Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rural Reflections

"He wore old clothes!
He lobola'd a dowry of guinea fowl
to my father-in-law for my wife's hand"

This is how V was greeted by the men of the small settlement that lies above the old farm. A traditional praise singing and very touching for V to hear his father remembered in this way all these years later. This greeting is unique to Vs father and a living memorial to him that will be passed down through the generations and chanted to any relative that they encounter in the future. This is rural South Africa and a place where time has stood still  - where they still talk of money in terms of British pounds and it remains at an exchange rate of two to one! Young women are bare breasted and the men walk holding traditional sticks, spears and shields of cow hide. 

We visited Mpini whose father worked for Vs father. His family live on a piece of ground each in their own hut built of mud and thatched. We were shown into the main hut - the equivalent of the front parlour and invited to sit on the two plastic chairs. The only other furniture was a small table covered in a lace cloth which held precious items like toothpaste, a comb and a small stack of bowls.

Family members were brought in to meet us and approached us on their knees - eyes averted -they stayed crouched low and never once raising their heads above ours for our entire visit. This was very humbling and we knew not to even try to persuade them to stand and put themselves on our eye level.  There were very many children with beautiful big eyes shyly peeping around the corner of the door - no books or toys never mind TV, iPads and computers.

 The mothers looked not much older than children themselves. This is how families live - together -  the women sharing the duties of childcare, cooking, cleaning and growing vegetables. The men who can find work do and this money is put into the communal coffers -  the rest sit around and talk of important issues under the trees. Despite the poverty most have a cell phone! Our gifts of biscuits and sweets were gratefully received but I so wished that I had taken more useful food items.

Hardly anyone can speak English but they try so hard to communicate with me. When my camera comes out they laugh shyly and protest but once they see one or two of the photos then a queue forms and everyone wants to have their photo taken. 

We say our thanks and farewells and continue on our journey but we have not gone far when we are flagged down by this group of sangomas (witchdoctors) - off to a ceremony to celebrate "a girl becoming a woman" - they ask for a lift and are overjoyed when V consents. The chat and sing in the back of the bakkie and laugh excitedly when sweets are passed to them. Children really! 

We make our way along the road where cattle amble, goats chomp and comical chickens chase one another.  Our cargo jump out and allow us to take photographs and I approach a women who is draping her washing on bushes to dry - her face is coated in red earth for protection against the sun and she indicates that she doesn't want to be photographed because of this - she is not looking her best!

I say a silent prayer of thanks for my washing machine and dryer -and all the other labour saving devices and luxuries in my life that I take for granted. Life is hard here and yet the people don't complain - they are too busy surviving.
Another woman has collected firewood for the evening - she is old - you can see - but she doesn't know how old, "I am not learned enough to know," she tells us.

A coffee break is needed so we park on the old bridge - now collapsed and eaten by the Tugela River - a splash welcomes us and V sees the fin of a large fish disappear into the deep and vows that he will be back to catch that 'scaly'. As we drink coffee from the flask and talk about the days encounters, we see a truck laden with locals on their way home - the lucky ones that have jobs. What a day - A day of remembrance for V and a day of reflection for me - a day that we are both grateful to have shared.

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