54. A Particularly Bad Patch – Journal Entry 6th Aug 1980

Dropped Barbie off at the bus stop and then went to Colin’s place to give Johnny his lunch. Had a quick chat, read the National Times, had coffee, chatted to M about books as he is working on Reading Faster and Better, read Elkin’s book and D.H. Lawrence Vol II Poems and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

I was in the toot when I heard mum yelling for me and I ran out in alarm. All she wanted to know was whether her outfit was suitable or not. Mum was cross when I said it was not. Monika helped out with a white top to replace the dreadful lemon blouse she was wearing.

It is 9:30 am now and I need to do Probability and Stats, get the Cobol assignment together, clean the bedroom, iron the clothes, bring in the beans from outside and do the kitchen jobs.

So what did I actually do? Got the ironing done, planted spinach seedlings, picked up Gran from bowling and brought in the beans. Must do four hours of mathematics a day, at a minimum.

8th Aug 1980

Did a lot of gardening today – Monika and I weeded the rock garden. I prepared the rest of the bed for spinach and planted the whole bed.

Monika and Mum
Monika and Gita | Emu Park 1980

11th Aug 1980

Pretty foul day in parts; it is 8:30 pm now and we’ve hit a particularly bad patch.

Karen cooked the dinner and the beef daube was very good, although Marcello said that perhaps it lacked salt. That might have annoyed Karen to start with. At pudding time, she brought in the chocolate cake and asked me whether to put cream on it. I assumed there was an icing filling in the cake and answered, “People might like to put cream on the cake when serving themselves.” Soon after, I discovered that there was in fact no filling and the cream was meant to go between the two cakes as a filling.

“What, no dark chocolate icing in between?” I asked in surprise.
“And where’s the nice dark moist chocolate cake?” queried Marcello.

Karen was quite upset and took the cakes away to fill them.  We had to wait a long while before she brought them back to the table. Barbara looks with eyes bulging at Karen and then says into the quiet that has fallen over the dining table, “Karen is crying.” There was a further silence. Then Barbara adds, “Then why are her eyes wet?”
“Shut up Barbara,” I say firmly. She shuts up and Karen leaves the table.

Marcello pointed out that we had teased Karen yesterday for offering to make a chocolate cake and not making one, so today when she did produce the cake, we passed these comments. I cannot see the comments as being any more rude than the ones the family make when I bring in the odd pudding, but this on top of all the other things that took place today has made Johnny quiet and unhappy.

I’m in a pretty foul mood and it’s stupid really. Most things irritate me and the moods come on very suddenly too. The main reason is myself – I don’t do what I set myself and then I feel guilty and get irritable. I snapped at Gareth today, which was unkind. He pulled the sack out of the Rover spilling some of the chicken manure for the garden.

I have no right to be irritated, as above all we have a wonderful family.

Calm, one should learn to be calm and kind. Johnny tells me I set myself up against the world. It was a particularly bad scene this morning and I felt ashamed of myself and feel so guilty that I want to creep away for a few days. Johnny says I won’t get away from the problem and it won’t disappear while I’m away.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.

53. Our Christmas Traditions – Journal Entry 5th Aug 1980

Dear Nora, You, Mary or any of the family are very welcome to come here and take potluck with us. Mum, of course, would be delighted. My only concern is that we would not be in a position to give you as good a time as we would like. Out here in the country, things are on a small scale and fairly quiet. I myself will be tied up with studies until mid-November and I agree with you, Christmas is for children and family. Your children should have their parents with them at the one and only major festival of the year. I will tell you about Christmas festivities in Australia, in a little while. I don’t know how long you intend to spend here, however, a possible program could be:

  • Stay in Singapore with the aunt for a few days
  • Call into Melbourne (before or after staying with us) and check if it will cost extra, as travel from Emu Park to Melbourne is expensive
  • Stay with us, preferably after mid-November so I can drive you around. On the other hand, I am free half the week (most weeks) so if mid-November is not convenient, come when you can.

