Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, May 2, 2010

To Zayda from her Shangazi

Child & Family
Letters to Zayda born April 20, 2010

Respect a little child, and let it respect you. (Bantu)

Zayda's shangazi as a toddler

Dear Zayda

I have been in love since your dad called me yesterday morning at 8 am my time to let me know you arrived. So for twenty-four hours now, I can hardly think of anyone else but you. I smile. I will actually complete my connection and make sure I can see you on Skype. Besides, I want your dad to call me when you are home so I can say a quick word to your mom though I know she will be busier with you than perhaps she has ever been before in her very active life. Then I tell him I want him to put the phone to your ear so you can hear my voice and so I can tell you, “I love you, Zayda.”

Not a lot of people in my family say, “I love you.” A lot of them don’t even act out “I love you.” So I want you to know those words are possible and real, that it’s OK to love, that it’s safe to love, that it’s natural to love. I need you to know that I already hear the message you bring from our ancestors. I need that message so I know what our ancestors demand of me for the rest of my life before I join them. And already, in these twenty-four hours, I begin to know what you mean for me. My heart feels soft, pliable. I want to change the way my family has behaved toward each other, so you can have a different set of experiences from some of us.

Do you know Sonia? Did you see her just join the ancestors before they sent you to us? I hope she knows I love her, and that I commit to giving you the love I have for her and did not express because I didn’t know her. She and I are the same age, yet I didn’t know about her till two years ago. I lived all my life and no one even mentioned Sonia. Yet today I want to hire a small plane and write your name across the sky. You are already in Facebook, Zayda. My son announced your arrival yesterday. But none of us were supposed to know about Sonia.

I hear Sonia was beautiful. I hear she walked tall and graceful as a giraffe. In a little while, Zayda, your dad will take you to look at animals and you will know what I mean. Sonia had her baby alone, because her dad thought she brought disgrace to the family by getting pregnant when she was not married, by getting pregnant for a man too poor to support her and too black to fit into a family with traces of Europe in their noses, hair, and church-going habits. Yes they went to church, the slave master’s church with a white Jesus on the stained glass window. And this child would have been too close to African roots, too connected to the drum.

Sonia lived on the streets. Perhaps I passed her and did not know. Perhaps I put money into her hand at a traffic light, or maybe I rolled up my window as she approached so her gutter smells would not enter my car. Her father, like a Victorian patriarch, ordered her to take herself, her disgrace, and her unborn child from his farm. And that was the first of many deaths for Sonia.

Zayda, you are the chance for my family to start afresh if they want to. This time with a love that sets us free of the mistakes of the past. This time with a love that allows for the mistakes of the present and future. This time with a love that exists for no other reason than to celebrate life. This time with a love that nothing, no one, no circumstance can destroy.

Thank you, Zayda for today’s message from our ancestors. A message of respect for you, for Sonia, for all the babies that have ever been born to my family. To all the babies that have ever been born.

Much love,

Your Shangazi (Swahili for paternal aunt).


Hilaire Sobers said...

Wow, Ma, poignant and profound! Is Sonia a metaphor?

Stacy Jarrett said...

Yvonne...I am soo honoured to have met you and eventhough we are not directly related, I have nuffed up myself to look forward to you as my grandmother. Thank you for all the lessons u share with your words, but more with your life. Namaste

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Hilaire, Sonia is real!

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Stacy, I am happy to see you on my blog, and you are free to nuff up yourself all you like, mi new grandpickney.



When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at