifted. Black woman sang by Judy Mowatt, had been an anthem which many in that room had grown to love and when Carlene Davis sang ‘Winnie Mandela’, the room moved to a dream-like state for reality and fantasy had merged. My spirit could not be still and I watched as it danced around the room flowing, trancing and beating drums. Luciano apologized for being late. He had just heard and could not have Winnie in town and not perform for her. Being in the Tuff gong or Motown studio must have felt like this.
Winnie stood up and looked around the room. She looked at each one of our familiar faces smiling. We knew each other. We had journeyed together.
I did not know. I did not know there was so much Africa here in Jamaica. It was your music… Your Jamaican music that we listened to under tables as others looked out for the police. The revolutionary music of Jamaica helped us during those days of Apartheid… and still does now.
She raised her fist and shouted Amandla and we responded Awethu!
I could not sleep that night. My spirit was too excited. It would not settle. The visitors in that room were ancestors who came to pay homage to one of our leading warrior queens. My children were quiet. There were many familiar faces in the room and they had been to many talks over the years. For them, this was another gathering of people ‘like mummy’.
This is my work and these are my opinions.