This is not a paper I would turn into grad school that was proofread, spell checked, and cared about but never or barely read. This is a blog that people will actually read but not grade. I write like I think and talk, which is not organized or correct in many ways. I was diagnosed with chronic sarcasm as a child, its genetic.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Me, I like the testicles"

SOME of the food, in the new not-so-done kitchen
I woke around 4 am clings and clangs, chops, and fire. The women were up early, beating the sun by about two hours to finish preparing all the food for the Baloyi family reunion. Lucky for me the outdoor light and little bit of cover from the blowing winds is just outside my door, so the women were chatting about not having enough green pepper and ‘why the hell did she shop at pick’n pay not fruit ‘n veg’ at my door. Because I am a firm believer that too many cooks is just silly, I stayed in bed until Emily knocked on my door because she needed a box of food that was in my room. I opened by door, with my messy bun on my head and not wearing pants (that’s another story which I will not get too much into) trying to smile and give a proper morning greeting, that I think just came out as a grumble. I gave Emily the box of stuff, which turns out was spices and fish- which was also great to wake up to in my 10x10 room with windows closed. Then I grabbed some pants and a headband and went to try and help. I looked around at all the food and realized they must have been up for hours. Turns out the two older sisters were up at 2:00am to finish prep. “That is just silly!” was my response, but they didn’t seem to understand my disgust. The night before I snuck into bed around 10:00pm, I had been helping chop things and clean for a couple hours and they told me it was someone else’s turn. With six women, all with children ranging from 9 months to 25 years the house was pretty busy and I was fine to escape into my room. Especially since my bed time is usually 8:00pm. 

I have learned that when groups of women get together to prepare for an event, there will be a lot of sitting around and observing, but everyone pitches in. I tried to compare the preparation to Thanksgiving, which usually requires a lot of preparation and experience to know what to do when- but it’s just not the same. First of all, turkey- you leave it. Come back, spew some juicey water on it, leave it. The night before you have to do a lot of prep, with the stuffing and all, and (at least at my house) someone wakes up either throughout the night or very early to keep it juiced. At least I think. My role usually is the day before chopping and day of chopping. For some reason my cooking skills and experiences tend to cease after chopping. But that isn’t what I was trying to explain, where was I? oh yes, night before prep. So anyway, the Baloyi sisters live all over, spread between three provinces. They arrived Friday afternoon and I was relieved when I greeted them they spoke English and welcomed me with smiles. We sat around for a little bit, I slowly got the little ones (2 babies, 1 toddler, 4 other kids) to not be afraid of me, bubbles worked the best, and sunglasses. The sisters talked about money and made sure all that was straightened out, and from what I gathered just caught up. That is when it was time for me to go across the street to funeral prep. 

Funeral, wedding, and reunion on one street in one day. 

Kiddie corner to my house a young girl died about a week ago. I did not know her, but I am told she was a very bright nice beautiful girl. She managed to pass her matric (final national high schools exam) which is a very rare thing in Danisane, and was in tertiary school, even rarer. As described by Mr. Baloyi (the eldest son of old man, owns tuck shop) her boyfriend was garbage and running all around with other girls, ‘she probably got infected’. It is customary (mandatory really) for women to help with preparation for the funeral. I often see Gogo’s carrying the giant black cooking pots and water barrels to someone’s house to help. I have never actually helped, and it’s not that I don’t want to, but I haven’t felt like I’ve had an opportunity. I live with an old man who takes little interest in me- or just can’t really take interest because of language- so I never have anyone telling me what is going on or what I should be doing. But that day, Mma Baloyi (wife of Mr. Baloyi-project manager at my org-doesn’t live in Danisane but it town) was still over to help with prep.  So she told me we had to go to the funeral or else the women would talk about her- so off we went. I put on a skirt and covered my head with a scarf and we went to the house to help. We do the normal greetings, with extra greetings for me, because people still think it’s funny and start to chop some cabbage. “AWOA, TINYIKO” is the immediate response, which is normal, no matter how small I chop it, it’s not small enough. I give my normal sassy response to Mma Baloyi and tell her to her to ‘pump the breaks I got this!’ She laughs, makes fun of me in a language I don’t understand, Gogo’s laugh, we are all happy. I manage to chop about half of what Mma Baloyi does, but speed doesn’t really matter, ever. We are chopping at a table with about 10 people around it, but only two of us working. After one woman gets sick of watching me do everything wrong, she takes over for me. After looking around at another group of women around the fire and big pots, and another group sitting around something else –and of course the men sitting around drinking away from everyone else- I realize there really isn’t work for all 30 of us, but still we HAVE to be there. Paying respect, I guess that aspect of community and Ubuntu is not dead, and I think it’s a beautiful thing. 

So Mma Baloyi and I start to leave to get back to our own prep but stop when we see the funeral home minivan approaching. Soon everyone is gathered around singing, men on one side women on the other. I recognize all these songs by now, but still just stand there pretending to understand. The mood at the cooking tables was pretty happy, but the mood goes south very quickly. I never met this young girl, and I do not know the family but damnit I get all choked up. As the coffin comes out and a few men carry her into the house I can see a young boy crying, which is rare. I have only been to a few memorials and funerals, but I have only seen tears from a few people at the actual grave. I have to ignore the songs and the people around me to regain my composure. I start to realize all the little ones running around which just reinforces the idea that funerals and death are all too common, and it has become a normal part of the culture. However, seeing the little boy wipe his eyes, then another, a bit older girl, crying- reminds us even though it is common, it is still tragic. 

