7/3: So I’ve been trying to build a well in a remote section o
f Nondweni and today I met with Tshengie and the equivalent of the area mayor to discuss logistics. There’s this great American NGO that funds small water and sanitation projects organized by Peace Corps Volunteers but I didn’t realize how expensive it would be. There’s only one well for several hundred families which means the majority of people in that area have to walk quite far to fetch water and when I went to haul water with Tshengie, who lives in the area, and the well water was literally brown. She said that more people are using the river for water even though it was a source of an outbreak of cholera a few years ago because the well water is now so dirty and in my opinion, undrinkable.
7/4: Today I stumbled upon my seven year old host brother, Mpho, crying on the path that leads to our house. Here is our translated conversation:
Me: Mpho, what’s wrong?
Mpho: I’m SO cold!
Me: It’s really cold outside. Why don’t we run? We’re almost home and running will make us warmer and we’ll get home faster.
Mpho: I’m too cold to run.
Me: Okay honey; well are you too cold to picture the tea I’m going to make you when we reach our house?
Mpho: Tea? (He’s looking up with his puppy-dog eyes and he now has snot running all down his tattered shirt).
Me: Yes, and I have milk AND sugar to put in it.
Mpho: You have milk?!
Me: Yes and you can have as much as you want.
After I wrapped him in my fleece blanket and tucked us both under the covers with tea I turned on “Finding Nemo” on my computer which he watched in a foreign language with rapt attention.
7/7: Today I went to the large market that we have in our village once a month. There’s women selling fruit or vegetables from their garden, tables full of raw meat freshly slaughtered, colorful dresses nicely sewn or even piles of popcorn or suckers for the kids. Basically there’s something for everyone. I went to buy a grass mat but when I took Thobi on my search with me she was very flustered. She said that her aunt sells grass mats and to buy one from her. So after making the hour journey to the market I came up empty handed. But when the neighborhood kids started trickling back from the market this afternoon they begged to watch ‘fish fish’ or Finding Nemo that I watched with Mpho a few days before. So I literally had kids stacked on top of each other on my bed as we had an afternoon popcorn and a movie event.
7/9: My family is burning broken furniture they’ve scavenged from the piles of trash in our immediate vicinity to keep warm. I’m now more convinced than ever that I’m going to die here (just kidding of course).
7/10: I went to Tshengie’s for a cleansing ceremony. Her father had two wives, one of whom died last year (not Tshengie’s blood mother). When a spouse dies the surviving spouse wears black every day for a year. Women wear a black skirt, shirt, cape and head scarf and men pin a square of black cloth to their arm. The burning of these clothes after the year of mourning is signified by a cleansing ceremony. This is also the time when the deceased’s spirit leaves the compound where it’s been lingering the past year and goes up to the ancestors. A goat was sacrificed in her honor and I ate so much food I literally thought I would cry if someone fed me one more bite. At this ceremony, as in all Zulu ceremonies, people are segregated by gender and age and are always found in the same location. Young men are always outside drinking copious amounts of alcohol and cooking the sacrifice. The male elders can be found in the ancestral hut. Young women are in the kitchen and once they’ve served the men and female elders will sit on the kitchen floor and eat. The female elders are located in the same house on the compound as the kitchen but in a separate room. Though I helped the young women prepare the food I was soon shooed away to sit with the grannies. Cooking for white families is so engrained in the Black South African psyche that it was just rather flustering to have me around. So I was banished to the land of hunchbacks and wooden canes but little did I know how entertaining it would be. The women, all so haggard you couldn’t count their wrinkles, were really having a blast getting drunk off sorghum beer and traditional dancing, yes dancing! Now traditional Zulu dancing is basically a series of high kicks and though these women couldn’t quite be compared to the Rockettes, they were singing and stomping and having a grand ole time. When everyone was good and ready we filled the room that had been occupied all day by myself and the old ladies. Then Tshengie’s dad said a prayer to the ancestors saying it was time for his wife’s spirit to join them and then glasses of soda and sorghum beer were passed around. Everyone took a sip of every glass regardless of what it was. Then we went outside and a cow was chosen for another sacrifice. The ceremony ended with the male elders dancing in celebration.