My Dearest Mam’Khulu…

[ Zulu phrase/noun.  Mam’khulu: Mama omKhulu (mama-mother) Omkhulu (Big, older, eldest, grand) colloquial translation “Big Mama”. My grandmother’s older sister, the first of ten children born to my  great-grand parents, Steven and Popane Zulu]

Sawubona gogo. I thought I should let you know even though it is now only posthumously that my favourite cup of tea is Vanilla Chai.   A beautiful friend of mine from Mumbai India, introduced me to its fragrant intoxicating aroma three years ago and it has been my source of peaceful bliss ever since.  I am sometimes completely consumed by it. Vanilla chai  replaced my all time favourite  Chinese tea  brought for me by a good friend from Berlin Germany,  in Taiwan, the  oolong tea. He said it was the best he could find!  He was an avid tea-collector. I couldn’t replace it and drank it only on very special occasions – on those occasions when I needed to write, to pray. It’s long finished now.  If it is true that there could be a storm in a tea-cup, this Chinese Oolong tea and now Vanilla chai have been my nirvana in a cup. Both my friends incidentally are film-makers.

A Family Tea

I am telling you this story  because since you moved on five weeks ago I have been consumed by memories of my childhood, in our common childhood home in Orlando West. In fact the only home you have known in all your 70 plus years. In fact it’s hard to imagine 7224 without you, because you were always there somewhere, quietly drinking your tea.   I thought I should let you know this because you are the one who enticed me, drew me to the seemingly endless mysteries of tea drinking – to its subtle secretes. I was curious to discover what it was about tea that gave you so much pleasure. In fact your tea drinking is my abiding memory of you. Do you remember the story?

You must remember this story because it came to me right after we gathered to say farewell to you at 7224.

It all started one afternoon, on the rare occasion that we spent time together. I was five doing what I loved best; lying on my belly on the hot slab of concrete in our front stoep and staring at the line of ants working tirelessly collecting food. You asked my older sister Nhlanhla to make you a cup of tea. A few moments later she came out and brought you your tea.  You held the cup of tea carefully in your hands and took one sip of  Nhlanhla’s tea and gulped  as if someone had given you the most delicious beverage on earth. Then you uttered the words  I will never forget. ” Laze la Mnadi itiye Lakho Nhlanhla!” and you finished off with that sound which we all make when we drink or eat something delicious ” Mmmmcha!”  The way you uttered those words with such love and gratification made me immediately envious of my sister’s tea making abilities. I responded, as always, with a question; ” Mam’khulu why  didn’t you ask me to make you a cup of tea?”  Because you are too young to make me tea, you responded with your  gentle calm voice. You smiled and asked. ” Why? Do you also want to make me tea?   “yes” I responded, peering into the dark liquid mixture in your hand wondering what was it that made it so delicious, so different. To me it was just ordinary tea.  “Because I also want you to say to me “Laze La Mmandi itiye lakho poppy… hmmmchah” I said mimicking you.  I remember your laugh and your eyes peering into the distant horizon perhaps pondering my  chilhood simplicity. “Ngelinye ilanga nawe uzongenzela itiye” adding that one day when I am old enough I can make you tea also. So naturally I couldn’t wait to grow up and do just that.

That day was a defining moment for me and it is only so in hindsight. I had managed to make you laugh without intending to. I derived a lot of pleasure from making people laugh through my mimicry and performance(s). I still do enjoy mimicking people and performing even today, though now in my adult years it does not always have the desired effect.  I think  that story brought us closer and highlighted an ingrained need  in me for adult approval. Your approval. You see,  your compliments of my sister’s tea meant only one thing to me, that you liked her.  Nhlanhla had become your favourite girl because she knew how to make your tea, tea that could make you, the quiet one go “mmchah!” and smile.  I also wanted your approval, to make you like me, to say nice things about  me and my tea making abilities. I also wanted a chance to please you.  Not realizing that I already had.

Around the World in search of my Family Tea

I forgot about this story. And now that I think of it, I feel an urge, a need to  apologize for my childhood silliness.  Everyone has their own gift. Everyone makes tea in their own unique and special way. I still admire my sister’s tea making abilities, but I know now that I could never make tea like she does and that it is okay. Looking back I see that this tea story has followed me always even though I never paid much attention to it.  I have been trying to be someone I was not. From observing tea and coffee-making rituals in your beloved church: The Zionist Christian Church (ZCC), to tea making in mainland China and most surprisingly in Senegal. A country I ran to in search of myself. The last thing I expected to find in this country was tea. But I arrived to find that tea and tea making rituals were a defining feature in the country’s daily activities.  In the Sahel region of Africa tea culture is thus:

“In the Sahel region on the southern fringe of the Sahara, green gunpowder tea is prepared with little water and large amounts of sugar. By pouring the tea into the glasses and back, a foam builds on top of the tea. Sahelian tea is a social occasion and three infusions, the first one very bitter, the second in between and the last one rather sweet are taken in the course of several hours.”