So, we are now back at my house and I am more comfortable in my jean knee length shorts and start the prep! I take a seat and start on peeling some potatoes. Two large bags of potatoes at my feet made me really happy that I invested in a peeler. Hone looked at me and said ‘those are too hard to use, I like this knife’ well you go girl, I like my peeler. We peel away as some of the other women cook that night’s dinner and chase around some of the now 7 kids around. Before I know it there are about 20 of us around doing all sorts of things, but I just stick to the one table going from potatoes, to carrots, peppers, beetroot, then cabbage and onion. I satisfy my duty long before it is all done and another sister takes my knife and tells me to rest. I have a Skype date with Mal, so I don’t refuse. 

Shortly after I went to bed the chopping and chatting dwindled down, and just as I thought it was going to be a quiet night, the drums and singing start. Oh yea, funeral, all night prayer service, across the street. Although I enjoy drums and all, not gonna lie, when it gets to be too intense in the middle of the night it can be a little creepy.

So now it is event day and I am back outside ready to help, but I see I am too late- chopping is done, damn. Emily informs me she has been up since 200am, jyo! Was my response. I spend a lot of time sitting with different people around pots of whatever, and try and help clean. I am happy to see Mr. Baloyi and family around 6am, and go to investigate what animal will be slaughtered. There it is, a goat hanging from the tree and about 5 men standing around to skin and dissect it. This is ‘man’s’ work, but that never stopped me before so I head over to see how you dissect a goat. Not that I really make it a habit of seeing the face of what I will later eat, but it just seemed like the Peace Corps thing to do. Mr. Baloyi quizzes me on different parts, and I am happy I went through anatomy so I could surprise him with correct answers. After I correctly identify the liver he tells me that is only for the men, and I am fine with that. 

Old man and Mr. Baloyi
“Me, I like the testicles.” Mr. Baloyi says with a boyish smile. Luckily I know him well enough I don’t have to mask any reaction. The look on my face makes him laugh and he goes into detail of why he likes them, I told him he could have the balls and I don’t want anything to do with them. We laugh then start talking about the intestines. 

Mma Baloyi and I, CINA!
I stand by the giant vats of pap, then the ones of meat, then other random items, and then finally decide I am useless. I take pictures of people which seems to make them happy, and get ready. I put my South African skirt on that Mma Baloyi gave me, and even some mascara. Big day. 

After sitting around with some women, pretending to know what was going on, Mma Baloyi said it was time to go to the wedding. Wedding? Okay. So three houses past the funeral was a wedding, we stood around for a while and watched the wedding party come in. They were very beautiful, and the choir was also great. After a couple songs and more standing around, she said we were there long enough and needed to get back. Again, just showing face to make the community happy. 

First the funeral, tragic life ending- then wedding, celebration of two families coming together- then reunion, continuing the family bonds. All that in a span of about 6 houses. 

Some sisters, grandkids, great grandkids... 
The next 2 hours are me sitting around, I blow bubbles for the kids which makes the coolest person, EVER. A little four year old girl, who I named princess, had an exceptional amount of energy, and questions. She is Mpho’s (one of the younger daughters) daughter. They live in Pretoria therefore her English is impressive, and she was not afraid to use it with me. She asked “what are you doing” “why” “why” “why” “why” after everything. Although that can be an annoying trait, I thought it was cute. Like many children, she was surprised when she discovered I do not have any kids. “Why” she asked, and everyone laughed. Well, “I am too young” is not an option considering the people around me. “I am not married” certainly is not an option. “I don’t want kids” might be worse than saying I don’t go to church. “Well” I say with a laugh “if I had kids, I would not have been able to come to South Africa.” She thought about that for a couple seconds, then, “why”. Eish. 

The rest of the day was fun, before I knew it there were at least 50 people around. Men were circled up drinking tall boy Black Label beer or the traditional brew I was jonesing for- but never got. The core group of women were busy finishing getting everything ready, and I took periodic breaks hiding in my room. Dancing started after we all ate, somehow Mma Baloyi whisked me off, got my skirt off and put me in her shebelani (the big skirt) and I had all eyes on me (and camera phones) when I was doing the Shangaan dance. After Mr. Baloyi announced that I do, in fact, live here some more people came up to me to greet me and ask questions. Many of the men got progressively drunker, and since the Baloyi women don’t drink, we just hung around dancing, dancing, and dancing. 
Some of the Baloyi sisters showin me how it's done

The sun set, the music kept going, and I was tired. I finally took the shebelani off, mainly because i did not want to battle that in the latrine. A lot of the families began to head home, but a lot stayed to keep going. Everyone had a lot of fun, but I wanted so bad to point out how only a hand full of people did all the work- and if they just agreed to have food ready later, we could have all got a lot more sleep. But, that just isn’t how it works- so I kept quiet. As the women started to clean, many of the men remained drinking. I uploaded the 200 pics I took throughout the day and burned all of the sisters a cd. They were all very happy, and I no longer felt bad for not getting up at 2:00am. I praised the hardest workers for what a wonderful day it was, and snuck off to bed. 

There was still a lot of cleaning left to do when I went to bed, but having no idea what to do and feeling in the way I didn’t feel bad. When I woke up this morning around five, to more clinging and clanging and old man yelling about something and church music blaring on the radio- I refused to think it was necessary to be awake- so put the pillow over my head and didn’t brave the outdoors until around 700, and decided these women are crazy. I like sleep too much to be a part of this family.

Well, around noon Sunday morning, all the family was gone. They will be back in about a month for one of the sister’s wedding, and we will do it all again. I was a bit bummed to see them go, it was fun having a host family for a weekend. The event also made me miss my family more, but I am grateful to have been a part of this reunion. I look forward the November 12th wedding, and I’ll make sure to have plenty of bubbles for the little ones! 

Oh, I never did get to why I didn't have pants on. But I think I'll save that for people who understand chamber pots.