Christmas in July!

I read their Christmas stories with interest. It was amazing for me to see how expressive they were particularly about food! I’m guessing that is a big gap in their lives, mum’s pot-roast, or fending the braai meat with dad, or Dave or john or Paul.

This is a description of one of the meals that came forward from my assignments:

“I stand and watch mom heat the butter in a pan and fry the onions and garlic until it softened and became translucent. She started adding the mushrooms, rosemary and wine and seasoned it with salt and pepper, while cooking it gently until the mushrooms became slightly softened. On top of that she added the creamy cooked sauce until it thickened, she added the cooked pasta to the sauce, and tossed gently until every strand of pasta was covered in sauce, a meal that she normally prepares on special occasions, Linguine al fungi.”

Clearly food and the quality of food there is an issue. By getting my students to live in their memories and imagination, I’m hoping to spark that special spark of magic that stirs in their souls.

The thing that fascinated me about this project is that these people are writing from memory. Some of them might’ve moved on from ‘juvie’ to adult incarceration, so their memory of events and circumstances might be a little blurred. They do not have the same influences as normal people do out there in the world. If I myself want inspiration, I go to a coffee shop and listen vaguely clandestinely to a conversation, whereby a word, an action, a movement, the meal that the waitress delivers to the table, anything – can spark an idea.

Here these men have to work solely from memory. It’s remarkable:

  • One story tells of their Christmas whereby they got up at 6 in the morning to chop wood for the fire that they would braai (barbecue) their food on that day. Clearly a luxury of a simple family braai is not something that the incarcerated can do.
  • Then the other one, who woke up on Christmas morning with the mountain above them looking like ‘an angel’s dress’, the snow had fallen deep in the Drakensberg mountain’s the day before.
  • Yet another who remembers his uncle’s taking him to a shebeen (informal, illegal drinking hole in the township area) against granny’s wishes, and he returns home worse for the wear and granny forgives him and bails him into bed.
  • Another one who doesn’t even mind his ‘irritating little sister’s’ in preference to having a life buckled in by ‘walls of pain’.
  • Another whose girlfriend meets the family for the first time. He remembers the first kiss, her red ruby lips and the music that was playing.
  • Someone else chose to go and meet his friend in Cape Town for Christmas. This perhaps was one of the most delightful … for that moment, for that brief moment … he was not an incarcerated spirit, but a friend meeting another friend somewhere else in the world.

How precious these fantasies.

Interestingly, no-one spoke about the presents that they got … material objects giving way to the more profound observations that the ‘home is where the heart is’, or the ‘home is where the family is’.

I listen in awe as the student who seems to have a very good relationship with his wife misses their monthly ‘love-in’s’, where they would hole up for the weekend to renew their love and keep the flame of passion alive. On Friday nights it was a movie, a show, a party, a jorl (rave) of sorts; Saturday the whole day was lazing around in bed, watching movies, eating, and renewing their interest in each other; and Sundays was spent outdoors, going to museums, parks, recreation centers. It struck me as such a good idea, why haven’t the rest of us thought about that. Maybe we should make it a condition of marriage that on one weekend a month, granny keeps the kids while we have an R & R, relax and revive session with our spouses! Priests could bring it into their sermons … judges could rule on it, teachers could introduce it into classrooms …

My dream was to put myself in an environment whereby I could help people find their creative spirit and by so doing eliminate the need for drugs, drink, crime, violence. By the looks of things, my dream is already becoming a reality. Consistent with my Greenlight District Project slogan:

Heal the hearts of a few – raise the spirit of a nation.

Humdu’allah (In the name of God)

Writing Blessings 🙂