This process is repeated two to three times a day after every meal and in each family there is the one person who is chosen to make the tea by virtue of their competence, passion, or talent.

A Spiritual Experience.

I observed this practice quite curiously over weeks and months. Because until then, tea had no real meaning for me. It was a simple common beverage drunk in almost every household. I had never associated tea with real spirituality, even though I had observed the central role tea had in religions. Since I was not religious I attached no meaning to it at all until I tried making tea – the Senegalese way.  I found that it was pure: Alchemy.

First Your Hands Must be Clean.

You must pay attention.

Above all, you must be patient.

Of course I was impatient with the process. I was trying fruitlessly to compete with tea makers in Senegal who had been making tea since childhood and did so everyday of their lives. I found that I had a lot to learn or rather,  to unlearn. Not only about tea culture but about life in general. I was once again that child on the stoep, who craved approval, en-flamed by curiosity, that child who wanted to know everything even though she didn’t  know what she would do with all the information she was  relentlessly searching for. Life for me has always been a kind of game, a challenge, an adventure, a curious, innocent exploration of the unknown.

Since Senegal I have acquired a healthy respect for tea and tea culture and have since come to the conclusion, however reluctantly, that this tea making business, beautiful as it is, is simply not for me.  I did it, served tea to more than 20 people at a christening of a  new-born baby at one time.  But it is  just Not My Cup of tea!

I have tried to make different kinds of tea.  I have tried to acquire the kind of skills of artfully making the kind of cup that would make tea experts smile.  Even my professed favourite cup of tea; Vannilla Chai a combination of lovely ingredients which include vanilla, Cinnamon, Ginger Peppermint Leaves, Cloves and Cardamom is not mine – I don’t make it, I just enjoy it.  I drink it simply because it brings me pleasure – I smile when I drink it. And it smells wonderful.

A Special Blend

I like to think of this tea making story as an analogy of my quest to find my purpose in this life. Of finding this unique gift which I was brought into this world to share. A skill, an art-form, or talent, that no one alive could teach me. I have been actively searching for it, looking everywhere and it has been eluding me for the longest time. I have traveled the world over in search of my purpose. The meaning of my name Lindiwe:  the one we are waiting for.  I have tried, wished, hoped, wanted to be among those considered the best tea-makers, the tea connoisseurs. My efforts did not yield  the desired results. Which, though crushingly disappointing has been a blessing in disguise. In my frustration, I even dared ask God why he brought me here,  and on top of that with nothing. Can you imagine? I had no idea who else to ask.

Today as I write this letter to you, I find it hilarious that I went out to the world, through all that trouble, in search of something I already had. Something I already was. Because  you see, before I left for Senegal in search of Love, Love had already found me. I remembered without trying to how to make my own cup of “tea”. My own special blend without even trying.  It’s not tea even. I woke up one day and just knew that I had to make this “tea”.  I have been making and drinking this “tea” since then and have made it lovingly for myself and anyone who asked for it. I even made it in Senegal while I was busy forcing myself to learn how to make their tea.

Okay it’s not a special talent really haha.. actually everyone can do it. I just have my own special way of doing it.

It’s the tea that love taught me how to make. I didn’t realize then that it was my gift because it was so easy and effortless and I could do it without thinking about it. In fact I have been doing it since that day on the stoep.  I believed for a long time that I  had to work hard to find love. I thought you had to suffer before you can love or  be loved by someone. I thought love is what you earn – a prize and reward for doing something “good”.

I am very happy to tell you that I was completely wrong. You don’t need to be or do anything to become who you already are. Love.

I am honoured each time Love calls me to make this “tea” for myself or for anyone.  Because this one has no additives. It’s simple and contains four ingredients.  Which are easily available. Lemon, Garlic, Ginger and Love. Whose healing properties are well documented the world over.  I wish I had remembered this tea story three years ago, and made you a cup.  But you never asked me to make you a cup of tea, and now I realize that this is simply because it was never my place to.

So even without uttering a single word you have taught me so much with your silence, just by your presence, and being yourself. You have taught me about respect, perseverance and above all the love of God. This tea story has taught me valuable lessons which I will carry with me forever.

1. I cannot be or do everything.

2. Everyone has a their own special gift, and role in life.

3. My role is to remember who I am.

4. Who I am is Love made manifest in this body.

5.  And this, is enough. I am enough.


Thank you for being a blessing.  Ngiyabonga, Gogo.

Kgotso. Kagiso.



Zulu kaMalandela ngokulandela izinkomo zamadoda,
Zulu omnyama ondlela zimhlophe,
Wena kaPhunga noMageba,
Wena kaMjokwane kaNdaba,
Wena wenkayishana kaMenzi eyaphuza umlaza ngameva,
S’thuli sikaNdaba,
S’thuli sikaNkombane,
Wena kasihhawuhhawu siyinkondlo bayikhuzile ngoba ikhuzwe abaphansi nabaphezulu,
Wena kanogwaja omuhle ngomlenze,
Wena kaMbambelashoba,




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.