When you’re out to dinner and the plate shows up in front of you, do you ever wonder how it got there? Are you ever curious about the hands that were mixing that sauce, or the eyes that designed the dish, or even what everyone on the restaurant staff does when the tables are empty? Well, we are. So The Daily Meal is going behind the scenes of your favorite restaurants, to see just what goes on in there during all hours of the day.
We stopped by New York City's Porter House New York at 1:59 p.m. on a Thursday. The lunch service was slowing down, but they were still quite busy. On one side of the kitchen was the grill, getting plenty of action at the steakhouse. Being plated were piles of bright green salads, as well as some seafood dishes. In the back, along a long window, black and white cookies were being prepared adjacent to radishes being sliced on a mandoline. Behind the cook dipping cookies in chocolate, a pastry chef delicately pressed pie crust.
Separate from where final dishes are plated and desserts are designed is a whole other area dedicated to stirring and perfecting sauces. From there, a door leads into a refrigerated room used for cutting steaks. Chef Michael Lomonaco runs a tight ship. A photographer himself, he was able to show us the kitchen through the eye of a chef as well as a photographer.
In the Porter House kitchen, there’s action in every corner. The only time a bustling restaurant kitchen comes to a screeching halt? When a hood goes out. Then the only sound in the kitchen was someone saying, "Turn everything off." An eerie silence crept in as cooks fumbled around to switch off burners. They moved as fast as they could to get everything off the stove, fix the hood, get everything back on, and keep service moving.
Porter House is located in New York City's Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It resides in the same building as other presitigious restaurants such as Per Se, Masa, and A Voce. Executive chef Michael Lomonaco opened Porter House in 2006 after previously running the kitchen at Windows on the World, located on the 107th of the World Trade Center. He also spent some time in television, hosting the Travel Channel's Epicurious and Michael's Place on Food Network.
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Wednesday, December 3
Mean Pinto Beans with Bacon and Arugula
As the economy spirals into oblivion, you may well be reconsidering your food budget. And dried beans are a smart item to factor in. They're packed with all sorts of stuff your body and your wallet will love! Like flavor and cheapness and fiber and nutrients.
Thing is, beans taste like dirt unless you season and add some meaty flavor. To get going, I use the smartest invention since windmills and solar panels, the pressure cooker, to turn dried beans into a versatile base ingredient in just about 20-25 minutes.
Start with Flavorful Beans
I start with 3 cups of Rancho Gordo pinto beans, 7 cups of suitably salted water, a couple of bay leaves, some cumin, a tablespoon of dried Turkish oregano, a couple of Szechuan pepper pods and several grinds of black pepper.
The basic recipe for dried beans calls for soaking overnight, draining, then cooking in water or stock. If you use a pressure cooker, as I recommend, follow the manufacturer's instructions. My 15-year old Fagor Rapida requires just 20-25 minutes to get the beans to al dente , destroy the gastric problem-causing sugars, and infuse initial flavors into the bean.
Believe it or not, pressure cooking puts dried beans into the category of practical and realistic for weekday meals. If you do it the traditional way, you'll need hours. Pressure cookers are the bomb! In the good way!! All of the current models are PERFECTLY SAFE. Mine is 15 years old and safe as houses. errr. as houses were before the economy did it's swan dive.
Finish the Beans
Once the beans are seasoned and al dente , drain off the cooking liquid and reserve it, then reboot your tongue and think about how to finish them. Today, I sauteed a couple of chopped onions and 4 strips of Niman Ranch smoked bacon chopped into one quarter inch pieces with salt and pepper.
After adding two tablespoons of dried, ground ancho chili to the beans, the somewhat browned and caramelized contents of my saute pan, two handfuls of baby arugula, and a couple of cups of the reserved cooking liquid, I set the pot on low and let the arugula wilt and the ancho to thicken, about 10 minutes.
That's it! And it only cost 10 bucks for 6 servings. not bad. Add some rice or even just a few slices of good bread and you're done.
3 cups of dried pinto beans, cooked and seasoned with salt, cumin, oregano, hot pepper pods and ground black pepper. Yields about 6 cups of cooked beans.
2 medium onions chopped and sauteed in 1 tbs of peanut oil
2 tbs of dried, ground ancho chili
4 thick cut smoked bacon strips, chopped into pieces
2-3 handfuls of baby arugula
Season and cook the pintos, saute the onions with the bacon, combine with ancho chili, arugula and a couple of cups of cooking liquid. simmer until the ancho thickens and the arugula wilts and ladle over rice or serve with a couple of slices of good bread.
Ever Wonder What Kaley Cuoco’s House Looks Like? Here’s a Glimpse Inside
Following the finale of her long-running show, The Big Bang Theory, Kaley Cuoco is starting fresh with some brand-new digs. Yes, the 34-year-old actress and her husband, equestrian Karl Cook, are finally moving in together and are in the process of building their dream home. So, Cuoco recently put her Tarzana, California, house on the market for a cool $4.895 million. She purchased the nearly 8,000 square-foot mansion from Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom in 2014 and is now ready to part with its expansive movie theater and lush backyard. Here are ten photos of Kaley Cuoco&rsquos house. (Warning: You may want a laundry room TV after this.)
Witness to a Simpler Life : Finding beauty and plain truths on the road through Pennsylvania’s Amish country
I was new in Amish Country, but I was well-coached. So when I hit the Pennsylvania state line this spring, I looked over the family-style restaurants, the quaint quilt shops, the country stores and the weather-beaten farmhouses with the woodwork in the front yard. But I kept driving.
Soon I stood in a farm exposition building crammed with quilts, crafts, cider jars, sausage sandwiches and homemade pretzels, and resounding with the noises of an auction in progress.
“Five?” asked a man with a microphone, launching into Lot 671. “Five? Diggadiggadiggasix. Six?”
Around me in folding chairs sat several hundred potential bidders--city folk, country folk and scores of sober, bearded men in black hats, their wives in plain dresses, daughters in bonnets, sons in suspenders.
This was the Mennonite Central Committee’s 36th Pennsylvania Relief Sale and Quilt Auction in Harrisburg, an annual charity event that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rachel Pellman, curator of the People’s Place Quilt Museum in the town of Intercourse, had told me the occasion would serve as an ideal introduction to the local culture, and feel “like a family reunion.”
So it did, and what a family: The Old Order Amish farmers--those who keep utility wires and the English language out of their homes--stood alongside their more worldly cousins, the Mennonites. And alongside the Mennonites stood bargain-hunting urbanites from Philadelphia.
“Six?” barked the auctioneer. “Diggadiggadiggaten. Ten. Ten? Diggadiggadiggadiggadiggadig. Sold for nine dollars.”
I didn’t bid on Lot 671, whatever it was. But this was only my first day in the neighborhood, and in the end I took home from Amish Country exactly what I’d come for.
The idea was to step into the countryside, sound out the people and their circumstances, savor some simplicity and tranquillity, and stay off the tourist treadmill. Instead of booking roadside hotels, I stayed as a paying guest in Amish and Mennonite households. Instead of lining up for standard roadside attractions, I stood on the fringes of community commerce.
I happened to be traveling alone in springtime, but a couple or family could easily trace the same course in summer or fall, when Amish country is busy with harvest and weddings and the occasional barn-raising. My trip was a bracing experience, and illuminating, and cheap, and occasionally just a tiny bit challenging.
One night, my 86-year-old Amish host pointed into the refrigerator and with great amusement told me about the city-bred guests he’d had the day before, a couple who actually brought store-bought milk on a stay at a dairy farm.
The next morning, looking into the same refrigerator, I faced a choice between their tidy carton and a pitcher that had been filled out back just two hours before.
The pitcher smelled . . . like cows. The liquid seemed . . . kind of viscous.
But who wants abuse from an 86-year-old farmer? I drank, and I lived.
I passed my first buggy about five miles west of Intercourse. This was on Route 340 in the heart of Lancaster County: two clopping horses in front, impassive driver at the reins, the familiar red reflecting triangle affixed to the back.
The further I drove into Amish Country, the more common the buggies became, rumbling past the Amoco station, waiting for a traffic light to change in front of Kinmo Motel, parked in a driveway by a mailbox marked STOLTZFUS. Stoltzfus, I thought. Unusual name.
At the Bird-In-Hand Farmers Market I pulled over, and was pleased to see a few bonnet-bearing clerks and cups of fresh cider for a quarter. But the chocolate-chip cookies were suspiciously upscale at a dollar each, the aisles were crowded with ersatz antique signs and one of the merchants was vending “Intercourse University” T-shirts. There are no colleges in Intercourse. I was not long in the market.
The driving, however, was grand. Freshly turned fields on both sides. Horse-drawn ploughs raising dirt in the late afternoon sun. A cemetery. And on Snake Lane in the community of Spring Garden, three women in plain dark dresses, chatting and ambling up a long, slow hill. That sight could have been 2 years old, or 20, or 241, as are the words that follow:.
Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our own Anglifying them?
So wrote Benjamin Franklin, to little effect, in 1751. That was about 40 years after William Penn’s pledges of religious tolerance lured the first German Mennonite immigrants to the state.
The first Mennonites followed a 16th-Century renegade Roman Catholic priest named Menno Simons. They took their Scripture literally, especially its calls for pacifism and plain living, and suffered persecution by Catholics and Protestants both.
Their prospects were further complicated in 1693, when Jakob Amman established a faction of more conservative Mennonites, the Amish. Various divisions and re-groupings have followed over the years, usually on the question of how plain to remain, but in central Pennsylvania the Amish and Mennonites remain closer to each other, spiritually and geographically, than to anyone else.
Once darkness fell on that first day, I followed a few roadside signs to my dinner: The Stoltzfus Farm Restaurant, a medium-sized operation on a working farm, offering a daunting family-style meal. Homemade bread. Applesauce. Ham. Sausage. Candied yams. Fried chicken. And shoe-fly pie, a concoction of molasses, brown sugar and vanilla ice cream. The fixed-price bill was $11.95 for far more than I could eat.
When I called the guest house I had booked into for the evening, a recording answered (obviously, this was not an Old Order household) and I found that the owner had been called away. No one was home. I was stranded, and slow-witted from overeating, in central Pennsylvania.
At that moment, the restaurant hostess, Mrs. Stoltzfus, stepped forward to deliver a fast lesson in how a close-knit community works. She called a second Mrs. Stoltzfus, not an immediate relative but a neighbor who takes boarders at her home.
Half an hour later, I stood in the drawing room of Elmer and Rebecca Stoltzfus, perhaps five miles away in the community of Ronks. For $28 nightly, I would have two evenings in a spotless upstairs bedroom of their home, which is also known as the Hilltop Tourist Home. My room had wide rural views in two directions, and a shared bathroom down the hall. The neighboring properties were Amish farms, freshly fertilized and spread like blankets on the hillsides.
This was a Mennonite household, with electricity in every room and cars in the garage, but an early check-out time on Sunday, so that the proprietors could get to church on time. “If a thunder storm,” warned a note on my bedroom’s wall, “pull TV plug from wall outlet.”
All this clean living, and still they worry about being struck by lightning.
I left my television off and peeked out the window. In the distance I could see a late-returning farmer urging his horses along a country lane, buggie lanterns aglow, hooves filling the night with clips and clops.
About these names. Stoltzfus, it turns out, is a surviving name from the original German settlers of Lancaster County. Consulting a county phone book in the Stoltzfus residence, I found 18 Amos Stoltzfuses, followed by column after column of Stoltzfus residences and businesses. A visitor could arrive in Lancaster County, chat with strangers, do business at a dozen stores and restaurants, and encounter only Stoltzfuses.
Once I began paying more attention to names, I began to feel more and more like that visitor.
“Stoltzfus,” said the lettering on the house along an Intercourse side street. “Stoltzfus,” announced a mailbox along a country road.
But that’s not to suggest the place is monotonous. The relationships among Amish, Mennonites and the neighbors alone are enough to keep an outsider speculating into the night.
Mennonite and Amish farmers unite to raise barns for anyone who needs the help, but lines have been drawn. Inter-marriage between factions is discouraged. Distinctions among the Old Order Amish, New Order Amish and Mennonites of various stripes show up in habits of worship, style of dress, buggie construction and beyond. “Black-bumper” Mennonites, for instance, drive automobiles but cover the chrome because they consider it too showy.
On the first morning of my stay--a Sunday morning, with sheep untroubled in the pastures and the roads busy with church-bound buggies--Delmar Neff discovered me outside the Old Road Mennonite Church, and invited me in to see his brethren at prayer.
I sat quietly near the back as the congregation sang “Extol the Love of Christ” in rich tones the men lowly murmured “grace, grace,” while the women piped in with the phrase “marvelous grace” in harmony above them. All faced an altar decorated with fresh flowers, the words “in remembrance of me” and no crucifix.
And all joined in the laying-on of hands.
One man was struggling with chemotherapy. Another faced a biopsy. A third had a chronic bad back. Each was surrounded by neighbors, who placed hands on shoulders, backs and arms, bowed in prayer, and silently concentrated while the prayer leader, speaking in calm, even tones, called on God for healing. After a guest speaker and a few more hymns, we filed out into the light of day.
The Old Order Amish are far more severe than most Mennonites, and are less likely to invite a stranger to the Sunday services they hold in their homes. But they are no endangered species.
Donald B. Kraybill, author of “The Puzzles of Amish Life,” estimates that high birth rates pushed the Lancaster County Amish population from fewer than 500 in 1900 to more than 16,000 in 1990. By some estimates, the average Amish family includes seven children.
The big question for today’s Amish is how to reconcile self-preservation with emerging technology, and sorting the issues out is a mind-bending exercise. Some Amish, Kraybill reports, keep telephones outside their homes but not inside. Others use calculators but not computers. Many disdain electricity from public power lines, but freely use batteries and generators. Most Amish see doctors, but refuse life insurance.
On a morning stroll past a country schoolhouse, I discovered that while the tradition-bound rulers of Major League Baseball resist aluminum bats, Amish children swing them daily at recess.
And though the Old Order Amish are forbidden to own or operate motor vehicles, they accept rides. Some of them, in fact, accept rides to Florida, where they pass their winter vacations in Pinecraft, a suburb near Sarasota, fishing and playing shuffleboard.
Most Amish tolerate tourists bearing cameras but, in keeping with church teachings on humility, are offended by efforts to photograph their faces.
Tourists complicate their lives in more ways than that, of course. The Amish are exploited--no passer-by of the elaborately advertised Amish Barn restaurant on Route 340 could deny that--but many capitalize themselves by selling quilts and crafts to supplement their farming income. Quilt production, locals say, is at an all-time peak.
“In many ways, they need the tourists to sell a lot of what they produce,” said Dale Gehman, a Mennonite from Mount Joy whom I met at the relief auction. “But then the tourists come and love the tranquillity of rural life . . . and pretty soon those people start moving into the area.”
And then property values rise, and farming becomes steadily less cost-effective, and younger generations could be forced to seek cheaper land elsewhere, and around and around it goes. The people may be plain, but their lives are plenty complicated.
One day on the road to Leola, I saw a tall column of smoke rising from a field, and two men standing by it. A barn had burned, and while their brethren were pouring cement to raise a new structure nearby, these two were incinerating the detritus. I introduced myself.
“California,” said one. “That’s where all the money is.”
I told them all the money seemed to be in the hands of the real estate and insurance companies.
“Sounds like farming,” said the man, gazing out at the brown fields and smoky sky.
On Monday mornings at the New Holland Horse Auction, animal smells hang in the air. Scores of farmers crowd the lot, buying and selling horses and hay. Peddlers offer spurs and bullets. Pickup trucks vie with black buggies for the right of way.
This is a weekly custom, and a largely undiluted one: For every outsider on the morning I went, there seemed to be at least half a dozen farmers.
One old man with an eight-inch beard pulled at stray hay stems, then muttered in German over the prices. An Amish father strode past, arms full of rakes and shovels. His son, perhaps 5 years old, trailed behind, swinging a tiny hammer. On the shoulders of the farmer’s plain black jacket, loose hay sprigs accumulated like so much scarecrow dandruff.
“That there’s good hay. It’s not stemmy like some,” allowed one straw-hatted Amish man, poking a finger into a bale.
The auctioneer barked through a portable amplifier slung over his shoulder, urging on bidders who stood in a ragged semicircle of skepticism. Most of the sellers were getting $100 to $115 per ton for their hay, but in the bidding behind one truckload, the seller wouldn’t take less than $125. The high bidder wouldn’t pay more than $115. Both turned away in disgust, and the auction moved on to the next truck-bed.
While the men trade horses and hay, women in Amish country traffic in quilts. A few miles south of New Holland and a few hours after the prime horse-trading was done, Delores Flynn of Paradise and Mary Cummings of Leola sat in Nancy’s Corner, a quilt shop in Intercourse. They were on duty to buy wholesale and sell retail, but mostly they were still reeling from a national quilters’ convention that had taken over the town the previous weekend.
Business is certainly good. In Nancy’s and several other quilt stores around Lancaster County, visitors pay from $50 (for a small piece of simple work) to $1,000 and more (for a complicated bedspread). To keep its inventory up, Flynn said, Nancy’s buys wholesale from about 300 Amish and Mennonite quilters, often paying quilters by the yards of thread they use.
Flynn was still explaining the business when an Amish woman, a newcomer, stepped in the shop. She was weighed down by fabric, trailed by two silent children and an older woman.
“I have a few quilts here,” the fabric-bearing woman said. “And I wondered if you’d take a look.”
“What’s the pattern?” asked Flynn.
That was evidently the right answer, and when the woman spread out a pair of bedspreads, Flynn and Cummings oohed and ahhed .
“How much would you want?” asked Flynn.
“I guess what I could get,” parried the woman. She was plain, but she wasn’t simple.
After an offer and a counter, they settled on a price between $300 and $400 for each bedspread. Starting paperwork, Flynn asked the quilter’s name.
My last stop in Lancaster County was on the farm of Jonathan and Lydia Lantz, home of the aforementioned milk pitcher, the carton, and Lydia’s 86-year-old father, Elam Stoltzfus.
The Lantzes are New Order Amish though they use electricity and depend on their son and his car for long-distance travel, they keep a buggy in the barn for trips to town. They favor plain clothes, and live in a farmhouse that is at least 120 years old.
“I guess if we weren’t crazy,” said Jonathan Lantz, “we’d take $500,00 or $600,000 for this place, and live the easy life.”
The farm is 100 acres, and the house is roomy enough to accommodate the Lantzes and Lydia’s father downstairs and seven guest bedrooms upstairs, but it is no luxury lodging. Carpet colors evolve from room to room, Christian literature lies here and there, and the upstairs seven bedrooms share three bathrooms. The price was $25 for a double room, $20 for a single, breakfast included.
“People say we should charge more,” said Lydia Lantz. “But we don’t have the facilities some others do.”
The only other guests during my two nights there were a young couple who run a farm in Ontario, Canada. They were curious about the Lantzes, and the Lantzes were eager to compare notes with another farming couple, and parlor conversation crackled along for two hours or more.
Lydia sat in a blue dress and blue apron, contributing more or less equally with her husband. Jonathan, whose beard was white, wore black pants, black suspenders and a blue work shirt, with spectacles balanced on his nose.
Drawing on my studies of Amish and Mennonite factions, I told them I’d noticed that some Amish men wore black hats others, straw hats. This, I thought, must hint at a deep schism having to do with the symbolism of headwear.
The Lantzes smiled and gave me the bottom line. The heavy black hats are for winter, the straw hats are for spring, and on cold mornings in early April it’s every man for himself.
Among the other topics addressed: how long to keep a calf before separating it from its mother (the Lantzes preferred a week, but market conditions often force farmers to sell sooner) children (the Lantzes had eight) and the urban poor (the Lantzes were not entirely sympathetic).
The next morning was the last of my stay, and on the way out I left $50 to cover a $42.40 bill and tip. Lydia Lantz insisted on returning at least $3, but couldn’t put her hands on any change.
I was already moving toward the door, with a rental car to return and a flight to catch. The last words I heard in Amish country were these:
“If you see my husband on the way out there, you tell him he owes you $3.”
I didn’t see him, which is fine. This way, I have another reason to go back.
GUIDEBOOK: Ambling Through Amish Country
Getting there: Lancaster lies 90 minutes’ drive southwest of Philadelphia, two hours north of Baltimore, three hours north of Washington, D.C. Flights to Washington can be cheaper than those to Philadelphia or Baltimore, but travelers should check to be sure. In early June, USAir offered the cheapest available tickets from LAX to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. (National or Dulles airports) at $350 round trip from LAX to Philadelphia the figure was $450.
A rental car is probably the best way to enjoy the countryside. The county seat of Lancaster does have a modest airport and an Amtrak station, however. From New York’s Penn Station, trains leave daily at 7:45 a.m. (arriving in Lancaster at 10:58 a.m.) and 2:37 p.m. (arriving 6:01 p.m.). Fare is $39 one way, $59 round trip additional trains may be available on weekdays, and advance reservations may be required. From Philadelphia, eight trains a day run to Lancaster ($11 one way, $17 round trip).
Where to stay: Dozens of family farms offer guest accommodations in Lancaster County, at double-occupancy rates of about $25-$60. Request a brochure from the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau (it lists 23 farm lodgings) by writing Dept. 2224, 501 Greenfield Road, Lancaster, Pa. 17601, (800) 735-2629, Ext. 2224. Another brochure, with about 70 farms and bed and breakfast inns listed (including the Hilltop Tourist Home and Clearwood Farm Home Lodging) is offered by the Mennonite Information Center, 2209 Millstream Road, Lancaster, Pa. 17602-1494, (717) 299-0954.
The area also includes plenty of conventional smallish hotels, and some fancier bed and breakfasts with rates in the $100 range. Of the upscale lodgings, the most notable may be the Guesthouse at Doneckers (19 rooms), The 1777 House (12 rooms) and the Gerhart House (5 rooms), three separate properties in Ephrata under the same management (717-733-8696). Double-occupancy rates run $59-$175, and some rooms include such frills as inlaid hardwood floors and Jacuzzis.
Where to eat: Family-style is the rule among Lancaster County restaurants.
The Stoltzfus Farm Restaurant (one block east of Intercourse on Route 772 East 717-768-8156) is open daily May through October, offering dinners for $11.95.
The Plain & Fancy Farm and Dining Room (in Bird-in-Hand on Route 340, 717-768-8281) offers similar fare for $12.95, but on a vast scale: The place can seat 1,000 at a time. Some summer nights, a waitress confided, “it seems like 5,000.”
The Amish Barn (between Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse on Route 340, 717-768-8886) is another restaurant in the same mold, with dinners priced at $12.95, $4.95 for children under 10.
For an entirely different kind of meal, there is The Restaurant at Doneckers and the Hearthside Cafe, both served by the same French-influenced kitchen at the Doneckers complex in Ephrata (717-738-2421). In the formal restaurant, entree prices run $18.95 (excluding soup and salad) to $54.95 for a chateaubriand that feeds two. In the less formal cafe, entrees run $7.95 (for beef Wellington) to $17.95.
One more food note: Most restaurants are closed on Sunday. One that’s open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. is the Harvest Drive Family Motel and Restaurant (717-768-7186), which offers an all-you-can eat breakfast for $5.85, family-style dinner for $11.95.
A guide from the Mennonite Information Center in Lancaster (address and phone above) will join you in your car and direct you on a countywide driving tour, with stops at community centers and relatively uncommercial points of interest, for prices beginning at $22. The center also shows a documentary film on Amish life every half-hour.
The People’s Place (717-768-7171), on Main Street in downtown Intercourse, includes shops, a small movie theater, a quilt museum and an Amish World hands-on museum for children. The movie theater screens the 25-minute documentary “Who Are the Amish?” continuously, Monday through Saturday. Admission to the film is $2.50 for adults, $1.25 for children 7-12. Closed Sundays.
The Strasburg Railroad (Route 741, Strasburg, 717-687-7522) runs from Strasburg to Paradise and back (4 1/2 miles each way) several times daily, May through December. Tickets for the 45-minute trip cost $6 ($8.50 for first-class). The public-address narration is entertaining, and the cars include working stoves and reversible seats. Be prepared, however, for plenty of salesmanship. A color program to commemorate your trip is another $2, and other souvenirs are hawked at the gift shop and the antique picture gallery.
The Central Market in downtown Lancaster (Williams Henry Place, Lancaster, 717-291-4723), one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the nation, houses the stands of several dozen local farmers and merchants. The market is open Tuesdays and Fridays, 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturdays, 6 a.m.-2 p.m.
The 43rd annual Pennsylvania Dutch Kutztown Folk Festival (461 Vine Lane, Kutztown, Pa. 19530, 800-447-9269), which celebrates the area’s music, visual arts, food and clothes, is scheduled for June 27-July 5 at Kutztown Fairgrounds on Route 222. The daily schedule runs 9 a.m-5 p.m. admission is $8 daily for adults, $4 for children. No advance ticket sales. Attendance last year was estimated at 100,000.
For more information: The Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau (Dept. 2201, 501 Greenfield Road, Lancaster, Pa. 17601, 800-735-2629, Ext. 2201) sends a free 32-page map and visitors’ guide to anyone who requests it.
10 Beautiful Blue Paint Colors to Use In Your Kitchen
With so many hues to choose from, there's a shade of blue out there for every style, mood, and paint preference. Here you'll find the best ways to use colors like turquoise, teal, cobalt, navy, sapphire, and light blue in your kitchen, plus the best, affordable paints to replicate the look in your home.
Inside this renovated 1840s New York home, the white farmhouse sink pops against the blue paint covering the walls, cabinets, and trim.
Use this shade of dark blue to instantly add some interest to your kitchen. Amp up the contrast in the room by pairing it with a white countertops, flooring, or trim.
Striking P480-7, starting at $27 per gallon behr.com
The various shades of blue featured on the walls, sink, and floor beautifully come together to create a vibrant atmosphere in this country kitchen.
You can't go wrong with this timeless shade of blue on the walls. Make it even more vibrant by pairing it with colorful accessories and furniture throughout.
Tanzanite P530-7 , starting at $27 per gallon behr.com
Jolie Sikes-Smith from Junk Gypsies created a unique and distressed look on her turquoise kitchen cabinets by coating them with a blue interior oil stain, then used a rag to apply, and partially rub off a layer of wood finish stain.
Use this eye-catching blue to recreate Jolie's vintage look on your shelves and cabinets.
61 Jenkintown, PA 19046 Homes For Sale
Welcome to fine living in one of of the most sought after neighborhoods in Abington. Right in the heart of Crosswicks, just a few blocks from the famed, resident only, Alverthorpe Park, this home has everything that today's most savvy investor is looking for. Fabulous sight lines at every turn with open floor plan, high ceilings and comfortable flow. This natural light-filled custom built home was finished is only about 10 years young. This 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath home is an entertainers dream, featuring an open split level floorplan, vaulted ceilings, chefs kitchen with stainless steel appliances and an oversized island. Home features a combination of tile and hardwood flooring all throughout and interior recently painted in 2021. Fully finished basement that could be set up for an in-law suite, au-pair suite or in-home office. The owner pride is evident at every turn with attention to every detail. This is the home where you can just drop your bags and move right in. Quiet street with no cut-through traffic. Close to shopping, public transportation and restaurants. Situated on an oversized lot with plenty of back yard space, firewood storage area, garden, and patio. Original owners. This home also has the ability to possibly add another home on the same lot.
Cute little bungalow in Rockledge! 3 bedroom 2.5 bathrooms sitting on a corner lot with a front porch!Spacious kitchen with granite countertops, undermount sink, all appliances staying and recessed lights. Recently refinished hardwood floors in the kitchen as well.Head upstairs to the very large master bedroom with lots of windows, closets, storage and a full bathroom with stand up shower. Head back downstairs to the basement that was refinished with luxury vinyl flooring, has recessed lights, cable ready, laundry room, storage room and a half bath. Out back you will find another covered porch, patio and enclosed back yard. 2 car detached garage included!
637 Wanamaker Road will not disappoint YOU! This lovely property has been updated in so many ways. Upon entering front door you will be impressed with beautiful hardwood floors through home. Spacious open floor plan leads to updated kitchen with counter seating, The Seller has converted third bedroom into luxurious spa bathroom which leads into primary bedroom with beautiful finished floors all recessed custom lighting and custom cabinetry and wood shutters and private work space. Lower level can be used as third bedroom or family room. All windows throughout home have been replaced. privacy clear window block has recently been installed to all lower level windows.Make your appointment now for your private showing. you won't want to miss this one!