About the export business, I can’t give you an answer straight away. I will have to make enquiries. There are already many Indian goods on sale here and it will be a matter of getting the right combinations, contacts, etc. There are also import licences to worry about here, however, I will find out what I can and let you know.

Christmas here seems to be very much a family celebration. Friends without families  set up a round of dinners, parties and picnics. Christmas also falls in the middle of summer, usually the wet season from Christmas Day, and all the shops are decorated and Christmas music played in lifts and stores from the 1st November. There are dances held at hotels (called pubs here) and a certain amount of entertainment between families takes place.

Over the years we have formed a pattern which we follow. For weeks before Christmas Day, the family wrap mysterious parcels for different members of the family and hang them or place them under the Christmas tree. There is a pile under the tree and everyone, with the occasional prodding and feeling, tries to guess what are in the parcels. Some wrap parcels to themselves with tags saying “Secret Admirer” or “Anonymous”. The kids find these activities exciting and in fact, they generate the excitement, but Johnny and I are not encouraged to put our packages out until the last minute.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, we beat our big gong to mark the occasion, have drinks, eat cakes and sit around while each person opens a package in turn. There is much oohing, aahing, thanking and saying, “It is just what I wanted!”

Once all the presents have been opened, people slip off to bed.

Christmas1980
Karen in lounge room | Christmas Eve 1980

Breakfast is a special one with bacon and eggs. Lunch is often cold prawns, mayonnaise, salads and bread. Dinner would be the special meal with a roast bird, vegetables, potatoes or whatever. We gave up making Christmas pudding for dessert as by the end of the dinner we were so stuffed and the pudding so rich that we would end up feeling rather sick. I think we have fruit salad now. Last Christmas we had roast turkey although usually it would be duck or goose. However, turkey was so delicious that we decided to have it every Christmas. The problem here is that festive food is available throughout the year and turkey and ham do not seem special anymore. We have now restricted ourselves to only having turkey at Christmas.

That is usually how we celebrate Christmas. Recently I realised that there are not many rituals and festivals in our lives and it is good to have some. We also celebrate birthdays with an extra special dinner chosen by the birthday person.

About things from India, we don’t need anything really. We can get almost everything we wish here. Over the years we’ve managed with what is available locally. Just come, use your money for travel, however, if you are visiting the aunt in Singapore, you may need to take a few gifts.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • The Gallery of photos is now on a menu option for ease of viewing.

52. The Benedictine Nuns – Journal Entry 30th Jul 1980

I had a very nice chat with Sister Gregory. She told me a Benedictine nun from England, who belongs to an intellectual order, is in Australia to attend a conference of the Benedictine order.  The monks are smitten by her intelligence and knowledge and she will be holding a discussion on prayer. Sister Theresa is trying to find at least twenty people who might be interested in hearing the English nun speak. Sister Gregory said it was a case of Sodom and Gomorrah – at least 20 good people?

BenedictineNuns
Benedictine nuns with Gita 1980

Sister Gregory says that the more she hears about our activities and what goes on at our place the more she thinks that ours must be the only Christian household. I don’t think that’s much of a compliment though. Apparently, Barbara comes out with bits of our lore and language, which amuses the nuns. Mum is the only religious one among us and likes to attend church.

Today again I didn’t get much done. A letter came in from India, Nora wants to visit us so she can spend time with mum. She also wants to start an export business and we will have to think about that.

Telephone the solicitors – they haven’t done anything yet about the insurance claim.

Barbara had another upset today. Cliffy is said to have teased her about someone and she is supposed to have said that if he teases her again she would kill herself. She was withdrawn when she returned home. She has also been excited by the last visit to town when she met some Quay Street friends and has been marking time for our next Rocky visit.  She seems to be making a big issue about friends, old friends, and sending cards to them. It’s been nearly two months since Barbara has been on Mellaril, mum tells me.

I stopped the Rover in an awkward place and it wouldn’t start.  It doesn’t take much to start the engine but you do need that little slope and Johnny doesn’t know what the problem is.

