Thursday, June 19, 2014

The wedding meat's spoiled and a child's buried in the village: Venda Sun 13

Venda Sun 13

December 18-31, 2004

At Caroline's wedding - Grace (sitting, centre)
her daughters and Giya
Here is a wedding when the meat is ruined, a baking hot Christmas when a goat is slaughtered, a view of the sacred lake and a child's funeral. Imagine too, the priest on top of the hill praying, his prayers falling into the valley. For many reasons it was pivotal, emotionally charged, a turning point, all of it in extreme heat. 

December 18

Caroline’s wedding. Up at dawn to sort out clothes, wash and get ready. Hard task, looking half decent with so much red soil around, but we manage after washing in shifts. R goes to wash in the river, we’re at the church in plenty of time but it’s baking hot and they have marquees rather than use the church.

Bridesmaids are amazing in white and black dresses with Zulu shields on. They dance into the marquee where there's a frilly sofa and PA system for speeches. Then…speeches! We leave about 12.30 when the priest has been ranting for about an hour. R wants to go. We look for a café and find one miles away, very English – quiche and salads on the menu! But we stay ages and by the time we’ve gone to Louis Trichart for fuel and bread and driven back to the wedding it's over. The meat has to be thrown away because the priest went on so long. It felt like he recited most of the old Testament. The women had been preparing the food the whole day before but even in the shade meat doesn't keep. Later R and Giya took Caroline to her new home, Mrisi and I stayed behind.

Relaxing after the service
The wind increased. We had to put out the fire and we went into the zozo but it was hot inside.  The bags that line the wooden walls were rattling and rustling, lizards scampering sideways in silhouette, the door banging and monkeys shrieking, branches falling on the tin roof like stones, the mouse I disturbed nibbling my hair.

Sunday 19

We walk around the land, climb a tree, swing off a vine. Jasmine and citronella plants, cactus trees, a marula tree, rocks and twisted tree trunk, roots growing over an enormous rock. Views of the mountains, goats and cows around the village. Pip playing and getting fatter, laughing around the fire, the moon the wrong way round, sitting on its curve.

Tuesday 21

How I’ve missed listening to water, being able to turn the tap on, even in J’burg there’s a tap in the garden. We use three barrels a day we use, more maybe and it’s carried up the hill by some women in wheelbarrows. Running water, waterfalls, streams, I washed my shorts in the swimming pool, it was wonderful to swim, to be in water, to feel cool and independent.

Wednesday 22 - Friday 24

The days merge. We walk up around the land, calmer but there are flashpoints. R’s very stressed trying to do too much and I sit around not understanding. But we went to Nwamatatane to see the chief and R translated properly so I could take part in a conversation. Chief’s wife told us how she was trying to find a wife for a man in his 50s from J’burg and six women turned him down. She went from house to house but he didn’t want an older woman, he wanted a woman with one or two young kids who would see him as their father. He sounded very dodgy and she thought so too. We buy a load of fruit and veg to take there because it’s so dry and very little grows. It’s half an hour away but not fertile like this valley. The chief’s being inaugurated on 7 January.  

On Thursday we walk to the top of the mountain and there are women, kids and a priest (ZCC) praying. I can’t believe they managed to get up there. It's baking. They are staying there overnight, have water but are fasting. The spring’s dry. The priest’s making noise like an animal.
A view of Mashau from the top of the mountain

In the evening we go to Sibasa, past Thoyandou, to see the secretary to the minister in his holiday home. White villa, lawn, palm trees, swimming pool, cold beer, a toilet and proper kitchen, white sofas, TV. He’s enormous, drives a 4 x 4. The pool’s tantalizing but we have no costumes. On the way, the road’s mad. It’s dark, there are cars with no lights/one light/overtaking on blind bends/speeding. It feels lawless like Lesotho, and dark. People are everywhere, by the side of the road, invisible until the lights find them. Conversation is obscure. He talks in spin, he’s a political animal or a shark.

Friday 24

All the men have arrived for the goat slaughter. Grace and her husband and kids arrive. R goes off to Mrisi, Giya and Randu to do the shopping, buy beer and chicken. Grace starts cooking the maize meal – a vast pot on the fire – and I prepare some veg, a tomato sauce, lentil stew and salad. It’s hot and sweaty. Petrus, T and Maribathi want to kill the goat before R comes back, I stop them as they’re leaving the zozo with knives. I’m irrirated by them all. Men take the benches and go to sit at the top by the wall and do nothing, just talk. As soon as the beer arrives, they drink.

R kills the goat when he gets back and Mrisi watches. Giya makes a little shrine for it with a candle and a cross. I feel ashamed that R and I haven’t had more consideration for the kids' feelings during these horrendous few days. Cockroaches, ants, ticks, beetles, moths. I like the lizards.

