Tia Jwanina



By: Clarisse Goncalvey

Tia Jwanina’s house felt lonely and so did I. No one was there anymore. The only thing I could hear when I went to her house was the trees going back and forth in the yard. The house still smelled like it used to – like dark, strong coffee – but there was no one there to drink it. The bed was made up with sheets, but not for Tia Jwanina. A man would sleep there at night in case anyone tried to come into the house, and in the morning he would feed the chickens. The rooms were grey. All of her religious statues were gone. She took them with her when she moved away. She took everything. Tia Jwanina was my Father’s cousin. I called her my Aunt, even though she was more like a Grandmother. She was in her 80’s when I was growing up in Madacruz, Cape Verde. Everybody liked to go to Tia Jwanina’s house; mostly kids, because they liked being around her. We would play outside on her cement patio everyday, especially on Sundays after church. Tia Jwanina had black hair, light-colored skin, and she always wore black clothing, because she was a widow. She wore black the entire time I knew her. One time I made her a bracelet out of blue, pink and purple beads and gave it to her. When I asked her why she wasn’t wearing it the next day,  she told me that even though she loved it, she couldn’t wear it because it was colorful and she was a widow. It didn’t hurt my feelings though, because the way she talked to me was so soft and kind. She always told the truth. She lived in a big, green house right next to my Grandmother’s and my sister’s mother’s house. 

I would walk there everyday from my house. I passed a tamarind tree on the corner that smelled sour when the fruit was ripe. Her house was cement, like all the houses in Cape Verde. When you walked through the front door, the blue painted walls were so bright. Children would laugh, running through the cornfields outside. It was a happy place. It was alive with energy. There were two sisters who would always go and play at Tia Jwanina’s house. They called her vovo, which means Grandma, even though she wasn’t their real Grandma. Joel, a little boy who lived in the neighborhood, would spend time there with us too. I loved Tia Jwanina and I still do to this day. She was so kind and she always put a smile on my face. Tia Jwanina is my favorite person in the world. Even though I could still visit her when she left her home and moved where people could take care of her, it was just not the same. I moved to the United States three years ago with my sisters and my niece. First we went to Wells, Maine and then we moved to Portland, Maine, where we live now.  Last year, Tia Jwanina died. I was not there. I hope to go back and visit Tia Jwanina’s house and smell the dark and strong coffee again. I can still smell it now.