Rydal - Welcome to an amazing custom-built Craftsman home on a one-way street in desirable Crosswicks in Abington Township. The circular paver driveway leads you to the covered front flagstone porch, a unique front door and into the 2 story foyer with a ceramic tile floor. To the left is a home office/den with access to the 2-car heated garage with 108" high garage doors and built-in shelving. A spacious vaulted great room with large stone fireplace features 2 electric skylights and a wall of handmade built-in cabinets. The great room is open to the dining area with French doors leading to the back flagstone patio and a 2nd French door leading to a beautiful large screened-in porch with ceiling fan unique mosaic wall. Off the dining area is a 2nd home office with vaulted ceiling and a a wall of built-in shelving, lovely windows and a door leading to the front driveway. The kitchen is designed for a true chef. The 5 Wolfe stove with hood, dishwasher, Subzero refrigerator, double sink, granite countertops, large pantry, breakfast bar area, pendant lighting are only a few of the amenities this kitchen offers. Off the foyer is access to an elevator, double coat closet, mechanical closet, powder room and laundry area behind closed doors. You will love the first floor main bedroom suite that includes 3 large closets plus a walk-in closet, newer ceramic tile vaulted bath with separate water closet, double sink vanity and large walk-in/roll in stall shower with seamless doors. The main bedroom ceiling is vaulted with a ceiling fan and double doors to the rear patio. The second floor features a 2nd bedroom with ceiling fan, walk-in closet and plenty of large windows. There is a full bath with high ceilings and a tub/shower is adjacent to this bedroom. The 3rd bedroom has an ensuite updated (2019) vaulted ceiling ceramic tile bath with stall shower and seamless doors. There is a large 4th bedroom with a walk-in closet is currently being us
Welcome to 152 Highland Avenue! Gorgeous and stately home in the heart of the highly desirable Jenkintown Boroughexceptional! Enter this special 1900 Colonial and, once through the foyer, this magnificent living room with paneled walls, a coffered ceiling, and historic detailed millwork will take your breath away! Toss your belongings into one of three closets and relax on the built-in bench and to simply view this truly one of a kind roomstunning! With the wood-burning fireplace, built-in glass-front bookcases, gorgeous hardwood floors, and the elegant inviting staircase, you will feel cozy and comfortable. Through the living room, there is a bright and airy family room with private views of the outside through walls of windowsso beautiful. The glamourous blue and white formal dining and its beautiful decorative fireplace is patiently awaiting the next dinner party. Traveling from the dining room to the kitchen, there it isthe original Butler Pantry which has been warmly renovated to preserve the history of this room and the abundant storage it offers. The renovated kitchen boasts white cabinets, quartz counters with seating, a back staircase, built-in corner seating, and, yet, another coffered ceiling! The details throughout this home are truly special. Heading up the classic paneled staircase, you will enjoy the large primary bedroom with another decorative fireplace and a tiled bathroom. There are four other bedrooms, one of which the owners use as a very convenient walk-in closet. The beautiful light shining through the large windows of this home create enchanting areas throughout the home. The third floor offers two additional bedrooms, one of which is currently used as a work-out/yoga room and the other a home office. There is a large storage attic space as well. Lets now go outside, shall we? On over a half of an acre, this lovely home is situated on one of the prettiest streets in the Borough and the views do not disappoint. Ac
Gracious brick center-hall Colonial on a beautiful setting in the prestigious neighborhood of Baederwood. Step into this beautiful home and immediately be impressed with the spacious open floor plan that is perfect for entertaining or just a casual family retreat. The first floor consists of a spacious Living Room featuring a gas fireplace with a wooden Morgan mantle, marble surround and floor-to-ceiling mirrors which are highlighted by recessed lighting. The perfect setting for formal entertaining. The Dining Room with crown molding and chair rail has a built-in corner china cabinet to hold those special items that have been collected over the years. In the Foyer there is also an up-dated Powder Room and coat closet. The original section of the home was built in the l930's but the current owners constructed a large addition to the rear which is the highlight of this home. The open Kitchen features an eat-in breakfast area, granite counter tops, ceramic tile backsplash, double ovens, electric cooktop, double stainless-steel sink and ample cabinet space. The custom multiple-divided pull out pantry and large storage cabinets provide wonderful space to hold everything needed in a Kitchen. In addition to the gourmet Kitchen, there is a built-in desk section as well as a separate bar (beverage) area featuring custom wooden built-ins along with an under-cabinet fridge, wine cooler, sink and custom lighting package. These separate (yet open) areas lead to the highlight of this floor which is the fantastic Family Room. Relax by the brick wood-burning fireplace with raised hearth, wood storage box, custom wood cabinetry with recessed lighting and watch TV or look out the windows at the beautiful rear setting. A back hallway leads to a private first-floor office, Laundry area, additional coat closet, separate exits to both the side yard, the front attached garage and a back stairway to the second floor. The main staircase will take you to the upper level of the home. The Ma
Welcome to 926 Manor Ave in Meadowbrook. This wonderful home is one that you simply cannot miss! Located on a quiet, tree lined street with side-walks. This residence offers ample privacy as it sits on the cusp of a cul-de-sac. This exquisite light filled home features an open floor plan and a tranquil backyard for relaxing and entertaining.As you enter the home through double glass doors, youll instantly take note of the two story open foyer and the oversized windows with plantation shutters and recessed lighting throughout the main level, stately white columns, and wood floors throughout. Each room seamlessly flows from one to the next, as this lovely layout showcases light-filled, open, and airy living spaces with 9 high ceilings. Unique to this property, the grand foyer harmoniously leads into the two-story family room. With soaring cathedral ceilings, two skylights, and a gas stone fireplace, the family room is the heart of this home. Adjacent, there is flex-space that has potential to be utilized as a den, home office, or playroom. The eat-in kitchen features more large windows, pendant lighting with ample cabinetry, pantry, a stainless steel SubZero refrigerator, gas cooktop, wall oven, microwave, and a nice breakfast area. This beautiful breakfast area has sliding glass doors that open to your private outdoor oasis with an EP Henry patio which is a wonderful area to bbq, relax, and entertain. Enjoy the views, peaceful outdoor space, and substantial yard.With a formal living room and gorgeous dining room, this home is truly ideal for entertaining friends and family. Concluding the first floor, there is a powder room with a pedestal sink and a window, a laundry room with a utility sink and storage, and a two-car garage with entry into the kitchen-- perfect to easily unload the car after grocery shopping!A set of double doors opens to your lavish primary bedroom boasting incredible custom-built closet space, with a very large walk-in closet too. Windows w
Wow, this beautiful brick colonial home is one to get excited about! Located in a highly desirable, tree-filled neighborhood near to schools, transportation and shopping, this home has been beautifully updated and landscaped. Through the front door is a bright and cheerful center hallway with beautiful hardwood floors and fresh paint. The spacious family room, (pictured currently with billiard table) has plenty of natural light, a fireplace, and a charming Dutch door leading to the back patio. Across the foyer is a lovely and spacious dining room (no pictures listed it is currently high school senior project central!) that leads into the renovated and well-appointed kitchen with stainless steel appliances. A charming breakfast area that flows from the kitchen is a real show stopper, with its rustic brick feature wall and large bay window that provides plenty of light. A new powder room completes the first floor.Upstairs, the spacious master bedroom has plenty of closet space and a completely remodeled master bath. The three additional bedrooms are very generous in size.The outdoor space is really something to get excited about!! Dutch doors in the kitchen lead to the back yard and a gorgeous entertainment space that boasts a beautiful stone fireplace on a patio of flagstone. It is the perfect place to entertain friends, enjoy your first cup of coffee in the morning or a beverage at the end of the day. You will love this peaceful retreat!The new windows and storm doors throughout the home will provide your family with comfort and security. There is also a huge, partially finished basement with room for exercising, a workshop, laundry and an entertaining space. A two car garage , with ample ground parking completes the picture. This wonderful home on a quiet street is close to so much, convenient to transportation, parks and shopping. Walking distance to the Abington Schools, and the Septa station to Philadelphia. Come see this home, you will be so
This charming Cape Cod with a Mid Century Modern #MCM flair offers it all! Two Master Bedrooms! One on the first floor and one on the second! This layout offers great versatility and the convenience of one floor living if you choose. Entrance foyer with marble tile and tall ceilings overlooking oversized living room with decorative fireplace. There is a large bay window that overlooks the rear space. Step up to your spacious dining room where the open flow and soaring ceiling make entertaining or just relaxing easy. Eat in kitchen with stainless steel refrigerator, double oven, cooktop and plenty of cabinets! Right off the foyer is a den currently used as a home office with built ins and beautiful bay window. This room could easily be used for additional bedroom space, home gym or additional recreation room. Master Suite with great closet space and master bath. Corner windows offer natural light. 2 additional bedrooms and hall bath. Convenient first floor powder room. Second floor has an additional master bedroom and full bath! There is plenty of room for additional storage on the second floor. Finished basement with interior access to oversized 2 car garage. Don't miss the rear covered patio, mature landscaping and large level lot. The home has so much to offer and is perfectly located! Walk to the train, shops and restaurants. A quick commute to Center City, Abington Jefferson Hospital and area Universities. 309, 476 and turnpike are an easy commute. Area parks close by as well as Blue Ribbon Schools. Professional photos to follow.
Move right in to this brick twin townhouse! In beautiful condition, this charming home will not last! Enter into the bright living room and full dining room. The modern eat-in kitchen, family room with gas fireplace, and powder room complete the main level. The second floor has three ample sized bedrooms and a ceramic tiled full bath. The spacious recreation room, large storage area and laundry room are on the lower level. Wood deck patio, storage shed and nice backyard are added features. Upgrades include Pella windows, new door and newer high efficiency heater with central air-conditioning. Concrete driveway apron to be repaired by seller per township requirements. Wonderful neighborhood! Convenient to shopping, restaurants and transportation.
Gracious five bedroom stone colonial in highly desirable Baederwood. The open and welcoming entry hall leads to both the formal dining room with decorative brick fireplace and spacious living room, highlighted by a dramatic, curved stone fireplace, deep window sills and French doors to the front yard. An adjacent family room with custom built in cabinets, has French doors leading to the side patio. The tiled kitchen with stainless appliances includes a charming breakfast room with entry to the flagstone patio and large, fenced yard. A powder room completes this level. The primary bedroom and bath area includes a dressing area and great closet space. Three additional ample sized bedrooms, a nicely renovated full bath, plus a spacious full bath/laundry room are on this level. An au pair/guest bedroom with full bath is located off the back staircase. The full, floored attic could be converted into additional living area and provides ample storage space. Great neighborhood, convenient for shopping at Trader Joes and Whole Foods. Close to all forms of transportation. Walking distance to train. Abington Blue Ribbon Schools. A Must See!
Two bedroom all brick twin rancher with one and one half baths on quiet street in Rockledge Borough. Main floor has a good size living room, eat-in kitchen, full hall bath, and two bedrooms. Large basement with laundry area and half bath. There is driveway and street parking and a shed for storage in the rear of the property. Interior has been remodeled with new kitchen cabinets and appliances, new flooring throughout, new electric fixtures and service, and new paint. Basement walls have been caulked and drylok applied.
Location, location, location! 756 Carmet Rd is nestled in the Crosswicks neighborhood of Jenkintown. This 3 bedroom, 2 bath stone front Cape Cod home sits on a wide, quiet street just blocks from Alverthorpe Park and Fox Chase Manor Park. A few minutes in the car takes you to all the restaurants, shopping and major roadways. The main level has a spacious master bedroom with an added bonus. ..open your french doors onto a screened in sleeping porch where you can enjoy reading, nature, coffee or take a long relaxing nap! As you walk in the front door you are greeted by original hard wood floors leading to a dining room on one side and the living room on the other featuring a wood burning fireplace. There are plantation shutters in dining and living rooms. The kitchen has gas cooking, tin backsplash and access to the laundry area and two car garage. An office or den is conveniently located off the kitchen with another set of french doors leading out to another patio and the backyard. A full bath completes this level. Upstairs are two sizable bedrooms and a full bath. One of the bedrooms has a large closet and a space to use as a sitting room, TV area or whatever you wish. The basement is partially finished and perfect for storage. The roof was installed 2 years ago. Air conditioning was installed in 2018 and home has a radon remediation system. This home is surrounded by nature and trees. Call today to schedule your appointment!
Large 1 Bedroom 1 Bath Condo in sought after Beaver Hill Condos. Eat in Kitchen with plenty of sleek white cabinets, gas cooktop, wine refrigerator, trash compactor, dishwasher and beautiful island to dine or serve ! Combination Dining Area/Living Room give you lots of options for flexibility for living space/furniture. Plenty of room to entertain and relax . Beautifully refinished parquet floors. This is one of the nicest units I have ever seen in this condo building. Don't miss the large patio offering privacy and a great view! Master bedroom is large with walk in closet space. Convenient Vanity area with storage, linen closet and separate full bathroom with stall shower. This unit offers lot of good closet space and additional storage unit in the building. This unit was carefully planned with every modern detail! Enjoy recessed lighting throughout. Beaver Hill is known for it's great location close to the Jenkintown Train Station, impeccably kept building, beautiful swimming pool and remodeled Community Room. You will be wowed by the newly renovated foyer and great Doorman Service. Complimentary Van service available makes this condo a great deal! Great Jenkintown Schools, close to area Universities and Hospitals, Post Office, Downtown Jenkintown Restaurants and Hiway Movie Theater. Across from the Train Station and close to 309,476 and Turnpike access. Condo fees include exterior/interior building maintenance, heat, electricity, water, snow and trash removal.
STOP LOOKING. START LIVING in this Special 3230 sq.ft. Mid Centruy Modern Multi-Level Home. This Quality Built Home truly has it all. CHARM, SOPHISTICATION & SPACIOUSNESS!! It boasts an Open and Bright floor plan for easy entertaining and family living with soaring ceilings in both the Living Room and Foyer, mirrored custom built-ins in the Dining Room, an Updated Eat-in kitchen with gorgeous granite countertops and all stainless appliances. Fabulous Top of the Line Bathrooms with a jacuzzi and skylight in one. A family room with a stone walled wood burning fireplace, plus a Bonus Florida Room to totally relax in and enjoy where this can be used as a private quiet office or as a perfect playroom, and so much more. All this located in the Award Winning Blue Ribbon Abington School District and the Wonderful Rydal Neighborhood. This outstanding location is so convenient with its sidewalks, and its easy walking distance to the Noble Train Station, and downtown Jenkintown with all its trendy shops and fun eateries. You'll Truly Just Love Living Here.
Quietly tucked away in a bucolic setting, and yet just minutes in walking distance to so many desirable spots. Privacy is yours at 201-203 Greenwood Avenue, set way back from the street, located in the heart of Jenkintown Borough. Whether your dream is of beautiful, private grounds, easy living, multi-family living, or investment opportunity, this property will excite and delight!! There are two houses on the property both are zoned duplexes. The main house underwent a dramatic renovation in 2012. The tasteful upgrades and quality finishes bring a fresh and modern aesthetic to this one of a kind property. The main house welcomes you with its impressive wood pergola, lit up at night for a beautiful effect. Enter the custom glass front door and step into the entry foyer. and prepare to fall in love!! Step down into the expansive living room with a gas fireplace as its focal point. With many oversized windows and glass french doors leading to the rear patio, this space brings the outside in!! The formal dining room, which overlooks the living room, has handsome bamboo wood flooring, original wainscoting, a built-in server with soapstone counter (for hot food buffet) and beautiful glass shelf built-ins. A charming sun room is located off of the dining room, with an exposed stone wall and skylights, and sliders leading to the side yard. Fabulous cook's kitchen with fresh white cabinetry, granite counter tops including the center island with gas cooktop, where you can take a seat and watch the cook in action!! All stainless appliances, appliance garages and loads of storage space. Complete with glass tiled backsplash and recessed lighting, this is where your guests will gather! Now, for the first floor bedroom wing. enter through double doors into a hallway with built-in bookshelves. Two bedrooms flank this part of the house. The owner's bedroom suite with its brick fireplace, has many windows, 3 closets and a wall of fabulous built-in storage. Ex
Welcome to 100 West Avenue , Beaver Hill, The Penthouse Level, 609S in wonderful Jenkintown Boro. This one bedroom , one bath condominium has beautiful views of Jenkintown and beyond. When entering the building through the secure entry you will always be greeted by the friendly concierge in a very well maintained, secured and modern lobby. Passing the gym to the elevators you will ride the elevator car to the sixth floor PH(The Penthouse Level) take a few steps to your door and enter this very well maintained condo. Upon entering you will find a modern kitchen equipped with stainless steel appliances , granite countertops and high end cabinetry. Moving forward into the open living and dining area you will find plenty of room to relax with a built in, electric fireplace surrounded by a neutral stone wall. . Off the living area is the large bedroom , center hall that leads to the tastefully finished bath. Back in the hall you will find a large walk in closet with plenty of space, custom shelving and adequate lighting . You choose if its coffee and a book on the walkout deck, with beautiful views , Take a walk to the pool area for a swim or sitting in front of a fire in your living room . Enjoy all the seasons without leaving the complex. If you need to get into the city, transportation is walking walking distance. 601S has so much to offer with shops and markets close by, easy transportation to and from the city, in house transportation is available to take you shopping and to appointments. The pool , gym , social room and more. Do not delay, make your appointment today.
Jaymee says that she gave birth six weeks ago to the couple's first child.
'When I found out I was pregnant my first thought was "thank God I haven't hooked up with any other guys lately, so it's definitely Everett's baby."'
Family lives: Everett and Jaymee have an open relationship, but she is currently struggling with her confidence level after giving birth
The show also follows Rebecca and her consultant husband Chris on a double date with a new couple. In many ways the nervousness mirrors the awkwardness of a normal first date, which is why Rebecca explains that she has a 'safety word'.
'If I'm having a good time, I say yes when he asks if I want to order dessert,' she explains.
At a dinner party across town, swimwear designer Hali and her husband Bryan explain the swinger lingo to newcomers Jayson and Heidy, who have expressed interest in the lifestyle.
For example when swinging, couples must decide if they will allow 'Full Swap', which is full no-holds-barred sex, or stop at a 'Soft Swap', which usually does not include intercourse.
First date: Chris and Rebecca are shown on a somewhat awkward first dinner date with a new couple
Happy endings: But later, at the club, Rebecca has chemistry with the woman she met on the date with her husband
To find a swap partner, couples also try to avoid the more 'Vanilla' monogamous duos, with the help of a 'Cruise Director' - a person in charge of the action at a swinger's party.
If they get really lucky, they may meet a 'Unicorn' - a single woman who sleeps with couples - but Bryan explains that 'everyone is looking for this girl, but no one has ever met her'.
Initially, Heidy seems reluctant. But on an evening out with the other couples, it's Jayson who gets jealous after he finds Heidy talking to another man in the bedroom.
Testing the limits: Heidy isn't sure that she wants to participate, but later it's Jayson who gets jealous when he finds her talking to a man in a bedroom
Many signs of a swinger seem failtly obvious, such as: 'Couples who are openly flirting with other couples.'
But other things to watch out for, like a 'pineapple placed upside down in a shopping cart' or 'pampas grass in the front yard garden,' seem more like urban myths.
Swingers can also apparently be identified by the outside of their homes. According to Discovery's website, pink and purple decorations in the yard or white landscaping rocks are both signs of alternative sexuality.
So is body jewelry: Thumb rings, toe rings, waist chains and a woman moving her wedding ring to her right hand are all signs of a swinger - as are yin-yang tattoo
According to Swinger Social Network, swingers account for two- to- four per cent of married couples, or an excess of two million people in North America.
Swinging and sex parties have grown in popularity in recent years, re-vamping their image from bowls of keys belonging to suburban housewives, to chic sex clubs with strict requirements for entry.
But outside their hedonistic hobby, the couples are proud of how 'normal' and functioning they are in a society that shuns their lifestyle. Just like monogamous couples, they put emphasis on strong communication and transparency.
But they have to deal with questions that most relationships never face, such as how far they are allowed to go when having sex with a third party.
Many swingers insist that their alternative lifestyle has made their marriages stronger.
One study conducted by the University of Washington Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors showed that in the last two decades, the number of unfaithful wives under the age of 30 increased by 20 percent and number of unfaithful husbands under 30 increased by 45 percent.
Because the sexual experimentation is done with both partners' knowledge and consent, most swingers do not consider their outside partners infidelity.
DEFINING THE LINES: A SWINGER'S DICTIONARY
Swinging: Also referred to as 'The Lifestyle', swinging is a non-monogamous behavior in which singles or partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activity with others as a recreational or social activity.
Cheating: Marital infidelity without your partner's knowledge or consent.
Open relationship: A term to describe a relationship arrangement in which both parties in a couple are permitted to engage with other individuals, with or without the knowledge of their primary partner.
'The Rules': For swingers, 'The Rules' are guidelines and principles agreed on by couples to participate in the lifestyle.
Swinging scale: The range of acceptable swinging activities as determined by a couple and/or an individual.
Full Swap: Full swinging experience - no holds barred.
Full Swap, Same Room: Full swinging experience, but both partners must remain in the same room throughout.
Soft Swap: A limited swinging experience where the line is typically drawn short of sexual intercourse.
Vanilla: Term used to describe people who do not participate in the lifestyle.
Unicorn: Term described to describe a single female - also referred to as the 'mythical creature' - who engages in sexual activity with another couple. There is no known male equivalent.
Cruise Director: Term used to describe the individual who is in charge of the action at a swinging event.
Behind the Swinging Doors: A Look Inside the Kitchen at New York's Porter House - Recipes
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Sep 3, 2020
Seems like every episode is becoming social justice propaganda lately. Used to be one of my favorites.
Jun 2, 2020
love this podcast its amazing. I implore you to do an entire season based on the African American museum
Nov 24, 2018
More than 154 million treasures fill the Smithsonian’s vaults. But where the public’s view ends, Sidedoor begins. With the help of biologists, artists, historians, archaeologists, zookeepers and astrophysicists, host Lizzie Peabody sneaks listeners through the Smithsonian’s side door, telling stories that can’t be heard anywhere else. Check out si.edu/sidedoor and follow @SidedoorPod for more info.
Groucho and Freddy. Oryx and ostriches. Cats and dinosaurs. These things go together like… well, they really don’t go together at all. These are fun-sized stories in one goodie bag of an episode. It’s Sidedoor’s third “Best of the Rest!”
We carry portraits around all the time: pocket-sized history lessons in the form of dollars and cents. The recent decision to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill has us thinking about who’s on our money, and how they got there. This episode of the “Portraits” podcast, from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, takes a whirlwind tour of money of yore, featuring everything from piles of bunnies to George Washington’s nipples. This episode will have you taking a closer look at the portraits you might be sitting on right now.
In 1918, a flu pandemic killed more than 50 million people worldwide. Forty years later, it nearly happened again. This week on Sidedoor we go back to a time when the viruses were winning, and we remember one man, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, whose vaccine virtuosity helped turn the tide in the war against infectious diseases.
We’ve updated this episode with a bonus interview to reflect on what we’ve learned from our current pandemic. If you want to learn more, please see vaccinesandus.org.
Henrietta the river herring is not a particularly glamorous fish. But she’s got grit. Every summer, she swims out to the Atlantic ocean, and every spring, she makes the 500 mile journey back to Maryland’s Patapsco River, where she was born—a habitat that’s been only partially accessible to herring like her for more than a century. But this year will be different. Join the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s herring tagging team as they study what happens to herring like Henrietta when someone gives a dam.
Every spring, for as long as records have been kept, a crowd of hundreds of black crowned night herons descend on the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, mating, eating and generally causing a ruckus. Many of the keepers at the zoo enjoy them, but they can be a tough bird to love.
Every fall, peace is restored when the herons decamp and fly off to… where? For more than a century, nobody knew. Until now.
When Lena Richard cooked her first chicken on television, she beat Julia Child to the screen by over a decade. At a time when most African American women cooks worked behind swinging kitchen doors, Richard claimed her place as a culinary authority, broadcasting in the living rooms of New Orleans’s elite white families. She was an entrepreneur, educator, author, and an icon—and her legacy lives on in her recipes.
American newspaper publisher and all-around eccentric, Charles Francis Hall, was an unlikely candidate to become an Arctic explorer. Nevertheless, he made three trips to the frozen north, until he died there under suspicious circumstances. Sharpen your powers of deduction and join us on Sidedoor for an epic frozen whodunit, featuring shipwreck, romance, and a social media darling with a dark secret.
As Americans approach a full year of pandemic life, there’s an overwhelming sense of anticipation: when can we get vaccinated? What will life look like in six months? When will life return to normal? Maybe because looking outward feels so daunting, a lot of people are looking inward, through mindfulness and meditation. In this episode of Sidedoor, we learn about mindfulness and meditation through the lens of religion – a Buddhist priest shares the story of her religious journey and we hear about the secular spirituality that young Americans are increasingly following away from religion.
If you’ve heard the phrase, “full blooded,” you’re already familiar with the concept of blood quantum. But Native Americans are the only peoples in the United States whose identity is defined by it. Through the photography of Tailyr Irvine, displayed at the National Museum of the American Indian, we take a look at the colonial origin story of blood quantum: where it came from, why it endures, and how it continues to impact the most personal decisions many Native Americans make about love and family today.
Tailyr Irvine’s Reservation Mathematics: Navigating Love in Native America exhibition link: https://americanindian.si.edu/developingstories/irvine.html
As an up-and-coming young blues singer in the 1950s, Barbara Dane faced a choice: fame and fortune, or her principles. She left the mainstream music industry and became a revolutionary music producer – literally. Spurred by Fidel Castro’s international gathering of protest singers, Dane created a record label that published the sounds of social change around the world, and inspired generations of protest music to come.
Wonder Woman is the best known female superhero of all time, but she’s been through a lot. The brainchild of a psychologist, Wonder Woman hit the comic pages in the 1940s as an antidote to the “bloodcurdling masculinity” of male superheroes. But by the early ‘70s, Wonder Woman was having a midlife crisis. She’d given up her bullet-blocking bracelets and lasso of truth…and opened a clothing boutique. It took a feminist magazine cover to make-over Wonder Woman from comic book character to the icon she remains today.
In 1890, Americans were delighted when they heard the news that Thomas Edison was using his phonograph technology to give voice to porcelain dolls. But their delight turned to horror when they got their hands on his dolls. In this episode of Sidedoor, we’ll hear a short story that imagines what happens when two little girls receive one of Edison’s talking dolls as a holiday gift, as well as meet one of these dolls with an expert from the National Museum of American history.
To see one of these dolls, check it out on our website.
This week, we have an episode from the NHPR podcast “Outside/In” about passenger pigeons. The passenger pigeon is one of the world’s most symbolic extinction stories. It’s a cautionary tale of how in just a few short generations, one of the wonders of the world could be completely eradicated. But when that narrative was questioned in a popular book, 1491 by Charles Mann, what does the response tell us about the conservation movement as a whole?
This week, we’re sharing an episode of ‘Detours,’ a new podcast from our friends at GBH and PRX. The podcast shares surprising stories that unfold behind the scenes at the PBS classic TV show “Antiques Roadshow.” In this episode: a rare daguerreotype, Edgar Alan Poe, and…the FBI.
You can find ‘Detours’ wherever you listen to podcasts.
When a highly-contagious mystery illness spread through the world’s mountain gorilla population, biologists feared the entire species could be lost. Gorillas don’t wear masks or social distance, so there wasn’t much time for the scientists to identify the illness and find a cure for humanity’s hirsute cousins. What they found in 1988 reminds us in 2020 that humans and wildlife share more than a planet: we share disease.
Dress codes have been around a long time—from the old days of long skirts and bloomers to today’s regulation-length shorts. But while the specifics of what girls can wear to school have changed, the purpose of the codes has not.
When Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei first jammed together, “it was magic.” Fei was shocked to meet an American banjo player so curious about China’s culture and Abigail Washburn met a classically trained composer whose talents on the guzheng, a 2500 year old 21-string Chinese harp, perfectly complimented her banjo pickin’. Today, they collaborate to make a new brand of folk music: one that combines the tones of Appalachia with the melodies of China.
To look at them, you might think, “Monarch butterflies aren’t going anywhere fast.” But each year, these beauties complete one of the most remarkable migrations in the animal kingdom, soaring more than a mile high to gather on a few mountaintops in Mexico they’ve never seen before, yet somehow they all know where to find. We unlock the secret lives of monarchs, and learn how to support them on their journey.
