Monday, August 29, 2011

Baziya Cooperatives

With the new motto of “shut up and get in the car”, the call from Sis Ghana on Monday morning that we were going to Mthatha and that I should probably pack an overnight bag meant that I just said “sounds good!”. 
After a community meeting at the Centre for Rural Development and an evening assisting Prof Luswazi, Sis Ghana and I shared a bed at Prof’s home which is itself a historical site (the former ministerial home of the leaders of the Transkei homeland).  The next day, we woke early and met with the Ntinga Development Agency which does development work in the O.R. Tambo Municipality.  O.R. Tambo Municipality has the the lowest Human Development Index rating and highest poverty gap in the province (and I believe I read that it also has the highest birth rate in the country).  Mr. Filtane invited us to an indaba (community meeting) as well as the opportunity for a site visit to Baziya to view some the cooperatives and surrounding areas where Sis Ghana, Andrew, Karin, and I will be assisting on some research into whether the cooperatives training and growth has been successful.
We drove past Mthatha for about 50 kilometres and nearly got lost before finding our way to the meeting.  As usual, men and women were sitting on separate sides of the circle and Sis Ghana and I were introduced to the community so our faces would not cause too much of a stir when we returned to conduct the research.  We continued on further into Baziya to visit the sewing, baking, poultry, and agriculture cooperatives and meet the members.
After our site visits, we continued on our way back to East London through Ngcobo, Walter Sisulu’s birthplace.  The air was considerably cooler on our route as we were at the foot of the Drakensberg mountains and I now understand how they get the snow in the Eastern Cape inland.  Then finally back to East London for plans on developing our plans and itinerary for the work with Ntinga and Baziya.  It was very interesting to see another part of the Eastern Cape and watch members of the community in action and proud of their enterprises!

Friday, August 12, 2011

I had to return to South Africa for a second time just to finally visit Lumka’s home and family in her rural village near Alice.  Although I was only out of East London for a weekend, it felt like a month’s worth of stories and lessons.  I came back to East London with the feelings of, “wow, I’m lucky to have Lumka as a friend and I just spent my weekend in a less than typical way”.  Because it’s a blur of eating, telling stories and laughing, introductions, mud and smoke, learning about Xhosa traditions, and peeling and chopping vegetables, I’ve written in sections instead of chronologically.  After a cold front and serious rain swept in on Friday night and most of Saturday, I consider myself lucky to have made it out to the main road to East London.  It was a treacherous drive in the dark on Saturday night with the roads either nearly washed out or virtually impassable with potholes and thick wet clay.  I now better understand the frustrations of these rural communities.
Braaing the meat
As the photos may suggest, food is always one of my great interests and loves and I apologize for the lack of pictures of people!  I have never seen an animal slaughtered (and actually still haven’t!) but I think that the relationship with the food you’re eating is very important so I wasn’t worried about feeling squeamish or turning into a vegetarian after.  For example, this ceremony was a thanksgiving to the ancestors from the Mahanjana family and the community.  Perhaps Lumka and I were too busy having tea, but I missed the actual slaughtering although I did see the cow so closely after its death that it was still steaming as they opened it up and removed its hide.  There was a huge gaping hole in the neck and while most of the cow was saved for the next day’s feast, the men and women gathered separately to eat a certain cut of braaied meat.  While the men may get the glory for slaughtering and skinning the meat, something else has to be served on those heaping plates and that’s where the women come in! It was a blur of chopping potatoes, pumpkins, and cabbages and cooking them within the massive three legged black iron pots (imbiza). And those magic pots seem to hold an infinite supply of samp, rice, and vegetables so that no one goes without. While preparing the next meal, it is necessary for a constant supply of sweet and creamy rooibos tea with umbhako, the giant rounds of bread made in the big three legged pots over the open fire.

umbhako (pot bread)
The bread baking fires

Lumka took me on a tour through the family home (there were at least 4 homes for different purposes on the property).  We visited the shed where the homemade African beer was being brewed, where the rounds of bread were being baked, and the open fires in the grass where the other dishes were being prepared by the women who had married into the Mahanjana family.  It is their role to cook the foods on the fire while wearing traditional cloth skirts as a sign of respect to the family.
I thought I would eat anything but I just couldn’t get excited about the Saturday morning breakfast of stewed cow intestines. I may not be a doctor, but after having spent the bulk of the night before on the toilet, I had a pretty strong feeling that a plate of cow stomach washed out in a wheelbarrow with a garden hose was probably not the best remedy. I now have a reputation for acquiring stomach bugs on trips in rural Eastern Cape so my runny stomach was a hot topic of conversation on Saturday morning and I was told: 1) drink milk 2) don’t drink milk 3) drink green tea 4) drink water and vinegar 5) drink camphor oil and my favourite 6) eat so much meat that it overwhelms your stomach and your system adapts. Luckily my intestinal problems were a one-night issue and I was fine for the rest of the weekend!
Chopping pumpkin, potatoes, and cabbage
Saturday morning breakfast of cow stomach
Cleaning the cow stomach
(with the official intestine garden hose and wheelbarrow)

