My Land

By Gia Mawusi


My Grandmother was a tall, proud African woman.

She could barely speak proper English, like Miss Charlotte from the Mission, but she always stood up and made her way among her betters without a single notion or care about her station in society.

She would walk on by and they would stare up and down at her with resentful eyes.

But she did not care about them or their opinion. She was content with herself.

That uneasy feeling of unworthiness that afterwards so many in my family felt, myself included, never once touched her soul. 

She knew who she was and where she was headed to.

That is what I remember most about her.

That, and her straight back, her clean and unafraid stare, that unique and loud laughter and specially, her lack of knowledge or sense about appropriateness, that later, was fiercely bestowed on us.

I always admired her, respected her.

I envied her freedom. 

Grandma always walked the fields with my hand tightly clasped, and she would sing, she would tell me stories about our ancestors, men that turned into lions, and how Man was connected to the Land and the Spiritual world. 

How we were all One and the Same but Different still.

We would gather the herbs and the plants that were good for our black natural medicine, and she would teach me about which ones could save our life and which ones could kill us on the spot. Grandma would point out the animals roaming by and the places where they would hide during the scorching midday sun. 

She would teach me how to avoid the snakes and scorpions’ holes and we would gather shiny rocks that looked like diamonds to take home.

I remember listening to her voice, and how she would smile back at me with a twinkle in her eye.

It was always so warm during summertime, and my back would be stuck to the cotton shirt Mama dressed me in. The sweat drops would travel from my forehead to my chin, while we made our way back to the shade of the embondeiro tree in Grandma’s backyard.

After that, we would eat sitting outside on the floor, underneath that ancient tree while the heatwaves buzzed around us. And we would talk.

Later in the afternoon, Grandma would make her own tobacco, with dried leaves, honeyed by the sun and crushed to dust in her wooden pestle. 

When night descended, the sky was so black, and darkness was so heavy you could feel it weighing on you like a blanket. 

The stars were shiny but so distant, that they looked unreal, more like a dream. Sometimes, I thought about them as guardians watching us, looking down at us from afar.

We always slept on the floor, hard and dusty. And that smell, of tobacco, herbs, bananas, mangoes, dirt and musk, were all Grandma. They were all my childhood, my comfort, my home, an Earth, a life, a being and feeling I thought I could never find later anywhere, anymore, ever..


“Not something

put on the shelf to rot,

to forget

and remain forgotten…”

This country was quite different from my homeland. 

During those first months, I was grieving badly. 

I missed the sun, the heat, the never-ending view that spread before me. The yellow and tall grass where I could play hide and seek. 

But most of all, I missed Grandma and our walks. 

My Grandma’s voice and her teachings, began to fade and I felt lost in the crowds, in the town, in the newness and difference of this new world, new people, new life.

I missed the fields. I missed that feeling of embracing the air itself, immersing  in the trees and animals around us. The feeling of belonging and that feeling of connection. 

I had somehow lost that.

It felt like all the smells, all the flora and fauna were different, smaller, dimmer. Not so fantastic and beautiful. Not mine.

And I grieved more than I could understand at that time. But winter came and was gone, and spring was here and suddenly, while I was walking in the grove, after months and months of numbness, feeling nothing, I found it.

It started with a whisper, pulling me deeper, and when the sounds of the town faded away, the further I went in, I began to feel it again, a glimmer, an inkling of that special space and place from before, a previous life and existence.

The grass and the weeds were growing together and making my legs itch everywhere where they touched my skin. But that whisper, that voice was calling to something  forgotten within me. 

A river was hidden by the trees and leaves, and its water, gurgling, running down, in circles at some places, faster and dangerously in others.

And the wind was rustling the leaves over my head and the grass, that itchiness, was there telling me something, making me pay attention, begging my soul to remember.

This place was for some reason I could not fathom, beckoning me forth. 

I stepped further and sat on the trunk of the fallen tree. The skin was hard, with rough edges that imprinted in my fingers, almost hurting them. Forcing me to feel its strength, hear its pain.

I had no choice, so I just sat there and  listened. And in the silence…

“Not something

put on the shelf to rot,

to forget

and remain forgotten…”

I heard and felt my Grandma’s voice in my head, in my heart. 

“Not something

put on the shelf to rot,

to forget

and remain forgotten…”

I almost felt her hand on mine, her smile, saw that twinkle in her eye, reminding me that nothing, nothing, nothing in life is ever lost.

We just think it is. 

Life moves on and so must we. 

Grandma used to say that. I forgot about that, but I remember now.

“Not something

put on the shelf to rot,

to forget

and remain forgotten…”

Sitting there, on that fallen tree, I became quieter, stiller. 

And life happened, behind me, above me, below me, around me, inside me. 

And from that day on, I walked in that grove.

And later, as I discovered and embraced this new land, on other landscapes as well. 

Grandma walked with me, during the  hardest times in my life.

I always felt her presence guiding me and a warmth would touch me from my core.

And I noticed things, beautiful and simple little things I didn’t before.

I noticed the ducks, the ponds, the small deer that would come closer if I remained still. The sounds. The beetles and army of ants marching without glancing back at me.

The blanket of connection and peace that was now wrapped around me.

I just stayed more and more in tune with this way of observing life and not doing anything at all. Every afternoon I walked these fields so different from before.

I kept on doing just that for no other reason than I wanted to. 

It soothed my soul. 

Breathing in and out. Just breathing… Existing…

And I kept on grieving.

I kept on healing. 

I kept on living.

Gia Mawusi is a writer living in Great Yarmouth. She was born in Beira, Mozambique. Her family fled civil war there and she grew up in Lisbon, Portugal. Gia writes poetry and fiction mainly in Portuguese and English, and uses idioms from her native dialects Sena and Ndau. She is currently working on her first novel.