Bonus Episode | This week, we wanted to share “And Nothing Less,” the new short series from our colleagues at the National Park Service and PRX. It gives a much-needed closer look at the twisty history of the 19th Amendment - and its lesser-known heroes. It’s hosted by two fabulous women: Rosario Dawson and Retta. We’ll play the first episode right here, and you can find the rest of the series by searching (enunciate) “And Nothing Less” wherever you get your podcasts!
Fred Tutman is the voice of the river. Specifically, Maryland’s Patuxent River. As the Riverkeeper, his job is to protect and preserve all 110 miles of that waterway – a role that takes him both to the courtroom and to the riverbank. But Fred is also the only African American Riverkeeper in the United States, a fact he sees as an indicator of an environmental movement that is incomplete. And it’s the planet that will pay the price.
100 years ago this month, the 19th Amendment was ratified into the American Constitution. It’s widely remembered as the moment American women gained the right to vote, but history tells a more complex story. For millions of Indigenous Americans living in far-flung territories, the 19th Amendment afforded some rights – but fell well short of what was promised. So this time: how women’s suffrage came to Hawaiʻi – and what was taken from Hawaiians to get there.
On November 14, 1969, just four months after Apollo 11’s “giant leap for mankind,” the Apollo 12 Saturn V rocket took off for the moon. Seconds later, a burst of static plunged the three-man crew into complete darkness while speeding toward space in a nearly dead spacecraft. For the 50th anniversary, we tell the often-overlooked story of Apollo 12, one full of danger, discovery, and the power of friendship.
Baseball fan or not, you know this song…or at least, you think you do. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is one of the top three most recognizable songs in the country, next to the “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday.” But long-forgotten lyrics reveal a feminist message buried amid the peanuts and cracker jack.
When Mimi Knoop entered her first skateboarding competition at 24 years old, she never anticipated leaving her mark on the sport forever. But in the early 2000s, she formed an alliance with pioneering skateboarder Cara-Beth Burnside to make a simple request: that the X Games – and the rest of the skateboarding industry – treat female skateboarders the same way they treat their male peers.
When Lena Richard cooked her first chicken on television, she beat Julia Child to the screen by over a decade. At a time when most African American women cooks worked behind swinging kitchen doors, Richard claimed her place as a culinary authority, broadcasting in the living rooms of New Orleans’s elite white families. She was an entrepreneur, educator, author, and an icon – and her legacy lives on in her recipes. Today: her improbable rise to prominence, and her famous gumbo.
In 2017, a photograph of Harriet Tubman surfaced that had been lost to history for more than a century. In a feature of the National Portrait Gallery’s Portraits podcast, we hear the story behind this picture, and how its discovery changes the way we see Tubman – not just an icon of freedom and human dignity, but a courageous young woman.
To look at them, you might think, “Monarch butterflies aren’t going anywhere fast.” But each year, these beauties complete one of the most remarkable migrations in the animal kingdom, soaring more than a mile high to gather on a few mountaintops in Mexico they’ve never seen before, yet somehow they all know where to find. We unlock the secrets lives of monarchs, and learn how to support them on their journey.
A perplexing tattoo. Ancient erotica. Killer bees on the loose. This episode is full of short stories we’ve been eager to tell, but couldn’t… until now. It’s Sidedoor’s second-ever “Best of the Rest!”
Learn more about the Freer & Sackler’s collection of shunga, the National Museum of American
History’s Great Historic Clock of America on si.edu.
Three billion birds have gone missing since 1970. And conservation biologist Pete Marra considers it his life’s work to make sure more don’t slip away without a fight. In this episode, we go bird-spotting with Pete, and learn what each of us can do to bring birds back.
Virginia Hall dreamed of being America’s first female ambassador. Instead, she became a spy. Joining the ranks of the U.S.’s first civilian spy network, she operated alone in occupied France, where she built French Resistance networks, delivered critical intelligence, and sold cheese to the enemy. All on one leg.
Alexander von Humboldt might not be a name you know, but you can bet you know his ideas. Back when the United States were a wee collection of colonies huddled on the eastern seaboard, colonists found the wilderness surrounding them *scary. *It took a zealous Prussian explorer with a thing for barometers to show the colonists what they couldn’t see: a global ecosystem, and their own place in nature. In this episode, we learn how Humboldt - through science and art - inspired a key part of America’s national identity.
In the Venn diagram of life, it’s hard to imagine what spacecraft and women’s underwear might have in common. And that’s probably what NASA engineers thought back in 1962 when they asked a handful of companies to design a spacesuit that would keep a man alive and mobile on the moon. Nobody counted on the International Latex Corporation, whose commercial brand, Playtex, was known for its bras and girdles. But lingerie, and the expert seamstresses who sewed it, played a critical role in those first well-supported steps on the moon.
Get ready for season five! Our new season begins on Wednesday, March 4th. Journey with Lizzie through our many side doors for a behind-the scenes view of the Smithsonian.
Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III is no administrative assistant. He’s the head of the largest museum, education, and research complex in the world. He’s also the first historian to lead the Smithsonian. In our season finale, we talk with Secretary Bunch about two stories of people overcoming tremendous obstacles to make a change and explore what the past can teach us about today…and tomorrow.
Nearly 100 years ago, Charles Ponzi stumbled across a loophole in the international postal system and turned it into one of the most infamous scams of all time. This time on Sidedoor, we follow Ponzi from his early days until his epic downfall, and hear from a postal investigator trained to catch swindlers like Ponzi who continue to use the U.S. mail for nefarious purposes.
Deep within the National Museum of American History’s vaults is a battered Atari case containing what’s known as “the worst video game of all time.” The game is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and it was so bad that not even the might of Steven Spielberg could save it. It was so loathsome that all remaining copies were buried deep in the desert. And it was so horrible that it’s blamed for the collapse of the American home video game industry in the early 1980s. This time on Sidedoor, we tell the story of just what went SO wrong with E.T. Episode originally aired June 26, 2019.
Edmonia Lewis was the first American woman of color to achieve international fame as a sculptor. Her 3,000-pound masterwork, “The Death of Cleopatra,” commemorated another powerful woman who broke with convention… and then the sculpture disappeared. On this episode of Sidedoor, we find them both.
When professional athletes face the end of their career, many look ahead with uncertainty and wonder:
“What’s next?” But when Adam Rippon stood on the Olympic podium in 2018, making history as the first openly gay American to medal at the winter Olympics, he was sure about his next steps. Rippon was a darling of the American Olympic media, entering all of his interviews ready with a joke and a willingness to
speak candidly about his personal journey. In this episode, Rippon brings that same attitude to Sidedoor, talking about his Olympic costume, fame, and the male private part that we didn’t realize was private.
On November 14, 1969, just four months after Apollo 11’s “giant leap for mankind,” the Apollo 12 Saturn V rocket took off for the moon. Seconds later, a burst of static plunged the three-man crew into complete darkness while speeding toward space in a nearly dead spacecraft. For the 50th anniversary, we tell the often-overlooked story of Apollo 12, one full of danger, discovery, and the power of friendship.
In its heyday, dynamite was a transformative tool it could blast rock quarries, excavate tunnels, and demolish buildings with power and reliability never before seen. But it also proved to be useful in some surprising ways. In this special episode of Sidedoor, we team up with the history podcast Backstory
to explore two less-typical applications of the explosive: the artistic blasting at Mount Rushmore, and how anarchists used dynamite to advance their political agenda in 1886.
Smell connects us to memories of the people and the places of our lives. But what if it could connect us to a past we’ve never experienced? That's the goal for one team of artists and scientists who used DNA to try to revive the scent of a flower extinct for more than a century.
Behind the fossilized teeth, bones, and claws displayed in the National Museum of Natural History’s new Fossil Hall is the story of two men and a nasty feud. During the paleontology boom of the late 1800s, scientists O.C. Marsh and Edward Cope went from good friends who named species after each other, to the bitterest of enemies who eventually ruined each other's lives and careers. Come for the dinos, stay for the grudges. Episode originally aired June 12, 2019.
Did you know that Martha Washington was essential to America’s Revolutionary War effort? Or that Eleanor Roosevelt was the driving force behind the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights? According to journalist, writer, and commentator Cokie Roberts, many of America's First Ladies were dynamic, politically engaged trailblazers who are often overlooked. We sit down with the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery director, Kim Sajet, to talk about a recent episode of the museum’s new podcast, Portraits. In it, she and Cokie discuss four First Ladies who are remembered for their influence on American history.
Note: As many of you have probably heard, Cokie Roberts passed away in the days since we originally recorded this episode. Our heart goes out to all of Cokie’s family, friends, and people like us who have enjoyed her work for decades.
Portraits of First Ladies featured in the episode:
Sidedoor hits the road, sneaking behind the scenes for the ultimate Smithsonian field trip we never took as kids. Lizzie and producer Justin O'Neill journey by bike, train, and even horse (okay, plastic horse) in a romp from museum to museum, encountering a hungry predator, a group of Broadway monsters, the last work of an iconic painter, and lots more. Join us!
David Levinthal is a New York-based artist whose photography depicts “the America that never was but always will be.” He uses toys to recreate iconic moments in American history and pop culture, encouraging his audience to question America’s collective memory. Sidedoor visits Levinthal in his studio, and an exhibition of his work at the Smithsonian American Art Museum titled “American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs” to explore the distinction between fact and fable.
Click here to see the images we discuss in the episode.
You probably know orchids as the big, colorful flowers found in grocery stores and given as housewarming gifts. But those tropical beauties represent only a fraction of the estimated 25,000 orchid species worldwide. While their showy relatives fly off the shelves, North America’s more understated native orchids are disappearing in the wild. Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center are working to protect these orchids and their habitats, but first they need to solve a surprisingly difficult problem: how to grow one.
Regie Cabico has been called the "Lady Gaga of Spoken Word poetry"—he's outspoken, provocative and iconoclastic. The son of Filipino immigrants living in rural Maryland, Regie says he’ll never be “entirely American or entirely Filipino,” and on stage he uses his poetry to explore identity, social issues, and (of course) love. Regie joins Sidedoor *in studio* for an exclusive live performance, and even offers some poetic cooking tips from the annals of American history.
When NASA’s Apollo 11 mission sent the first astronauts to the moon 50 years ago, there were many things we didn’t know. Like whether the moon’s surface would turn out to be a field of quicksand, if space germs would infect the astronauts, or what exactly the moon was made of. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, we join forces with the National Air and Space Museum’s podcast, AirSpace, to explore the mysteries of lunar science: what we didn't know then, and what we still don't know today.
Listen to AirSpace, stories that defy gravity: airandspace.si.edu/learn/airspace-podcast
Deep within the National Museum of American History’s vaults is a battered Atari case containing what’s known as “the worst video game of all time.” The game is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and it was so bad that not even the might of Steven Spielberg could save it. It was so loathsome that all remaining copies were buried deep in the desert. And it was so horrible that it’s blamed for the collapse of the American home video game industry in the early 1980s. This time on Sidedoor, we tell the story of just what went SO wrong with E.T.
Behind the fossilized teeth, bones, and claws displayed in the National Museum of Natural History’s new Fossil Hall is the story of two men and a nasty feud. During the paleontology boom of the late 1800s, scientists O.C. Marsh and Edward Cope went from good friends who named species after each other, to the bitterest of enemies who eventually ruined each other's lives and careers. Come for the dinos, stay for the grudges.
With our fourth season’s launch quickly approaching, take a moment to meet the new voice of Sidedoor!
Season Four of the Smithsonian's Sidedoor podcast launches on June 12, 2019. Subscribe now!
Close your eyes and think of Hawaii. That sound you undoubtedly hear? Well, that’s the ocean. But that other sound floating on the breeze—that’s the steel guitar, an indigenous Hawaiian invention that has influenced country, blues, and rock music since the turn of the 20th century. This time on Sidedoor, we follow a familiar sound with an unexpected origin and learn how the steel guitar helped Hawaiians preserve their culture and change American popular music.
Glittering treasures, gleaming coins, and eye-catching jewelry…gold can be all of these things, but in some parts of the world it's also an enduring link to the past. Gus Casely-Hayford, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, takes us on a journey through West Africa to learn how gold was the foundation for massive empires—and his own family—and how it continues shining brightly in West African culture today.
We all know Abraham Lincoln, right? Well, we know one side of him—the grave-faced leader of a troubled country—but behind the face on the penny lies an unlikely jokester. This week, Sidedoor reveals the rascally side of our 16th president, and does it with a brand-new sound.
In 1960, investigators found dark bits of feather stuck inside a crashed airplane's engines. They needed someone to figure out what bird they belonged to—and how that bird took down a 110,000-pound plane. Enter Roxie Laybourne, a Smithsonian bird expert who not only answered that question, but also invented the science of using feathers to solve bird-related mysteries. This time on Sidedoor, we revisit some of Roxie's greatest cases and learn how she and her team helped keep the friendly skies friendly for both birds and people.
Gladys Bentley loved women, wore men's clothing, and sang bawdy songs that would make sailors blush. and did it openly in the 1920s and 1930s. This was long before the gay rights or the civil rights movements, yet Bentley became a darling of the Harlem Renaissance alongside icons like Langston Hughes and Josephine Baker. While her provocative performances kept her from becoming as well-known as her peers, they are exactly why she is being rediscovered—and admired—today. In celebration of Women's History Month, we follow the life of a trailblazer who was unapologetically herself at a time when she would’ve been acutely aware of the risks.
In the mid-1990s, investigators identified a mysterious and seemingly unstoppable killer. Its name? Chytrid. Its prey? Frogs. Since then, the disease has ravaged frog populations worldwide, and despite decades of research there’s still no cure. So, like modern-day Noahs, a group of Smithsonian researchers have resorted to a time-honored plan: building an ark…for amphibians. This time on Sidedoor, we travel to the Panamanian jungle to see how it's helping some endangered frogs avoid extinction.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Cheech Marin was famous for being half of the stoner comedy duo "Cheech and Chong." Today, he’s a passionate advocate for Chicano art and is raising awareness around a uniquely Mexican American aesthetic: rasquachismo. In this episode of Sidedoor, Cheech Marin is our guide to the wildly creative and ingenious world of rasquachismo—the Chicano art of working with what you've got.
Happy New Year! We’re busy working on a new batch of Sidedoor episodes and while you wait, we wanted to re-share a story we like from the fall, just in case you missed it the first time around. From 6,000-year-old cave paintings to silver screen stars in movies like Free Willy, whales have long captured the human imagination. And it makes sense—they're among the largest and most intelligent creatures to ever live on our planet. This time on Sidedoor, we’ll explore our surprising relationship with whales through the lens of one species: the gray whale. Once aggressively hunted and thought to be nearly extinct, they've rebounded to become one of the North Pacific’s most abundant whale species. So, what changed?
You know Amelia Earhart, but did you know she was just one of a daring group of women aviators who defied both expectations and gravity in the 1920s? They called themselves the Ninety-Nines, and they’re still flying today as an organization dedicated to the advancement of women pilots. This time on Sidedoor, we time-travel to the Roaring ‘20s to experience America's first official all-female air race, and then meet a modern-day Ninety-Nine who is ensuring that the legacy of Earhart and her fellow pilots continues to thrive.
Meet Eadweard Muybridge, a pioneering and eccentric photographer from the 1800s whose work changed how people understood movement, and paved the way for the invention of motion pictures. But this inventor, artist, and showman also made a name for himself for something much less savory: murder. This time on Sidedoor, come for the ingenuity and stay for the scandal as we find out how a near-death experience, a handsome horse, and a rumored $25,000 bet helped Eadweard Muybridge change the course of photographic history.
Artist Frank Holliday's social circle in the 1980s was a who's who of New York City cool: Andy Warhol, Cyndi Lauper, RuPaul, Keith Haring, and even Madonna. But Frank's odyssey through the art world also placed him at the center of an epidemic that would shake the entire country. In honor of World AIDS Day, Sidedoor takes a look at America's early HIV/AIDS Crisis through the eyes of an artist whose life and work were changed by it forever.
This episode features recordings from the "Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic" Oral History Project produced by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
In 1621, a group of Pilgrims and Native Americans came together for a meal that many Americans call "The First Thanksgiving." But get this—it wasn't the first, and the meal itself wasn't so special either. The event was actually all but forgotten for hundreds of years…until it was dusted off to bolster the significance of a national holiday. This time on Sidedoor, we talk to Paul Chaat Smith, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, to explore how much of what you think you know about Native Americans may be more fiction than fact.
Inside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural history is the skeleton of Grover Krantz—an accomplished anthropologist, tenured professor…and diehard Bigfoot believer? As the first serious scientist to study the legendary creature, Krantz risked his career and reputation on a subject that many consider a joke. And while the museum remembers him as a man who loved science so much that he donated his body to it, another community remembers Krantz as a pioneer in the study of Sasquatch.
What if you found out that your grandmother’s house was going on display at a museum? The. Whole. House. That’s what happened to the Meggett sisters, who grew up visiting, eating, and playing at their grandma’s tiny cabin in South Carolina, unaware that it was originally built to house enslaved people. This time on Sidedoor, we explore the house's unique journey from slave cabin to family home to its latest incarnation as a centerpiece at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
From 6,000-year-old cave paintings to silver screen stars in movies like Free Willy, whales have long captured the human imagination. And it makes sense—they're among the largest and most intelligent creatures to ever live on our planet. This time on Sidedoor, we’ll explore our surprising relationship with whales through the lens of one species: the gray whale. Once aggressively hunted and thought to be nearly extinct, they've rebounded to become one of the North Pacific’s most abundant whale species. So, what changed?
Our dear host Tony Cohn is leaving *Sidedoor *to travel the world, so we want to take a minute to introduce you to the new voice of the show, Haleema Shah.
In Washington, D.C., the neighborhood of Anacostia was once dismissed as the wrong side of the river. Now, it is turning into a housing hotspot as the city sees an influx of newer, wealthier residents. It’s called gentrification, and the process has become a flashpoint from Houston to Harlem and beyond. We’ll explore this longtime fight for housing through an innovative community museum that empowers local residents—kids and adults—to tell the stories of these changing neighborhoods.
The world’s deadliest animal isn’t the tiger, the snake, or even the alligator—it’s the mosquito. These tiny insects spread diseases that kill over 700,000 people each year. But what can we do to stop them? In search of solutions, host Tony Cohn travels around Panama with some well-equipped Smithsonian experts on the trail of this bloodthirsty, buzzing beast.
It begins a bit like a *Scooby Doo *episode: archaeologists digging at a place called “Witch Hill” discover mysterious human remains in an ancient trash heap. Who was this person? How’d they get there? Astonishingly, it would take 40 years to find out, and the story is way more surprising — and groundbreaking — than anyone could’ve ever imagined. So, grab your Scooby Snacks and join Sidedoor as we journey to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama to see these unusual bones firsthand and meet the “meddling kids” trying to solve a mystery 700 years in the making.
The Hope Diamond is one of the most iconic items in the Smithsonian's collections, but this glittering gem is rumored to have a dark side. French monarchs, an heiress, and at least one unlucky postman have met misfortune after possessing it—though does that really constitute a curse? This time on Sidedoor, we track the lore of this notorious gem through the centuries, from southern India, through the French Revolution, and across the Atlantic Ocean to its current home at the National Museum of Natural History, to find out for ourselves.
Tony sneaks away from the mosquitoes and frogs of Panama to make a special announcement: Sidedoor
season three launches on Wednesday, August 8! Get ready for even more amazing
stories from every corner of the Smithsonian. Pro tip: subscribe today to receive new episodes before anyone
else, including our upcoming season premiere, "The Curse of the Hope Diamond."
How much do you know about the history of American home brewing? In this episode of Sidedoor you'll meet the Smithsonian's first brewing historian, Theresa McCulla, and learn about the role of women, enslaved people, and immigrants in the country's complex—and often surprising—relationship with beer. You'll also meet a new wave of brewers who are working to craft some flavorful history of their own. (Originally broadcast date: July 4th, 2017)
Sidedoor host Tony Cohn gets the opportunity of a lifetime: fly to Armenia and crawl into a deep, dark cave in search of long-lost wine. But we’re not talking just any ol’ cabernet or sauvignon blanc: these 6,000-year-old wine remnants are evidence of the world's oldest winery. In this episode we ask, what can this ancient winery tell us about the earliest days of civilization, and could a thirst for wine be the reason why some ancient humans left behind their nomadic ways and settled down? (Original broadcast date: March 2018)
Big Bird in space. Saving a multi-million-dollar painting. Smokey the *real* Bear. These are some of the stories we've been itching toshare, but didn’t have room for… until now. To close out Season 2, we’re serving up a few of our favorite Smithsonian “shorties,”plus we’ll check in with our most talked about characters from this past year. We’ll be back forSeason 3in August 2018!
Extinct species don’t usually get a do-over…but don’t tell that to the scimitar-horned oryx. Erased from the wild for three decades, these desert antelope are back in the Central African country of Chad with a thriving herd of over a hundred individuals. But how did this happen? We visit the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and a remote animal reserve in the United Arab Emirates to reveal the twists and turns of this amazing comeback story.
Talking animals? A bag of fire ants? Secret dancing superpowers? In this episode, Robert Lewis, an acclaimed Cherokee storyteller, spins stories about a legendary troublemaker: Jistu the Rabbit. Along the way, we visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, exploring the power stories hold to keep people connected to their culture across time and geographic distance. Experience the transformative power of
a good tale.
The day that Amy Sherald heard that she had been chosen to paint the official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama, she called her mom to tell her the news, and then she told her dog. But soon after, the nerves set in. How was she going to create a portrait of one of the most iconic women in the world? In this episode of Sidedoor, we journey to Amy's studio to hear exactly how she captured the spirit of Michelle Obama in paint on canvas, and what she thinks of the reactions to her work.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been hard at work on a batch of stories you’re going to love. So this week, we're sharing one of our favorite eps from the fall. Heiress, divorcée … mother of forensic science? Frances Glessner Lee was not your average 19th century woman. Using the skills that high-society ladies were expected to have -- like sewing, crafting, and knitting -- Frances revolutionized the male-dominated world of crime scene investigation. Her most celebrated contribution: 19 intricate dioramas depicting violent murder scenes. In this episode of Sidedoor, we'll explore Frances's morbid obsession, and discover why the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery chose to put them on display.
Chris Crowe, an animal keeper for the Smithsonian, has an unlikely bond with Walnut, a female white-naped crane. Despite their obvious differences, she chose him as her mate. For Crowe, their relationship has high stakes: it impacts the future of an entire species. Venture with Sidedoor to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to meet this unconventional couple, and find out how their connection could be key to white-naped crane survival.
Sidedoor host Tony Cohn gets the opportunity of a lifetime: fly to Armenia and crawl into a deep, dark cave in search of lost wine. But we’re not talking just any ol’ cabernet or sauvignon blanc, these 6000-year-old remains are evidence of the world's oldest winery. In this episode, we ask: What can this ancient winery tell us about the earliest days of civilization, and could a thirst for wine be the reason why some ancient humans decided to settle down and stop being nomadic?
In the 1800s, the American diet was mostly made up of meats, potatoes, cheese, and perhaps the occasional green bean. Fruits and other veggies? Not so much. But that all changed thanks to a group of 19th century food spies – globe-trotting scientists and explorers who sought exotic crops to enhance America’s diet and help grow the economy. A pioneer among them was David Fairchild, who nabbed avocados from Chile, kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and much more. In this episode, we learn about Fairchild's remarkable adventures and take a surprise trip to the Smithsonian archives to uncover a rare piece of food spy history.
In 1918, a flu pandemic killed more than 50 million people worldwide. Forty years later, it nearly happened again. This week on Sidedoor, we go back to a time when the viruses were winning, and we remember one man, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, whose vaccine virtuosity helped turn the tide in the war against infectious diseases.
Special thanks to our sponsor, Empty Frames. Search and subscribe to Empty Frames today on Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening destination.
Today, the US population is about 1% Muslim, but in the late 1700s that number was likely closer to 5%. Who were these early Muslim-Americans, where did they go, and why didn’t we all learn about them in school? In this episode, we search for American history's missing Muslims, and explore their experience though the words of Omar ibn Said, an enslaved Muslim man in North Carolina whose one-of-a-kind autobiography still resonates today.
Join Sidedoor in welcoming AirSpace, a new gravity-defying podcast from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Hosts Emily Martin and Matt Schindell join Tony to share a few upcoming stories, including what’s on the menu in space, how Earth’s oceans teach us about exploring the cosmos, and what it takes to be an astronaut. We’ll also give you a peek into AirSpace’s maiden voyage, where the team looks at what happens when a bunch of scientists attempt to live like Martians. If you’ve ever thought changing time zones was hard, try living on “Mars Time.”
A special thank you to our sponsor, Hanover Press.
While we’re hard at work on some exciting new things, we wanted to start the new year off with one of our favorites from 2017: If These Bones Could Talk. Explorer, scholar and 19th Century Smithsonian darling Robert Kennicott seemed destined to lead a full and adventurous life. Then, at the age of 30, on an expedition to Russian Alaska in 1866, Kennicott was mysteriously discovered dead by a riverside. Rumors of all colors circulated about the cause of his death, although, it wasn’t until 135 years later, in 2001, that two Smithsonian forensic scientists cracked the case.
120 years ago, Owney was a global celebrity. He was also a dog. And no, he didn’t juggle plates or dance on two legs, Owney was famous for simply riding trains with the US mail. So, climb aboard the Sidedoor Express and join us as we revisit different chapters of Owney’s story – his rise to fame, his disastrous fall, and his remarkable return to the spotlight at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. It’ll be a doggone good time.
Even if you’ve never heard his name, you’ve probably heard his sound. J Dilla was a prolific hip-hop artist who collaborated with many hip-hop greats – from Questlove to Erykah Badu to Eminem. In this episode, we’re telling the story of J Dilla’s life and legacy through those that knew him best – his mother (aka Ma Dukes), James Poyser, and Frank Nitt – and some surprising objects on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Does your ham sandwich have something to say? Quite possibly. Food can be a powerful storytelling tool. Many chefs, like authors, carefully craft meals or menus to transform a dining experience into a cultural, historical, or educational adventure. This week on Sidedoor, chef Jerome Grant from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Maricel Presilla, who was the first female Latin American guest chef at the White House, discuss the story-rich menus that put them in the spotlight. Recorded live at the National Museum of American History’s Food History Weekend.
A hippo, an orangutan, and a scientist walk into a milk bar. or so our story goes. In January 2017, a baby hippo was born at the Cincinnati Zoo six weeks premature and some 30 pounds underweight. Her name was Fiona, and getting her to put on pounds was a life or death matter. Unfortunately, nursing wasn't an option and the only hippo formula recipe on file was old and out of date. To devise a new one, team Fiona turned to the scientists at the world's largest exotic milk repository at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. But could they do it in time…and would Fiona drink it?
Heiress, divorcée … mother of forensic science? Frances Glessner Lee was not your average 19th century woman. Using the skills that high-society ladies were expected to have -- like sewing, crafting, and knitting -- Frances revolutionized the male-dominated world of crime scene investigation. Her most celebrated contribution: 19 intricate dioramas depicting violent murder scenes. In this episode of Sidedoor, we'll explore Frances's morbid obsession, and discover why the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery has chosen to put them on display.
In 1921, a riot destroyed almost 40 blocks of a wealthy black neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma. No one knows exactly how many people died, no one was ever convicted, and no one really talked about it until nearly a century later. In this episode, Sidedoor explores the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre and why it's important that you know it. Episode originally released Nov. 9, 2016.
Haunted by her not-so-nice grandmother, a young woman finds herself turning into a ghost. Writer Anelise Chen reads her essay “Who Haunts,” and discusses the ways in which our families shape our personal and cultural identities, for better or worse. Chen was recently featured at the Smithsonian's first-ever Asian American Literature Festival in Washington, D.C. Original score by Nico Porcaro.
In the late 1800s, Paul Cinquevalli was one of the most famous and thrilling entertainers in the world. Tales of his juggling and balancing exploits spanned continents. But by the mid 20th century, his name was all but forgotten. In this episode, Sidedoor explores Cinquevalli’s epic rise and fall, and brings you inside the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s circus tents for a one-of-a-kind Cinquevalli-inspired juggling revival.
An artist steps in front of a camera and drops a priceless 2000-year-old vase onto the floor, smashing it into a million pieces. This is Ai Weiwei, and the resulting photographs are one of his most well-known works of art. Many were inspired others were enraged. And around the world it got people talking. In this episode, we explore Ai Weiwei’s controversial career, and how he uses art to rally against political and social injustice.
