|SOME of the food, in the new not-so-done kitchen|
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.
|Old man and Mr. Baloyi|
|Mma Baloyi and I, CINA!|
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 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.