Mum was upset now because she was to go to the pensioners social and had baked a cake. If she had known the Rover wasn’t available, she would have walked and made time for it. Now she would be late and the cake was heavy, she said. I stopped her from disturbing the neighbours and walked with her, carrying the old-fashioned coffee cake. The swamp had over 30 Whistler ducks sitting quietly among the weeds.  On the way back, I sat and watched them. How I wished, yet again, that I had a pair of binoculars.  A car passed by very close to me when I walked back, funny bugger.

The corned leg of mutton didn’t turn out so well. The overnight soaking was insufficient and it tasted rather salty, the gravy was worse.

At 9:30 p.m. I talked about the draft program for Warby’s conference and Johnny suggested changes. I told Johnny about N and M’s possible visit and laughed at his consternation. Told him of my day and also Monika’s delight at fixing the duck fence.

31st Jul 1980

Rang the Activities Therapy Centre about Barbara, saying she would kill herself if Cliffy teased her again. The bus driver told me that Barbara has started her talk of boyfriends and was being teased by the schoolboys on the bus. I advised her to tell Barbara to stop talking about it. Reggie the bus driver, is very kind and believes in treating adults as equals. She was concerned enough to see Graham, the psychologist, about the problem of dealing with Barbara on the bus.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • Check out the photos under the Gallery menu option

51. World of the First Australians – Journal Entry 26th Jul 1980

Baked some rye and wholemeal bread for the school fete. An excellent night, the rain went away and the weather for the fete today couldn’t have been better. Went to Colin this morning about data input in Cobol. We sat on the verandah. The sun was bright, the sea views were what they should be.

Afterwards, Colin walked back with me to get some scented geraniums. We had lunch in the kitchen, red wine and coconut macaroons which Gareth and Johnny had made.

Death means you can’t go fishing.

Yesterday mum looked after the bread and moussaka. I fed bone meal, fresh from the band saw at the meatworks, to the plants. Then I dug up peanuts and planted garlic and tomato seedlings.

One of the brinjal bushes has the droops. I noticed this usually happens when we’ve had rain and wind. Must keep an eye on that bush. The damn dog (I think she did it) dug up the bone meal.

The garden is exciting at this time of year. The herbs are doing well, the garlic is sprouting, the dhal is ripening. I planted the strawberries late this year and I don’t think we will get much.

Marcello, Monika and Nathaniel are away for the weekend. Karen and Gareth went to the fete. Gareth won a Parker ballpoint and a packet of almond flour. We had garlic soup for dinner and a tart of pears in a walnut pastry. Gran went as usual to her Saturday bowling and then to church.

Took some onions, apples, carrots and bread to the Benedictine nuns. They are such special people in an otherworldly way, so different from others who lead a secular life. What is it? A life of prayer and dedication, time to think, free of responsibilities? Avoiding the usual worries over children, love and jealousies? Sister Gregory and Sister Benedict really enjoyed their stroll to church taking the long way there.

Bach’s unaccompanied cello is on the record player. Johnny and Karen have made a big batch of crisps. We sit eating the crisps while I write and Johnny, Karen and Gareth play Scrabble. The cello plays on.

Started Berndt and Berndt, The World of the First Australians yesterday and read a paper on Sexual Conquest and Submission in Australian Aboriginal Myths.

Notes:

  • Myths for men, enacted by them at which women and children not present.
  • Myths for women, acted out by women, in seclusion.
  • Women after menopause take the part with men in enacting myths.
  • Especially among West Australian myths, males pursuing women and forcing them into sexual intercourse then going their separate ways.
  • Recurrent theme – snake, long phallus, phallus capable of travelling by itself to reach women, excitement about women urinating or the smell of female urine.
  • Women usually fleeing from a male (or seek out a male and then say no or run away) but submits after a struggle. Rarely are there stories about illicit sexual encounters.
  • Myths about Dreamtime heroes who then disappear.
  • Greek myths also have encounters between Gods and human females who then separate. Also, this behaviour seems restricted to mythical beings.
  • Australian social life has groupings of different sex and ages. It is rare for married couples to spend much time together, especially after children are born.

