Friday, July 29, 2011

Middle of Winter

No joking allowed-it has been cold here!  We are in the middle of the winter and just had a cold front with snow in the Eastern Cape.

Monday, July 25, 2011

After too much time passing without spending time together, Lumka invited me to a girls’ weekend that her sister was organizing in Butterworth.  On Friday afternoon we jumped on the crowded public taxi to eGcuwa (Butterworth).  I was glad they knew what they were doing-as we walked to the chaotic taxi rank, Lumka told me, “don’t ask questions, just do what I say and follow where I go”.  During the pushing and shoving to get on this van, I was lifted to the back and sandwiched in between Lumka, her sister, and her sister’s friend.  Before you knew it, we were off as the warnings about public transport on the N2 highway were ringing in my ear.  But the beauty of the slowly setting sun was over the rondavel-dotted hills and knowing I was leaving East London for a few days calmed my fears! 

At dusk, we were dropped off in the middle of the town at the incredibly crowded KFC and began walking towards Lumka’s aunt’s home.  It was good to actually get out of the car in town because I usually just drive through on the way to somewhere else.  I remember driving through Butterworth during our first week in South Africa and I couldn’t imagine ever walking through the hectic town, now it didn’t feel like such a foreign world!

The porkchops
Lumka and her sisters told me that their aunt was nervous about having a white guest in her house because of her limited English skills and I was nervous about making a good impression on her.  When she arrived, it became clear that neither of us was that scary.  She just got angry at Lumka for preparing umphokoqo as that was not a proper meal for company, so she pulled out a bag of giant pork chops which accompanied the maize porridge and sour milk.  Lumka acted as translator, but I was able to practice my Xhosa and I think I understood much of the girl talk!
Eating umphokoqo

The next morning was church—Lumka and her sisters are Adventists so their church service is on Saturdays.   As usual, we arrived late for church so all eyes were on us when we entered.  The sermon was in English, but I was mortified during the group classes when someone suggested that we speak in English because not everyone spoke Xhosa.  I appreciated her courtesy, but also feel uncomfortable when my presence disrupts normal activities!  But the service was full of singing and a ceremony at the end where we formed a circle and shook everyone’s hands.  Lumka and her sisters were laughing the entire time because I was the only of the entire congregation being pulled into big bear hugs.  Then, we were also able to use my “foreigness” to get a ride back home, after a tour through Butterworth and Msobomvu township.  The presence of a Canadian woman at her aunt’s house caused quite the stir-from getting a ride all the way to church in Msobomvu township (instead of being dropped at the taxi rank in town) to her aunt being stopped at the grocery store by the neighbours who were curious about the white girl eating KFC on her stoop to being asked in for tea by one of the church ladies! 
Saturday night cooking

The rest of the day was spent grocery shopping and sitting in the kitchen; preparing dinner but eating so much junk that we barely ate anything we cooked.  But I’ve got another recipe under my belt—chakalaka from scratch.  On Sunday morning Lumka convinced me that the meat in the pot left on the stove from the night before is even better and it’s true!

More meat (and Sunday's breakfast)
Lumka's trifle recipe
The ladies' weekend (with Lumka's aunt in the middle!)
Then it was time for all of us to leave Butterworth and head back to East London.  I had been told that I couldn’t leave the country without hitchhiking as it was a totally different culture than in North America. I barely slept that night, running through many possible scenarios of how it would turn out and wondering if I was getting too comfortable living here!  But we had Sis G’s approval so when Lumka’s aunt dropped us at the hiking spot with students returning to class, families returning home, and workers going back to the city, I held our sign showing where we wanted to go and felt excited and nervous.  But, apparently, it was not anyone’s lucky day to get back to East London so we hopped in another crowded public taxi to get back to East London.  So, still no complete hiking experience but at least a great weekend away!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vigilante Justice is Alive and Well

During a recent trip into the Gender Commission’s office in town with Karin and Angela, we witnessed citizens taking the law into their own hands.  While leaving a shop, a huge mob of people started running through the middle of the street and knocking others down on the sidewalks.  Brakes were squealing, people were yelling, and smoke started wisping up from somewhere.  I immediately thought people were running away from a bomb (similar to my Hemingways Mall bomb evacuation experience) and my first instinct was to get as far away as possible from the mob.  I searched around for Karin and Angela so that we didn’t get separated and only then noticed that people were pulling out cell phones to capture photos and video.

