I like the weekends here. There’s really nothing to do and nothing to distract you from that fact. I slept in big time today, waking up sometime after 10. I decided to just relax. I popped online and caught up with folks. I read a bunch of Wikipedia stuff on South African history and politics. Checked in on Google for some recent world news. I couldn’t tell the difference from any of the news I read last month. Or last year for that matter. They could just recycle the stuff and I wouldn’t know.
I made myself a Tuna sandwich with dijonnaise, sliced fresh tomato and red onion. I put it on this “brown seed loaf” that I’ve fallen in love with. It’s a South African bakery and I don’t know if you can get it in the states, but it’s a soft but dense bread that features 18% seeds by volume. It’s just so nutty chewy crunchy. Mmmm.
I’ve just run short on clothes — I’ve got 14 outfits with me, that is, fourteen socks, underpants, and shirts. I only have three pairs of pants because I can wear those for days no problem. I have one pair of shoes, which I a certain some of my Zappos friends would scoff at. Anyways, it was time to do some laundry so I sought out the facilities at Evan’s.
He’s not around, but the cleaning lady Maureen is. She says to just leave the bag and she’ll take care of it, so I do. I have left tips for her in my room, but she never takes them. Perhaps she doesn’t realize they’re tips.
I stretch a bit in the yard, it’s cloudy out, cool and moist. Then I return to my room. I look through my COBRA documentation. No, I’m not Destro, and I’m not trying to defeat G.I.Joe. I’m just wanting to make sure I’ve got health coverage for myself and Sophie until I can work something better out. Looks like it’s going to cost almost $700/mo for the two of us to maintain our existing medical and dental coverage. That’s expensive, but it’s pretty good coverage, and I may get one more operation on my arm. Cool Zappos Michelle was kind enough to fax me all the papers, but it looks like I don’t have to complete them until the end of May, so I’m going to put it all off until then.
It’s not been a very African day so far, but that’s okay. Nothing wrong with a little break, right? I go over to Evan’s to grab a pen and while I’m there I ask him about tips for Maureen. He says with affection that she’s too honest to take money from the room, so I’d have to hand it to her directly. Next time I see her, I do.
It’s late afternoon now, and I’m about to start planning for Sophie’s visit. But Alan calls and reminds me that Zenzo is going to be cooking for us tonight. That should be a real treat! So I head over to pick him up. I knock on his door and call out “Saybono!” which I think means “hello”. He comes out and greets me. His neice and two nephews are scurrying around as they always do. They’re all about two feet tall and keep the most inquisitive little expressions on their faces. I can’t help laughing when I see them.
He invites me back into his room, which is behind the garage. The garage is always empty, of course, since they don’t have a car. His room is pretty comfortable. He’s got his own TV and stereo and a full sized bed to himself. I think he really is living very well for this area, because of his hard working mom.
He takes out the laptop that Alan had given him last night and powers it up. I ask if it’s given him any trouble and he says no. When it boots up I see he’s already changed the desktop background, so he is exploring the new operating system, which is great. He opens up a poem he wrote, a sweet and funny love letter to his unborn son Awande, due in August. It’s an endearing poem and I’ll see if I can get a copy and include it in a future post, with his permission of course. I suggest he bring the laptop over tonight so he can print it out.
As we’re heading out he stops in the kitchen to bring a large cooking pot since Donna’s kitchen utensils are limited. While he’s doing this his little neices and nephews gather around me in the driveway. The two boys are very serious looking, but the neice is just a laugh. She is completely adorable and always has her eyes wide and trained on me with an expectant smile. She toddles around with apparent purpose.
I wave to her. She waves back. I point at her. She points at me. I touch my nose. She touches hers. I raise up both my hands and say “ha!”. She mimics me. Instantly we’ve got a little copycat game going on. Eventually she takes the lead and does a clap, which I copy. She does two claps, and I copy that. She seems very pleased with all this. She talks once in a while in Zulu. At one point she asks Zenzo something, and he laughs. “She wants to kiss you,” he says. I give her a hug and kiss.
Her name is Andiswa. I ask Zenzo how old she is. He says she is only 16 months old. What a curiously sharp little character she is. I must get a picture next time.
