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Backstories 2021

Khaseta Chase

Childhood memories of her grandmother in Jamaica provided Khaseta with a sense of grounding during the pandemic.

Backstories is a multi-sited storytelling festival located in backyards across Perth and regional Western Australia. In 2021, Backstories featured locations in Margaret River, South Fremantle, Midland, Quinns Rocks and more.

Backstories 2021 was made possible with funding from Lotterywest, Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and the Centre for Stories Founders Circle.

This story was collected at our Midland backyard. It features Khaseta Chase sharing childhood memories of her grandmother in Jamaica – memories that provided her with a sense of grounding during the pandemic.

Copyright © 2021 Khaseta Chase.

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

This story was published on 11 June 2021.

View Story Transcript

You hear about COVID-19. Now everyone is rushing around for food and everyone is, you know, trying to figure out what to do next. And here I am, caught up in all the madness, I’m in the shops trying to get toilet rolls too. And then it dawned on me that what am I going to do? How can I sort this out? How can I get through this uncertainty? 

And it suddenly dawned on me that, you know, go back to your roots. Try to remember what you were taught. And it brought me back to a time when, growing up in Jamaica, my grandmother, during the summer holidays when we used to go and spend time with her. All my cousins. But this particular summer holidays, it was just me.  

I don’t know what happened. I can’t remember what happened with everyone else, but I was the only one. So normally we’d be left alone with the cousins—everyone is playing—but this time, my grandmother said, ‘you’re gonna come with me to the markets.’ And I’m like, ‘what?’ You know? ‘I don’t want to go!’ ‘You have to come.’ You know? 

So she said, ‘we’re gonna go to bed early. So go to bed. And when cock crow, that’s the time we’re going to wake up.’ And in Jamaica, cock is a rooster. So yeah. Go to bed. Listen for the cock crowing. Wake up. She comes and she touched me. She said, ‘wake up. Come meet me ‘round the side. I’ll go in for the donkey.’ And I’m going, ‘donkey?’ 

This was going to be my first experience riding. I always see the donkeys in the yard, but never been on one. So, all right, I’m here thinking: how are we gonna go on a donkey? My grandmother—she’s shorter than me—and the donkey is here [mimes height of the donkey] So how is she going to get up on this donkey? She said, ‘don’t worry.’ 

So I met her around the side of the house. She brought the donkey out. Yeah, something similar to this; taller. And she pulled the donkey up to the side and, you know, she’s putting all the padding to make it comfortable on the seat and everything. Then she puts these baskets—we call them hampers—she puts one on each side of the donkey. That’s sort of to make the donkey balanced.  

Then she starts to put the ground provisions. Now, my grandmother—we weren’t wanting for anything, because she planted everything. She planted scallions, tomatoes, thyme, potatoes, yams, all different kinds of things, and these were the stuff that she’s bringing to the markets. And then she had this pot—they’re like metal canisters—with hot food—swordfish and dumplings. 

Dumplings, what we call Johnny Cakes, they’re like savoury buttered doughnuts. With swordfish. I mean, maybe some of you know this as bacalao. If you’ve heard of bacalao, it’s, you know, broken up into pieces, cooked with tomatoes, onion and sweet pepper and just cooked nicely. And she had that in the next basket. And apparently that’s the basket that I was going to be in.  

So that did not—you know, that spelt trouble—because I had to taste a piece of it. Now, she put—I said to her, ‘so mama, where are you gonna put me?’ ‘Right in there. In the next basket. Right in with the food.’ I was like ‘okay.’ So she put me in the basket and then she attempted to get onto this donkey. 

She made it. Somehow, don’t ask me how, but she made it. I’m in the hamper and we’re about to move off now, and I only heard when she made, like, this sound to get the donkey going. And she just like, ‘tchaa! Tsk tsk tsk tsk tsk!’ And she whipped the donkey. And then it just jolted. And this is me in the hamper. And then the donkey started going like this.  

You know the roads are not paved? And there’s dirt and it’s a track. So this is me, and the donkey’s just—and the donkey might, you know, sometimes fall. And this is me in the hamper! So it was quite an experience. But I tell you that part of the story to say that, you know, during COVID, when that particular time with my grandmother, it brought me to remember, to recall all that, I thought to myself: why don’t we have our own provisions in our backyard?  

Why are we scrambling for all these different things? Why, you know? And I thought to myself: it’s not going to happen to me again. I’m going to ensure that we start doing some gardening and we start to plant this. So you know, this has taught me: just remember where you’re coming from. And remember that, you know, all the stuff in the shops, you don’t need. 

So all these different things that we think are necessary, they’re actually not. So we end up just doing a lot of and buying a lot of unnecessary things. Another thing that COVID has taught me as well. So I have three kids, ages eleven, thirteen, and seven. And, you know, providing for them as well. During COVID time, you were told: school is gonna be on lockdown; children are gonna be at home.  

And I remember. Ahhh! I just sent them to school. I was looking forward to that time to get back into my own routine and now they’re going to be home. What am I going to do? So I was like yes! Now with my background of teaching, I was like yes! I can do this! I can! You know? And I decided to get myself organised and got them in a classroom setting. And it didn’t work.   

I thought—I was like: yes I’ve got this—but, no, it didn’t work. So I had to split them up. But when I did that, it still didn’t work. So for those who are teachers, kudos to you. And this online homeschooling thing was also very new as well. I remember my eldest, he’s starting year seven, everything is new for him. My middle child—she works well on her own, but the computer was new for her, so that was a challenge in itself, trying to log on.  

And my littlest was not very attentive! So sitting still and doing something that is given to her is a challenge as well. So having to tend to the others and then you come back and find her—she’s doing cartwheels, or she’s on the trampoline, or she’s on the monkey bars—it was quite a challenge.  

But then I decided, you know what? I’m not going to let this get to me. How about you just take a step back. Everyone else is going through the same thing. What about all the other teachers and all the other parents that are experiencing the same thing—what they must be going through? And me, who has a background in teaching, is having it so difficult. Just let them be. 

And it brought me back again. To my grandmother. You know? And still, that time with her, just a reflection, you know? No matter where you are, where you go, you will always remember where you’re coming from and it will always take you back to the most important things. Just don’t worry about things that don’t matter so much. Just take it easy. And never forget where you’re coming from.  

Thank you.  

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