Connections: Finding Relatives In Unexpected Places, by Damaria Senne of Johannesburg, South Africa

Damaria Senne

Damaria Senne is a journalist, author and blogger based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Click here to visit and even subscribe to her blog where she shares her adventures as a parent and writer.

Click here to read her ICT business related articles and go to her other blog, where she talks about the impact of cellphones on the way South Africans live, work, learn, play and make connections.

(Note: all red text are live links and take you to three separate sites.)

I met Damaria Senne through an article challenge this summer and we shared some of our history together. I lived and worked in Botswana for three years and travelled frequently to Johannesburg when I had to leave the country regularly in order to re-enter it while I was getting my residence and work permits as an Independent Volunteer funded by British Quakers in the 1970s. As we got to chatting across the world, this story emerged and I’m really happy to share it with my Riehlife readers.—JGR


Connections: Finding Relatives In Unexpected Places

I recently found out that my daughter’s closest friend is actually a relative of sorts – a third cousin or something. And yes, the relationship matters. I have cousins whom I regard as family, who are biologically more distant than that.

We didn’t know about the relationship when the girls first met at school almost two years ago. I later met the Ando, the girl’s mother, when we invited some of my daughter’s classmates to her birthday party.

My daughter was new at the school, and we wanted to create an environment where the kids could socialize and get to know each other without the usual pressures the new kid on the block is subjected to.

Damaria’s Daughter’s Birthday Party
Caption:The kids enjoyed the party, especially the games and face-painting.

As the girls’ relationship firmed up, Ando and I got to know each other until we were comfortable enough with each other to allow weekend sleepovers. She became someone I could rely on if I needed emergency baby-sitting help, or when I have to pull long hours because of a deadline.

When I’m stuck in traffic and can’t pick up my daughter from a school activity in time, she will do so or send one of her sons or brother to do it without making a big deal of it. By the same token, I support her and help her in any way I can.

“Nnaka, o fa gae,” she finally said to me, broadly meaning, “my younger sister, my home is your home and you are welcome to prepare a meal, spend the night or wash my dishes whenever you feel like it.” [This is’t a direct translation, but expresses the essence of what the words mean.]

Still, it never struck us that the meaning of her words could be literal—that is, until one Saturday afternoon.

Ando had been sick with a bad bout of winter flu, and I’d brought her a couple litres of orange juice.

We were chit-chatting about our backgrounds when she mentioned she had vague links with the village of my birth, Phokeng.

Aerial View Pokeng

Caption: Phokeng lies on 1 400 km² land 150 km west of Johannesburg. It has a population of 300 000, with about 160,000 locally and the rest, like me, diaspora.

“One of my cousins was adopted by a family in Phokeng,” she said, and then mentioned his name.

For a moment I was stunned, and asked her to repeat the name. “But that’s my father’s cousin!” I said. I hadn’t even known that the cousin was adopted.

My father was very fond of his cousin, and would have gotten a big charge out my connecting with his biological family in this way. Both of them have since passed away, so they’ll never know.

The girls are also happy about the relationship. “We are not just best friends,” they tell everyone who’ll listen, including their classmates. “We’re family.”

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