loss and memory

i’ve been having some difficulties finding words here, mainly because there’s something -someone- i want to talk about, but i don’t know how.


khayelitsha, the view from vicky's front door

in the end of may 2008, i went to south africa with one of my undergrad university’s anthropology classes. 

it was on that trip that i met kb, our distinguished seeds contributor who just so happens to be one of my best friends.

it was also on that trip that i realized my love of food anthropology and began my first forays into the field. 


in 2009, i posted a few excerpts from the paper that resulted from that trip, “cooking up a new south african identity: an exploration of food, identity, and gender in nine courses,” in the garden.  

this week, i wish i had shared more of that piece. 


in particular, i wish i had shared what i had written about vicky ntozini, the former owner of “vicky’s b&b” in khayelitsha.  

i say former because, as kb and i recently found out, vicky was murdered by a relative in november.  


rb, who was our tour guide on our trip, wrote a beautiful, touching piece about vicky, about her wisdom, integrity, and creativity, and about the importance of her work and the ways in which she enriched her community.


the shock of hearing about vicky was surreal, not just because it’s been so long since i met vicky, but because all this time i’ve lived with the sense that there was this amazing, indomitable woman in the world, a woman who saw problems and dreamed solutions.

hearing of her death inspires a shattering sense of loss and disillusion; another good one is gone. 


with all of the news in the world this past week  - the students and teachers murdered in newtown, the woman gang-raped and brutally beaten in delhi, it goes on - there really are no words for the current state of things.  

the violence of it all is overwhelming. 


at this point, at this time, there isn’t much i can do, not about any of it, and soon it will time for us to move on, to think about what’s next, next, next.

that's the way of the world.

but before we do, i’d like to share with you some of what i had written all those years ago about my stay at vicky’s. 


because even though you likely never met her, i wish you had.   

 vicky, june 2008 

i have never breaded chicken using a plastic bag before, but if a system works, why change it? 

our first, and only, night in khayelitsha and i’m in an anthropological heaven helping vicky make dinner. her kitchen is a microcosm of south africa: a third world country smashed headfirst into a first world country. 

the success of her bread and breakfast has allowed her to build and expand where her neighbors cannot. in the sandy land of one level shacks and lean-tos, vicky’s house is one of the few towering buildings that has two floors. her upstairs, almost complete, has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a den. a balcony is still in progress. the whole upper portion of the house looks like it belongs back in cape town rather than khayelitsha. her downstairs is still reminiscent of the area, though. it’s darker and more cluttered. half of vicky’s kitchen has been redone – new fridge, new counters, new cabinets – but the other half still speaks of harder times. 

the rest of my group has gone out on a walking tour of the township, but the kitchen is still crowded. two of vicky’s neighbors, mama africa and beauty, have come over to help prepare the meal. vicky’s two older daughters are also pitching in. it’s clear that this is all routine they’re used to when the b&b is booked. 

vicky’s husband hovers around underfoot. he is obviously uncomfortable in the room – there’s an unspoken acknowledgement that this is a women’s space. i try not to laugh when he explains to me, in lengthy detail, that it is important for xhosa women to be able to cook – and cook well. if they don’t, their husbands will buy prepackaged food to eat, which is just bad. everything must be fresh, all the time.

by the time he’s done talking, it’s almost dinnertime. the group has returned, already talking about plans for the rest of the evening and laughing about the walk. dinner is fried chicken, an apple and carrot coleslaw, creamed and mashed pumpkin, a vegetable chutney medley, and sautéed spinach and onions. for desert, there is a trifle decorated with m&ms. even before anyone serves a piece of the trifle, the color from the m&ms starts to bleed into the pudding.

i am torn between eating with the group and hanging back in the kitchen. i can’t help but notice that vicky and her family don’t eat until they’re sure their guests are finished. i try to help clean up, but all that I’m allowed to do is stack plates.