Pulani is my African name which means “rain” and if you go further into the meaning it means happiness because the crops are growing. The name was given to me by Evelyn, our beloved cook but Pulani, the story, is more than just the crops growing.
It is the story of my grandfather and his brother who at ages 11 and 9 were thrust onto a ship by their desperate mother with just the clothes on their back and three bags of gold. It was a time during the Lebanese wars and Beirut was demanding young boys into the army. Desperate to save her sons from the gunfire in the town my great grandmother asked a sailor to hide her two boys on the ship and take them to an address in South Africa. Never mind that the ship was set for America and not South Africa.
It is the story of a childhood in a household that was more than my parents and siblings. It was the families of the 12 staff that were intertwined indelibly into our souls. If we had a birthday party we kept two presents and shared the rest with the children of the staff. If one of the staff was caught without their pass book or were about to give birth or nurse a child that was ill it was Mother who rescued them from jail, the townships the hospitals and anywhere she was not legally supposed to be.
It is the story of my maternal grandmother Gussie, a Jewish orphan who married my Lebanese grandfather, who together with Evelyn placated my hysterical Mother the day I told her that I was pregnant and the father was an Afrikaner. I was 17 and my life was supposed to continue in Switzerland at a finishing school. It is the love story between the tall, handsome and wickedly sensual Afrikaner and an English schoolgirl.
It is the story of a young woman’s journey in marriage as she faces numerous challenges, some dangerous, some heartbreaking and some ludicrous if you happened to be the fly on the wall.
And finally it is the story of the family as they tearfully pack their four suitcases to escape to America.
That is the story of Pulani. A story set against the backdrop of apartheid South Africa with excerpts of the political history at the beginning each chapter.