Catty gossip that led to a presidential scandal, the earliest mavericks of American cinema, and the risque Roman origins of a favorite Disney character. This week, we bring you tales of small things that snowballed and had outsized impacts on history, art and culture. Presented live at the 2017 NYC Podfest.
In the early 1980s, a scientist invented a machine that could naturally filter out pollution from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. So, why isn't it everywhere today? In this episode, we explore the secret behind this powerful green technology (spoiler alert: it's algae!) and track its journey from a coral reef in the Caribbean to the basement of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and finally a port in Baltimore, where it is now being used to clean up one of the region's most polluted waterways.
In this episode, we look at artists whose work has helped reveal the human side of war. You’ll hear about a famous artist who got his start sketching Civil War soldiers and landscapes, and how he was never the same again. Also featured are two contemporary artists: a painter whose work depicts war's psychological impact on his best friend, and a female combat photographer who repeatedly risked her own life to document her fellow soldiers’ experiences on the battlefield.
In this mini-episode, Sidedoor host Tony Cohn interviews Sam Kass, former Obama White House chef and one of the people responsible for the first beer ever known to be brewed at the White House.
How much do you know about the history of American home-brewing? In this episode of Sidedoor you'll meet the Smithsonian's first brewing historian, Theresa McCulla, and learn about the role of women, enslaved people, and immigrants in the country's complex — and often surprising — relationship with beer. You'll also meet a new wave of brewers who are working to craft some flavorful history of their own.
Explorer, scholar and 19th Century Smithsonian darling Robert Kennicott seemed destined to lead a full and adventurous life. Then, at the age of 30, on an expedition to Russian Alaska in 1866, Kennicott was mysteriously discovered dead by a riverside. Rumors of all colors circulated about the cause of his death, although, it wasn’t until 135 years later, in 2001, that two Smithsonian forensic scientists cracked the case.
Sidedoor is back-- tell a friend! New season begins on Wednesday, June 21st.
Tony shares a special thanks and an exciting update for our upcoming season. Share your thoughts by emailing [email protected] or leave a message at 202-633-4120.
Transforming things we take for granted: An astronomer who has turned the night sky into a symphony an architecture firm that has radically rethought police stations and an audiophile who built a successful record company on underappreciated sounds.
Identity in a complex world: A look at the many roles each person plays in daily life a group of lesbian feminists create an entirely new culture, religion and society in the 1970s and Iraqi archaeologists work to preserve their cultural heritage after years of war.
Bending the rules: People sending their children through the U.S. Postal Service a Sikh man in the early 1900s tries to use the Supreme Court's racist rulings to his benefit and the little-known story behind the iconic folk song "Rock Island Line."
Squabbles big and small: A dining room turns two besties into lifelong enemies a researcher embraces the panda craze and why some dinosaur skulls were built to take a beating.
A quick update from Tony about the show.
Tales of deception and trickery: A sneaky orchid seeks sexually frustrated pollinator a battle fought by decoys and a gender-bending zombie invasion of the Chesapeake Bay.
A 1921 riot destroyed almost 40 blocks of a wealthy black neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma. No one knows how many people died, no one was ever convicted and no one really talked about it until a decade ago. This is the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre and why it's important that you know it.
The payoff is all in the delivery: Sending mail via cruise missile preparing a strong-willed orangutan for primate parenthood and failing to land a joke from the "gag file" of Phyllis Diller.
Technology's grip on us: The 4-1-1 on what's behind your selfie an artist's computer simulation shows humans aren't as unique as we think and how the invention of standardized time made America tick.
Sidedoor, a new podcast from the Smithsonian, is launching October 26th, 2016. Start subscribing now on iTunes!
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Sleeping and Waking
Even the screech of metal scraping against metal is subsumed here, buffer’d by snow, the drift of new arrivals. It’s as if the world, citified, is—under the spell of O’Brien’s writerly attention—forced to exist in a fine stasis for our looking, as if every sentence produces an equal and opposite counter-sentence, so holding the moment in ever-ripe abeyance.
City imagery is predominant here, and mostly the strongest—some of the conveyances for natural landscapes, lacking the human form and O’Brien’s affection for it—us—to sharpen the focus, goes a little vague. (Maybe there’s a pinch of O’Hara’s famous dictum in “Meditations in an Emergency” sprinkled here: “One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.”) I like lines like “the highway’s stoplights / hooded like falcons” and “grass / flattened by love, its color exhausted, a rain-spent morning glory // passing radio, rosary / drone of a rapper” (“As It Happens”). I like the Eliot-inflect’d lines—possibly spurn’d by the shake—of “Opens her Times like a / logical argument / shaking the pages as / if to be rid of the / worst of the news” (“Local”). O’Brien’s ear for demotic lingo-rhythms catches the syncopated stutter of “work against correspondence, the / world is not a / book, everything is / not something else, you / could look it up” (“Once”)—nodding to Casey Stengel there in the final phrase. Elsewhere (“A Pillow Book, Continued”) he notes “Pshaw! says the huge truck, braking” and “The blur of whatever. Hands thrown up, the hopelessness of words.” And:
Fake Greek temple
corner of Eighth &
14th used to be a
bank now sells carpets
William Carlos Williams number-crunch’d by Creeley, snafu’d signage and clipped p. a. blarings, the way the city communicates its history to itself. Which is what a city is—a kind of living human dump, all fate and fracture, what’s gone glimpsed always—palimpsest—through the breakages in the notational now, and what’s upcoming, too, both the old fluencies and the future “do’s” abiding in ghostly demarcations. (Too, “Ghosts” grabbed my attention partly because of Vancouver photographer and art critic Christopher Brayshaw’s terrific ongoing series of photographs, “One Hundred Famous Ghosts.”)
Michael O’Brien (b. 1939) is part of a kind of missing generation of American poets—a band of mostly rather late-blooming isolatoes, no generation at all in some sense. Certainly not the way the “Generation of ” (roughly, O’Hara’s) or the post-WWII hordes make (too) visible clumps. Mid- to late-’thirties births: Charles Wright, Robert Kelly, Clark Coolidge, Susan Howe, Russell Edson, Kathleen Fraser, Bill Berkson, Gustav Sobin, Tony Towle, Clayton Eshleman, Rosmarie Waldrop. In the short biographical note in Sleeping and Waking it is written that O’Brien was “one of the Eventorium poets, where his first book was published in 1967.” Which—because the Eventorium poets never cross’d my range—provides me with a history lesson, in the form of an interview with Rachel Blau DuPlessis (by Jeanne Heuving, in a 2004 Contemporary Literature):
Christopher Brayshaw, One Hundred Famous Ghosts (47), 2007
Christopher Brayshaw, One Hundred Famous Ghosts (45), 2007
Muc's Diary in South Africa
It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday – Boys to Men
The freedom to choose is fundamental to all freedoms, and it carries the biggest responsibility. Nine years ago, I chose to spend my life with a woman who is not from Yonibana. I made it embracing the sum of my life’s experiences it was not a rejection of the first score of my life. I hope my words, or, more importantly, my actions, in five and half months have demonstrated I love my family, that I hold them dear, that I still love Yonibana and, for that matter, the land of my forbears. But it was time to leave again, this time to honor the responsibility of my choice. I must go back to dreaming of Mother and Grandmother from a land far, far away. The dreams will perhaps have new meaning: I poured the libation Grandmother has long awaited, brought her children and grandchildren to visit Mother, sucked the fruit of the vine which sprout from where Grandmother buried my birth cord, and walked again on hollowed ground that bares my first footsteps. The land has changed a lot, but it will always be my playground.
The first time I was a boy this time I would leave a man. My sisters were girls when I left again this time I would leave them women. I would leave three nieces and a nephew: quiet comedienne funny Aminata I have grown to love in my time at home quiet, reserved James, the link to my late brother boisterous, irrepressible Winnie, whose innocence will make you laugh a carefree laughter, who can dominate a gathering with the sheer force of her personality and the cherubic Edwina, who reserves her best smile for Uncle Muc. I would leave Dad, more reserved with time but still capable of dictating a punch line and laughing a passionate, guttural laughter at a good joke. I would leave the unconditional love of Uncle. I would leave Mom, Aunty, my cousins, an improving relationship with a brother following a long strain, and a promising one with my youngest brother. I would leave after a better understanding of how war has altered lives in my family and nation. I would leave new and renewed friendships. But it was time to go. My sister said it best: “I will miss you but you must go because Christina loves you.”
So I packed my bags for days with a heavy heart. Each emotional tug was challenged by a push. I have not worked in six months and we are running down meager savings. I am weary of suffering: in my family, among my neighbors, and in the land of my birth. Oh the many times I would a magic wand to soften the hard crust of life around me. I see the pain of living in many eyes and I hear it even when some laugh. I have heard many stories of suffering and wiped a few tears, but they need more that my empathy. I saw it in eyes and heard it in stories: they would that I wave a magic wand it is time for me to go because I cannot fill hopes I have brought. I must go to so I may don the hat of the village idiot a while, to be an idiot-savant. I am a savant amongst my kin: they laugh at all my jokes, they do not challenge my ideas, and they do not contradict me. I will miss my family and the land of my birth, but I must take the reins of my destiny, walk the path I have chosen or the trail I hope to blaze, with, I hope, a light of the gods.
I made a round of goodbyes for two weeks, visiting many homes in my extended family. I reserved a day with Uncle. We kept company into the night and said an emotional farewell around noon the next day. It started with a prayer. I prayed for happier days in our family. I thanked him and Aunty for their enduring love and support. I would never be able to repay you, I said, but I will always do my best to honor your sacrifices in my life. I longed for the closeness I shared with my older cousins but so much time has passed away from each other. I accepted that choice or fate have made it a bit difficult for now. I have hope. We are family: ours are tied of blood. I rose to leave. Uncle walked me outside. It was just the two of us outside, like it was when I was twelve. We talked again about him and Dad. I see the strain of their separation in his eyes.
“I know you love each other.”
“Please find a way to work it out,” I half implored.
He did not say anything, but I believe he heard me. I started down the stairs. He hugged me, a warm passionate hug, and we wished each other God’s blessings and speed. I left, as always, with the warmth of his love.
My sister brought the irrepressible Winnie to spend the night before my departure, and my cousin her rascal son who was warming to me after five months of prodding. I am so happy for the light he brings to her life. Before I inspected my bags one last time, we sat in the make-shift verandah on the side of the house overlooking the hearth and Dad’s garden. It is twilight of day and the dry season, of my time with them for now. The garden bears scorched marks of the late dry season. The beautiful flowers of its youth are gone for now. Dry, dusty stems stand in the place of ruddy white, red and green roses, of luscious hibiscus unfolding white and pink flowers on adjacent stems. The rains will soon come as will tears of our parting. For now, we laughed, a merry, hearty laughter. Rain may come tomorrow but we’ll laugh now and drown tears of morrow. My cousin and I reminisced with laughter at the times Uncle’s actions contradicted great values he lived and always sought to impart. Their relationship is a bit strained, but she loves and will always need him in her life. He’s our Father, our Uncle and our Teacher, I reminded her.
I took leave when my younger maternal brother arrived for us to wrap up a project. I was helping him with a curriculum vitae. We finished in a half hour, talked for a while and then he said goodbye. He was formal and stealthy, true to his expression of emotions. Winnie wandered in just as he left and sat on the bed next to me. She giggled in a high pitch.
“You won’t forget me, will you?”
I moved closer and held her hand.
“My dear Winnie, do you know, I could never forget you, and Edwina, no matter how hard I tried.”
“Do you know I am going to the country of your namesake, South Africa?”
“A-Ah! Aunty Christina is there?”
“That’s right. She’s there, and she is waiting for me.”
“When are you coming back?”
“I don’t know, but I will come back soon, to see how tall you and Edwina grow when I am gone.”
She giggled merrily: she loves Edwina, her nine-month old cousin, more than anyone. She ran out as quickly as she came in. I wonder what her Grandmother thinks, I thought to myself. I set about a final inspection of my bags.
I phoned Dad when I finished with my bags. I don’t remember what I said when he answered, but it brought his ringing, guttural laughter. I thanked him for welcoming and making it easy for me to be home.
“It is my duty,” he replied.
They were the same words, remarkably, of his brother when I thanked him and Aunty two days before leaving. I thanked him, with Mom, for opening our home to my maternal family. We chatted for fifteen minutes. I know, even better now, that he is terrible with goodbyes. Mom said he was crying as soon as the aircraft took off the first time I left home. He did not come to the airport when I left the second time, and he would not stay to see my brother or sister off following the holidays. I’ll pray for you everyday, he said. I’ll pray that the Almighty looks after you and bring you back soon. He is not crazy about religion, but has found strength in personal prayer, in a one-to-one relationship with God. May the Almighty God look with favor on all you do until we meet again, he said. I wished the same for him.
My youngest maternal sister phoned a few minutes after I hung up with Dad. Hers was my shortest farewell. Phone time on cell phones is expensive, but I am not sure I would get more if we had an hour. She came to see me twice in the six months I was home. I hoped she might bring Edwina before I left.
“She is much better,” she said, when I asked how Edwina was doing.
She took her to see a doctor about three days before I left. Gaps crept into our conversation since I told her of my departure. She withdrew the emotional bridge between us near the end. There are unresolved issues between us centered on what she expects from me. Life has perhaps been most difficult for her since Mother died, but I am not sure what she expects from me is fair or realistic. I vacillate between guilt about how little we know each other and the near impossible task of fulfilling her expectations.
“Please greet Christiana for us,” she said at the end of our short conversation.
“Take care and safe journey.”
“Thank you. Give a ton of my love to the lovely Edwina and please take good care of her.”
“Of course, yes,” she said.
I heard a great shriek in the background from the lovely Edwina before we hung up: I have a ton of memories to sustain me when I long for home in a land of Africa, one far, far, away from that of my ancestors.
Kotoka International and a million stars.
I woke up early next morning and took a bucket to the hearth. Aminata was up before everyone and had a pot on the fire with hot water. She did not say much.
“Good morning, Uncle Muc.”
“Did you sleep well?” was all I said in reply.
I took hot water from the pot and showered inside the house. Everyone woke up as I finished my shower. I wore the red polo shirt with white stripes and charcoal grey pants I had on when I arrived home last November. I left the soles of my favorite shoes on the streets of Freetown, so I wore a new pair. It is autumn in South Africa so I took the garnet sweater I brought home. I would only need it at Johannesburg International. I had requested Aminata’s omelet the night before and it was ready when I finished dressing. I thanked her and ate quietly. It was nearly eight when I finished. We were scheduled to leave for the heliport in an hour. Aminata was dressed in the blue and white uniform for school. She said goodbye. Again, she said little. I replied in kind. We had said goodbye to each other the night before.
Some neighbors came to say goodbye. They wished me well and all asked me not to forget them. It would be impossible to forget them. I went into the room and checked my documents half an hour before we left. I looked one last time around my sanctuary of the last five months. Everyone going to the heliport, except Mom, was ready and waiting in the living room. My youngest brother helped me with the luggage got into the car with Winnie. I hugged my cousin, and then my sister. I wiped tears from their eyes.
“I will not be gone as long as last time.”
I will back before you know. I went back and kissed them both on the cheeks while waiting for Mom. She emerged from the house in a beautiful garnet African suit matching an imperious head tie. We both got in the car. I waved to the neighbors. I checked for my passport and ticket and took a last cursory glance around the house. Mom was waiting on me. I am ready, I said.
It is no more than a half hour from our residence in Hill Station to the heliport terminal if you leave after the work morning traffic. I now know the lay of the land better in this part of the city. We descend southwest towards the sea, past Wilberforce village, home of the nation’s armed forces, and through Cockerill Bay, to arrive at the terminal in Aberdeen. The names reflect the history of Sierra Leone as a refuge for repatriated freemen in the British Empire after it abolished slavery in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The names of the towns away from Freetown are different, and the Temne say Ro-kiamp, the name of the town before some of the land was bought to resettle the freemen, when referring to Freetown. The heliport is around the corner from a United Nations military post facing the beach on Lumley Beach Road. Mom turned right, past the UN military post, onto Cape Road and drove past Hotel Sofitel Mammy Yoko. She took the first right turn under a sign indicating the entrance to the heliport station. It was 9:30 am.
The helicopter is alternative to a ferry across the Sierra Leone River to get to Freetown International Airport at Lungi. It is more expensive, but it is a lot less time. I bought a ticket for thirty dollars at a table near the main kiosk. I paid in United States dollars. It is easier to do business in dollars than Leones at a rate of almost three thousand to one. I was scheduled to leave at 11 am. I walked to a stall near the waiting area and bought a book of folk tales from Sierra Leone, a map of Freetown, and three music CDs my brother recommended. I also bought soft drinks, and walked around the grounds with Winnie afterwards. Her mood grew somber shortly after we arrived, but it lifted after the drinks and walk around the huge open grounds of the heliport. I walked into the mild morning sun and phoned two friends to say goodbye. When I returned to my seat, a comedian gave a funny and original variation on safety tips for the aircraft. He asked passengers to leave all our Leones in his hands for safe keeping until we return to Sierra Leone again. He was great, and many of us complied with some Leones.
The engines of the helicopters and a bullhorn stirred the passengers around 11 am. Those with blue tickets would leave first I was holding a green one. My eyes caught Winnie’s. Her mood was falling, fast. I gently hoisted her onto my lap and held her close to me. The tears were coming now. Mom took her and rocked her. She was quiet when I did not leave with the first group, but it was soon my time. I shook hands with my brother and urged him to focus on his approaching exams.
“Education is the first ladder to success in our family,” I said.
He agreed. I crouched next to Winnie and we embraced each other.
“I will miss you but I will come back to see you soon,” I half-whispered.
There was no stopping her tears now. I wiped the mist from my eyes, hugged Mom and walked towards the aircraft. The staff gathered all the passengers in a small group and boarded us in twos. It is no more than fifteen minutes over the Sierra Leone River to Freetown International at Lungi. No one said a word during the flight.
The formula at Freetown International, Lungi, is simple, really: just make sure you have enough money for everyone. Why if you are leaving the mother country, you must have struck gold and pity your poor compatriots who are still looking for theirs. I picked up my bags with one of the shining new luggage carts inside the airport building after we landed. I joined a long line of passengers at the check in. The line moved slowly and passengers disappeared behind swinging doors. Just as soon as I went through the doors, a tall dark gentleman, a porter for my carrier, walked over to me and looked at my bags.
“You know your bags are over the weight limit?”
I was half-expecting him. He would make sure my bags were twenty weigh kilos for sixty thousand Leones, about twenty dollars. I don’t have sixty thousand. He left to speak to another passenger two places ahead of me. They spoke in Temne. When he returned to me I switched the conversation to Temne. I was sure this would earn me a further discount. We were near agreement for thirty. My heart sank at a perceived obstacle just before my turn at the counter: the boss walked through the glass door and stood at the counter.
It is silly to limit passengers to twenty kilos, which is why at Freetown International, excess kilos are in the eye of the beholder. The porter hoisted my bags to be weighed. Forty kilos. He took them down in the blink of a knat’s eye. Nine kilos, the associate shouted. Twenty dollars, the boss echoed. I tried to negotiate. He did not yield. I paid, and watched my luggage disappear. I looked at the boss. He was in the game: why, my stomach was more than nine kilos. He held the line on the charge they had to account for to cover the graft. The porter walked over after I paid the airport tax. He drove a hard bargain, probably because he got the dregs of the spoils as he must share the proceeds with all the others, including the boss. We shared the true cost: twenty went to the airline, I kept fifteen and I gave the porter ten. I longed to swat the porter after I got my receipt, but he had to load my bags onto the aircraft. I warned him about my bags.
“Don’t worry, I will load your bags onto the aircraft myself,” he said, in Temne.
I saw my contact in the immigration service while I was waiting for boarding. He wrote his address and phone number. Call me if you need any help with immigration, he said. He was invaluable when Christina visited last December. I thanked him again for that and gave him a small tip. I walked into the duty free shop at the opposite end of the waiting area. It was stacked with exotic merchandise: French chocolate, perfume, designer clothing, metal-plaited cigarette lighters, and imported liqueurs. Who buys them? I wondered. Probably politicians and smugglers of our precious metals, I thought. It was, perhaps, a bit cynical. I walked over to a local section of the shop and bought a CD of local music along with a VCD with local actors. I also bought three of the day’s local newspapers and returned to the wait area. I met a young compatriot on his way to Kenya on business. I did not ask his business, but I thought it great if trade is developing between East and West Africa. He also wrote his address and phone number, but I did not see him when we landed in Accra.
Welcome to Kotoka International. I like Kotoka International: it leaves little doubt that you are in Africa. It was my first taste of the Ghanaian sun, the first time in the house that Kwame Nkrumah built. I was to pick up my ticket to Johannesburg from the South African Airways office in Accra. A porter off-duty approached me immediately after I got my bags. He took me halfway round the airport, to avoid airport official, to the international check-in area. The public information system gave the first of a series of warnings on rogue porters a quarter of the way through my unsolicited tour. At the check-in area, a local agent of SAA directed me to the north wing of the main airport building for the airline offices. I turned to leave, with my bags.
“Leave them here,” he said.
I heard him.
“It is impossible to handle your bags in the airport offices.”
He was insulted when I asked his full name, and refused if it was a precondition to leave my bags. I was conflicted. Trust, but verify, my inner voice said. A security agent assigned to SAA gave me his full name and badge number. I left the two suitcases.
I walked out of the building into a golden Accra sunset. The porter emerged and offered to take me to the offices. He walked me into the office of a Greek airline. The agent was a portly middle man with a boar constrictor of a neck. He gave me a quote of two million Cedi to Johannesburg.
“And we’ll have to take you to Europe first,” he added.
“I am sorry, I am here to pick up my ticket from South African Airways.”
“You are in the wrong office then, are you not?” he said in a rather surly tone.
The porter apologized outside and said goodbye as a security guard took me to the correct office. It was closed with a note to come back at 5 pm. We will bring your ticket, a local agent told said to me the second time. My bags were safe in the lobby both times I left them to visit the offices. I thanked the guard and agents with small tips. They helped me to check-in after 6 pm. I still had four hours, and my flight was in a different terminal. I went to use a toilet – it was spacious and clean, and took a shuttle to the right terminal it was clean, and it ran on time. The monitors and public information gave reliable flight and personal information. The Accra skyline shone with a billion stars when we took off around 10 pm: it would have been a ‘thousand points of light’ in my beloved Freetown.
Johannesburg International and a new home
Welcome to Johannesburg, the pilot said. It was about 8 am. It was my first time in the city of gold, Egoli, Johannesburg, my first time in Gauteng, the economic engine of South Africa and, perhaps, the continent. A bus drove us a short distance from the aircraft to the International Terminal. I felt the cold temperature of an early winter morning. One or two passengers dressed in shorts. Nuts, I thought. I walked into the building with the other passengers, first to immigration. I went through in less than twenty minutes, including time on the queue. South African and other African countries are served at the same desks. What a great gesture, I thought. I said yes when the agent asked if I am married to a South African. She stamped my passport and waved me through. The wait was longer for my luggage. I pushed it past customs, declaring nothing, through a short corridor and out of the doors separating Customs from a waiting area to a warm embrace from Christina.
Faerie Glen, our new home, is forty-five minutes south-east of Johannesburg International Airport. I pushed the luggage cart across the street in front of the terminals to the car park. She paid for a parking ticket and we took an elevator to a lower floor. A few minutes later she opened the boot and doors of a black VW. I put the luggage into the boot and walked to the right side of the car. “Where are you going?” she asked.
I must get used to sitting on the left side of the car when I am not driving in South Africa. I change course to the right side of the vehicle. I don’t remember much of our conversation during the drive. I longed for a shower and a nap, perhaps, to throw off some of the weariness from the traveling. It was a smooth ride on the N1 to Pretoria, with a beautiful landscape alternating between hills and flat open spaces punctuated by bustling human activity along the highway. She indicated her route to work in the mornings from the exit on Atterbury Road. It was a short distance from the exit to our home and the shower.
I dragged my suitcase into the apartment on the second floor of a fairly big complex. I immediately jumped into the shower. The buildings in the complex are surrounded by a three to five meters wall carrying three-quarter meter of electronic wires to keep burglars at bay. It is smaller than our old home. The kitchen is spacious and you almost walk straight into it from the front entrance. A short hallway from the front door takes you into a large open area for a living and dining rooms. She had a modest lounge table with four chairs in the right corner and a shiny desk in the left corner with the computer. A slightly longer corridor between the kitchen and living areas leads to two medium-sized bedrooms. The master bedroom has three large closets with its own bathroom that is fitted with a medium-sized tub. The spare or guest room is a bit smaller. It is next to a guest bathroom smaller in size than the master bath and fitted with a shower in place of a tub.
I dressed warmly after a long hot shower to hold off the cool air inside the apartment. I unpacked the suitcase. I brought presents for Christina and her family. They were mostly African prints and embroideries, including some my sister made for her finals exams in seamstress school. I left my own clothes in the suitcase when I saw the closets full with Christina’s clothes. She laughed.
“Don’t worry I’ll make some space for you.”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
I was starving. I ate breakfast on the airplane around 6:30 am. It was after 11 am. She had smoked salmon with wheat bread and fruit juices for lunch.
“I looked, but I did not find bagels.”
She also bought salmon for dinner, but it is expensive here. Our days of salmon once a fortnight are over, I lamented. I walked to the study area and switched on the computer. I felt both intoxication and estrangement. I missed the familiarity of our home of almost six years. Our books and most of our belongings are still stacked in boxes. Another round of new beginnings, I started to think.
“Lunch is ready,” Christina interrupted my thoughts.
I was rejuvenated after lunch. Christina proposed a trip to the mall to look for voltage converters. Our electronic equipment is in 110 volts but electrical current is transmitted at 210 or 220 volts. I also suggested that we apply for a land phone in the mall. We left for the mall around 2 pm. It’s no more than ten minutes from our apartment to the mall on Atterbury Road, which Christina took on exit from the NI highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Menlyn Place is a monster of a mall, all of eight entrances and four levels. There were many desks, with maps, directing shoppers. I am not sure where we entered, but it was a long walk to the Telkom Office. The agent said we had to wait a month a land line. I asked about Internet service. We’d pay a fixed cost to the Telkom ISP and a variable cost each time we used the Internet for an analog connection. What about ADSL, a high end of the Internet here? It would cost more almost a hundred dollars in monthly fees. No one can escape the clutches of Telkom in South Africa. It is a near monopoly in communication.
I was tired when we returned home from the mall. I was not jet-lagged but I spent more than six hours in Accra. It was expensive to use the cell phone without a discounted card, so I had to wait to phone my family and friends in Sierra Leone. Two cards we bought in the Telkom office in the mall were only good to phone the United States. I excused myself and took a nap. Christina was up when I woke up around 10 pm. We had tea and talked for two hours. I asked about her work and, later, about my books. I brought all your books and papers, she said. I switched on the computer after she retired around midnight. I opened the diary I wrote about reconnecting with my family and home after more than fifteen years and a war. I edited the entries I made during my last days at home and in Kotoka International Airport until the cock crow hours. I did not hear any cocks. I opened some of the boxes with my books. I did not have a particular one in mind. I only wanted assurance that they arrived without much or any damage.
I returned to sleep after Christina left for work in the morning. She left her cell phone and wrote her office number. I slept until noon. The sun was up when I woke up and it drove away some of the cold night and morning air. I lay in bed for thirty minutes, not sure what to do. I got up and faced my fear: I had to learn where to find everything. I foraged in the kitchen closets and made a cup of hot tea. I looked out of the apartment through glassed doors to a man-made stream that runs in a crooked circle between the buildings of the complex. I switched on the computer. I laughed silently that the lights were still on after noon. I sat down to edit the diary I wrote while I was home. I was terribly homesick after a few pages. I opted for a shower and went looking for a towel and soap. I opened the closet next to the guest bathroom, but it lacked the familiarity of our old apartment. I went back to the bedroom and reached into my suitcase for the towel I brought from Sierra Leone with the soap, toothpaste and shampoo I parked for the journey. I laughed again, this time at the thought that I did not have to carry a bucket of hot water from the hearth.
I reached into a box with my clothes for a pair of sweat pants and sweatshirt. I made another cup of tea and ate the leftover of smoked salmon with bread for lunch. The phone rang. It was Christina. “How are you doing?”
“Quite well, thank you.”