Saturday 25

Petrus is here but not Grace and the kids. R goes to collect chief while I cook again. While he’s away Vonani and three others arrive. The chickens have started to smell and there are small flies all over one of them, but no eggs, so I take the risk and wash them before sticking them on the fire, hope that if they’re well enough charred they’ll be okay. Vonani’s sister and one of his friends don’t eat goat, nor do Mavis and Mavis’ friend from the village who explains that the reason so few people in the village eat goat is because a local guy used to rape them, breaking into peoples’ kraals to do it. He was eventually caught for child abuse. It reminds me of one of Vonani’s poems. His work is disturbing.

Cooper, R’s cousin is here too, chief arrives with R and Cooper and another guy who turns out to be a sangoma, who knows all about herbs. I spend much of the day cooking and washing dishes but R’s mother arrives eventually with a big box of biscuits.

Petrus gets stuck into the vodka punch that R made. Chief is heavily into the booze too. Chief was delayed because a child in the village was having a fit and he took him to hospital in Elim, but the father and boy’s uncle left the boy and the mother there so they could go back home and carry on drinking. R was appalled.

Great crowds outside bottle stores, women too with little kids. The poverty is compounded by booze. The dynamic churches offer a way out. Women are very  self-sufficient and enterprising, but men are stuck. Not all, but even the guy in Sibasa called his wife to pick up a beer can on the grass just a yard from his feet because he was too fat to lean over and pick it up.

We chase everyone away when it’s dark. Vonani and his friend Temba save the day with 2 packs of beer and ice. Vonani’s friend Temba is looking into why land reform hasn’t worked, why people are doing nothing with the land they’ve been given back. He started with the brief of seeing if it was anything to do with HIV/Aids but has already concluded it's more to do with skills and commercial approaches, access to tools and money to farm on a big scale.

Local people realise water and power are critical issues. It’s a struggle just to fetch and carry all day long and even small children carry 20 litre drums on their heads. We must use about 60 litres a day, certainly today and yesterday with all the washing up all day long, drinking and cooking and washing hands. I can see how people become ill.

As Xmas day ends we sit under a full moon and watch cars on the road to Elim and Levubu, the mountains behind.
Risenga's mother and Pip the puppy


Sunday 26

Swim in Makhado. I fall asleep in the grass by the pool. I enjoy the shower as much as the swim. It’s a long drive for this but it’s so hot it’s the best place to be and everything else takes second place, even here, though, the legacy survives.

Young men who can’t swim are harangued by an enormous Africaaner woman who looks after the pool and they are told to stay in the shallow end while younger kids and white kids do their lengths. I understand, there’s no lifeguard and she’s not capable of fishing them out of the pool if they drown.

But this place is draining. I know why R wants us to see how he was brought up and the poverty he suffered but. On the way out of the village there’s a party. R says it’s a girl’s circumcision. I can’t engage. Giya wants to know what it means but I can’t explain. R says its different here but it can’t be that different. There’s no justification for anything which goes under this name, so we don’t talk about it. Another potential flashpoint. I’ve had enough of them.

R’s mum stays at the house while we go out. She cleans the zozo. It’s immaculate when we get back. Nearly a proper night’s sleep. Giya wakes up twisted in the mosquito net. There are ants around the walls.The cow dung hasn’t really helped. In fact I think it make things worse; the ants are burrowing out of the dung floor and in places it’s already breaking up. Any scrap of food attracts them.

Monday 27 

Lake Funduzi and the Dzata ruins. A couple of wrong turns and we end up taking the main road to Louis Trichardt and through the mountains, onto the road the map shows is the way to the ruins and Funduzi. But the ruins aren’t where the map says. The map has left out villages, got roads wrong and doesn’t even mark where roads converge. It takes three hours or so to reach Dzata and there’s nothing – a gate, a wall and a security guard who says he can’t leave until his colleague arrives, so he walks up the hill a bit to fire a gun which he says will bring his colleague.

Then they call a guy from the village who’s looking after the museum. When the number 2 arrives he walks us through an avenue of cactus trees like R has on his land and explains the sap is deadly and can blind you.

He tells us Venda people were nomads who came from Congo and settled in t the mountains, that on the way they fought and captured women who carried stones for the king’s village all the way from Congo. That children were put in a drum and when it was beaten their cries sent enemies to sleep so they could be killed easily. That in Funduzi you can hear them crying – they’re in the river which doesn’t mix with the lake water.

On the way to Funduzi we go through a lush valley with hundreds of white butterflies just before we get to a tunnel. Mrisi says it should be called soul valley because once I told him about butterflies being the souls of people who’d died.  

Funduzi is off the tar road towards Sibasa in the dip between dry mountains. There are masses of villages everywhere.  People seem to be able to build wherever they want. Every sign has Coca Cola on it. The roads are bumpy. There are a few cars, reeds, cows that move out of the way reluctantly, people fishing. It’s fed by a small river which must be a torrent when it rains. There are deep gorges cut by rainwater.

It’s like a hand held out to catch rain water. It’s low, you can see marks on the rocks where the water was. We bring a bottle full of it for Mani, Giya’s idea. We’re in the car all day. Stop off at the Venda Sun on the way back but we can’t use the pool and sit on the terrace sweating, feeling grubby. Tonight we have mosquito coils which work, so we don’t all use the nets, only Giya, and it’s better because the ants and cockroaches have gone, temporarily.

