Alhamdulilah, I have been quite lucky in that I have met all of my grandparents and have met four of my great grandparents. Many don’t have this privilege. But I have realised that as I grow, and they grow, the stories will be lost. I have tried to just keep them in my head but what will happen when I pass away? Who will hold onto the stories of how my family ended up in Britain?
My maternal grandmother lives in London and I live halfway across the world in Dubai. Because of this, we only see each other twice a year during the summer and winter holidays. She used to come to visit but stopped a couple of years ago due to her health. This year, because of COVID-19, I was unable to visit her and realised that time, with elders especially, is precious.
I’ve recently taken an interest in my family history. I vaguely know where everyone comes from, where they were born and when they came to Britain. But other than that, I don’t know much, so I decided to interview my grandmother over the phone.
“South Africa, Durban”
“Playing outdoors mainly. Creative games, catching butterflies, seeing snakeskin that was shedded from the snakes, going to a pine tree plantation which was at the back of the house. Going through the woods and picking up pecan nuts. We only had a few toys, one handbag (which I loved) and one doll. In the house, we had a piano which we would mess around with.”
“Outside in the summer hearing crickets, everyone coming over to visit. My mum slaughtered a lamb once.”
“My grandparents, I don’t remember them a lot. I remember my step-grandmother on my dad’s side. She used to make pastries and sell them. She also would wear lipstick. My Nani used to sit on the bench and eat a banana’s. She would tell us stories.”
“I came in 1977 (fifty-three years ago as of 2020). I came with my parents.”
“I moved because I got married”
“We came on an aeroplane and it was quite exciting. It was scary in the toilet on the plane. We landed at Heathrow airport.”
“I went to Mauritius and India before.”
“It was June. It was also the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, which was a very nice time. There was bunting everywhere and people were in a party mood.”
“In Walthamstow in a guest house. We stayed there for a week or two weeks. After the wedding moved to West Kensington where we still are today.”
“The weather was always really nice, in winter it wasn’t that cold but there was no central heating so you felt cold in the house. Oh and family.”
“Once. My parents were in Britain so there was no real reason to go. Things got bad there and my dad always wanted to leave.”
“No. Most of my close family is in Britain”
“It was weird when we came to Britain. It was very different as there was no separation between people because of race. But there was still subtle racism. I worked in the shop Margaret Mill on Gloucester Road which used to be a mini department store. There were white people which was strange as all throughout my life, you would look up to white people and they suddenly became our equal.”
“Yeah. Margaret Mill on Gloucester Road which is now a hardware shop still called Margaret Mill”.
“Waitrose was opposite the store and it was where we would get bread and groceries. I think there was a Lloyds bank next door. My father in law (who bought the lease to the shop) would go and do banking there.”
“I want them to know about apartheid. How we grew up during the apartheid. We went to a separate school for Indians. There were separate benches in the park.
Even on the beaches, the whites would have a nice part of the beach and the non-whites can have the part that wasn’t so nice.”
“Worlds apart I can tell you that, we were not very clued up about the world, didn’t know anything.”
“That’s the way we were brought up.”
“We both like to do things with family. And we both don’t like too many friends. More family-oriented, homely.”
“I don’t feel we took enough information from older generations.”
Mariyah is a 14-year-old student based in Dubai, UAE. Her interests include history, politics, and writing. When she finishes her A-levels (2024), she hopes to study dentistry in London. She also wants to start writing more frequently.
By Aisha Yusuff