29th Jul 1980

It is already 10:15 am and half the morning is gone. Kneaded bread dough at 6:45 am and made six loaves of bread. Put a pot of bones on the stove for soup, soaked dhal, made kofta curry, gave a few weeds to the ducks, picked herbs, ordered flour from the mill, took Barbie to the bus stop and put out the garbage. Also had time to have a mug of tea with mum and Monika. Oh yes, telephoned Johnny about picking up the flour.

It’s a beautiful day with bright sunlight. The ducks are amongst the ferns and potted plants again. Now I’m at the kitchen table writing while waiting for the next batch of bread to bake.

Yesterday was quite full. Had an 8 am meeting with Warby. It was a conference with the clergy to tackle the problem of ministering to Aboriginal people. Most of the clergy neither understood them or seemed to be making an effort to and are, quite frankly, uncomfortable with them. Most have not met an adult Aboriginal; most have observed drunken Aboriginal people and heard the usual tale of shiftlessness. The conference was to be residential to achieve maximum contact and discussion among participants.

Several plans were mooted:

  1. Have equal numbers of clergy and Aboriginal people from the start
  2. Have a group of clergy separately examining problems of dealing with Aboriginals; also a group of Aboriginals examining problems of interacting with clergy then bring them together to report discussions
  3. Have clergy alone for first two days then bring in a group of Aboriginals who would be willing to act as a consulting panel to the results of the clergy discussions.

Points 1 and 2 do not appear feasible, mainly as there is a lack of Aboriginals in comparison to the middle-class, articulate clergy. Also, Aboriginal people have many problems and interfacing with clergy appear to be quite minor in comparison. For the clergy, their inability to minister to Aboriginal people could be viewed as a serious breach of their Christian faith.

Warby is not happy with the third option and is strongly in favour of interaction between Aboriginals and clergy, possibly in a live-in situation. We meet again next Monday at the same time to discuss further.

Dropped Johnny off at the CIAE and then called on N at 9 am. We had a quick look at her garden then went upstairs so she could make cabbage parcels, sambar and rice.

Meanwhile, we caught up on the gossip: An Indian teacher has lost his job because his accent was causing students difficulty. He was without a job for six to eight months. His family turned Christian about a year or so ago and he gets the odd session as a fill-in.

Then there was A who is pregnant and had an abortion before study leave; been upset about it ever since. Friends are hoping everything will go well. And A seems to be terribly sensitive and easily swayed. S and his wife are spoiling their six month son, trying to turn him into a genius by buying jigsaw puzzles and so on. Apparently, they are the joke of the Indian cosmopolitan crowd. R and family may be going to Melbourne on study leave and the youngest son told N he had picked it up from conversation his father had with someone else.

I was back at the Institute at 11:30 am in time for Johnny to keep a 12 o’clock appointment in the Town Hall about setting up a computer society.

Felt quite giddy, tried to shake it off before the Cobol lecture. Went to the Computer Centre after to sort out the program. Colin gave me an old program he had written so I could get an idea of what a professional Cobol program looked like. Picked up Monika and Nathaniel from Farnborough. Noticed some dhal growing along the hedges, will get some as soon as possible. We had a good dinner of roast beef, zucchini, cabbage and potatoes. There were lamingtons for pudding.

Marcello brought home a corned leg of mutton. Johnny read another chapter of the Odyssey to us. I did a little bit of Cobol, read an article in the National Times about an illegal immigrant from Hong Kong, and grumpily lost at chess to Johnny. Went to bed early and read a little of more of Berndt and Berndt.

Jobs for today:

  • Make chapatis, veg curry and rice for dinner
  • Start on Stats again, for heaven’s sake
  • Cobol
  • Visit the Benedictine nuns again – I don’t know why

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.

