In Zimbabwe, being called 'grandma' isn't necessarily an indication of one's age.
At the ripe age of 34, I started being called a grandma. It was a shock. Six years ago, in my previous life in Paris, I skipped along the boulevards in a pair of strappy white dolly shoes, collecting baguettes and tartes aux poireaux for lunch. The baker's assistant in the always greeted me with a friendly:
I liked the , a gallant form of address to a young woman old enough to be treated with respect but probably not old enough to be married. Still, I knew that for me, eventually becoming Madame was as inevitable as graduating to the elegant navy and cream, two-tone court shoes so favored by French matrons.
Being referred to as a grandma, though – now that was a huge leap.
I didn't notice it at first. Newly arrived in Zimbabwe, I was absorbed in the husband, the fiercely independent tabby with the snow-white chest, and the infant I acquired (in that order).
Of course, I also picked up a smattering of words in the local Shona language, the way you might collect shells on a beach. for money, for eggs, for good morning, and for mother. I noted my finds in a pink pocket notebook along with the address for a good pediatrician, passed on by a Swiss diplomat at a book fair, and my mother-in-law's recipe for rusks. is the word for bread; for cat. All were important nouns – to me, at least.
Slowly, in the muttered jumble of overheard store and bank conversations, I began to pick out words I recognized. How is (grandfather)? And then, one black yet sunny day a few months ago, I heard it: Could somebody please help fill shopping basket?
(or the shorter form ) is . With horror, I lifted my eyes and realized that it was my woven straw basket (bought hastily from the side of the road and now taken on every shopping trip) that needed packing. Six wedding anniversaries and several pairs of plastic flip-flop sandals since Paris, and I had become the kind of woman people refer to as "grandma."
I loaded my own basket and fled to the car. I didn't tell my husband what his wife had become, not wanting him to notice more than was strictly necessary the three gray hairs that sprout determinedly from somewhere to the left of my crown.
Now that I was listening out for "grandma," I started hearing it every day. How is ? Be careful, . Please weigh those bananas for . I smiled bravely and said (thank you).