I See Her in Them

South Africa LadiesEvery time I see an African domestic (maid) with white children, a wave of sadness comes over my heart. I understand the cultural dynamics, the legacy of race in this country, and the economic inequity to know the reason for and, in a way, the necessity for these domestics. But my heart feels sad all the same when I see situations as I described.

I think I know why I feel the way I do. My grandmother on my father’s side was a domestic. Grandma was an educated lady. She was a teacher, but when she got married, as was the custom of the day, she stopped working to stay at home as a housewife. Eventually, for her family to earn extra money, she worked as a maid for a doctor’s family. In Jim Crow South, this was one of the few things black women could do to earn an income. Thankfully, the doctor and his family treated Grandma well; and she talked fondly about them until the day she died.

My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was a domestic. She was a formidable, God-fearing woman. She raised half of the children–both black and white–in her small Southern town. When she passed away, there was standing room only at her funeral, as the entire town, all of her children, turned out to pay tribute.

My great-grandmother on my father’s side was an ex-slave. Queen was her name; and according to the family stories, her named suited her. When freed, she was given land in her own right. That land is still in my family today.

So I think the reason why I feel sad when I see African domestics taking care of white children is because I see my grandmothers in them. I wonder if they have good situations in caring families, as my two grandmothers had, or if they are treated badly. I wonder what children they have of their own whom they are struggling to support, to give a leg up in the world. I wonder if they are happy. I wonder if they are really queens underneath their doeks. I think my grandmothers would be proud to know that their hard work has not only paid off in their children but also in their children’s children and in their children’s children’s children. I wonder what my grandmothers would think of me. What would they think of my serving as a missionary in Africa? I hope they would be proud. I like to think that they would.

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Surprised by Mama

When the taxi rolled away, I saw her standing there–this typical Xhosa mama with a cap on her head, supported by crutches because she had only one leg, with her blanket neatly packed on one side and her bag of belongings on the other side. My heart sank as I thought, Oh, no. Is this one of the trainee trainers for our conference? This lady doesn’t look she can be a trainer. Can she can grasp the material? Can she lead?

mama LucyAs the conference went on, I had to repent, as Mama Lucy taught me a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. First of all, she was the first one of our trainee trainers to volunteer to lead a workshop. Second of all, she grasped the material, studied it, and prepared it, conveying it well to others. Third of all, she had a compassionate heart. She noticed the newcomers and reminded me to give them their material. She spoke up for those who were confused or who didn’t know how to express the questions they had.

In African tradition, we address older ladies as “mama.” It’s a sign of honour, respect, affection, and a sort of recognition that they are “mamas” to us all. Mama Lucy has six biological children, and I am sure she is a wonderful mama to them all; but she taught her American daughter a lesson that she won’t forget anytime soon. Thank you, Mama Lucy.