Monday 11 December 2017

Pambo Bwark ... glitter chick Dianne Stadhams

Dianne Stadhams is an Australian, resident in the UK, who works globally. She has spent many years in some of the world’s poorest nations working on poverty alleviation projects and has a PhD in communications for development. Her website gives details about this and her other interests.

I hate birthdays.

In my family a birthday is a misnomer for a ‘dead-darling’ day. Whatever happens to other people on their birthdays doesn’t work for us. We get a kind of upside down, inside out, back to front, reverse celebration. In my family when it’s your time to have a birthday you lie down with cloves of garlic nailed to the bed, a fetish around your ankle and fingers crossed not to sleep … until it’s all over … one way or the other.

“Garlic on the bed head? What next - elephant dung under the pillow?” my pa teased me on the eve of his 45th.  He ordered my ma to remove the protection. My pa didn’t wake up. “He’s dead darling,” said Ma.

And not just my pa. My uncle died on his birthday - bitten by a snake. My first aunt got out of bed, ate her birthday breakfast with an up-yours-darling smile … and fell sideways off the chair. They said she was dead before she hit the floor. The celebrations were cancelled. My ma said we could use my aunt’s birthday cake for the funeral. But it took 60 hours from birthday party to burial pit. The cake got weevils. Nobody ate it. Ma fed the remains, weevils and all, to the hens. Their chicks were born with extra length feathers and super-wart wattles.

I could keep going as fifteen of my close family have departed this world on those bad days, their dead-darling days. My theory is that our family are mutants …with a genetic trigger alarmed for birthdays!

But this story is not about my family history and its genetic dysfunction. It’s about a bigger big question - luck. A girl or a boy - who is the luckier? When a girl is born the old men in the village say to the father “Better luck next time!”  My ma says to the fathers, “You are a lucky one. A daughter will be there to hold your hand when you die.”

When it comes to dead-darlings it’s evens on luck. The count changed with my sister’s sixth birthday. Her best present was a pet chicken with long golden feathers that sparkled in the sun ... and a red wattle with so many purple warts it was impossible to agree on the total. It was one supreme-ugly bird but she loved it on sight. Personally I would have denied ownership of something so hideous. But I digress – a birthday present is a gift after all. She called it Pambo which is Swahili for glitter. We all called it Pambo Bwark because it wouldn’t stop squawking ... very loudly. My sister carried it everywhere despite our taunts.

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