We head over to the trailer and meet with Donna. She says Alan is out, and we’ll have to go to Spar’s market to get the stuff, as Pick-n-Pay closes at 5 on the weekends. Spar’s is open until seven. So the two of us drive off again.
On the way Zenzo waves to many people in the street who respond likewise. He knows a lot of people, more than I knew for any town I’ve lived in. At the market we bump into his Karate instructor. Apparently he’s been studying for a while, but they lost access to their dojo recently, so they haven’t been able to meet in a while. We also bump into one of his sisters. He’s a popular guy, or it’s a smaller town than I thought, or both.
He is making a variation on putu (POO-too), a common dinner in Zulu households. He is making a version called stiff pap (I don’t know about the spelling, but that’s how it sounds). He buys some frozen mixed vegetables, some viennas (we call them hot dogs), some seasonings, a block of cheddar cheese, and two kilos of maize meal. This is all he’ll need and we head back.
He starts the preparation and it smells good. He instructs Donna on the proper way to mix up the maize meal, as she is eager to learn how to prepare the dish. When it is done, it is a thick savory paste with bits of meat and veggies. Traditionally it is eaten with the hands. It is commonly served with meat on the side, so Donna has picked up a roasted chicken as well.
We sit down and dig in. The stiff pap is very tasty; the texture is most like cream of wheat, or gritz, maybe polenta. But it is more flavorful and thicker. As it cools to eating temperature it stiffens so that you almost break soft bits of it off. It’s filling and addictive. We eat more than we thought we were going to. I ask Zenzo, and he says they have this a couple times a week at home.
After dinner we talk for a long time, just fun light stuff. Donna reads an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”. We talk about how most guys go through a phase where they break the rules and do bad things, to sort of test the waters and assert themselves. I talk about my trouble in school and my petty shoplifting. Zenzo mentions he did some bad things in school, but doesn’t specify. Based on his reactions to the stories we tell, I think his crimes were pretty minor. Alan talks about being in jail for a protest over the government taking Native American land. That wasn’t a bad thing, but Zenzo is surprised that Alan has been in jail. I had never heard about it before, but I’m not surprised.
Zenzo tells them about his child on the way, and how he wants to marry the mother. We talk about the labola, the the eleven cows he must pay to the family, and how it’s so expensive. I ask if his brother-in-law had to pay his family eleven cows. He says yes, but it was on a payment plan, where he would pay the cows over the course of the marriage. I joke that you can get into cow debt.
Then Zenzo reminds us that sister died, and his brother-in-law still has to pay the labola. This time he seems more effected. He says that he was taking exams at the time his sister died and it really stressed him out. She was sick only for five days before she died. It was tough. Then he tells us that his son was concieved the same month his sister died, and he looks at it as a gift. I take a little more understanding from all this now.
But the conversation returns to the light, and we have a great time before we realize how late it is and that it’s time to take off.
As I’m driving Zenzo home he asks me if I’m scared to go into the location; the Sibongile township. I tell him I probably wouldn’t walk around late at night, but during the day I’m not scared of it. And I don’t mind driving at night. He says that a lot of guys are scared to go there even during the day. I say, “yeah, it doesn’t seem like white people go out there much.” This is an understatement; I don’t think I’ve seen one white person out there aside from Alan, Donna, and myself.
He says “yeah: when the guys see you out there they are like ‘whoa!’”. I tell him, “I don’t think it’s as dangerous as people fear. Especially during the day, it’s mostly kids. I mean, I understand you have to be careful at night, and you have to avoid people who are drunk, but other than that…” He agrees that people are probably more scared than they need to be.
I point out that burglary is a big problem, but every house I go to out there has DVD players and TV’s and such. I ask if his house has ever been robbed, and he says no. I remind him that he did have that that gang guy get stabbed in his house, though. He laughs “yes, that was very weird.”
Even in the dark at 9PM, we pass a mother walking home with her daughter. I pull up to his house and help him bring stuff in. Everyone is tucked away so I thank him and head back out. As I turn on my car I see a couple of teens standing in the street in an embrace. Unfortunately I have to shine my headlights on them as I go, but they don’t seem to notice.
Back at my place my laundry has been returned, all folded neatly and placed on my bed. I tuck in and post and write, and feel pretty good about things.