I gave a brief description of my activities. I left out my trials in the apartment. We hung up quickly. It is expensive to phone during the day. I unpacked my suitcase. I opened more boxes with my books, looking for a reference book on finance this time. I found it quickly, thanks to the excellent way a friend parked our luggage in Columbia. I returned to the computer and started a generic email. I do not like generic emails but it would take too long to send personal emails to everyone I wanted to write.
I stared at the computer screen for fifteen minutes unable to not find words or form a sentence for my thoughts. I made a third cup of tea and opened the glass doors to the man-made stream behind our apartment. The stream is hardly a wonder of the world but right now yes, it is a Taj Mahal. It is four meters wide and built in descending obtuse angles around the property. Muddy water flowed over its concrete surface with rocks positioned near the slopes to successfully mimic the sound from a mighty fall. I heard it my first day in the apartment, when the doors were closed, and more clearly later in the night from my side of the bed closer to the windows. I leaned on the wooden rail around the balcony of the apartment and stared at the eight wonder of the world for ten minutes. Palm and other trees stand near the stream and between our building and one closest to us.
I turned to go back in but I was stayed by a loud and unusual chirping. I stopped to listen. I did not see which bird was making the sound, but I suddenly saw many others flying onto the trees, shrubs and flowers close to the stream. I enjoyed the chirping and the activities around the stream. I envied them a little they were working for lunch on the flowers, some hunting for insects, others picking the fruits on shrub with red flowers on the edge of the stream. I counted more than five species and one stood out with a beautiful crown that unfurled in flight. I did not recognize it nor the one with a yellow beak. I only recognized the pigeons. I returned to the computer after forty-five minutes. I felt tired. Tired from doing what? I asked myself. I checked the time. I expected Christina home an hour later.
I was sitting at the computer when Christina arrived home from work. It was unfamiliar for me to be home when she arrived for work the last ten years, barring extraordinary circumstances.
“So how was your day?”
“Oh, fine. I mostly rested and did not do much after I got up in early afternoon.”
“Did you find everything?”
“Yes, I ate the salmon in the fridge and found tea in the kitchen closets.”
“Good, it means you did not starve.”
She went in the room to change. I went back to the computer and decided to wait a few days to write email or edit the diary. I asked about her day at work during dinner, which was leftover salmon from the previous night. She was chair of a committee hosting an international conference on teacher education at the University of Pretoria. Most of today, and other days, were dominated by the logistics of hosting the conference. She said the Dean of the Faculty of Education and the Head of her Department said they were glad I was finally here and sent me greetings. I told her I planned to rest for a week. I was exhausted from visiting family and taking care of travel and other business in the last three weeks at home. I would devise a strategy to apply for the permanent resident permit and a job during that time.
I was raring to go after a week. I fired my ten-year old typewriter and went to work on the eighteen page application for the permanent resident permit. It asked detailed questions about every phase of my life and that of Christina, including our families and, curiously, proof of financial support. I wondered why the latter was relevant. Surely I am at least eligible for a temporary work permit, I thought. I fortunately could get all but two of the documents I had to file in South Africa. I phoned South Carolina and applied for a police certificate from the Law Enforcement Division. I completed a physical and a radiological report in a nearby hospital and obtained sworn testimony I have never been married to another from a local police precinct. Over two weeks, we secured a letter of employment from the University of Pretoria and I copied and certified my passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, bank statements and diplomas. We both wrote letters, mine on the state of our marriage and Christina’s one of support for my application.
I had all the documents except the police clearance from South Carolina, but I could not file the application without it. I turned my attention to the possibility of working. I checked the newspapers and thought I was qualified and experienced to do some of the job advertised, but I had to be sure about the law on a work permit. Christina sent email to the Department of Home Affairs asking if I am eligible for a work permit as the spouse of a South African citizen. A representative was true to his word, replying in three days, but he did not clearly set out the steps to obtain the work permit. Christina replied to his email and followed up on the telephone. I was pressing quite hard, a bit impatient, but confident a statute or procedure exists on work authorization for of the spouse of a citizen. We agreed it was better for Christina to handle queries to the Department of Home Affair as the citizen-spouse and also because she is one step removed from the process.
He promised to email a document to clarify the situation. We received a technical document that did we both failed to make sense of. It has got to be easier than this, I thought. A friend put us in touch with an official in the upper echelon of the Department of Home Affairs. He was much too busy when we emailed or phoned and sent a draft of a major amendment to the immigration bill pending in parliament at the time. It only added to our confusion about the process. My frustration levels slowly mounted. I remained confident that the statute must have a simple clause that makes it easy for the foreign spouse of a citizen to work for a living. I was thinking, and asking: what if we had moved here with children? Would the law deny me the opportunity to labor honestly, to dig graves if I choose, to help care for my family? I was forced to give second thoughts to hiring an attorney or legal practitioner in immigration. I had no doubt that common sense and all my years of dealing with immigration should be enough in the current situation where I am in the first tier in the chain of immigration because I am married to a citizen of South Africa.
Dumela, Tshwane (Hello, Tshwane): Vaarwel, Pretoria? (Goodbye, Pretoria?)
I read The Star and Pretoria News, two English language newspapers Christina bought everyday when she returned from work. Near the end of the week, I discovered radio when I accidentally tuned the Tim Modise Network, broadcast on channel 702 A0M from Johannesburg. It is talk radio with a call-in format and I stayed tuned to hear callers discuss the proposal to change the name of the capital city from Pretoria to Tshwane. I previously read a story on this in the newspapers with great interest. I was always struck by the names of the most prominent towns, and the provinces in South Africa: Pretoria Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban, Johannesburg Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, Transvaal, North-West, and on it went. I liked KwaZulu-Natal: it honors the heritages of the peoples. I read of Ulundi, Umlazi, Umtata, and Mmabatho, but they are not yet what you identify with the country. The names I read about most made me feel more like I was in Europe than Africa.
You can guess the background of most callers on the radio shows. Most of the callers today were White and they were opposed. Most argued that the municipal council did not consult citizens, and others said the funds could be better spent on more important causes. The newspaper article hinted at a compromise, that the greater municipality, which covers most of the city, would be renamed while the center of the city would retain the old name of the city. The question remained which of the two would the world know as the capital? I saw later on billboards, Tshwane, Africa’s Capital City,” which made it clear that the council intended to change the city’s name, that the compromise was symbolic one at best. I was disappointed the compromise did not offer a solution, but I President Thabo Mbeki’s view on the matter when I kept hearing the red herrings of cost and democracy. He reminded the nation that Grahamstown, in Eastern Cape Province, was renamed after a Scotsman whom the locals remember as the Butcher of iRhini. I doubt there was a referendum on renaming the city after the hero or villain Scotsman.
In another land of Africa
I am waking up in a land of Africa. I hear birds of Africa, but I must learn their chirping still. They sing to me, but I do not yet hear their music. I see palm trees, but I do not recognize their fruits and they sway differently in the wind. My people – are they my people? – speak to me in many languages of Africa, but not one that my forebears speak. Some tell me of their ancestors but are their ancestors related to my ancestors? Are we lost brothers? Or do we cling to a myth of brotherhood?
Irrational expectations, irrational exuberance
I would probably have regarded the Rainbow Nation a paradise if I lived all my life in Sierra Leone before coming here but then I would probably not have ended up here. I would have looked with luxury at running water, uninterrupted electricity, paved roads, phones, multiple radio and television stations and possible access to the Internet from home. On the contrary, I had come to expect them and more, and my expectations were no less in the Rainbow Nation. It didn’t take long to for me to realize, at a rational level, the challenge I faced: dissonance between what I expected and a different reality. But this understanding at the intellectual level is not worth a warm spit of salt. I need the value of experience to complete my understanding at all levels. I know what I am supposed to do, or not do, how I would like to behave in my calm and rationally reflective moments but irrational expectations bred the irrationally exuberant manner in which I react in dealing with perceived or real obstacles, of which there were plenty.
So I am aware in hindsight that I should have reacted differently. In fact, I would have wanted to react with cool and calm but the rational predominates in hindsight. After you have spent more than an hour in a bank queues paying the rent and water rates because the payees prefer that to checks in the mail when you have to wait a month before you phone is installed when you hear six different opinions from experts or associates on if are eligible for employment, when you have to certify a million documents and hear five different opinions on what is or should mostly be a matter of fact: why it is hard to keep that balance in the domain of the rational. I would have been better conditioned to wait and the high cost of doing business if arrived here from living all my life in Sierra Leone: my expectations would have been more than fulfilled.
My biggest challenge here stems from living in the United States for a long time and expecting life would be here very different in South Africa. The consensus of opinion from South Africans I met abroad and from scholars and visitors to South Africa led me to expect only a slight difference in quality of life in the new South Africa from the one I lived in the last twenty years. My impression was the major obstacle to first world living for the majority of South Africans was apartheid. The world is still toasting the peaceful end of apartheid, negotiated by Black and White South Africans, and you now read of South African multinationals competing with those from first world nations. My own visits did not temper my expectations or prepare me for the reality of life on the ground. I expected life in the Rainbow Nation would be, at worst, an erasable notch below the first world in infrastructure, telecommunication, business or service. On the other hand, this may also have been an illusion that part of me really wanted to be true.
This was the psychological background when I blurted out to Christina, “I do not think I am going to make it here.” I was so overwhelmed by the discord between my expectations and the realities of life here that I felt I would be better off in Sierra Leone. My expectations about life in Sierra Leone were quite different and they did not deviate significantly from what I found on the ground. I did not expect to find the taps running, the electricity on for twenty-four hours, the roads paved and the phones working. In fact, I expected the country to be in shambles and while it was at a certain level, there was an appeal from the fact that people lived through the difficulties of the post war. I would not have to deal with immigration or worry about finding a job. There were numerous opportunities for professionals with my qualifications, and my family has direct or indirect access to solutions in government and law, all of which are not available to me in the Rainbow Nation.
A calm amidst the storm
I was unsure of my next move. I completed the application for a permanent resident permit and had all the documents except the police report from South Carolina. A thousand opinions, including those of some experts, were spinning in my head and had me confused on my eligibility for a work permit. I looked elsewhere to pass the days. I unpacked more of my books and read economics. I have an abiding interest in currencies and exchange rates and I renewed my knowledge of the balance of payments following my formal training in accounting and years of practical application in budgeting. I also reviewed basic principles in macroeconomics, my favorite branch of the discipline, with an eye to possibly working in that arena. I felt confident after reviewing the basic concepts and solving problems. I read history, starting with an autobiography of Shaka Zulu, the founder of the Zulu nation. It brought curiosity on the Bantu migration, a Great Trek before the other Great Trek, to southern Africa and I searched on the Internet for historical material on it.
I set a goal of loosing some of the extra kilos I logged in from home. I regained a healthy appetite in the months after I recovered from a serious illness in January and February and my family was only too happy to feed me. Steep hills and accompanying valleys around Faerie Glen present an obstacle and recovery course ideal for sweat from a brisk walk for an hour or more. It was an opportunity to know the neighborhood more intimately. I started walking twice a week and gradually went to three times. I walked by the most beautiful houses, occupying large square areas, complete with gardens. The architecture is predominantly faux Tuscan but also reminds me of southwestern United States. The houses are lodged behind high walls and electric fences to keep away intruders. Signs on gates conspicuously announce protection from private security agencies and their agents patrol in marked vehicles. For good measure, formidable German shepherds, fearsome bulldogs and rottweilers, even irritable poodles, threatened me behind many a fence, with as many as four dogs behind some of the fences.
It is a residential area for an upper crust of the working class. Property is valued between three-quarters to a million Rand. It is quiet when I walk in early or late afternoons, before 4 pm, but not so after 5 pm. The majority of the residents are White and middle aged, and I see their preteens playing in the yards in the after school hours. There are signs of integration, with Black residents or families, but the majority of Blacks faces belong to domestic workers and gardeners. The former are older women and live in house quarters I pass groups of them on lawns, not far, presumably, from where they work, on some late afternoons. The latter are younger and male, often dressed in blue uniforms for what are not blue collar jobs. Most residents or workers ignore me, but some of the latter greet me in an African language. Dumela. Aheh, I would reply, and keep walking. One walked closer to me when I slowed down after climbing a steep hill. She addressed me, probably in Sotho, and then burst out in hearty laughter. I followed suit. I was both frustrated that I could not share in a joke and comforted that I did not understand something bad or hurtful.
You never walk alone
My days settled into a half familiar rhythm. I cooked, washed, cleaned, read, and found challenges in economics, programming spreadsheets and education finance. I did the latter to be the intellectual spar or devil’s advocate for the fair Christina. I found unexpected lifelines in my routine. Cooking honored my paternal Grandmother and Uncle, who taught me to cook. I doubled that with a vision of strength, perseverance and hard work, all of which my Uncle taught me in his words, but more so in his actions. I thought of the one lithe of limb, wiry and sinewy, the central figure of the halcyon days of my youth that is my maternal Grandmother when I washed or cleaned. She never wanted me, or any man, in her kitchen, but she taught me discipline in those two, and other, activities that I am more aware of and trying to implement even now in the middle passage of my life.
Reading reminded me of my parents. Mother, the calm in all the storms of my youth, even though Grandmother said she herself was a volcano, who planted strong seeds of manners, of love and of education, and Dad, who loved books and reading, whose soft humor and infecting laughter was an equilibrating balance to a biting and sometimes cynical one of my maternal Grandmother. My mind would conjure two maternal granduncles, who bred confidence when they would insist I am the one to write their correspondence in English even though I had older cousins in school. I found patrons of my Yonibana. Mrs. Mary Tholley, the matriarch of our primary school, mine and my parents’ first school teacher, who instilled or reinforced learning and discipline in our generations. Pastor Tholley, her husband and patriarch of European education. They were a formidable team, and they stretched the radius of education in Yonibana and its municipalities.
I dared not let the challenges now eclipse the light from the hope of all their investments. In fact, I must feel lucky. I was prepared for all the storms, and carnivals, of life. And the storms of life are here! I must honor my Mother, Grandmothers, granduncles and my departed patrons so they might seat in a merry table with ancestors long gone and smile among the angels in heaven. I must use the words and deeds of my Uncle to focus on the task until it is done. I must find pleasure in books and not forget to laugh, again and again like Dad, even in the darkest hour. I must pay tribute to the patrons of Yonibana who helped to prepare me for the storms of life. These storms are part of the journey, one in which the gods gave me, and I made choices. It is time to tackle the responsibilities of my choices. I do so from this minute knowing that I will never walk alone for I walk in the long shadow of a blinding light of hope.
Forget your troubles and dance – Bob Marley
Christina promised some of the friends she has met a party to welcome me. Inquiries grew louder after my first month. She finally set a date for the last Saturday in May. I did not really feel like a party, but I sure needed one and hoped it would buoy my spirits. I received the surly mood of our neighbor and caretaker of the apartment complex when I went to ask about hosting the party in the club house of the complex. I am not the caretaker, he quickly reminded me. I the chairperson of the body corporate, I heard him tell another tenant. Whatever he is, he has failed to grasp the notion of customer service. All these things are in your manual, he offered in dripping sarcasm when I asked a second question about the club house. I returned the fire, albeit subtly, with an apology and promise to consult the manual. I was saved from this by friends’ offer to host the gathering. We met in their home and worked out a guest list and logistics for the party.
I worried about cost and suggested a budget. We agreed on thirty adult guests with half that number for children. I persuaded Christina from cooking for the party. It will take you two days, at least, to cook for twenty-five guests, and you would not enjoy they party, I urged. The hosts concurred and she agreed to order all the food and drinks, but she insisted on making a tossed salad. The hostess joined her with an offer to make a pasta salad. We ordered two medium-sized platters with lettuce, tomato, fish nuggets, meatballs and samosas, the latter are made with curried minced chicken or meat mixed with onion and wrapped in dough, and baked or fried, and booked a spit grill and a twenty kilo lamb to braai, grill for the main course. For drinks, we safely bet on more wine than liquor and beer, plus soft drinks and mixers for the liquor.
South Africans of all hue love meat, and better still beef or lamb I am offered bilton, dry salted meat, everywhere. We drove a bakkie, truck, to pick up the grill on the morning of the party. A salesman instructed us on how to operate it and turned over. I opened it before we loaded it into the truck. It was full of lard. It was obvious neither the previous customer nor the proprietors had cleaned after it was last used. I called their attention. They apologized and brought out a cloth and agent. I would have opted for another on account of this, but it took some time to book this one. Christina’s male cousins, one of whom drove the truck, suggested he probably did not care it was clean because he was dealing with black clients, that he would not treat a white customer in the same manner. I was not sure. I noted, however, that proprietors here pass as much cost as they possibly can to the customer: we would have had to clean it if we drove home without inspecting it.
The host commenced the festivities with a faux pas.
“I would like to welcome you to my house.”
“Your house, eh?” the hostess chimed.
Oops. He regained his step.
“Our lovely home,” he corrected.
It is a beautiful home, nestled on a quiet street from the main thoroughfare separating the east Tshwane suburbs of Faerie Glen and Garsfontein. It stands on more than two thousand square meters of land, separated from neighbors and the street by a five meter wall. They hosted in the living areas, which have spacious rooms for sitting, cooking, dining, and a small bar next to a TV lounge. We set up the buffet in a dining area in the middle of the house, opposite the kitchen across the main hall that almost separates the house in two. A pair of glass doors near the buffet open to a stoop, and no more than five meters from it, down a short flight of stairs, is a concrete area and twenty by ten meter pool. The home is complete with land for a small garden, two sheds and an open thatched roof hut to entertain during the warm days of the Gauteng spring or its warm nights of summer.
The host asked some of the guests to extend a special welcome. I am sure you will be challenged by our eleven official languages, one began. Just remember to say jou moer, your mama, in your dealings in Afrikaans. Christina thanked the hosts and guests, and welcomed me warmly. I am happy you are finally here, she said, reminiscing on my struggle to obtain a visa and my prepaid ticket from Sierra Leone. I thanked the hosts, Christina and all the friends and guests. I spoke honestly about how difficult it felt to adjust to a different tone and rhythm of life in middle age after you have developed one for ten years. We deepen roots, more than spread branches at this age, I said. But no one forced me to propose ten years ago, so I must do all, and more, to adjust and support my wife in her dreams. I do so with the hope that I can find even greater reward in my own dreams.
The warm daytime temperatures of the Gauteng spring gave way to a cold air that is also typical of the spring when we started around 8 pm. The food was fortunately still warm after four speeches, and the guests were not shy. I started with samosas and the delicious pasta salad of the hostess. Small groups of eight and ten in number broke out in conversations during the course of the evening. I joined one on the stoep, on sports and race. I mostly listened. Conversations on race and sports among the majority of the guests center on rugby, the most exclusive domain of Whites, and are mostly about the merit of Black players on the team or field. I am mindful of the past, but disagree that selectors and coaches must be obligated to have Black players on the team or field. It is not an act of genius to suggest, from looking at the trend of sports worldwide and the racial calculus here that the ensuring debate in twenty years might be quotas for White players were time and resources properly allocated on developing the game at all levels.
I answered a call of eighties dance and disco tunes in the midnight hour I was not alone. It was an unplanned spark but it drew weary souls to the floor. The music drowned a passionate disagreement on politics among a group of men huddled around a fire near the open hut. The women dispatched emissaries to adjourn the political discussion. The men responded, mindful, perhaps, that the ladies spent a majority of the evening inside the house away from them. The deejay brought more souls for the devil with nineties numbers. Then he played his last ace: Mafikizolo and other popular kwaito numbers, it being a popular genre in South Africa. The floor filled with happy captives. Many said goodbye again and again only to dance to a last tune. And so we went on dancing, even singing some tunes we recognized, until the pregnant hours. For a fleeting magical expanse, I succumbed to the admonition of that Jamaican sage: I forgot all my troubles and just danced.
For better or for worse
We celebrated nine years of wedded bliss quietly with early dinner at Cynthia’s, a small restaurant in Brooklyn. Our celebrations are usually modest and this one almost demanded it. My practical nature has prevailed to result in few gift surprises. We simply exchange opportunities to get something you really want outside of the normal expenditure stream. I occasional surprise her with chocolate or sweets, perfume or lotion. I walked to a small shopping center and bought her a local perfume, oils and lotions. She bought me a copy of Rita Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, an absorbing biographical sketch of her life with Bob Marley. We toasted nine wonderful, if challenging, years of love and for at least another score and ten with quieter storms, but storms nonetheless, with JC le Roux, a smooth bubble of white South African champagne. It was just twilight when we drove home with leftover hake, salmon and pasta, and capped the celebration with a quiet night at home.
We did not talk about the challenges ahead not tonight, anyway. I believe we are both accepting it is part of the journey. It is more important for me to accept this because I was not in favor of moving to South Africa now. Tonight was a good time for me to look at things from her point of view and to make that our point of view. This is her dream, but she made no secret of the fact that this dream of contributing to education in the land of her birth was high on her field of dreams. Her journey in education started in a secondary school classroom at a time when the main opportunities open to Coloured women were in teaching or nursing. Even then, she dared to dream of standing in hollow and forbidden walls of the past. I sense immense pride in her parents, family, even the community, that their daughter is a lecturer in a university and, of all places, the University of Pretoria. It was probably a place far to imagine from the obstacles she faced with her family and community.
I drove her nuts with complaints about my life here. Part of my frustration came from vindication. I said many times that it would probably be more difficult than we both imagined. I felt that she was overly optimistic that coming home was a panacea and about my chances here. Things would not be better simply because it is home and I read of xenophobia online the South African newspapers. I am working to get over that. It has helped that she always gave me support, even when she was fed up with me. Can I fault her for believing in me, for thinking I am dedicated and qualified to handle the jobs advertised in my field? In spite of my own sense of caution, I also felt good my chances. It also helps that she understands my plight better from her own dealings with the people and systems at work, and from being witnessing my obstacles with the immigration bureaucracy and job markets. I am learning to make her dream a part of mine, albeit with the fervent hope that I can soon chase my own dreams.
The difficulties of adjusting to life here have strained but not broken our marital chords. The road ahead of us requires humility but we have worked through the most difficult problems thus far. I phoned Sierra Leone when we returned from the restaurant. Dad picked up and we had a long conversation. I lay all my challenges on his mat.
“It has been difficult, Dad.”
“Keep working at it, and then work at it some more. And listen, keep your chin up and don’t worry because it is going to be alright.”
I was grateful beyond words. I needed to hear that I needed to hear it from him. Some second-guess my decision to be here, but he has always been in my corner. I thanked him and we hung up after a hearty rasping laughter. I felt a strong wind on my sails after I hung up.
Back to the future
My Dad told me a story when I was thirteen years old. The Syli National – Elephants – the National Football Team of Guinea was playing against the Atlas Lions, that of Morocco, in the last match of the Finals of the African Cup of Nations. The 1976 Finals is the only tournament that was staged without a final match. Four teams qualified from the eight Finalists to play a “final phase” the Syli and Lions were scheduled to meet in the last game. The match resembled a final as either team had a chance to win the trophy, but the Syli National had to win it. They scored first, in the thirty-third minute, and led for most of the second half but lightening struck four minutes from the end when the Lions scored to draw level. Dad was listening on the radio and remembers a pregnant pause from the commentator, Sheik Fantamadie. “Ah Allah!” O God, he bellowed when he resumed, capturing the sentiments of the Syli nation. I love football everywhere and follow it at all levels, but my teenage years are wrapped with memories of African football. Most in my generation will agree that African football was a leading passion in our teens.
I walked into FNB Stadium near Soweto to watch Bafana, Bafana the National Football Team of South Africa, play against the Black Stars, the National Football Team of Ghana, bearing a million of my teen memories. I looked forward to the match for months and could not hide my excitement after we bought the tickets on Friday morning from a post office on Church Square in Pretoria, in the center of Tshwane. I thought of Dad and my younger brother during the week. The three of us spent many Saturday afternoons watching football matches in Sierra Leone, but I have replaced them with a new convert that I brought to the altar of the football gods. When he met my future wife for the first time in 1994, my roommate said he had a question for her.
“Do you like football?”
“No, not really,” she replied
“Uh-no!” he retorted.
I proudly declare that my wife now pays homage to the football gods with an unbridled passion for the beautiful game.
It was a magnificent Saturday morning with bright blue skies resembling a summer day but balmy temperatures of an early spring day. The match kicked-off at 3:30 pm in FNB Stadium, a little under an hour from where we live. We planned to leave at 1:30 pm, to give us an hour to park and find good seats. A friend phoned Christina at 10 am to say that a radio station was predicting a large crowd. The stadium seats sixty thousand, but it has very few reserved seats. Open seats are first come, first serve. We decided to leave at 12:10 pm. FNB Stadium is near Soweto, a Black township of Johannesburg and vanguard in resisting apartheid. In June 1976, young Black Students staged a march to protest against Afrikaans as the language of instruction in Soweto schools. Media images depicted White policemen shooting at Black school children. I was eleven years old, in the final year of primary school. I delivered the newspaper then and I read about Soweto. I learned more about it in history lessons in secondary school. I also heard Sonny Okonsun, a Nigerian musician, singing of, “Fire in Soweto, burning all my people….” in the taxis to school or the football stadium.
The N1 highway runs north from Polokwane, in Limpopo Province, to the south in Cape Town in the Western Cape Province. The stretch between Pretoria and Johannesburg is dominated by open land with wide spaces for miles. Farms, grazing cattle or sheep, alternate with manufacturing plants of human activity. The beauty of the land here is interrupted by the eyesores of huge cranes carrying electricity and ugly hills from deposits of the yellow belly of the earth that delay the quest for gold: I first read about mine dumps in Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy. I must go in search of Malay Camp, Vrededorp and other towns featured in the novel, I thought. My wife woke me from my excursion. We had lost our way following the directions of a friend. We did not see the exit that he said would take us to FNB Stadium through Riverlea, a Colored township of Johannesburg. Christina drove to a petrol station. We bought refreshments and regrouped. Get back on the N1 highway, northbound, take the Soweto Highway exit and follow it to FNB Stadium, the attendant said.
In the heyday of my passion, I knew the monikers of most of the African National Football Teams. Journalists and aficionado alike talked not of Zaire against Ghana but the Leopards – they are now the Simbas – versus the Black Stars. I tested my recollection of team monikers as we rode on the magnificent NI to Johannesburg. The Green – now Super – Eagles of Nigeria, who eliminated my Leone Stars in many competitions, although we drew a line on home sand the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, probably the most feared National Team in the decades of my youth the Pharaohs of Egypt, who have hardly approached the glory of their namesake and the Desert Warriors of Algeria, who forced the “anschluss” by defeating Germany in the 1982 World Cup Finals – Austria colluded with Germany, loosing 1-0, to eliminate Algeria. The recent additions to this pantheon may be the Palancas Negras of Angola who appear ready to clip the wings of the Super Eagles and the Hawks of Togo, who would strike a blow for all small nations in Africa if they claim a spot in the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany.
I was not sure whom to support. I am learning to love South Africa, home to me through marriage. I share the awe in which the world holds the nation for its peaceful transition to democracy from apartheid, and it is clearly the political and economic power of the continent. But I remain attached to my home nation, Sierra Leone and, in what certainly may be termed peculiar, to the sub-region of West Africa. My feelings about the sub-region are, at best, irrational, but may be explained by hailing from a small country whose destiny is affected by the other nations, especially the more powerful one, in the region. We learned a lot about Nigeria and Ghana in secondary school and both played a role in ending the war in Sierra Leone, especially Nigeria, who lost many soldiers on the killing fields of Sierra Leone. I doubt a Nigerian or Ghanaian would feel the way I do, and I can’t imagine a South African feeling the same way about Southern Africa, but a Swazi or Sesotho may have similar feelings about South Africa or the Southern Africa region.
To hear the Bafana Nation talk, you would beg forgiveness to doubt they are the champions of the world. The nation and newspapers were dismissive of Ghana. They tagged them as underachievers: four African championships, a wealth of talent, but never qualified for the World Cup. I admire Bafana’s thirst to be the best in the world, but, in football, it is imperative to first conquer Africa. They have probably earned a right to be thought great, but they have not earned a place on the table of the five greatest football nations in Africa, FIFA rankings to the contrary. The Bafana Nation suffers a rugby illusion. In rugby, South Africa walks in company with the greats. They consistently win tests versus Australia, New Zealand, and England, and consistently pip France. They earned their place in the table of greats by winning the World Cup as hosts in 1995. But few nations play rugby in Africa and it does not have near the history or tradition associated with football. In Africa, Bafana have not earned the aura of the Indomitable Lions of the eighties or the Green Eagles in their first two World Cup appearances.
