Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Jack Parrow, Katie, Mmê Emily and The Help

In a recent post about Afrikaans rap and Hip-Hop music I mentioned how I'm not a big fan of the Afrikaans rapper Jack Parrow. But let me not be a spoil sport for others that enjoy him. Someone just now showed me the video below of a help (maid) in South Afrika, most likely working for a white family, and listening to the Afrikaans rapper on television. Watching her do her work with that amount of enjoyment she derives from Afrikaans rap will bring a smile to anyone's face and is possibly the best marketing for popular alternative Afrikaans music I can imagine.

It also made me think of Koos Kombuis' Afrikaans song "Katie", in memory of the maid that worked for his family and helped raise him. In the lyrics of the song he proclaims that their maid "was not merely a maid / but also a mother" [my translation] to him. In the video below Christo Wolfaardt does a rendition of the song "Katie".

This song by Kombuis is one of his most famous, probably because it resonates with so many white South Africans that grew up with an "Ousie" (Afrikaans word derived from "ou suster", meaning older sister, and used to describe a maid or house help). For many white South Africans of around my generation "the maid" was more than just another worker; for many of us, our Ousie was a second mother.

Me and my "mother" Emily.
Mine, was definitely a second mother. She worked for our family for 27 years. Her name is Emily but I often called her "Mmê Emily". Mmê is Sesotho for mother. She is actually ethnically Zulu, but the area we lived in was predominately Sotho, so she spoke Sesotho to me. The name I use and which all my family and friends use is a Sesotho name and was actually given to me by Mmê Emily.

She is retired now and currently lives in the Sebokeng-area, Vaal Triangle. The last time I visited her was in 2008. I hope to go visit her again next month, God-willing, when I visit South Africa.

Recently I watched the film The Help (2011), based on the 2009 début novel by Kathryn Stockett. The Internet Movie Database gives the following synopsis: "An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960's decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid's point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis," and gives it a rating of 8 out of 10. The American Film Institute listed the film as one of the ten films of the year. For people like myself, coming from a white family, who grew up with a nanny who is a person-of-colour, the film was particularly touching. Although the set-up in America and in South Africa worked differently, the similarities are enough for South Africans to also appreciate The Help, and appreciate our helps, as I appreciate my Mmê Emily.

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