Everyone in the village of Qolweni knew Makhulu Tshezi very well. Even the children knew where she lived. Maybe it was because of their fear of her two fierce dogs, Gilumntu and Bathathe. She loved them as if they were her own children.

Who wouldn’t know her, since she was the only lady who sold fresh eggs in the whole village? Not to mention her ever green vegetable garden, flourishing with healthy and crispy cabbages, carrots, green onions … you name it.

“You don’t want to grow old wena Tshezi,” some of her friends teased her when they saw her dragging her hoe, off to tend her vegetable seedlings at dawn. They liked to remind her that she was almost eighty years old!

Makhulu Tshezi (as everyone affectionately called her, by her clan-name) woke up every crack of dawn to check on her cattle and goats in the kraal in front of her house. You could see her leaning on her crooked walking stick, carrying a torch in one hand, or sometimes a bucket of water for the chickens. Her two dogs always kept her company. Her bodyguards, as she called them.

“Kuguga othandayo,” Makhulu Tshezi told her friends, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, when people teased her to slow down.

She had a walking stick that her grandson, Vuyo, bought her. Even though she was fit and strong, sometimes her hip and legs got stiff. As much as it was meant for walking, Makhulu Tshezi used the stick’s rounded top to hook and grab things when she didn’t want to stand up. She used the same stick when chasing away eagles and hawks flying above her homestead, eyeing her new-hatched chickens.

Makhulu Tshezi, like many of the old widows in her village, lived alone in her homestead. She had been blessed with three children, two boys and one girl. The girl died at the young age of just twenty five, leaving her five-year-old son, Vuyo, to be looked after by his granny.

When her daughter died Makhulu Tshezi was distraught, but she had tremendous love for her bubbly and gorgeous grandson. Even though she was poor she was determined to work hard and give Vuyo the best education possible.

So Vuyo grew up in the village of Qolweni, under the dedicated care of his grandmother, in a small thatched rondavel. And although she worked hard, sometimes there was not enough money or food, and he knew how it felt to go to bed hungry.

Makhulu Tshezi’s two sons had gone away to look for work and had then settled down in different villages. They only came to visit their mother on certain important holidays, like Christmas or Good Friday.

Vuyo lived with her till he was a grown man. He was now 25 years old and a dedicated, qualified mathematics and physics teacher at Lobela High School. He had graduated from Fort Hare University.

It had been his dream to do something great for his grandmother for her eightieth birthday. So, together with his girlfriend, Anathi, he secretly planned a trip to Namibia.

Makhulu had always told them that before she died she wanted to go there. Her own grandmother, who had visited when she was young, had told her stories of how beautiful and friendly the people were, and how they valued their tradition and culture. Makhulu had looked at the photographs of her grandmother and a Himba woman, and had vowed to go one day and see the country and the people for herself.

The luxury B&B that Vuyo and Anathi booked had a spa where Makhulu could be pampered.

“I wonder how Khulu will feel when she is told to get almost naked and have a young girl come to massage her?” Vuyo would say, smiling just thinking about it. “She is so old-fashioned! But I still love her to bits. She’s my all,” he declared, smiling broadly.

“Perhaps just a foot massage,” Anathi laughed.

When they had booked the trip, Vuyo told his uncles about his plans. However they were worried that they couldn’t contribute to the holiday, as they were struggling for money. He told them not to stress over it: it was his treat.

Vuyo planned to announce the ‘trip of a lifetime’ on Makhulu’s birthday on March 28, when they would throw her a party, and invite the whole family – and probably the whole village would be there too, to celebrate! You could never refuse anyone. They would travel a week later, giving Makhulu time to pack and get ready.

The party was only two weeks away and they had a lot to do.

***

Tell us: Do you have a dream of doing something special for a member of your family? What would you like to do for them? (Also, do search for images of the remarkable traditional attire of Namibian Himba women.)