 

Memories of Kathmandu in 1968, Special Interview With My Mother’s Best Friend – 25th Jul 2018

In a fortunate turn of events, I was able to track down my mother’s best friend Cynthia. My mother, Marcello, Gareth and I spent time with Cynthia in 1968 when we  stayed in Kathmandu, Nepal, prior to moving to Australia in 1969. Cynthia has since adopted the name Kami and resides on Bowen Island in British Columbia, Canada.

When did you and mum first meet?

I was working at the British Council there at that time and was living in this old palace called Thamel Lodge,  in a little round house with a thatched roof. Your mum, you and Marcello, came to live in one of the little apartments. The house was quite primitive, for a London girl like me, with a mud floor. I had problems keeping it clean, although I had been roughing it for months on the road and had lived in a few rather bizarre places. Somehow, we swapped homes – your mum and you two kids lived in the little round house and I lived in the apartment. She knew how to look after and clean the mud floor.

CynthiaMum
Cynthia with Marcello, Gita and Karen in Kathmandu, Nepal 1968

What sort of person was she, with you?

We bonded straight away and we were great friends. She was very open and very knowledgeable and I immediately looked up to her as this rather special being. I had been working in Thailand, learning about other cultures, and started to have a fascination with India, although Nepal and India are very different. So she was like my teacher or mentor even though she was only two years older than me. Gita already had four children and I hadn’t even married or had a child. She seemed to be well-educated, she read a lot and knew a great deal about poetry and literature. I got her a bit of work at the British Council as she had worked for them as a secretary before, in India.

What was Kathmandu like at that time?

It was full of temples with very devout Hindus practicing there. People would go to the temples everyday and put flowers all over town on the deities. One was a Shiva lingam, you know what a lingam is, and they would worship it. Gita was there right at the influx of the hippy era, I was there at the beginning of that and it was extraordinary. There was nowhere at the time to buy western clothes so you had to wear traditional dress like the kurta and salwar kameez. We had all been travellers when we arrived in Kathmandu, so our clothes might have looked a bit worn. Many of the early hippies were just free-spirited people who were studying the Asian art, culture, religion and customs but later the term was associated with drugs.

What kinds of things do you remember doing together?

I was working every weekday so we would catch up on the weekends. I don’t think she had much money at the time so I would come over and have dinner with Gita and you kids quite a lot. There was a nice man from Calcutta, a Mr Bose who was working in Kathmandu and missed his family, so he ‘adopted’ us, your mum and I and you and Marcello, and then Gareth. We would all go out for picnics. One thing I remember was going to a jazz concert with American guitarist Charlie Byrd at the National Stadium in Kathmandu, and when the band (who were angry about their disastrous concert) were leaving in their hired limousine, I asked for a ride home for us as Gita was pregnant with Gareth at the time. There wasn’t a lot of mixing in those early east-meets-west days in Kathmandu and although Nepalese men showed interest in me, I actually only had one Tibetan boyfriend. It was quite difficult to have Nepalese women friends at that time unless you met them through their work. Your family and I discovered Kathmandu together.

I know you supported mum at Gareth’s birth, can you tell me about it?

Well, I was very excited as I had never been that close to anyone who was pregnant before and when I left home most of my friends weren’t married or having children. She went into labour in the night and we had to walk to the Bir Hospital because after dark there were no rickshaws or taxis. There were no telephones either so we couldn’t call anyone and anyway we didn’t know anyone with a car. Along the way, whenever she had a contraction, Gita sat down on the footpath. I was quite worried because I didn’t know how long it was going to take or whether I would have to help with the birth on the way. We finally got to the hospital and it was a bit of a shambles there.

Was it a difficult birth?

No, not really, we were met at the Bir Hospital by a nurse and I don’t think we were even signed in. She said to me, “Are you a nurse?” because I was going to go with Gita as support.

