In Africa, old people are not kept at nursing homes; they stay home and teach grandchildren the way of life. I am one of such children who benefited from the care of aged parents. I grew up in the caring hands of my grandmother. Actually, grandma is a disciplinarian by today’s standards; she is one of those finicky schoolteachers of the previous century who wanted everything done properly and perfectly. She’s gone soft with age but the finicky part of her hasn’t left her.
I once asked Mama how St. Valentine’s Day was celebrated in her day and with a smile, she said St. Valentine day idea is not an African idea so she had faint or no memories of it. Then she added, “Love is universal and we show much of it every day in Africa by giving and receiving care to and from one another.” But I knew she was just being evasive.
“Mama, Valentine Day is about love! It is the time we remember the priest who staked his life and joined lovers in holy matrimony when the law banned marriage.” I had chipped in, but Mama knew enough of Saint Valentine’s story and won’t have me school her about it.
“I know all that, but that was the story the Europeans told us,” Mama said. “I love the African pure love, the one I have seen, ‘touched’ and experienced,” she added.
Mama adjusted herself on her seat, pulled the seat from the reclined position as if to have a better glance at something, I could see the nostalgic expression on her face; then she smiled and said, “You know you only live once and if you live right, that once is good enough!”
I managed to give a nod but in fact, I was surprised that Mama knew anything called Y.O.L.O.
“Do you know Zanzibar?” Mama asked.
“Yes Ma, what about it?” I asked.
“That is the best place to be if you want to have a hiding place from the world on Valentine’s Day.” She said.
“Mama! Why would anyone want to hide away on Valentines’ day?”
“In Africa,” Mama continued as if ignoring my question, “we live our lives as a community. We share in one another’s joy and pain; we are so crowded with people that we have no private time for ourselves.”
Mama was sounding philosophical now.
“Before I met your grandfather, my family had betrothed me to another family. The plan was that as soon as the other family’s son returned from his studies in the UK, we would get married. The western-styled marriage where children choose their spouses was almost non-existent here at the time. Somehow, the man refused to come back and I got frustrated. Then something happened.
“I really can’t remember clearly but I had to replace someone on a team that was selected to visit Tanzania. While on our way, I noticed a young man who was stealing glances at me at intervals. We later met after the whole programme was over, this time he introduced himself. He even suggested we visit an island somewhere close to the venue of the programme but I said no. I barely knew him. Anyway, we subsequently got closer and my parents were not averse to it.
“One day he stopped by at our house. He deliberately came when he knew I won’t be around. He met my sister and dropped a parcel for her to deliver to me. My sister was so carefree; she forgot to deliver it until after a week. I think she even stumbled on it while she was sorting her clothes for laundry.
“The parcel contained travel documents and a note with the content, “Will you be my Valentine?” I read the text a million times before checking the other contents of the parcel.
“That year, we visited Zanzibar during Valentine’s Day. It was a pleasant time, one I’ll never forget.
“The island was like none other. It is blessed with pristine beaches. The alluring beach and the endless azure waters of the Indian Ocean made it one of the world’s most romantic islands I can think of. Mnemba Island, precisely, is a paradise! It is in the northeast coast of Zanzibar and offers rustic exclusivity for any couple wishing for a place that had the world on a standstill.
“At Zanzibar, we enjoyed a quiet retreat at Chakwa, a modest fishing village on the Island, and watched the pink sunrise over Michamvi Peninsula. We also had great meals at one of the best Hotels on the Island and visited a botanical garden there too. The visit to the garden remains perched on my memory because it was an opportunity to be introduced to about 650 plant species some of which I really admired.
“A night before we left Zanzibar to return home, ‘this man’ decided we should have a special dinner. The table was set such that we could watch the sky kiss the azure waters of the Indian Ocean from afar as the sun glide gently to hide behind the oceans.
“The night didn’t pass before he dropped the word: “will you marry me?” At that moment I realised how shy I was.”
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