Tuesday 28 Dec

I’m here alone. One of the goats was screaming, the sandy one. It was wrapped up in its rope, lying down, almost choking. I got it free and the other one escaped, I couldn’t catch it. I was worried about snakes and scorpions in the grass. Ngara the girl from next door and a little boy caught it eventually and tied it to a tree but the sandy one isn’t eating, it’s just sanding under the tree doing nothing. R has taken Giya and Mrisi to Nwamatatane to see chief and take Mani to Cooper’s house.

Now there are four kids, including Ngara, sitting in the comfy chairs chatting away and trying out English words, after I give them a tennis ball and bats to play with. My eyes are closing and I want to sleep. I woke up at dawn. The birds had brought the river. It ran over the stones in their beaks.
At Noria Mabasa's home and studio
in Venda


Weds 29 December

We book 5 nights at a mountain retreat in the Soutpansberg, about two hours away. We’re off on New Year’s Day. Last night R took me to Masia bottle store on the road to Giyani where there were 20 traditional dance groups performing. It was a dusty car park and all the dancers in woolen skirts. I was the only white person there…mlungu, baasss…hmm. A friend of R shepherded us around because I think he was aware of some tension. He was then very clear that when it was dark we needed to go. R met up with an old friend called Material. The moon was red again when we arrived back at the zozo. Last night we watched it rise, red, out of the Luonde mountain range. It’s still full. Seems to have been full for ages. We found a herb that keeps mosquitoes away. It smells like sage.

The sandy goat’s ill. R’s just fed it cooking oil which will give it the runs and hopefully sort out whatever’s bloating its stomach. G’s making a green concoction with leaves that she insists is paint. Mrisi’s been sketching and made a page of colours today from the land.

Temba invited us to a party on New year’s eve. A woman cam earlier to collect quartz stones for traditional healing but I wonder if it was an excuse to look at us. Rang mum, she’d been worried. The sky was full of stars. No moon tonight.

Thursday 30 Dec

I wake up early hearing people outside on the path to get wood. Tomorrow we have to go to the funeral of a small boy in the village. There are lots of people here with fathers who had 2 wives but it’s frowned on now. It was in the days when men had to go to Jburg to work and stayed most of the year. Brenda, the pregnant woman tells us her grandfather did that and the family eventually refused to have him back because he’d built a house in J’burg, had six kids and neglected the country family.

Pip’s running through the grass with an old cob of corn in her mouth to chew. I can hear Vho Green’s cows along the lane. The other day we saw buckets of frothy milk straight from the milking. The mountains change all the time.

Three black and white storks in the reeds at Funduzi, a red and black bird behind the zozo, yellow and black sparrows, small finch birds with red beaks, butterflies – orange and yellow, bright yellow, bright blue, black and yellow, wild citronella by the path, wild guava trees...heat rising from the path to the loo, a swarm of bluebottles.

Friday 31 Dec

Mango for breakfast, up early to see Noria Mabasa’s house. It’s down the road near Vuyani. She’s possibly the most famous in SA. One of her sculptures of Hector Pieterson has been cast in bronze. Another was commissioned by the government for the union buildings in Pretoria. It gave her enough money to build and enormous house by the river where she lives and works. At each side of the gate is a man and woman. There are people in the walls round her roundhouse and sculptures everywhere. Pots, too, traditional red, grey and white. She takes us around her place, shows us a sculpture she’s making in wood about the woman who gave birth in a tree during the Mozambique floods and another of a crocodile eating a person. She found the wood in the river after the floods. She’s busy pumping water from the Levubu for her corn as we arrive.

Back to Mashau for the boy’s funeral. We have to go to the house for a service and walk back up the hill to the grave on Vho Green’s land, just over the fence. The body’s already in the grave, we don’t see it lowered in but they fill it and cover it with cement and white stones. All the family throw in earth and the boy’s mother sits covered in a blanket. There’s no crying, just singing.

We go to Shirley Village for New Year's Eve with Vonani, his friend Temba. It’s a quiet house near Elim but we don’t arrive back at Mashau until midnight and Giya’s crying because she thought we’d be back earlier.

A list of birds we’ve seen:

pied kingfisher (bw), malachite kingfisher (turquoise & red), lilac breasted roller, ground hornbill, southern yellow hornbill, red billed hornbill, African hoopoe, euroepan swallow, pied crow (jburg) pintailed whydah (long tail) jobrug, red billed quelea, red collard widow (jburg) southern masked weaver, red winged starling, black eyed commong bulbul, yellow backed widow, melba finch, glossy starling, speckled mousebird, night jar, barn ouwl, grey louri, the go away bird, sandpipers, helmeted guinea fowl, ostrich, natal francolin, black sparrowhawk or African hawk eagle, black kite, buzzrds, martial eagle, African fish eagle, bataleur eagle, Lappet faced vulture, hammerkop, saddlebilled stork, yellow billed stork, black egret, great white egret, cattle egret, grey heron, black headed heron, goliath heron