While we stood on the sidewalk, the woman next to me explained that a tsotsi (thief) had grabbed a wallet and the victim and people around had given chase and proceeded to beat him in the middle of the street.  I didn’t want to see the man in the street as you could tell by the movements of the men around him that they were showing no mercy. 

It’s a well known fact that you risk your belongings when you walk through town and the majority of reactions were happiness that someone hadn’t just rolled over as usual and let the thieves have their way.  But this also comes after a recent wave of vigilante community policing which has resulted in stoning and necklacings.  I realize that the South African Police Service may not be the most respected or trusted institution in the country, but witnessing mob justice certainly did not make me feel any safer.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Is that a lamb carcass on your fence?

I am one step closer to my goal of seeing an animal slaughtered.
Last weekend, Andrew, Karin, Angela, and I accompanied Sis Ghana to a traditional bride welcoming ceremony in Mount Frere.  It is about a 4 hour drive from East London and the beginning of the deep rural areas.  We were warmly welcomed into the family home (the long drive meant we missed much of the ceremony), but we managed to show up just in time for the big meal!  The usual side dishes of rice, butternut squash, potato, and spinach greens and in the centre of the table, a giant wooden platter of lamb.  You cut your own chunks and we quickly realized it was easier to use your hands.  I took great pleasure in ripping off a lamb rib!  When asked if she liked chicken, Karin responded with a "yes" and about 10 minutes later, an entire roasted bird was brought out of the kitchen!

Because of the long drive there and back, we didn't stay very long but enough to experience the warmth of the family and the cold of inland areas after the sun has set!  On our way out, I walked by the braai area where everyone was huddled and saw the telltale bloody carcass and coat of that morning's slaughtered lamb hanging on the fence.  I'm not leaving this country until I've seen the ceremonial process of slaughtering an animal.  It makes you feel much closer to the food; to know that it ate the grass in the field you're standing in and is truly appreciated in the celebration and ceremony.

The combination of gorging myself on freshly slaughtered sheep, chicken, and wedding cake wreaked absolute havoc on my stomach, but it was totally worth it!

Ice in East London?

I thought I had escaped Canadian winter—I know it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere and I’ve learned by now that it can be an uncomfortable misconception to think that you’d go to Africa to get warm, but still, ice in East London?

Tuesday began with a wicked storm which managed to wreak extensive damage between about 4 and 7am.  Over 40mm of rain fell in those hours and the city came to a standstill right around early morning rushhour.  Lying in bed, I thought it was another tropical storm with powerful winds and rains that make you wonder if it can get any harder and then the introduction of heavy hail.  When I looked out the window, the rain was coming completely horizontal and it was almost impossible to see anything in front of you.  On a drive through the city that morning, street lights were out, roads and bridges were washed away forcing much of the traffic to use a limited number of routes, cars were stalling in the massive puddles, branches and housing paneling were scattered throughout, and it was cold!

I received a text message asking if I had seen Vincent Mall, which is a couple blocks from my house and a daily meeting place for Canadians.  When we drove by and looked at the main level, there didn’t seem to be any problems but that all changed when we went to the lower level parking lot.  SNOW!  Or at least hail that had frozen together!  Incredible damage to almost all of the stores and the mall was a disaster!  Check out the photos

Much of East London was affected-power was out, homes were damaged, roads were in tatters, and the last two days have been spent cleaning up.  Luckily our home was not affected but much of the storm’s evidence is still around.