A Happenstance

Bernadette Godinho

creative partner Saria Steyl

reader Samantha Pearl  

My father went from Goa to Kenya to work on the East African Power Lighting hydro power stations at Ndula near Thika. We had to keep goats and cows for milk, chickens for eggs, and grow our vegetables. I remember riding the big pig. Father took pride in his rose and vegetable gardens. Why did he love it? – because it was not unlike his life in Goa. This was in the late 40s when Nairobi, the capital, was just a place with a small river. He spoke of the doctor who used to come to see his patients on a zebra. My younger brother and I were like the railway kids. We were always waiting to see the sisal trains pass by our dwellings and ate the wild gooseberries.

My dad would hunt deer. When he caught one, he would leave it in a tree so that the two neighbours and Kikuyu tribes people could help themselves. Life was social in our Goan-Kenyan society. When we moved to Nairobi we would gather after Church for tombola. Father would play skittles and billiards.

We Goans were from a then Portuguese colony living in a British colony. In my school, the geography teacher was from Wales. She would sit on the table and tell us about Australia and New Zealand. I did not have to study. Knowledge came to me just by listening to her speak. I loved reading Enid Blyton but we were not allowed that because of the slang. When I completed my Senior Cambridge it was during a big change in politics in Kenya!

Father wanted to retire to Goa but I wanted to avoid a career of marriage and a family as my only choice! I did not want to follow to Goa. I was a free spirit. The thought of a freer thinking society was the UK. So, after much thought, I was allowed to go to London to live with my godmother.

Father and the rest went to Goa. My birth mother had died when I was two in childbirth. Freedom came with England and I got into a scheme that paid for education and practice as a biomedical scientist in haematology and later I switched career, after a masters degree, to being a family therapist in the North West London Trust.

In my late teens in 1969, I hitch-hiked around Europe. I met my Hosein Zabihi, who became my husband in 1972. He came from Persia and spoke not much English. When members of my family heard about our relationship and possible marriage, they were worried of cultural differences! Mostly about consent to three or four wives!

I was his one wife. My life was free, just as I wanted it.

Hosein never talked about his previous life In Iran. He had to learn to trust me as a liberal-thinking woman, which was not easy for him. I am very direct. My godmother, who was half Portuguese, was also very direct. Iranian society is more polite but my mother-in-law, who lived a free life in the times of the Shah, was also a free thinker. I was at her house in Teheran, in a bikini and inside, for modesty. She said, ‘Go outside, on the balcony, get your sunshine.’ A perfect mother-in-law. My husband is not a practising Muslim. He is a follower of Omar Khayyam. Our relationship grew into an understanding partnership of caring and travel and fun.

Now he has Alzheimer’s. He is dependent on me. I have transformed our living room into a mini-hospital so that I can care for him. On the last trip to Iran, we visited his family graves. He said he wants to be cremated, ‘When the curtain closes, that’s the end.’ His family wants him to be buried. I asked him what he wants. He said, ‘I’ll let you know.’ Now he can’t speak.

In his room is a Persian painting of a woman who is extremely beautiful. It hangs above his bed. We chose it together. It symbolises our relationship. If I had to leave this house, I would always take it with me.

Bernadette Godinho

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