I said, “No.” I didn’t want to lie because I had never been at a birth before, didn’t know what to expect and I thought I might faint or something! The nurse told me that I could go and lie on a bench in the corridor. There were patients lying on the ground on mattresses because there weren’t enough wards. Of course I couldn’t sleep and I could hear the sound of rats scuttling around on the ground. I was thinking, Oh my God, these people are on the ground, at least I’m up on a bench, it was like a nightmare. I don’t know if Gareth wants to hear this… The nurse eventually came and got me, nothing had been cleaned up, I saw the afterbirth in a bucket, it was a pretty bloody place. I was so happy to see Gita with a healthy baby!

How long did she stay there and how did she get home?

She stayed in the hospital, in a bed, overnight. I brought flowers but there was nowhere to put them. They eventually found a tin can. I came to pick her up soon after and we got a rickshaw home.

CynthiaGarethBaby
Cynthia holding Gareth, Kathmandu 1968

Did you help mum with the baby and with looking after us?

Not really, because I was working all day but we did hire a woman to help with the housework. In those days it was expected that foreigners would provide employment for local workers. In those days you didn’t have throwaway diapers (we used to call them nappies in England) and so they had to be boiled and washed everyday.

Marcello asked if you remembered the time when I was electrocuted? He literally saved my life.

No, I think it might have happened when I was away because I left for Japan. You stayed on some months after I left and when I came back you were gone, to Australia.

How did you meet your husband Minoru at that time?

Gita wanted to learn Aikido, the Japanese martial art, from Minoru the Japanese instructor.  Because he only taught men and boys, she wanted me to go with her.  That is when he really started getting friendly with me. Then Gita decided she wanted to learn Shiatsu massage, which he was also offering mainly to the foreign community.  So he came back to your little round house and used me to practice on. That’s when one thing lead to another and we ended up together.

Did we attend your wedding to Minoru in Kathmandu?

Yes, it was a very traditional Nepalese-Hindu wedding with a Brahmin priest and held in an old palace called Bagh Durbar. The wedding was all arranged by members of the Nepalese Royal Family as Minoru had been living with them at the time. They had tried to marry him off to a Nepalese woman but he was with me so they checked me out to see if I was suitable. They were happy that I had a good job at the British Council, so they deemed me suitable. I remember Gita saying, the Bagh Durbar palace, with its many rooms, was like something out of a Kafka story. Anyway, I had a red sari for my wedding dress. Recently I found out that there was a huge protest to save Bagh Durbar, so I wrote to say that this heritage building should be saved and also that I was married there. They found my picture on Facebook and posted it, with some of my words on top, on their Facebook page.

 

Cynthia-Wedding (1)
Minoru and Cynthia, Nepalese Wedding at Bagh Durbar, an old palace in Kathmandu Nepal in 1968

 

Cynthia Wedding (1)
Cynthia and Minoru wed Nepali Style in Bagh Durbar under supervision of Brigadier General Sushil Shumsher Rana, brother of the former Queen Mother of Nepal.

 

MinoruCynthia-JapaneseWedding (1)
Minoru and Cynthia also wed in traditional Japanese style at Hotel Takanawa, Tokyo, January 1969, four months after their Nepalese wedding

Where did you have your child Anna?

I was staying in Japan with my husband and he, and his family, wanted me to have the baby there, but it was very difficult for foreign women in Japan at the time. I remember reading an anthropology book which said that Japanese women are not permitted to cry out during childbirth! I thought, Oh my God that sounds primitive, so I went back to England to my family and had the baby. I realised also that I had made a terrible mistake and it was getting hard for me to cope with the expectations of me in my relationship with Minoru. I wanted to go back to my own country without all those restrictions. I did visit Kathmandu in March 1969 on the way back to England, but you had all gone.

CynthiaAnna
Cynthia with Anna 2 weeks old, England 1969

Did mum stay in the one area the whole time?

As well as the little round house, Gita rented a room above a shop around the Buddhist Stupa of Boudhanath, where many of the Tibetans had settled. It’s a little out of town and I think it was mostly used at weekends. I remember staying there once or twice.  It was very quiet, apart from the Tibetans walking around the stupa, turning their prayer wheels and reciting the prayer Om Mani Padme Hum.  Now it’s overcrowded and not very nice.

