Have you asked them to tell you a story?

Do you ever think back to when your grandparents were still alive? The fond memories you have of them when growing up as a child with their quiet strength ever guiding you. Their wrinkly old faces, telling  stories of joy, contentment, disappointment and perseverance. You see them sitting quietly, observing and sometimes staring into the distance, seemingly vacant. You don’t think much of it then.

I think about them now. And that youthful confidence I had, knowing everything of course, when they were still alive. I was very busy you see. I had my whole life ahead of me.

In the last couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few wonderful old African characters. Their stories are humbling, incredible, and often surprising. My encounters with them have given me a new found respect for the elderly and a sense of intrigue. I want to know their stories.

Suddenly I find myself sifting through my photographs of ‘old people,’ with a feeling of admiration for them.  With Christmas just around the corner, again – I have a strong urge to slow things down and to reflect upon the stories and people I have met.

Knowing what they have experienced, endured and survived in their lifetime and seeing them ‘today’, witnessing their resilience firsthand – I can’t help but wonder about my own grandparents and the stories that I did not think to ask about, but stories that I would love to know now.

Manual Portrait

The gentle Soldier, Manual – a man who sailed to Asia. When I asked Manual about his past, his story was certainly not what I was expecting to hear from a peasant farmer whom I’d met on a dusty road on a Mozambican sugar estate. In 1958, the Portuguese had colonies dotted all over the world, one of them being Macau, a small island off China. In order to protect their claimed land from other prying powers hoping for a cut out of the world atlas – in this case, China – they needed their military to guard and ‘fight off’ any threats. Manual, along with thousands of other Mozambicans and Angolans were shipped out to protect a land they had never heard of.

 

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“The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.’

– Doris Lessing

Growing old

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“In a spiritually sensitive culture, then, it might well be that age is something to be admired or envied.”

– Rowan D. Williams

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Grandfather and Grandson

The little boy and the old man.

Said the little boy, “sometimes I drop my spoon.” Said the old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.” “I do that too,” laughed the old man.

Said the little boy, “I often cry.” The old man nodded, “So do I.”

“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.

“I know what you mean,” said the old man.

– Shel Silverstein

Rudi

Rudi, a grandmother who escaped a deadly attack during the Mozambican civil war, fled with her children and slept in trees at night to avoid predators and soldiers. Tragically she lost all of her children to aids over time and has raised 9 grandchildren on her own. Her final days are even more tragic – she’s been abandoned by all of her family. But thankfully she lives in a home for the elderly and is cared for.

 

Francesco

Francesco, the fishermen. He wasn’t always a fisherman. He once was a budding chef in a hotel in Beira with a great career ahead of him. But one night, he was told that he had been signed up for a chef course in Maputo and that he needed to leave immediately. He did not have time to say goodbye to his wife or children as the transport was ready and waiting. He left, feeling excited about this opportunity. 3 days later, after travelling only at night, the vehicle entered a military camp in Maputo. He knew then that it was not a chef course he would be attending, but military training instead. 15 years later, he returned home. His family had believed he was dead and his wife had remarried.

“I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside of me there will always be the person I am tonight.”

– F. Scott. Fitzgerald

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