We chose the west stands of the stadium, and sat halfway around the top of the center circle. Kick-off was more than an hour away. A boisterous crowd filled the stadium, dancing to music on the public address system. The south stands filled up first and the crowds danced. The Black Star had a good following. The fans unfurled a huge Ghanaian flag across two sectors in the east stands. They too swayed to the music and unsuccessfully tried to drown the home crowd. But the dominant sound came from the ‘vuvuzela,’ a plastic trumpet with a long slender neck and medium sized ear. The crowd blew it with aplomb throughout the match. It is loud and obnoxious, like the horn of a sixties vehicle. We moved seats twice to escape the sound. Both times, we were regaled from a row or two behind us. The crowd roared approval for the green and gold when the teams emerged from the dressing rooms. I felt the rush of adrenaline into my pores and the flow of blood into my veins.
The tide of my emotions peaked just before the kick-off. The Black Stars prevailed, but I left the stadium with respect for local fans. I contradicted them throughout the match. I pumped my right fist when the Black Stars scored and danced through the second goal. No one was mean, or rude. A fellow sitting near me innocuously said, “I think you are sitting in the wrong section.” My actions may have brought me untold grief in my days of watching football at home. The match was keenly contested and the outcome might have favored the home side if the forwards were not profligate in the opening quarter hour. I teased my cohorts on our way home, but we planned to see Bafana play against the Democratic Republic of Congo in September. The loss did not eliminate South Africa, but it put Ghana firmly in control of the group. The two teams are equal on points but the Stars control their own destiny: they must slip for Bafana to regain the initiative. For me, it was a great afternoon back to the future.
“But can you at least read Afrikaans?”
It has been difficult for me since I arrived in South Africa. My pendulum of emotions is swinging less in a direction of optimism. I have doubts about my future here and even that of my wife. She is chairing a committee that is organizing an international conference on teacher education the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria will host in July. She is overwhelmed at times, but she is moving forward with support from the Dean. I have led the cheer for her while I grapple with the arcane bureaucracy in the Department of Home Affairs in my bid to obtain permanent resident and work permits. I am happy to cheer for her, but I want to continue my own career and have my own goals. I certainly overestimated opportunities in South Africa. I should have been forewarned from our prior dealings with the Department of Home Affairs. It took nine years to register our marriage but I let my healthy cynicism drown in the sea of possibilities of reuniting with my wife.
I received email from the Director of Finance of the University of Pretoria last week to ‘chat’ about my resume. The Dean of the Faculty of Education sent a copy of my resume. I was both nervous and excited about the opportunity to talk about my qualifications and experience. I prepared well for the meeting, researching formulae used in funding public institutions of tertiary education in South Africa and the enrolment trends in the institutions. It was more difficult to find information on the Department of Finance of the University. I beat the clock by fifteen minutes at 5:15 am this morning and took a hot shower. It felt colder this morning. I was nervous. I wore a sky-blue shirt and red tie with a greyish-blue suit and black shoes. While Christina finished dressing, I had a breakfast of wheat bread spread with a black cherry jam and washed down with a cup of tea. We left at 6:40 am.
I signed into the main administration building of the University of Pretoria at 7:00 am. The building, on the main campus of the University on Lynwood Street, wears a light yellow well against a green cover from perennials. The office of the Director of Finance is on the third floor of a north wing of the building. The security personnel gave me directions to his office and pointed me to the stairs. There are no elevators but it is a short climb to the third floor. I was deliberately early and surveyed the interior of the building. It looked much bigger inside than it did on the outside. I walked past many offices on the third floor first in search of a toilet. I saw two toilet doors near the Director’s office, but both had lady symbols. I immediately thought someone made a mistake placing two ladies bathrooms next to each other, but trusted my instinct not to enter either.
I turned right into a hallway from the two ladies toilets in a smile and greetings in Sesotho from the cleaning lady. I muttered my best reply from what I have learned in short time here. I have been better received since I adopted the strategy of answering greetings with my small Sotho vocabulary before I let them know I don’t how to speak Sesotho. She gave me the directions to a men’s toilet. I had to walk back away from the two ladies toilets and turn right at the next perpendicular hallway. The Black workers I met in the building – all were cleaners or security personnel – smiled and said ‘sir’ when they addressed me. It was my suit and portfolio, I guessed. I still had twenty minutes and walked to the notice board inside a hallway from the Director’s Office. I looked for the Director’s name. Curiously, the majority of names were of Dutch origin. There were few African names, and they seemed to follow ten or more Dutch names.
The Director walked over and introduced himself. He is tall, about fifty-five years and was wearing grey pants, a pink shirt and maroon pullover. He said he was grateful I was early and wanted to start the chat. He did not ask me: rather he not so subtly told me we should start the meeting. He led the way to a spacious conference room and he invited me to sit down. I chose the head of the west end of a rectangular conference table with rounded lengths and he sat to my left. He opened with cordial remarks about my visit and how it must be so daunting for me to be in South Africa. He started the main conversation with two reasonable personal questions, asking if this is my first time in South Africa and my reason for being here. I said this is my fourth time in South Africa and I am here with my wife. He seemed startled to learn I married a South African, and his questions thereafter took an even more personal tone. I honestly answered all, but I failed to see what some follow up questions had to do with my qualifications or work experience.
We thankfully moved to my resume. He went through it thoroughly and had underlines and other marks in many parts. I felt better that the questions of the next fifteen minutes were directed to my skill and work experience, but I now wondered about his manner of questioning. I was not sure whether he was gauging my ability or if he was determined to expose me as a fraud. My resume had a title of Accountant/Fiscal Analyst and he seemed bent on exposing it as fraudulent. He asked about it, and I explained I worked mainly on planning or the budget, adding that my academic training was in economics, not accounting.
“But you know what a debit and a credit are, don’t you?”
How dare he, I thought to myself. The budget was a full-fledged accounting document in all the places I worked. Besides, when I veered into the financial arena after graduation, I took introductory and intermediate courses in accounting, and I invested time learning and applying basic finance and accounting. He could have asked me more about that or simply if I had any formal education in accounting or finance.
We arrived at a fork in the road. He asked if I spoke Afrikaans, a language that developed in the Cape from Dutch. I had deliberately ignored this in his opening remarks. I politely told him I do not speak Afrikaans, but have made inquiries about learning it. He continued with my resume, asked my age and sketched my position in the hierarchy in my old job. I was grateful that his questions about my experience were specific, and planned to use this to critique my resume for future applications. The chat was over after the questions about debits and credits and Afrikaans, but not before a shift occurred. He made an effort in the last quarter to connect personally, perhaps to soften the blow from our professional dissonance. That did not end the digging into my personal life. We had clearly taken different paths at the fork.
What remained was just a cordial parting. His favour to the Dean of the Faculty of Education, who sent my resume, was done. He also promised to send it to the Director of the Budget. I thanked him and rose to leave.
“Can you find your way out?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
But he insisted on at least walking me to the stairs, to help me find my way round the big and confusing building. I obliged. We had walked about five meters inside the past the two ladies’ toilets.
“Can you at least read Afrikaans?” he asked just before we took the stairs.
My thoughts ran to Telephone Conversation, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s poem he wrote on renting an apartment from a White woman in Leeds who wanted to know the exactly shade of his dark skin.
“No, I can neither read nor write Afrikaans,” I replied a second time.
He said again how difficult it must be for me to adjust to everything. I said I would do my best and believed it would be all right. At the staircase he wished me all the best and said: “Go well….” I did not remember to say, “Stay well…” but I thanked him.
I entered the building through the door on the front side in the morning. He took me to a different exit. I was momentarily disoriented, but I saw a hallway that I was sure would lead me to the front door and exit. A White officer worker and a Black security guard both tried to help but I told them I only needed to make a phone call and wait in front of the building. I was about to dial Christina’s number at bottom of the staircase when I heard the Director’s voice at the top offering me a lift to Greonkloof. I wanted to say no. I said my wife waiting to come and fetch me. But he insisted, and I agreed again, to be courteous. He ran back to his office for his keys and gave me a lift in a white car. Near the main exit out of the campus I remarked on the size of the university and on its beautiful campus.
“Yes, and we have the largest enrolment of Black students,” he remarked.
“How interesting,” I said.
I paused and stared through the car window at some of the buildings.
“Good for you,” I wanted to rather say.
The campus of the University of Pretoria is indeed beautiful. It is located near the centre of the city. I am impressed with the architecture, which boldly combines the early 19th century with the modern. We stopped by the Faculty of Architecture in the morning to ask directions to the Administration Building the building is a contrast to that of Human Sciences that stands adjacent to it and probably belongs to a more recent era in terms of the architecture. There are open spaces with trees near the buildings on the west side of campus where administration is located. The trees are adorned with a hazy, albeit beautiful, mid-winter green. We drove past gardens decked with striking flora and past an eye-catching park with a creek running through it adjacent to the campus or halfway between the main campus on Lynwood Street and Faculty of Education at Greonkloof. The larger setting of the University seems inviting to a quest or thirst for knowledge.
I did not said much after the Director told me of Black enrollment at the University of Pretoria, and I was truly enjoying the sights near the campus. He woke me with a question about my family and then another on children. He suggested more than once during the chat that I should ask my wife to come see him if she was ever on the main campus. He said it again on the way to Greonkloof and even suggested, in jest I thought at the time, that we should get together for a beer and let Christina repay him for the favor of bringing me back to Greonkloof. I wondered: Why was it so important for him to meet my wife? It occurred to me afterwards that he could racially place Christina racially. Her surname, Amsterdam, would make her equally likely to be a White or Coloured South Africa, although unlikely to be a Black one. I smiled quietly at a final intimation at a beer when I thanked him before I walked away from the car. It certainly was a nice gesture, but I had a feeling it was the last time we would see each other in a while.
Just the facts, ma’am – Sgt. Joe Friday (Dragnet)
I accompany Christina to work on most days. I act as her sounding board on some issues related to the conference and some of her work, which, I suppose, makes me feel useful at some subliminal level. I stayed home on Tuesday morning and got a phone call from the secretary of the Director of Budget at the University of Pretoria. She was straight to the point after establishing who I am. The Director of Budget would like to chat with me on Friday at 9 am, and he hoped I do not mind if the Director of Institutional Affairs joined our meeting. I thanked her and said I looked forward to meeting them. I was in the middle of applying for a position in export promotion in the Department of Trade and Industry, but I decided to spend more time preparing for Friday by looking for information about the University of Pretoria. I wrote thank you emails to the Director of Finance for the opportunity to chat with him and the Dean of the Faculty of Education who facilitated my first chat which opened the door to this second one.
I was fifteen minutes early for the meeting, which today was in a north wing of the administration building. I walked on a pavement linking the small car park in the front entrance into the south wing of the building to the entrance into the north wing. I walked down a flight of stairs into the building and asked the security guard for the office of the Director of Budget because I forgot to bring the paper on which I wrote the exact address. She looked through her directory and gave me Room 3-46. I recalled writing down Room 5-46 but I trusted the guard had more up to date information. I walked to Room 3-46 and was told the Director’s office was indeed on the 5th floor of the building and memory had served me right on the room number. The secretary welcomed me and invited me to sit down. She was both personable and professional. We made small talk about the view from her window and the advantage from the window facing east which brought the warmth of the morning sun. She offered tea, but I did not feel like tea and kindly thanked her.
The Director, whose title is Professor, walked in a few minutes later and introduced himself. He was a younger than the Director of Finance but he is at least as tall. I would guess he was in his late forties. He had on khaki pants, a white shirt and yellow pullover. He invited me into his office and to sit in a round table away from his working desk. The secretary walked in and repeated her offer of a cup of tea. I said I would take a glass of water. He first asked my impressions of South Africa. I was both sincere and diplomatic, replying only that it was a lovely country, which I really believe it is. I was less positive about other aspects, but I did not think this was the right forum to express this. He told me about the units under his charge and his function at the university while we waited for the Director of Institutional Affairs, another Professor, to join us. He stopped in the middle to introduce me to a shorter man, smaller in physical stature than he or the Director of Finance. He is the Director of Institutional Affairs.
Both men were more personable and professional. They did not ask me any personal questions. Perhaps there was no need since they had my biography information from the Director of Finance. The Director of the Budget always led in with, “I hope you don’t mind if I ask you something personal,” on all questions that did not deal with my work. But he did not ask questions about my family. They started with telling me what both did for the University of Pretoria. They worked hand in hand and had many functions overlap. I was curious that their two departments were not one and most curious that budget planning and implementation were separate processes, with the latter belonging to the Division of Finance. I talked about my qualifications and experience and answered questions about my professional interest. They invited questions about their departments, the finance department, and the University of Pretoria.
I asked how the University of Pretoria fared with the new formula funding for higher education. They were both silent for a significant time. It was clear I struck a raw nerve. My wife heard the University of Pretoria lost more than fifty million Rand from the new funding formula in a meeting of the Department of Educational Management, Law and Policy she attended during her interview in March 2004. I asked them how much they lost and how the captains of the University dealt with it. The Director of the Budget said they lost nine percent of their funding, about sixty-seven million Rand. I quickly estimated that the University receives about seven hundred fifty million Rand from the higher education funding formulae. Both are substantial in absolute terms, but I was not sure about their relative impact. They cut the budgets or required savings from each unit to make up the shortfall. I held my fire on why they lost so much. My wife heard at the same meeting that the loss resulted from low Black enrollment. It was curious that the Director of Finance said the University of Pretoria had the largest enrollment of Black students.
The Director of the Budget thanked me for coming.
“We do not have a position now, but that can change in a week.”
He was off for a two week holidays to the Western Cape.
“You should not expect to hear from him during that time.”
I thanked them for giving me opportunity to talk about my education and experience. I said I enjoyed talking the language of budgeting, my means of a keep the last ten years. I did not come with expectations, but I would be happy to work in either area since my work experience is more closely suited to their functions at the University of Pretoria. I walked out with the Director of Institutional Affairs. The secretary was not at her desk. I asked him to thank her and say goodbye for me. I walked straight up a flight of stairs and out of the building. I phoned Christina in front of the only signpost in front of the building. Universiteit van Pretoria, it read. It was about 9:50 am and a radiant sun shone through the trees. I searched for an open spot to bask in the warmth of the mid-morning sun while waiting for my ride.
“Do you feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk? – Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry
I estimated three months to obtain a work permit and six or nine for a permanent resident permit when I arrived. The work permit mattered more to me in the short term than the resident permit. I celebrated nine years of marriage with my wife, born in South Africa, on June 1st, and I figured that is enough for an easy pass through the gates of St. Peter. My expectations have been tempered after almost three months of dealing with the South African Department of Home Affairs. No one has been willing or able to tell me if I am eligible for a work permit as the spouse of a South African. I have spoken to many friends, friends of friends, including one who trained immigration agents, and Christina called or sent several emails to the Department of Home Affairs. I got a split decision on the question of whether I about eligible for a work permit as the wife of a citizen. I did not have the gravitas to delve into the pending Bill on Immigration that was attached to an email from an official in the Department of Home Affairs.
A colleague recommended an Immigration Practitioner who helped his wife, an American citizen. I phoned her several times to set up an appointment and left my name and phone number. I gave up after many tries, but the colleague urged me to try again and I finally talked with her. I asked her to help me understand the law on work authorization for the spouse of a South African. I could not tell if she was unable or unwilling to give me an answer. She assured that me work authorization is complicated and gave me the impression she would explain it when we met. I was less sure about how much she would help me halfway through our conversation, but I agreed to meet at 10 am on Saturday. It occurred to me afterwards that she had not give me a quote, and I did not ask for one. My wife later phoned for a quote and emphasized we were most interested in understanding the law on work authorization for the spouse of a South African. She changed the appointment to 3 pm at the end of their conversation.
Christina phoned around when we did not hear from her by 3:30 pm. She could not see us until 5:30 pm, she said. We had plans for 6:30 pm. She rescheduled for 4 pm Sunday. I started dinner around 4:15 pm, not sure we would meet again today, but the phone rang around 4:20 pm and she walked in with her daughter. I joined her on our dining table with my application. Christina made tea. She was quite formal and showed very little interest in my background or anything else about me. I reiterated why I agree to meet her.
“Am I eligible to work in South Africa as the spouse of a citizen?” I asked.
She immediately advised me to focus on my application for permanent residency, and suggested a checklist of the documents in my application for permanent residency. She seemed disappointed that I correctly filled out all the forms and had every document on her checklist except a curriculum vitae and letter of appointment from my wife’s employer, which were not mentioned in the list of documents in the application, and the names of my brother in Virginia and my sister in Norway.
Because I am applying for a resident permit as spouse of a South African, the Department requires a letter of support from Christina, the spousal citizen. We both wrote honestly about the early trials of our marriage and how we worked very hard to steady the ship of our union. She also wrote about my first visit to South Africa to ask for her parent’s blessing for our marriage. After she read that paragraph, the Practitioner remarked it was nice that my in-laws gave their blessing.
“Some parents wouldn’t have given their blessing,” she continued.
Why would my wife’s parent reject a well-educated and mannered suitor with no obvious handicap? I later thought. Perhaps she would never betroth her daughter to a foreigner, I thought at first. Then it occurred to me why: my wife is Coloured and I am would be classified Black on the racial deck of South Africa. She quickly apologized for “being nosy” after my mistaken retort that we are free to choose our partners in my family.
I have two diplomas from the University of South Carolina in the United States. After she finished with the checklist, the Practitioner asked for my O Level certificate, the equivalent of a high school diploma: this with the copies of Bachelor and Masters degrees in my portfolio.
“You have got to be kidding,” I said aloud.
“Why do I need it with two university diplomas?”
I was quite disgusted, but she quickly said it should not “be a problem.”
“Do you have a police report from Sierra Leone?”
I have lived in Sierra Leone for less than a year since my eighteenth birthday. I spent five months there in the last sixteen years. I have one from South Carolina, where I have spent the vast majority of my time since my eighteenth birthday, I replied.
“They might ask for a police report from Sierra Leone.”
“It would have been very difficult for me to leave if I committed a serious crime while I was there,” I replied.
Your application is almost perfect, “ninety-nine point nine nine percent,” she said. The question was whether we would hire her to file it. It was almost perfect but she would be able to deal better with my high school diplomas and police report from Sierra Leone if the mandarins in the Department of Home Affairs insisted. I pressed her on the work permit prior to our decision about hiring her to file the application. Can I apply for a work permit as the spouse of a South African before filing for the permanent resident permit or while the application for the resident permit is being processed? You should focus on the permanent resident permit: your application is ready and you are close to obtaining it, she replied.
“Must I then terminate efforts at finding employment?”
“No, you can continue to search.”
“So I can apply for a work permit if I am offered a job?”
“No, you are not allowed by law to work while on a relative’s permit.”
She was contradicting her own advice and one I received during our first visit to the Department of Home Affairs.
I had a hunch that the law allows me to work as the spouse of a South African citizen, that it would give me the right to feed my family. I rephrased.
“Is permanent residency a different process from work authorization in my case?”
She replied that most employers would hire me with a permanent resident permit stamp on my passport, but she said that I am required to also apply for a work permit.
“How long does it take to process an application for permanent residency?”
Three months, six months, a year or more, she replied.
“So must I stop looking for jobs if the law requires a permanent resident permit prior to a work permit?”
“No, you should not.”
I threw the towel, exhausted. Christina asked about the work permit based on correspondence with an agent in the Department of Home Affairs, but she did not receive unequivocal answers. I asked for a quote to file the permits and extend my visa: two thousand Rand for the permanent resident and one thousand seven hundred for the work permit. She would extend my current visa for free, but I had to pay a fee, four hundred twenty Rand, for the visa, she said.
I asked for her professional opinion on why the immigration process is so arcane even for someone married for nine years to a South African. South African law does not restrict spouses who wish to take their South African partners to live other countries, she said. But that’s a given, I challenged her, recalling that many compatriots brought their wives home from the “iron curtain” of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the seventies and eighties. She then said the law was probably written with men bringing housewives to South Africa in mind. I pressed further.
“You should feel lucky, Kabba, because your wife earns enough to support two of you.”
So many people have been applying for many years without succeeding. Some don’t know how to fill the forms properly, others can’t provide the documents, she continued. I did not say any more. I cannot assuage my anguish with the least common multiple of suffering the Department Home Affairs inflicts. Why should I if I am playing by the rules? I thought.
We said we would make a decision on whether to hire her to file the application. I excused myself back to the kitchen. I reflected on our conversation during preparation of the evening meal. When I was an undergrad, I had a troublesome cohort and we were accomplished at inflicting adolescent pranks on a beloved friend. We had an insidious technique we dubbed “planting the seed of doubt.” If our beloved friend expressed interest in a fair lady we know, we made him believe his interest was requited by exaggerating every piece of information that might suggest it is so. So if she innocently mentions his name when only the two of us were present, we would run to tell him she could not stop talking about him. If they danced at a party, we would say she did not dance with anyone the same way all evening.
“But she is hot and may only be flirting with you, too,” we would say, planting a seed of doubt to up the torment.
She was accomplished at this game. She left sufficient doubt in your mind about the Department of Home Affairs to hire her. Her advice was peppered with seeds of doubt. My application is 99.999 … percent complete but, what if the Department insisted on my high school diploma? Or on the police report from Sierra Leone? I can get them, but it may take time. Why, she could fix that with her contacts at the Department. Some employers would not bother with a work permit if my permanent resident permit is approved, but what would I do for those who would? You would have no recourse against them legally if you don’t apply for the work permit after you are approved as a permanent resident. She was careful to insist it’s our choice to hire her, that she would not mind if we decided to file the application. I wondered most if she was worth the five hundred Rand we paid her for today’s consultation.
Into the belly of the beast
I have visited many immigration offices the last ten years, but I never felt the thrill of being among the first through the doors. We came to sign up to interview for the permanent resident permit. The day started well. We found parking on the first bay on Bosman Street. I am sure that 7:45 am had a lot to do with our luck. We fed the meter and walked south on Pretorius Street past the many vendors selling passport photos, passport holders, and black pens, to the front entrance. We were very early because the Department opens an hour later Wednesdays for training. I joined other customers near the entrance, citizens for their passports and identity documents, foreigners for permanent resident and work permits. Black, White, Colored, Indian and Chinese faces in the crowd Africans, Asians and Europeans: all united in search of the Holy Grail of a legal existence in the Rainbow Nation. But this did not open the doors.
The doors opened at 8:32 am to a stampede. I felt exhilaration as we squeezed through the front entrance in a rush to be first at our stations. Like the proverbial rat to a morsel of cheese, I had memorized the route to my own station well. I ran down the open hallway from the entrance and through a turnstile ten meters to the right. I quickly ascended two flights of marbled stairs. My heart was racing when I arrived inside the waiting room for the associates dealing with permanent resident permits. It is located right from the staircase through a hallway or straight from the elevator. I have never used the elevator. The room is large and the chairs set in oval merry-go-round three-quarters around. The best and worst things about it are the chairs. You don’t have to stand in wait, but you often have to wait a long time. I sat in the right corner from the entrance near the office. Christina came and sat next to me before I had to go and look for her.
I was disappointed. I was not first in the queue. There was a fellow who looked Somali or Ethiopian ahead of me. We exchange greetings and pleasantries after I sat down. I would have remembered him if I saw him outside the building or during the stampede. There was no one in the office to left from where we were waiting. My attention returned to the waiting room in time to notice a burly man dressed in an expensive black suit walking through the door. He stood next to a set of cabinets at an angle from where we were sitting and spoke to the man ahead of me in the queue. I will get help, he assured him. And he did, starting with a short call from his cell phone. He greeted me warmly.
“Good morning chief how are you this morning?”
It was obvious why. He was walking behind a female associate who helped me during my first visit. At last, an associate, I thought. The gentleman said goodbye on the way out. I rushed into the room. There was no one. I smiled. I am dumb, but I sketched out the dubious triangle: an Immigration Practitioner, his client, and an associate of the Department of Home Affair.
Christina joined me inside the meeting room. Several associates walked past us without saying a word. The room had not been cleaned from the previous day. The gray carpet was dirty and the small dustbin in the corner held evidence of thirsts quenched the previous day, or perhaps longer. I got up after five minutes and walked further into the official area in search of help, past three or four desks or cubicles that looked like interview areas, through a door to the right into a hallway. I called out to an associate I recognized from my second visit. She was inside a small office, probably the secretary’s office, with the telephone handset in her hand. I caught a quick glimpse of an open office area from a thirty degree opening of a door to my right from the secretary’s. Someone will soon come to help you, she said, turned away from me and dialed the phone. I returned to the garnet chair in the unkempt room and watched more associates walk past. My wife asked one of them. Someone will be with you soon, he said.
No one, it seemed, wanted to work with foreigners today. The first associate that was assigned to work at our desk walked past us saying to another, in Afrikaans, that she was on her way to work in a different division. Other associates also walked past without a word. We waited for almost another fifteen minutes, until, finally, the magic words.
“May I help you?”
The young associate was courteous. She fetched the book and gave me an appointment for 10:30 am on July 7, 2005. How long it would take to process a permanent resident permit? I ventured. Three or six months, perhaps longer, she replied.
“The Department’s website has thirty days,” my wife offered.
“Yes, but we are understaffed.”
“And also now, we must now send the applications to Waltloo for approval.”
“Can extend my temporary relative’s visa that expires on September 9th?”
We both thanked her. I did not have all the documents to renew my permit today: I must fill out a form and submit all the documents I sent to Abidjan from Freetown in March. Only an opportunity for more thrills, I thought on our way out. I walk past vendors just outside the building selling near identical black pens. It occurred to me that left home without a pen except I did not have use for one. I lamented the lost opportunity to test the theory of perfect competition.
“At least, we know about these things … we had contact with Whites.”
I was nervous about my visit to the Department of Home affairs in the morning: we were scheduled for an interview required for the applications for a permanent resident permit based on spousal privilege. Although I never did one in the United States, I have heard nightmare tales from friends who did. If common sense prevails, ours should be a walk in the park. The new immigration statute stipulates a couple must be married for five years before a foreign spouse can apply for a permanent resident permit: we have been married for nine. I made up my mind to at least be well-groomed for the interview and reluctantly agreed to an appointment with Christina’s hairdresser to cut my hair. We left her office after 5:30 pm, drove half an hour through Pretoria city center and then northeast on the N4 highway to LaMontage, a modest residential area. The hairdresser met us at the door. He is medium-built, wiry and I would guess a little more than forty. He introduced me to his sister visiting from Australia.
He led me into his studio and turned on all the lights. The lighting was poor. I sat facing the door in front of one of the mirrors that occupied three corners of the room. He was rusty with cutting my type of hair. I felt his hesitation He cut more of my moustache than I asked and could not make the horseshoe shape around my moustache. He asked how it was going with the Department of Home Affairs. I am most frustrated that I have different answers from the experts on the law concerning a work permit for the spouse of a South African, I said. He urged me to be patience. Immigration policy during apartheid centered on increasing the White population, and discouraged immigration from Africa, he said. He asked about finding a barber on my side of the city. Christina walked into the salon before I related a visit to a White barber in the Atterbury Mart in Faerie Glen. I asked if he could cut my hair. He replied that only knew how to shave my head or beard. I thanked him for being honest. I would visit him when I wanted a shave, but I wanted a regular cut. Christina recalled the court case against a White barber who told a Black client he does not cut Black hair.
The plaintiff argued that it was not fair he had to travel to a different location for a haircut when a White barber operates in his part of the city. The court ruled that the White barber should train, or retrain, on how to cut Black hair, and he must offer to cut Black hair. Christina and the hairdresser agreed with the court I did not. The hairdresser said every student is required to learn how to cut or care for all hair. I first disagreed, but then conceded, on the requirements of the curriculum, but I did not agreed that the court should force a White hairdresser to offer services to Black clients. I would be naïve to disagree that race probably factored in the White barber’s decision, but a haircut is a personal service and I have traveled long distances to find a barber who is experienced with my hair. During my time abroad, my Black barbers seldom had White clients. I heard one tell a White client who came to the shop for the first time he would gladly cut his hair, but a White barber two blocks away would probably give him a better haircut: it was a very polite way of saying no.
Christina and I joined two visitors and the hairdresser’s sister for coffee on our way out. When the conversation turned to one on language, one of the visitors said she is frustrated with Sesotho. “It is too difficult,” she said. But she works with Basotho and feels left out of their conversations, and she can’t return the favor because they speak Afrikaans, her mother-tongue. The new democratic South Africa recognized eleven official languages, nine African, plus English and Afrikaans. Sesotho and Setswana, the mother-tongues of the majority Black residents of Gauteng Province – home to the economic and administrative centers Johannesburg and Pretoria – are two of the official languages. A significant majority of Black residents probably speak Afrikaans, so it is enough, for business at least, to communicate in Afrikaans however, the visitor’s experience illustrates it is far better, albeit challenging, to learn to communicate in Sesotho or Setswana.