During our girls’ weekend in Butterworth, Lumka warned me that this was just a warmup to the whole Mahanjana clan where you may think people are fighting, but they’re actually just talking.  Lumka’s family seemed to be mostly women who all love each other deeply and know all of each other’s secrets and embarrassing stories (and somehow mine too as my runny stomach and love life were well known by people I had never even met!).  On our arrival and departure from their home, a huge group of women accompanied us with songs, dancing, and hugs.  It was wonderful to put faces to names and stories and I plan on making myself an honourary Mahanjana.  Lumka took me on a round of meeting all the uncles, grandmothers, children, and I felt so welcomed.  The weekend was spent remembering funny stories and sharing new tales with each other.  I especially loved seeing the 4 generations of women working together and loving each other.  Even with so many houses filled with beds, it was a fight for a bed, but sharing it with Lumka and her sister meant more bonding and helped ward off the below freezing weather!
It wouldn’t be an outing to the rural areas without intense questioning of my marital status and plans.   And like all of the other young women there, our love lives were hot topics for discussion and many of the older family members took it upon themselves to play matchmaker!  During the community gathering before the big meal was served, some of the village women inquired about where I came from, where I lived, and who I was with.  When asked if I was married, I replied no and one elderly woman yelled out to the room, “oh good, a virgin!”  I’m not sure if they were more excited about that or my speaking Xhosa.  After Lumka’s uncle prayed and sang in Xhosa, he pointed out to the “little Canadian girl” that this was a thanksgiving and maybe this would be the turning point in finding that South African husband everyone promises me!
Preparing umqombothi (African beer)

Immediately after the slaughtering
As Lumka’s uncle reiterated, this was not a bereavement but a ceremony to give thanks to the ancestors.  On the ride from King William’s Town, he explained that although a person dies, their spirit is still alive and the distance is too vast between a human and an ancestor to speak directly.  In order to speak to them, you must sacrifice an animal with the elders around as they are closer to that world.  I knew from other events that it is crucial that the cow make a sound when it is slaughtered or else the ancestors are not pleased and traditional doctors are called into investigate.  I secretly prayed that this cow make a lot of noise as I didn’t want to be singled out for cursing the event.  Although the cow was slaughtered on Friday, it wasn’t until Saturday that the village arrived for the meal.  In the early afternoon, there was a call for all family and community members to meet in the 6 cornered house.  The house was separated down the middle into male and female while Lumka’s uncle and other family members performed prayers and songs.  The big meal followed with plates of samp, cabbage, pumpkin, and big chunks of meat dished out throughout the day so that everyone was fed.  The next ceremony seemed to be lots of African beer and whiskey!
Preparing the cow

Other observations
In Lumka’s grandmother’s room, I noticed that the curtains were covered in dozing bees.  I had already learned that bees are another sign of ancestors making their home and you are not to disturb them unless you sacrifice an animal.  The bees caused no problem and it looked like they were sewn into the lace. 
The separation between men and women’s interactions and jobs is striking.  There is an obviously unspoken yet established process of who does what and how.  Everyone knows his or her place as a result of growing up and watching your parents, grandparents, great grandparents….
Although I felt very welcome the whole day (especially by the male community members!),on a couple of occasions, people began speaking to me in Afrikaans while I quickly explained that I was from Canada.  Also, one man made a comment to Lumka that it was nice that “she eats the food without looking down at it” and another told me he was happy I was there to take the time to share and learn about his culture.  I wanted to say to him that it should be me being grateful and honoured to be a part of this.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Injury to One is an Injury to All

What is that they say about best laid plans?  Perhaps the author of that was familiar with Walter Sisulu University and its healthy student activism and political leanings.

Karin and I, with the Centre for HIV/AIDS, Eastern Cape AIDS Council, and the Eastern Cape LGBTI Coalition had carefully planned a workshop for our research study exploring sexual orientation within the student population and its connection to HIV/AIDS.  All of our Peer Educators and field workers had arrived, the programs were passed out, and we had just finished discussion definitions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

All of a sudden, our discussion was interrupted by far-off singing and chanting which came closer and closer until the boardroom doors were opened by a large group of marching WSU students.  They came into the room and the atmosphere immediately changed.  I didn’t know what the lyrics were, but I could sense that it was time for us to quietly pack up and leave and I followed everyone else’s lead.  My uneasiness with large groups of people was not helped by the fact that there was only one way out of the room and they were standing defiantly within the doorframe.

They let us by (and I actually knew quite a few of the students!) and we quietly walked out of the room and congregated in the hallway.  I have to admit that as fascinated as I was to see a proper toyi toyi with the distinctive singing and dancing, I was also very frustrated and disappointed and wondered what exactly they were fighting for or if they even knew.  When we passed by them, most looked down to the ground and softly apologized.    

They usually go from office to office and lock staff out and Sis Ghana and others have always warned us to just leave our offices because the atmosphere can get tense.  This morning they just made a lot of noise and then got on a bus to take them to the main WSU campus.  Aside from the threat to kidnap me and take me with them to the main campus (which I think was a joke although one of the Peer Educators pulled me closer to him right after) and having a student tell me that I was bringing over “Canadian feminism”, it ended calmly and we resigned ourselves to reschedule.

“An injury to one is an injury to all” – I’m curious about their injuries and I’m sure the majority of the students, faculty, and staff are wondering as well.