Two years ago my Nannimaa (grandmother), the matriarch of the Visanji family, died. It was not unexpected nor was it a shock. My Nannimaa was tough, faithful, and vibrant. She rarely let things get her down but the one thing that weighed on her was cancer. Like my brother says in his blog, “Third time’s a charm, as they say.” (A Supermoon to Commemorate My Nanimaa’s Death)
My Nannimaa means a lot to me. I was close to her yet spent little time with her. When I did spend time with her though it was like no one else existed. I would be absorbed in her stories, her history; my history. She would share basic knowledge with me from banking, constantly remind me of the importance of school, guide me spiritually, tell me about my Nanabapa who I never met, and share stories about Dar es Salaam. She loved Dar es Salaam and I wish I got the chance to tell her how much I love Dar es Salaam.
She was the first person I told, other than my brother and folks, that I had been given the opportunity to work at the Aga Khan University. In fact she was lying in a hospital bed and I was in a gown, gloves, mask and all while I shared the news with her. I asked her if I should share it with the rest of the family. Without a pause she said something along the lines of: “of course, you are not doing anything wrong or bad. You are doing great things and you should tell them. They should be happy for you and always remember how proud I am of you.” I think that was the first time I openly cried in front of my Nannimaa. It was just her and I in the room and I was coming to grips with the fact that she was dying.
But let me backtrack a little bit. My Nannimaa attended everything she could when it came to celebrating the achievements of her children and grandchildren. She attended my undergraduate graduation ceremony in Waterloo Ontario and visited me in Victoria BC when I moved into my first apartment; the first place I ever called home beyond our family home where my parents reside. I am certain had she not been ill she would have been sitting in my supervisors seat at my masters defence and waited the three hours in line to get an extra ticket to my masters graduation. All that aside, I will never forget the smile that she wore when she was near water or saw city lights.
During her visit to Victoria, which my parents were also in town for, we took her to Nanaimo BC. We thought it was going to be a quick trip to the marina and then back home again. My mother and I were wrong. My Nannimaa would not budge when we told her we should get going. She simply zipped up her jacket followed by a request for a scarf and continued to sit by the water. As we drove home she told us she did not want to leave because it reminded her of back home.
I could write and write about my Nannimaa. She will always be a big part of who I am today. I have even noticed that some of my behaviours and participation in community life are reflections of her service. I think I have more of her in me than I ever knew. But today, instead of reading and writing, which has become my full time job, I spent the day doing everything I would have done if my Nannimaa was with me today. I headed to Nanaimo and walked along the marina. I took pictures in the exact spots that we took pictures with my Nannimaa. I then got an ice cream cone and apple pie from McDonalds; those were her favourite treats. As I drove home I stopped and picked up some Swiss Chalet.
It was common practice for my Nannimaa and I to go to Swiss Chalet when I visited her in Toronto and while I lived with her I would bring Swiss Chalet home at least twice a month. I even pulled out red lipstick; the colour of her everyday lip; and the watch I bought with the money she gave me to purchase something special while I traveled across the globe.
So today, as I remember my Nannimaa 2 years after her death, I filled my day with the things she loved.