I certainly felt her pain. I had an epiphany when a cashier addressed me in Sesotho in a hypermarket on my second day in South Africa: I have never been challenged by language: whether it was Temne at home and Yonibana, English in school, Krio in Sierra Leone or during my time of studying abroad, I have never dealt with a handicap on language. I did not react well. I am sorry I don’t speak Sesotho, I replied. Yes, I thought you are Zulu, and your wife Colored, she observed. I am not from here, I offered. But you are living here now and you must learn how to speak Sesotho, she said. Sure I would love to learn how to speak Sesotho, I said:
“But I need time. I just arrived two days ago.”
“Yes, but you must learn quickly,” she importuned.
This drove me into a laager. Who is she to insist that I learn her language immediately? I thought. I will simply let her, and all others addressing me in Sesotho or Setswana wherever I go, know I do not speak the languages, I assured myself
My first book on language was one on Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans. I did not find one on Sesotho in any of the main bookstores. But it is also true that when you think of Blacks in South Africa, Zulu and Xhosa probably come first to mind. I knew of Sesotho, Setswana and the other African languages, but my education on South Africa focused on the Zulu and Xhosa also, the South Africans I have met who were not Zulu or Xhosa spoke those two languages and did not emphasize their Sesotho, Setswana or other ethnic identities. My curiosity about Afrikaans is simple: it is the mother-tongue of my wife and my in-laws. But it did not take long for me to discard this ostrich strategy. I smartly changed sails. I recalled how the demeanor of Hispanics changed when I practiced my rusted Spanish. I forged a bond even when I bullied the language. They embraced me for trying and were more willing to communicate in English when I told them afterwards my Spanish was not enough to fill a beggar’s bowl. It also worked when I visited France, and I am even more limited in French. And is it paying off since I took off my veil on Sesotho.
I don’t care for the attitude of the Blacks, she replied. I feel sorry for them, actually, because they are backward, she continued. At official luncheons or dinners, they fill their plates with a lot of food, especially meat, much more than they can eat, anxious they’d not have enough, and oblivious they’re allowed to go back for seconds.
“At least, we know about these things because we had contact with White.”
Coloreds do the same and take food home in bags, my wife interjected.
“You are confusing race and class issues,” she said.
I will not lie: I have filled my plate like she said at weddings and funerals in Sierra Leone, but I have also acted differently with people of a different background, both at home and in my time abroad, including my conversation partner’s beloved Whites.
I would not paint with such wide strokes, I said, after I recovered. When Christina arrived in the US, she extended the old prejudices and suspicions she had of Whites in South Africa to those she met there. She gradually made friends with Whites and learned to judge people by their character and not as specimen of their race. The hairdresser’s sister is married to a White Australian and said she could not be happier with her choice of mate. She said dealt with discrimination in Australia, too, but she learned to deal with people as individuals and built friendships with people of different races and backgrounds. Our protagonist said she does not have time for the Whites here, or anywhere for that matter. We have a White fellow from England who schedules joint projects at work to spend time with me. I played dumb until he finally asked me out.
“I don’t date White men. I stick to Colored men,” she said she told him.
I do feel lucky, punk!
I asked Christina to check my application when we arrived home the previous night. She identified two major errors that both the Immigration Practitioner and I missed. I made the corrections and went through the application with her one last time to make sure I had all my documents and not missed the obvious. I ironed a pair of grey pants and a midnight blue shirt to wear with a blue tie with seamless dots. My secondary school diploma and the police report from Sierra Leone were in my mind. I was not sure why I would need to produce them, but I would have to be a fool to be surprised if the Department asked. I was still unclear about the law on a work permit for the spouse of a South African. My conversation with a consultant of the Department of Home Affairs, who was referred by a friend, threw more kerosene on the fire. She advised me to focus my efforts on a work permit. It might be three or six months before the permanent resident permit is approved but she knew of cases where it took one, five or ten years to obtain one.
I woke up at 6:45 am and was ready to leave an hour later. I looked through the application one last time before Christina came out of the room. She was dressed in a blue suit, with a cream blouse and pink shoes. It was a cold morning of the Gauteng winter morning, with frost on the ground when we left home at 8 am. Our first stop was Groenkloof, to copy the application and documents. I got my money worth from the Immigration Practitioner on this: she strenuously warned me to make a copy of everything I filed, citing many cases of lost applications or documents she filed on behalf of her clients in the past. We left Groenkloof at 8:45 am. Our trek started on Leyds Street in front of the main entrance into the Greonkloof campus to a detour into Wessels Street. We turned left onto Walker Street, in the direction of Pretoria, the centre of Tshwane. Walker changes to Scheiding in the same direction. I counted eight city blocks to Bosman Street, then Church Street and Church Square. We parked near the end of Paul Kruger Street facing Oom Paul’s statue inside the Square, and walked a short distance on Paul Kruger and turned right on Pretorius Street towards the building housing the Department of Home Affairs, which is the left hand side before Volkstem and Bosman Streets.
It was no different outside or inside the building on than other days. The usual suspects of vendors selling black pens, passport photos, or passport jacket holders peddled their wares in front of the building. Shame, I have two black pens today, I thought to myself. I walked past ten to fifteen meter queues in the domestic sections – for identity documents and passports – and joined my own queue in Room 104. I was here to file an application to extend the visa I received from the South African Embassy in Cote D’Ivoire. I was worried when the line hardly moved twenty minutes after Christina joined me. I went to the front of the queue. There was one of three windows serving clients. I saw two Immigration Practitioners at the open counter, with a ton of folders and a few clients. My heart skipped a beat. We had three quarters of an hour before our scheduled time for the interview. I did not want to be late. Fortunately, a second window opened five minutes later, and we took our turn ten minutes later at the counter we wanted.
Christina overheard our agent dealings with two Afrikaans-speaking clients in front of us in the line. She surmised that language might have been a problem the last time she helped us.
“I am going to speak to her in Afrikaans about the work permit.”
I was skeptical.
“The work permit is hardly technical,” I argued, but did not object.
I gave her my application and passport at the counter. She asked for Christina’s identity book. She took some time with it and carefully checked the certified pages of my passport against the originals. She made her own copies of both documents and returned them. I held out four hundred-twenty Rand, which the Immigration Practitioner said was the Department’s fee for renewing my visa.
“You can get it in ten working days, and it is free because you are married to a South African.”
Christina asked in Afrikaans about a work permit for the spouse of a South African. She returned with a form and replied, in Afrikaans, that the Department would approve a work permit in ten days if I was offered a job as the spouse of a South African citizen. We both thanked her and took the two flights of stairs to our interview.
We walked into a dirty waiting room upstairs. The dirt was obvious on the grey carpet, and I could not tell if it was that of the previous night or a result of the activities of the morning. Christina joined me in the far right corner of the room from the door. We hoped the process would be easier with appointment. Alas, it was not so. There was no book for us to sign-in, no system in place to process clients or to distinguish us from clients who did not have an appointment. I walked into the office area after ten minutes to let the associate know that I have an appointment for 10:30 am. She sent me back to the wait area.
“We will call you when it is your time.”
She gave me directions to the men’s toilet. It was filthy, with feces on the commode. I flushed twice after holding my breadth to pee, but they clung to the commode. I worried about washing my hand on the basins or using anything in the room. I quickly returned to the waiting room, repulsed.
No one called my name by 10:20 am or told what was going on. Some clients who arrived after us walked straight into the office area. Others, among them Immigration Practitioners, walked straight into the office and interrupted associates serving clients. It was unclear if they had appointments. At 10:30 am, a bearded middle-aged White man walked through the waiting area into the office with two clients. No one asked them back to the waiting room. This set off Christina. She walked into the office and asked what was going on. Why are people who are here after us walking in for appointments before us, she demanded. The associate replied that the White man phoned to make an appointment for 10:30 am.
“We came here in person and made one for the exact same time,” Christina countered.
I walked into the room then and heard the agent say she was going to fetch the appointment book. As sure as the sunrise, my name was in the book. She did not apologize, but she took us into one of the make-shift rooms. Someone would be with you to conduct the interview, she said, and returned to the front office.
The room was bare save for a pigeon-holed shelf and the office furniture. The shelf was thick with dust and the garnet carpet screamed for a vacuum. A young associate walked into the room twenty minutes after we sat down. He admonished Christina: “I will note it in my report that you were giving the workers a hard time,” he said, obviously in jest. All three of us laughed. He set about his work. He called out the documents and thoroughly examined them.
“Who is the Dr.?” he asked when he saw Christina’s title.
The wife is the smarter of the two of us, I replied.
“But I don’t understand, the Dr. is a Lecturer?” he asked in jest.
“No double-barreled name?” he said in jest at our different surnames.
It was, Christina said, a practical decision considering all the horror stories with identity books and the Department of Home Affairs. He laughed at that.
“Besides,” I added, “I have all the evidence to prove we are married.”
“I don’t suppose the wife is anything but a Mrs.?” I asked.
“You’re right about that,” he replied.
He asked me what I thought about South Africa and what I had to offer her. It is a lovely country, I replied honestly, and I believe I have much to offer. I am well-educated and I have a track record of volunteering in the community. I would first like to obtain remunerative work, but I will volunteer in youth sports. I coached youth soccer for six years and would like to do the same in South Africa. I concluded that I hope I would offer more than I receive in return.
“No children,” we both replied.
We plan to adopt when we’re more settled.
“You don’t want to have your own children?”
“We have tried,” I said, and told him what the doctors said about biological parenthood.
He was sweet.
“Only God knows that,” he replied.
He gave me two forms and directed us to the entrance floor of the building for fingerprints. We thanked him and joined another queue in a small corner on the first floor of the building.
I stood in the queue to get fingerprints for half an hour. The associate was initially entertaining, but his humor was repetitive and less endearing after the first few rounds. It was thankfully my turn.
“You look like a Nigerian.”
“You would be right twenty five percent but not this time.”
I told Christina about his remark.
“You should have asked why everyone speaks to you in Sesotho everywhere we go.”
The young associate was away from his desk, but we insisted on handing him the forms personally. We approached him from a corner in the waiting room when he returned. He was helping an elderly Black couple apparently married in 1958. The gentleman was not a citizen of the Republic. They had an authentic certificate of ilobola, the traditional rite and ceremony of marriage, with their signatures, but their marriage was only recently registered in Department of Home Affairs. He asked for the opinion of a White supervisor who walked by just as he turned to collect the forms from us. The law says five years and I would follow the law, she said when he asked her about processing his permanent resident permit application.
“But they have evidence of being marriage since 1958.”
“The law is the law,” she replied.
We both thanked him. I said this was the first time I ever felt like I had dealt with a professional in four visits to the Department. He replied that they are working hard to change their image. They should hire more associates like you then, I replied. I asked him how long it would take to process my application. He replied honestly that he did not know, but I should expect three to six months. I asked for a contact and he gave me the name and phone number of my case worker, and he advised me to start inquiries after three months. He wished me luck when we said goodbye. We thanked him once more and wondered about the elderly couple as we walked back to Church Square. It was close to midday. I look up when we arrived at the car. The sun was riding a clear blue sky. Perhaps the sky here is no different after all, I allowed myself. I look further in the sky. There were patches on clouds in the westward path that would follow the beautiful midday sun.
The outsider who wept as loud as the bereaved?
I wonder if I am picking sides in the battle lines of South Africa. Am I adopting the cynical view my wife holds about White South Africans? I have not met any White South Africans in a social setting, in three months here. The majority I have met so far work with my wife in the Faculty of Education in the University of Pretoria. They were per functionally nice when we were introduced, but most have been far from warm with time. Our association, in truth, is awkward. I am not employed at the Faculty of Education, but I spend time with my wife around her office, probably more than usual. I would of course prefer the alternative of a job and an opportunity to show my own skills. I also worked hard to be a positive influence, and to make sure that I do take undue advantage of the facilities. I volunteered for the International Conference the university is hosting. I can only think that I am, perhaps, get more than I deserve from occasionally using the Faculty Tea Room.
I feel resentment towards my wife from some colleagues. I want to be wrong, and it is possible that I am, but I feel quite strongly because some of it is directed at me. I don’t want to wrap it around race, but it is most obvious is from White colleagues. She introduced me to the one whom the head of department suggested as her mentor. I met him several times after we were introduced because his office is next to Christina’s. She said their relationship was cordial and developing well before I arrived. But in time, he would look right past me when we meet in the hallways. I can’t help thinking he probably prefers I was serving his tea at lunchtime. I believe the major issue is her relationship with the Dean and misperceptions about how she got here. The Dean of the Faculty of Education taught Christina science in high school and advised her M. Ed. thesis at the University of Durban-Westville. He recruited her from South Carolina in 2004.
Christina’s relationship with the Dean is a critical factor in her employment and in the opportunities she is receiving, but she is qualified. He knows this from their long association. She was one of his best students in high school. She did very well in the doctoral program at the University of South Carolina. She enrolled in a more challenging course to strengthen her skills in quantitative research, and consulted on defining research questions and analyzing quantitative results for other doctoral students that their faculty advisors referred to her. She always wanted to continue contributing to education in South Africa, where she started her professional career. The Dean simply gave her a platform based on her qualifications and their long association. She sent him an announcement of graduation in 2001, but he did not recruit her until she obtained three years as a Clinical Assistant Professor at her alma mater.
The Dean asked Christina to chair the organizing committee to host an international conference on teacher education. I volunteered to help. I was biased, and certainly naïve, to see it an opportunity to showcase the faculty and university to guests from the United States, Europe, Latin America, Japan and other parts of the world. More often than not, it seemed the conference belonged to the Dean and organizers. There were numerous obstacles from the administrative staff. Many times, Christina had to play bad cop and phone the Dean to push the Faculty Manager for funds to pay airfare and accommodations for invited guests. I joined a group of five volunteers and organizing committee members in setting up classrooms to host the sessions two days before the first sessions. It was clear the Facilities Manager did not assign the best classrooms for the conference and the rooms had not been cleaned. The Faculty Manager insisted the organizers must return extra desks removed from the classrooms to get them ready for the conference themselves or make arrangements to do so.
On the morning of the second day of the conference, one of her colleagues stopped me to ask how things were going.
“What are people saying?” he asked. I said a few I talked with told me they were generally satisfied. But much remains to be done to make sure the conference is a success, I said.
“What do you think?”
I know he presented a paper.
“The presenters do not have enough time,” he replied.
This is probably an issue at most conferences, and one that the international body controls in this case, I said. It is a difficult balance between participation and quality, I added.
“But this conference is small time anyway” he said.
I was disappointed when I decoded his comments: the association is not one of world renown and the conference was much a do about, well, not much. Was I wrong to think that the conference was a chance to add a small boost to the image of the Faculty of Education and University of Pretoria?
What is in a name?
I am starting to understand the colors of the Rainbow Nation. During a serious conversation weeks after the party to welcome me, Christina said she had not planned to have mostly Coloured guests at the party. There were? I asked facetiously. I would like to embrace a larger circle, she said. It was not an issue for me, I said. Nor was it when we accepted an invitation to brunch in a Dutch Reformed Church in Eersterus. Eersterus, as its Afrikaans name suggest, is east of Pretoria and the old Coloured township of Pretoria. It shares a border with Mamelodi, the old Black township. The two are not far from each other. In fact, they share a border but apartheid made its peoples they were miles apart. A resident of Mamalodi who rode with us from that rode with us from a funeral in June, said she had never been in Eersterus as a child, even though she scaled the edges of the town to the cemeteries which were also separated.
A decade after the formal end of apartheid, they are slowly breaking those chains of the past. Many of the people in the backyard of this mainly Colored Church stopped to stare at the mixed couple when Christina and I walk in with the couple that invited us. I ignored them and walked to circles of new acquaintances I met at the party to welcome party me and other gatherings. A few strangers walked up and greeted me warmly. I responded in kind. I turned my attention to the more pressing task of feeding the monsters in my stomach. I ordered a seafood platter and shared an orange Fanta with Christina and the couple that invited us. The platter was dominated by the lower mollusks and I did not enjoy it nearly as much as an excellent piece of home made bread. I had a memorable time in the two or three hours we were there.
I made tea when we returned home near dusk. There are signs of summer from the hot days, but we must still the fight cold nights accompanying the summer-like days of the Gauteng winter. We began our defense with hot tea and talked about the brunch. Yes, she sensed a bit of rubber necking when we arrived. Old habits, the legacies of the past, she said. My alter ego, the pompous foreigner, chimed in.
“So how much progress is being made?” I asked.
I am not sure, but I will tell you an interesting story. About three months ago, I sat in a conversation with three ladies and the younger brother of one of the couples you recently met about the middle name of their youngest daughter. The little girl’s Father honored his boss’ request to give her a Sesotho middle name. Everyone questioned why the Father gave his daughter the middle name Kathlego, which is an African name. You were introduced to the younger brother at the church today. He is of medium build with a balding head. I did.
“He objected to the name.”
“‘Because,’” he said, “‘we are not Black.’”
Yebo, she said “yes.”
When I first met my wife, what I saw most clearly was an attractive and ambitious woman. We were introduced at a party organized by Teacher Opportunity Programs and the Organization of Africans at the University of South Carolina. The former was the brainchild of South African educators who started with a goal of upgrading qualifications for those primary school teachers with only a tenth grade and two years of teachers’ training. They expanded to professional development of principals and other leaders of schools disadvantaged near the formal end of the apartheid system. The United States Agency for International Development was the main sponsor but there was support from the Ford Foundation, Mobil South Africa and other a few other local and international concerns. My future wife won a scholarship to read for an M.Ed in Education Management as head of history at Lentegeur High in Mitchell’s Plain. The degree was offered by the University of Durban-Westville in a partnership with the University of South Carolina.
The other African students at South Carolina forged a bond with the Teacher Opportunity program. The Teacher Opportunity students were only there for six months, but we interacted socially and friendships, and even relationships, developed. So it was the band of bachelors among the Africans whispered about the two attractive ladies but no one made a move, nor did sparks fly, that night. My dear friend, an associate in Teacher Opportunity Programs who helped to organize the evening, asked for my opinion after the gathering. I said the evening was fantastic and playfully added that the fair complexioned lady is very attractive. I did not know I had unwittingly given her license to woo her on my behalf. She built my legend for days without my knowledge. She invited the fair one to sit in the front seat when she drove the group to Disney in Florida. She was my very own imbongi, my praise singer. Two weeks later, she handed me the phone number. Phone her, she said. And what would I say? I asked her. I did not say much more than hello the first time and I had not seen her since them. I did not phone.
Di was desperate to introduce me to a nice lady to make up for an unfulfilled promise. I met her in anthropology of Africa during the fall of my third, and her fourth, year at South Carolina. We were almost immediately drawn to each other, as friends. Our ties were sealed when she chose a student exchange program to Sierra Leone instead of Ghana at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Dad taught her sociology and introduced her to our family. She also met a few of my friends from secondary school at the University of Sierra Leone. I spent Christmas in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when she returned from Sierra Leone and also met her family and friends. We kept our friendship alive with letters while she was in Sierra Leone. Near the end of her stay, she wrote about a wonderful girl she met in Kono, the diamond District, east of the country. She was sure she met my future wife in Kono.
The mercury shot up after Di showed me pictures of Sia. I agreed: she indeed met my future wife. Sia was at the University of Sierra Leone and planned a career in TV journalism. Di went to work on betrothing us. She wrote Sia about her dear friend from Sierra Leone at the University of South Carolina. Of course, Sia did not buy a rope without the cow at the tether. She would be happy to meet this prince if he visited home. I knew better than more prominent bachelors in Sierra Leone sitting on their hands. I did not go home after graduation, but they kept in touch. Sia started a career at the national broadcasting service before the war started and kept in touch with Di through the early years of the war. The offer to meet and gauge our mutual interest was standing but the trail suddenly went cold when the rebel war intensified near the time I completed graduate school. Sia, by coincidence, is fair in complexion.
I met the fair lady three weeks later at a party organized by the Africans at the University of South Carolina on Pendleton Street. I salute her and the Teacher Opportunity group and then avoided her for a long time afterwards. I was, needles to say, nervous. I shook the nerves with dinner and beer. Everyone cooked food from their home country at our parties. I joined discussions on politics or football, two staples on the menu at African parties. I danced with two attractive ladies from Benin. Now I was cooking. I made my move halfway through the night. I walked up to her. An African from the New World, a burly and charming Bahamian, stood between us also poised to ask her to dance. I cut in and held out my hand.
“Would you like to dance?” I asked.
It seemed I waited too long. She left just minutes after we danced a two numbers. The Teacher Opportunity group was close knit. Someone in the group wanted to leave and everyone was forced to follow suit. We did not have time to talk, but Di’s muti was working. Di kept pressure on me to phone. I still did not feel like I had the right opening. I did not phone her.
Some time passed before we met again in the entrance to the main library on campus. She was with her roommate and another friend. I greeted all three. She excused herself immediately after she returned my greeting. I thought it odd: she later admitted she was nervous. I talked with her friends for a few minutes and took leave to read foreign newspapers in a corner of the room that houses government documents on the ground floor of the library. I saw her in the main area of government documents on my way out of the room. I saw her first, and she did not see me immediately. It gave me time to steady my nerves and rub my sweating palms dry. She did not run away this time when she saw me. I totally regained my composure as the conversation progressed. I had her full attention even though she was absorbed in what she was doing before I approached her. I don’t recall much of the small talk. I summoned all the courage I could find.
“Would you like to go out for coffee?”
“Yes,” she replied.
Yebo. She said, “Yes!” I did not linger.
“I will phone you for a date.”
She said she had to submit a lot of assignments and take two tests during the week. I promised to phone the week following that, and I wished her luck with all the assignments and tests. I walked as fast as my short legs could carry me from the library before she changed her mind. I was excited, but I let dust settle before my next move. I did not know then, but I was in competition with an amiable fellow African from Angola for her attention. He was studying for a Masters in Geology and worked in the petroleum industry in his home, but it not fair competition. I had an insider, my own griot who had built my legend as large as that of Sundiata Keita, the great mansa, or king, of Mali. Thus it was she warmly received my call after her busy week and said yes when I suggested a southern diner located halfway between the famous horseshoe on our campus and the buildings housing the three branches of government in South Carolina. We set a date at 6:30 pm.
She was in conversation with my competitor in front the horseshoe on Sumter Street when I arrived on the way to the diner. I walked to where they were standing. She took leave when she saw me. We briskly walked the mouth of the horseshoe and crossed the street to the diner together. The waitress found a discreet table for two in a corner next to a glass wall. I ordered iced tea. She was still in a southern wonder about iced tea and settled for a soda. We both wanted fish and also chose macaroni and cheese as a side dish but she chose corn and I asked for rice as the second. I learned from failed dates of the past and let her dictate everything on the first date. She talked about her family and also about her work as a teacher. I listened attentively and spoke when she gave me an opening. We talked a little about our prior relationships. It was clear we had both been a bit unlucky in love, but we were also not too scarred to keep trying. My poor competitor walked past us on the way home midway through dinner.
It was a lovely evening. We walked leisurely past the heart of campus to her apartment in Whaley’s Mills on Main Street, four blocks from the diner on Sumter Street. I thanked her for a great evening and said goodbye at the elevator she, incidentally, recalls it differently. Yes, she’d love to go out again. I phoned her when I arrived home and a week later to set a second date. I persuaded her on an evening at the movies. I was keen on Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. I am a big fan of both actors and read glowing reviews of a great love story. I should have checked the theaters first because the film had been released for weeks and was no longer playing in the local theaters. I was worried about disappointing her. I had talked the film up. Would I drop big dating points for my oversight? She was gracious. We both went through the newspaper and agreed on a comedy, Naked Gun 33 1/3, starring Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley. I drove a bicycle around campus at the time, but I hired a chauffeur to take us to the movie and back.
I phoned the limo and the driver got us in front of Regal Cinemas twenty minutes after the film. The driver was my friend of more than six years. He is from Ethiopia, and our long association was a boon for me as he is a man of immutably laudable character. He agreed to drive us to the movies after hours and refused to accept a penny. He opened the doors for Christina and me on both trips and undoubtedly increased my stock. We both enjoyed the movie and had a few reminiscing laughs before the limo arrived. She invited me to her apartment when he took her home. I thanked him and wished him a good night. He gave me the boys’ look and whispered a soft good luck. We sat in the living room at first and talked. It was easy talking to her. I still mostly listened. She later invited me into their kitchen and offered coffee. I had not had a cup of coffee for a year as it randomly upsets my stomach. I accepted the offer without hesitation and we continued the conversation in the kitchen. We talked for a long time into the night.
The relationship took off after a third date. We enjoyed each other’s company and spent all our free time in each other’s company. Word spread quickly about a new couple and it was grist for the mills. She had stated her determination to avoid United States the distraction of an amorous relationship, determined, instead, to devote all her time to her studies. I had punched above my dating weight and everyone wanted to know about my new friend. She impressed all my friends. Her two closest friends in Teacher Opportunity Programs supported us. She said I impressed them when I sent half dozen roses after our third date. I thanked Di for helping to bring us together. She was out of town during our second and third dates and she wanted to know everything. I obliged: it was the least she deserved. So we reveled in the ecstasy of new relationships. We were happy and most in our two communities gave us their support and made our happiness theirs.
Go south, young man
In retrospect, it should not, perhaps, have come as a total surprise that I am in South Africa. It has fascinated me ever since I read Shaka Zulu, an abridged biography of the founder of the modern Zulu nation during my first year in secondary school. I had a classmate from Namibia who told us stories of the struggles of his family and Black people in Namibia. It gave life to lessons on history or literature set in Southern Africa. Colonization and the struggle for liberation was an integral part of the syllabus for a paper in history in the General Certificate of Education. The teacher emphasized South Africa, which with Namibia and Zimbabwe, still struggled for independence. I read Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy, a work of fiction and Tell Freedom, an autobiography, about life in South Africa for the paper in literature.
The struggle against apartheid was the critical cause of political or social consciousness for students of the liberal arts and others that were politically minded in other fields during the middle eighties and early nineties. I took course on the history and politics in South Africa and attended rallies to press for divestment. I questioned Lawrence Eagleburger, then Assistant US Secretary of State on our campus to talk about what I perceived to be a policy of accommodation of the apartheid regime by President Ronald Reagan’s administration. I recall now a White student, a Southerner, wondering why the Black majority of South Africa did not bear arms and put all the Whites in boats after we discussed apartheid in African politics. I read almost of Alan Paton’s books and analyzed the most famous one, Cry, the Beloved Country, for the course in politics. I read Mine Boy and chose it for an analysis in one the classes. I reread it many times later as I learned more about South African history and politics.
My years of fascination and all the history and literature did not prepare me to fully understand that my future wife and I would be of different hue in South Africa. Life in the United States had also taught me to look at race in Black and White. The racial calculus of the United States, until recently, was very simple: you are Black if you are not White. Not so in the Rainbow Nation but even here, the main characters simply cast in Black and White. So Xuma, a mine laborer and Paddy O’Shea, a mine engineer, in Mine Boy, are Black and White. In a similar vein, Stephen Kumalo, a priest and Arthur Jarvis, an engineer, in Cry, the Beloved Country are Black and White. There are characters that are Colored, but they are often in the background. Maisy, my favorite character in Mine Boy and one of Xuma’s love interests is Colored, as is Leah, a shebeen queen who took Xuma in when he arrived from the North in search of a job in the mines.
A crack appeared in from an unexpected front. The words of a Black South African friend alerted me to the enduring lens of race in South African society. She was surprised, she said, that a Colored girl agreed to go out with a Black guy. I listened but I did not quite understand her. A Coloured girl? I enjoyed my time with the Colored girl. She possessed a keen intellect and our conversations about family and friends, and our occasional intellectual discussions, went late into the night. She knew what she wanted, was passionate and honest with her feelings, and she did not play games with mine. My friends welcomed her and her two closest friends in the Teacher Opportunity Program, both Black South Africans and middle-aged, openly invested in the future of our relationship in fact, most in the program did. I did not rebuke my friend’s view. I acknowledged her opinion and feelings but my relationship with the Colored girl blossomed.