Mum left India in difficult circumstances, leaving behind two children, did she ever talk about it?

Actually she didn’t talk much about it but she had told me that she had run away from your dad and that she was worried he would track her down as she had you and Marcello. She told me about Johnny and that she was going to move to Australia with him. Maybe she didn’t want to talk to me about leaving your brother and sister behind. There was so much happening at the time we were just dealing with what was happening then and there. Johnny would send letters to her through me.

Was there anything else you remember about mum?

When I was pregnant and leaving for Japan, Gita gave me a piece of fabric that came from an Art Colony in India and wanted me to make something special with it. So I had a maternity dress made – it was only just big enough. It was a bit short but it was ok to wear in England. I lent it to many people but insisted they give it back to me. Which they did. Now I use it for patches and my patched gardening shirt is on display in the Bowen Island Heritage Museum at the moment. I’ve also patched a pair of pants with it, so Gita lives on!

Can you tell me about how you came to change your name to Kami?

After I moved to Canada, I felt that Cynthia sounded too English a name – I didn’t feel like a Cynthia anymore. I had lived the better part of five years in Nepal and it had changed me. In Canada I was learning dance with an African and I mentioned I wanted to change my name. He suggested a very long name, Oledapo Kemi Funimolaya, and I adapted Kemi to Kami. I’m still Cynthia on all my official documents, so when I travel, I’m Cynthia, but everyone on Bowen Island knows me as Kami.

How did you feel when I contacted you, after all these years?

I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe it at first, that you had found me was miraculous in a way. When I looked at your photo in Facebook when you sent me the message, having only seen you as a little five year old girl with dark hair to now with grey hair, it took me a while to work out what it was about. I was in shock that day, and going to a reading a friend was doing for a book she had published. I was telling everybody, Oh my God something big happened. Then when you told me Gita had passed away I had what I could only be described as a delayed grieving – it was terribly sad. I had already grieved the fact that I was never going to reconnect with Gita after trying for years unsuccessfully to track her and your family down. I had lost her once already.

How did you and mum lose touch with each other?

If she was still alive and we had reconnected, I have a feeling we would have just carried on our friendship where we left off. She had such a different life to me. I lived alone for much of my life since Anna left home. I admired the fact that Gita had this big love. I had moved around quite a bit and tried for so many years to track her down. I searched and searched. I feel like there have been all these little messages since I lost touch with Gita. She gave me the Haiku book translated by R.H. Blyth when I got together with Minoru and then I found one at the Bowen Island annual book sale this year.

I believe you are writing memoir at the moment. Can you tell me about it?

Oh, it must be the slowest memoir in the world! I had been thinking about it for thirty years and I sometimes stall when I am working on it. It starts with me travelling overland from London to Kathmandu in August 1966, going through sixteen countries, how it was arriving in Kathmandu when there were very few foreigners living there and how extraordinary it was then. After that we were ‘thrown out’ after our four month visa expired which we had already extended for a month. Most of the travellers were asked to leave if they weren’t staying in the big hotels because we were renting in people’s homes. That was before the term “hippy” came up and they were still using the term “beatnik”. You couldn’t renew your visa unless you could produce a lot of money, were staying in one of the hotels or came with an organisation. There were a lot of NGOs there at that time.

Have you done any other writing lately?

I recently wrote a 750 word piece called The Tokyo Letters, for a flash non-fiction competition for a magazine in Mexico, about connecting with you. It came about when you sent me copies of the aerogrammes that I had sent to your mum, back when I was in Tokyo. I was reminded about what a horrible time if was for me and that Gita was the only person I could write to about it.

Kami-Anna
Kami with her daughter Anna in Edmonton, Canada in 2018

 

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This special interview forms part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • My mother’s early journal entries contain draft letters she wrote to Cynthia (Kami) and all photos here have been included by permission.
  • I have continued to use my mother’s pen name Gita in this transcript.
  • A photo gallery, for the early part of the Journal Series, has now been added to the home page here.