Love and marriage … like a horse and carriage
Love crept in when I was not looking. My roommate was sure it entered the first time I made dinner for her. We had been together a month. I did not have great memories of cooking dinner for the fairer sex in the recent past. I struck out on the last two attempts. I did not give up. I also got help. I did not have the right crockery, so I turned to the godmother, the better half of our godfather. The two met when he left Nigeria to study in Austria, and the relationship blossomed into marriage. She is warm and wonderful, and we were all in awe with how much she loved him: she learned how to and made the best dishes cooked in Nigerian. I had a special relationship with the family because four year old Omotayo, their young daughter, took to me. She would run and jump into my arm when we saw each other everywhere. Their home was also open to all African students at the University of South Carolina. She gave me crockery and table clothes and came to my apartment to make sure everything was perfect.
I cooked chicken, rice and potatoes and made a salad. My roommate’s friend walked in while I was making salad. She said she could see in my eyes that I had been hit by the thunderbolt. I planned to surprise her and it worked out perfectly. I did not tell her I was cooking dinner. I just invited her to my apartment after her Friday swimming class in the nearby Solomon Blatt Physical Education Center. I can still see the glint in her eyes when she walked into the living room. I bet it was the first time a date cooked her dinner. When I walked her home, she asked who taught me how to cook. I told her my paternal Grandmother did when my brother and I spent holidays in Yonibana when we were in secondary school in Freetown. It was in contrast to my maternal Grandmother who was more traditionally African and forbade my presence in the kitchen. I also practiced when I lived with my Uncle before he married and continued to practice in university.
Love and marriage, I heard a song say, go together like a horse and carriage. I was not so sure. In my mind, it was one thing to fall in love and quite another to leap from love to marriage. Marriage was taboo to all my preconceived notions and plans at that time. I planned to return home to work and I planned to wait sometime before starting a family. The war interrupted my plans, but I was confident from news reports and information I received from home it would not last more than two years. I would wait. I would move to Virginia after I graduated that May, and I was sure I would trade at a higher value with the women from home with my new mint from the University of South Carolina. Just like I would have done for some time at home, I would seek a bit of profit from the confidence my degree conferred and sow some oats before settling down. Best of all, I did not have to worry about how to end things with Christina: she was scheduled to return home in June and we would be broken up without breaking up.
Christina planned to visit New York and Washington, D.C. when the University of South Carolina program ended before returning to South Africa. She added Pittsburgh to meet Diane’s family and friends. She asked me to join her but I did not get enough time off to travel to Pittsburgh. We flew first to D.C. and stayed with my friends from Sierra Leone. An old school friend fetched us from the airport. He was with other friends from home and we drove to visit other friends from Sierra Leone. Two ladies offered dinner and they took to Christina after she tried rice and cassava leaves, probably the most popular dish of Sierra Leone. We stayed at his home in Maryland that first night and attended the wedding of the oldest daughter of my former guardian. The family was warm and wonderful when I lived with them for a year during a difficult time. The bride and I spent time at the movies and the mall when she came for holidays from the University of Iowa. I am not sure either was a date, but my confidence was low at the time. I was not in her league. She was marrying a doctor from Sierra Leone.
I was happy to show up at the ceremony with an impressive date. I had a great time, and why not? I was introducing an impressive lady to friends. She met my former guardian, the bride and the rest of the family. She felt they were lukewarm and I never convince her that they were probably surprised and a bit protective, that they probably did not mean to slight nor did they dislike her. The wedding was a huge social affair uniting two family of high social standing in the Sierra Leonean community in greater Washington, D.C. Food, drinks and music were abundant. As they are wont to do, my compatriots ate, drank and made merry into the night. I endured a pompous lecture from a middle aged compatriot on underage drinking before he refused to serve me a beer. Christina tried ros meat, akara, fish balls, and salad made with baked beans, disks of hardboiled eggs, lettuce and mayonnaise: all are popular party foods. We danced late into the night and my friend drove us across the George Washington Bridge to Ft. Washington in Maryland late Sunday afternoon.
My relationship with the friend in Maryland started during our last two years of secondary school in Sierra Leone. We left home a year apart and stayed in touch when I was in South Carolina and he in Florida, and later Virginia and Maryland. He married a great girl he met while we were still at home. They were introduced by his female cousin to help him heal a broken heart. The match was perfect and it did not surprise family or friends when they married in the late eighties. I was honored, and said yes, when they asked me to be godfather to their first child. When Christina and I arrived at their home, my godson’s grandmother was living with them, helping with his infant brother while the parents were at work. She was warm and sweet, and she treated me like her son the first time we met. She was my Mother’s age and spent most of her adult life in Sierra Leone, but she also spent time abroad with her husband and their older children.
Christina left a tremendous impression on my godson’s Grandmother. She called me aside the day before we left for New York.
“You should ask for this woman’s hand in marriage!”
I was shocked. We were having a great time but I was not ready to make a long term commitment nor was I sure I wanted to abandon my original plan. My friend joined us and asked when I planned to take the next step. His mother-in-law and I looked at each other and laughed. Both had reached the same conclusion, independently. I will think about it, I said. My friend laughed to hear I would mull an easy decision.
“Don’t kick your luck with your left foot,” he said.
Similar queries arrived from Pittsburgh after Christina spent time with Diane’s family and friends. I went to visit the godfather after I returned from New York. Before I left the godmother called me to the kitchen and asked, “So when are you going to propose?”
It was not the most romantic proposal. I went to Friedman’s Jewelers in Dutch Square and ordered an engagement ring with the remainder of my salary after board and other living expenses. I started thinking seriously about spending the rest of my life with Christina after we left Washington D.C. for New York. I did not talk to anyone in my family nor to Diane or to any of my friends. I wanted it to be my own decision. I weight everything carefully and worked through my mental list of the qualities I desired most in a partner. Our personalities are quite different, a double-edge sword of both our wonderful times together as well as the differences in opinions or serious quarrels. I also feared it might be too soon for me to make a commitment which I hoped I would only make once. But I found more reasons to want to be with her for the rest of my life. I went to the jeweler and took a guess at her ring size when I made up my mind. I then told Diane and all my friends what planned to do.
I was nervous, but I was not afraid to fail. I felt confident she would say yes, but I was no fool to ignore the possibility of her saying no. I had the day planned. I planned give her the ring at the end of the day before she left to return to South Africa. I borrowed my friend from Somalia’s car to run her errands. She had a hair appointment and a visit to a coat store in Dutch Square. I planned to get the ring while she was in the coat store. I hoped we would finish all the errands by late afternoon and spend a quiet evening together at home or in a restaurant. I was nervous about what I was going to do, and subconsciously about the fact that we were about to part for a long time. The day did not start well. I drove to the hairdresser at 3 pm, but she was less than halfway done after three hours. I was furious. It did not get better when we returned to the apartment, dragging a three or four hour anchor. She had not packed even though I left her apartment early the previous night to give her time. I made my feelings known and took a short leave to gather my thoughts.
I was much calmer when I returned and she was no longer in tears. I must use the little time we have wisely, I thought. The bad mood lifted. I took the ring from my pocket and mumbled perfectly about trying to make a long-term relationship from a long-distance one, and to get marriage if we succeeded. It is no more than a promise to try, I said. I planned to end with a question, but I lost my way. It did not matter. She said yes without the words. The ring was the talisman. She extended her finger when I stopped talking. It fit her perfectly. She was surprised, but it was a good surprise. She never expected it. She was initially lost for words. We embraced. It was a tight and warm. My words were enough for the moment. It felt right. I wiped the tears in her eyes but let be a smile that would light a thousand huts on the Limpopo. She stared at the ring. She would like to try, she finally said. We celebrated, but she still had to finish parking. I reluctantly helped.
The godfather drove us to the airport to see her off the next morning. We had a little over an hour before boarding and used most of it trying reason with the airline about excess weight from a small case they asked for almost one hundred dollars. The godfather finally said no. Instead, we rushed to the freight terminal when she left to her boarding gate and sent the case to Atlanta on freight. I felt fortunate that the godfather took every step with me. He drove to their home for and early lunch. Tayo and I watched the Lion King a countless time after lunch, sitting close like we always did. Diane phoned when I got home and invited me out. We ate early dinner at TGI Friday and caught an early showing of Forest Gump. I had enough laughter for days. I thanked Diane when she took me home around 9 pm. Friendship is a great balm indeed, I thought when she left. Christina phoned when she arrived home. We didn’t talk for long. She was tired: she flew from Atlanta to Zurich and then Cape Town, and she waited almost all day in Zurich.
I hoped to keep a low profile and not tell anyone but my closest friends, but it was no use. Most of my friends from Sierra Leone in Washington were ecstatic I don’t really know what I have done, I confessed. My godson’s Grandmother assured me that I made the right decision. She is a good woman, she assured me. Everyone congratulated me or said a good word when they heard I was engaged to the lady I was dating from South Africa. I received phone calls from her roommate and other friend, the two who were the most supportive of our relationship in her group. I wrote to my parents and my Uncle two days after she left. I was not sure how they would react. Dad always said choice of mate was my decision. I’d never discussed choice of mate with my Uncle, but I’m always assured of his love and support. I was challenging tradition in choosing a mate from abroad: almost all in my immediate family chose their mates and it would have been difficult to suggest a different path. They were excited when I phoned two weeks after they received the letters.
Maisy was gone…
I finally understood Mine Boy. Peter Abrahams’ Father is Ethiopian and his Mother a Colored South African. Xuma, the protagonist, is a Black miner. He is torn between two loves. The first, Eliza, is Black. She leaves him near the end to find one who shares her love for things perceived to be those of White people. Xuma saw the things Eliza longed for when Paddy O’shea, his White boss, invited him to his house when they accidentally met in town. He loved Eliza, but he did not long for a piano, turntable, electrical stove and other things he saw in Paddy’s house they were not the things of his people. His second love, Maisy, is Colored. She endures the pain of unrequited love – her eyes are always on Xuma, only to see he is looking at Eliza – until the end. The miners went on strike after two colleagues lost their lives. In the tumult of the strike action, Xuma ran home at first but later rejoined and led the strikers. He asks Maisy to wait for him – he is sure he will be arrested and jailed – so they will make a home together.
I turned my full attention to completing my thesis after she left. I finished in July, with time to spare and graduated in August. I accelerated efforts to find employment after graduation. I was mulling many events and decisions. The reality dawned on me, and many compatriots, that war would not soon end in Sierra Leone. Our hopes slowly vanished that the Government was capable of defeating the rebels on the battlefield. The conflict settled into an evil impasse of wanton death and mutilation of limb and sinew. As yet, the war did not have the notoriety it later acquired. The rebels were still far from the capital, but death and destruction mounted in the countryside. In the event, it would have been foolhardy for me to return home when scores of my countrymen were fleeing the country in greater numbers. My parents, my friends, and the rest of my family, who had always encouraged me to return home, were vehement that I stay away from an unsafe country.
The days turned slowly for Christina and me. We paid the phone companies a lot of money and I also poured my heart into letters. It was three months and more than two hundred applications before I found employment. I gave up on Columbia and was half packed for Virginia when I got an offer from the Child and Work Support Office in the Department of Social Services as a Specialist in Management. I wanted work in a profession that was would directly use the skills in my academic field, economics, but I had exhausted my savings and I was desperate to cover my fixed costs. I threw myself into the new job. My first assignment was a tough and long standing one. I solved it and won the confidence of my new boss and coworkers. I planned to continue searching for a job in economics, but I had to devote a lot of time to applying accounting, which I did not study much at university. I found value in my skills in spreadsheets and database applications, which spurred me to bolster my knowledge in them.
The distance stretched the bonds of our relationship but the passion did not wane. She phoned with great news arrived a few weeks before Christmas.
“I am going to spend Christmas with you.”
I was surprised. I was not in a financial position to contribute to the trip. I started in October and would just break even by December.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
I was worried about privacy living with two roommates at the time. That was resolved when a friend said I could house sit his apartment five block from my residence for the duration of the holidays. Di insisted we spend Christmas with her family in Pittsburgh. Who was I to say no?
She landed on a cool winter day in the middle of December but not before a fright. The itinerary said she would leave Cape Town to Dulles, in Washington D.C., then Hartsfield International, in Atlanta and then Columbia. The godfather, who accepted a position at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta in August, was waiting for her at Hartsfield. He phoned an hour after she was supposed to land with news that she was not on the flight from Dulles. I checked the itinerary a fourth time and phoned South Africa. She left Cape Town for Dulles. I phoned the airline. They would only say she was not a passenger on the flight from Dulles. What would I tell her parents whom I have never met? I thought. The godfather took every step with me. He reassured me all will be well and was at the airport four hours to help sort things out with the airline. She phoned when our worry turned to concern: the travel agent booked her to Hartford, Connecticut, instead of Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta.
I took time off before the holidays. We spent a week in Columbia and took the train to Washington, D.C. My compatriot met us at the station and drove us to Pittsburgh after dinner at his house in Virginia. It was her first and my third Christmas with Di’s family. We were well received and we had a memorable time. We started discussing the future. She agreed to wait until I visited and obtained her parent’s blessing before we set a date. I planned a trip to South Africa in the middle of the year. I needed time to establish a financial footing for my first trip to South Africa and the wedding. We had a long discussion about the ceremony. I wanted a civil ceremony to neutralize our religious denominations and my own lukewarm relationship with religion, but it was important for her, or more so her family, that we married in church.
“I am not asking you to alter your religious faith or feelings.”
“It is important for my mother, and for my family.”
“Okay, we can get marry in the Anglican Church in Hopefield.”
My days returned to their routine after Christina left: work, soccer and keeping up with her and all my family in Sierra Leone and friends. I was reassigned to the department’s budget office in the first quarter of the year. My career went full steam in financial planning and management. In June, I flew to Cape Town for three weeks, exchanging the Carolina summer for cold, rainy days of Cape winter. Christina introduced me to friends and family around Cape Town. I met her brother and a friend who phoned me several times after she returned to South Africa with the engagement ring. We had dinner in the homes of many friends and family, probably wanting to see or meet her future mate. We took a trip to Robben Island with Christina’s best friend and her husband, and spent time with a South African studying at the University of South Carolina, including a night to see Johnny Clegg, the White Zulu.
I met my future father-in-law for the first time in Mitchell’s Plain. He worked then in the building industry and his employer had a contract to build a house in a plush part of town. Christina picked him up late Saturday to spend the night and Sunday afternoon. I was nervous but did not show it. He was easy to talk with. I obliged when he asked me to cook a dish from home. Probably because of meeting him, I was not very nervous about meting her Mother for the first time in Hopefield, her home town, during the second week of the visit. I also met her two aunts and many cousins. It was a bit more difficult to communicate in Hopefield. Much less there than Cape Town spoke English and I only retained the greetings and sqoon vriend and uitstekund, the later means ‘excellent’ which her friend taught me in Cape Town. Throughout the trip, I was struck by how different the features of the peoples of the Cape were from mine, but my mind did not dwell on it. I focused, instead, on my mission, which I accomplished: Christina’s parent gave their blessing to our proposed union.
Of tribes and an honest man
We were introduced at a gathering a few weeks after I arrived in South Africa. He is a senior lecturer in the University of Pretoria, in the same department with my wife. We are contemporaries, but he’s taller, far more handsome and blessed with a beautiful ebony complexion. He has the proud gait of Shaka Zulu’s warriors. He returned to South Africa four years ago with a PhD in Education Law. He said it was three years and more than five hundred applications before he was offered employment by the University of Pretoria. He was warm when we were introduced, but it took time for him to make time for me. I sought him after I heard his opinion during a lecture on the dynamics of the transformation in education following Brown v The Board of Education decision of the supreme court of the United States. I was curious to hear his take on the new South Africa. He offered to buy me lunch at the nearby campus of the University of South Africa.
The University of South Africa, known by it initials, Unisa, shares a border with the Faculty of Education of the University of Pretoria. It has the largest enrollment among institutions of higher learning in South Africa and offers the majority of its courses as distance education modules. The two are located on Leyds Street, which they share with a major communication tower of Telkom, the telephone monopoly, the National Parks Service of South Africa and the embassies of Portugal and Finland, in Greonkloof. I met him in his office at 12:30 pm and he drove his grey Nissan truck into the main campus of Unisa. The four buildings on the campus are shaped like sphinxes, with each overlooking each other. We pulled into free space in the visitors’ parking lot. My host speaks nine of the eleven official languages and understands the other two. He is also a big flirt, not shy about using this and all his assets on the fairer sex. I reserved my wit for Black women, he said, and quickly made two attractive ladies queens in his chess game as we walked from the parking lot.
The campus of Unisa seemed instantly more integrated than the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Education. Why is that? I asked him. The University of Pretoria is traditionally White, Afrikaner and conservative, and it will take some time for that to change, he replied as we entered a cafeteria on one of the buildings. The line starts with drinks, kept in large coolers on a wall perpendicular to the food line. I asked for a vanilla coke and he an orange Power Aid. When we arrived on the food line, he ordered fried chicken with fat chips that were sprinkled with gravy. I chose fish served with the same chips but I turned down the gravy. I opted for a bowl of pasta salad at the end of the counter next to the tills and passed on a choice of carrot or cheese cake dessert. He hoped I would try meat, gravy and pap, a popular diet among Blacks in South Africa, but the cafeteria ran out of meat. Another time and place, we agreed. I’ll take you where you cook your own meat and eat it with pap, he promised.
On discussion on the way to Unisa was interrupted during the search for a parking spot. He was reacting to historic decision of the President of South Africa to release his Deputy after he was implicated by a judge of the Kwazulu-Natal high court in a case of corruption and fraud against a businessman and business associate. The judge said in his ruling that the former Deputy President was involved in a ‘generally corrupt’ relationship with the indicted businessman. My friend said he did not disagree entirely with the President’s decision although he had problems with releasing him before he was formally charged with a crime and given his day in court. The Deputy President is a public figure and it is inevitable that he would be tried in the court of public opinion, I said. But why would you humiliate a man who has done so much for the African National Congress and the nation? he asked. I think the President should have found a way to save him from humiliation prior to the dismissal, he concluded.
I saw and understood the strains of his identity in our conversation. He is a proud South African and Zulu. The two identities are in conflict in his interpretation of the set of events that resulted in the firing. The former Deputy President is also a Zulu and he represented the best chance for a Zulu President of South Africa in the next round of presidential elections in 2009. I pressed him during lunch and admired his honest admission that his Zulu identity influences his view. I think I understand how you feel, I said. I am a proud Sierra Leonean and Temne. Temne are one of the two largest ethnic groups in Sierra Leone and it irks me on occasion that the nation has not been led by a Temne in almost a half century of independence. It is, without a doubt, irrational. The ethnic identity of a leader must never be an issue if he is the right man, but it is naïve to believe ethnic identity does not mist our lens in the political arenas in our heterogeneous African nations.
The fairest cape of all!
I last visited the fair Cape in December 1999. We wanted to visit soon after I arrived, but Christina could not find time away from work. She did in late July. We had a great reason, too, which was to celebrate my father-in-law’s sixty-ninth birthday. My father-in-law bears an uncanny resemblance with the living legend of the rainbow nation, Nelson Mandela, and their birthdays are a day apart, with the icon celebrating his on July 18th. The family scheduled the celebrations for the weekend to make it easier to gather. I always look forward to visiting Hopefield, both to spend time with my in-laws and to learn more about my wife from observing her as a child. The visits are never dull, but neither are they easy. Most everyone in the family probably appreciates me more with time, but I will only truly conquer Hopefield if I learn Afrikaans and make it easy for me to communicate with everyone. I have not started the journey on Afrikaans but it does not make me look forward any less to seeing my in-laws.
It is two hours to Cape Town from Johannesburg by air. We flew a southwest route and took in the many beautiful landscapes. We started the descent to the Cape with a forty-five minutes drive from Faerie Glen, east of Pretoria. After a one hour delay, the flight took off on a beautiful day with nary a cloud in the sky. The pilot showed us the landscapes and I observed them in from a window seat. There was a short stretch of the Vaal River, recoiling like an angry cobra. It rises southeast near the Drakensberg or Quathlamba Mountains, close to Swaziland, flows south west along the northeast of Free State Province, then a short course on the southern tip of Guateng, from where it turns south for good. The longest stretch is southwards, on the border between the North-West and Free State Provinces until it empties into the Orange River in the Northern Cape Province. The pilot indicated the Karoos, Great and Little, large semi-desert plateau regions: the two Cape Provinces, Eastern and Western, share the Great Karoo while all of the Little Karoo occupies a large area in the southeast of the Western Cape.
I caught the apple of the Cape’s eye, the breathtaking Table Mountain, rising from the edge of the peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean before we landed. It resembled a maze of canyons from the air. We flew past the Mountain into the sea and then turned back towards the airport: the Mountain and the sea, with its white waves visibly pounding the beach lay clearly to our right in their picturesque best, enveloping Cape Town like the ramparts of a medieval castle. The city slopes from the sea, rising to different feet of the Mountain’s range. It reminds me of Freetown, rising too, from an Atlantic cape, sloping from sea level to the feet of many hills. The pilot made a full turn back to land and touched down to sunny and warm weather. It is cold and rainy in the Cape this time of the year. Not today. “I am the rain man the sun follows me everywhere I go,” I boasted.
She ignored me. I wonder if the rental company still has our reservation, she said. We landed five hours later than we had planned because the ground and cabin crew of South African Airways, whom we booked for a trip earlier in the day, were on strike.
Our reservation was still valid. The associate said he was upgrading us. I am giving you one that has air conditioning, he said as he handed Christina the keys to a Toyota Tazz. The airport is getting a facelift, and it is exciting to imagine the promises but we paid a price now with confusion on some of the lanes. She almost collided with another car both looking for clear exit signs out of the airport. We drove west, looking for highway N7. She made a pit stop in Goodwood, where we bought lunch and some goods for the party. I bought a bottle of Caribbean run to present to my father-in-law for his birthday. The N7 runs from Cape Town to the border with Namibia in the northwest, but we only needed a seventy kilometers stretch to Mamelsbury. We drove through a beautiful valley of farms. Most of the land is flat, but it is interrupted in some place by hills. The enduring image is the flat open land that stretches beautifully for miles to a range of mountains in the horizon and golden rays of near sunset on a clear blue sky lit the valley as we chased a natural path of the sun. This was a scrum of the gods, I thought as we rode to Mamelsbury.
We turned west onto the R45, five kilometers past Mamelsbury on the N7, and headed northwest towards the sea. The R45 takes you to Hopefield and continues to Vredenburg and Saldanha Bay. The land slopes downwards immediately after we turn, and we drive through hills and valleys for five kilometers before it flattens out. It is no less beautiful here, the land, and made even more attractive by cattle, sheep or horses, two sets, or all three in some places, grazing on the veldt, and the earthly green of wheat in juxtaposition with the bright yellow of canola on some farms. Green and gold, I thought, and occasionally recoiled from my visual lust for the land to hear the score of the Mandela Cup rugby test between the vaunted Springboks and Wallabies of Australia on a radio commentary in English. I believe more South Africans were interested in the final score of the test after the coach selected five Black players to start the match, unprecedented and grist for the sports mill throughout the week.
Hopefield is a quiet town of about five-thousand nestled in a valley halfway between Mamelsbury in the Swartland region and Saldanha Bay, which, with Hopefield, is in the West Coast region in Western Cape Province. The town was segregated along racial lines and the legacy of apartheid is still visible. The end of apartheid has given people the freedom to choose, a lot of perception and a slight reality of White and Colored areas remain. Christina grew up in Hopefield and regards it as her hometown, but she was born in De Doorns, her Father’s hometown, in the Boland region of the Western Cape. Her parents met when her Mother went to De Doorns to work in the kitchen for a grape farmer. The family initially moved between the two towns, but they eventually made a home in Hopefield. All her siblings were born in Hopefield and De Doorns has receded to a symbolic status of only being the place where she was born.
From the R45, a main highway of the West Coast region, there are ways to enter the town. The first one takes you past the civic part of town, which doubles now as the former White section, over the Salt River and across the R27, which was a tacit divide – and still probably is – between the White and Colored sections. You would pass the only petrol station in the town, the magistrate court, the post office, the municipal building, and the only bank on the right side. On the left side you would pass an old age home, butchery, a hotel, with a bar that, until recently, was for Whites only, and a grocery store. Christina remembers that all civic institutions and most of the businesses had separate facilities or entrances for Whites and Coloreds until the time of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. The bus to other towns had two separate compartments for Whites and Coloreds. I remember standing all the way to Cape Town one time, she recalled. All the seats in the Colored compartment were taken however, many seats were unoccupied in the White one.
But she drove past the first exit and took the second that takes you on a short corridor of the R27, the road to Veldriff on the mouth of the Berg River where we had the reception for our wedding in 1996. Some of the roads near the R27 to the Colored section are being paved, but not the ones we must take to get home. We made a quick right and left turns from the R27 – both of which take us on dirt roads – and a right onto Bloem Street, which is paved, and drove to No. 27, the family home since 1985. My father-in-law was standing inside the small family convenient store he operates from a parking garage. My mother and sister-in-law, and some of the female cousins emerged from the kitchen when they heard the vehicle and our conversations with the men: they were busy with the evening meal. They all gave us a hearty welcome. My greetings with most of the people, alas, are short for reasons only of language.
Everyone wants me to speak their language. The Black attendant at the rental parking lot caught me flatfooted me in Xhosa. Christina rescued me. She studied Xhosa during her final year in university. She correctly hit the clicks. A smile lit up his big round face. His manner seemed more pleasant. He helped us is in English, but Christina had broken the ice. She also replied to some of his queries in Xhosa which pleased him a great deal. When we left, I parroted a goodbye in Xhosa after Christina. I was disappointed there are no click sounds in goodbye because I had practiced the click sounds in Xhosa. He smiled again and waved as we left. There was no a less desire that I speak Afrikaans in Hopefield. Christina’s cousin stole away while I was talking to my father-in-law’s friend. She did not want to test her English with me.
“You must learn to speak Afrikaans,” her husband later said to me in Afrikaans.
I got it. Everyone in Hopefield studies English as a second language but Afrikaans is both sufficient and necessary in the Boland, Swartland and West Coast regions where most live and work. They are afraid to make mistakes in English that, at least, is what they tell me.
My father-in-law is dark in complexion, medium built, and looks younger than his sixty-nine years except for the grey on his head and beard. He looks a lot like the man he almost shares a birthday with, Nelson Mandela. He is warm and charming but reserves a mean streak for difficult characters in the neighborhood. One of them is his nephew, a brilliant man who loves the bottle. He reminds me of JP Williamson in Peter Abraham’s Mine Boy, a Jekyll-and-Hyde: ‘Johannes drunk’ is loud and obstinate ‘Johannes sober’ is quiet and compliant. We are both middle aged but he looks younger, having retained his chiseled athletic build. All who saw him play recall a brilliant rugby player, and at fly half, the thinker for his teams. My conversations with him confirm his mental acuity. He is razor sharp and possesses a keen memory. He recently added two home town legends to his exploits in rugby when he successfully argued two cases against his Mother and an employer in a court of law.
But he is ‘Johannes drunk’ when we arrived. I joined my father-in-law with the men in the back of the house in front of a fire they built to ward off the cold evening. He interrupted our conversation. I do not take kindly to this. My parents-in-laws and I have worked hard to bridge our gulf in language. I have not learned to speak Afrikaans, which, including distance and the natural anxiety between in-laws, made it a bit difficult to increase the depth of our relationship, but we have never stopped trying. My father-in-law always asks to speak with me when my wife phones home. He would pass on warm greetings when he feels shy about speaking English. But on several occasions, we would talk for five or ten minutes about my work and the families in Sierra Leone and South Africa. Our best conversations come when he is Opa, or Grandfather, Robert. My mother-in-law has opened up more since I arrived in South Africa in April. I always felt guarded with her, but I sense our added ease in the depth of our conversations. I showed off a few Afrikaans phrases I have learnt when they greeted me.
The family rented 27 Bloem Street from the Hopefield municipality and moved there in 1981. One of the three sisters moved with her family to No. 25 and their two houses almost make up a duplex. But Christina still remembers her childhood home. There are no traces left of the building but she pointed to the spot the house stood from the R27 highway. Her maternal grandfather rented the land from a White farmer and put up a home for his family of five – three daughters and two sons near that of other Coloreds residents of Hopefield. The farmer’s house was three kilometers away. He grew wheat and watermelon and Christina’s grandfather worked on the farm in exchange for the land. But he also tried a hand in fishing, the railway and in road construction. Land was available in the Colored section but few could afford it. The White municipality owned the majority of the land and property in the Colored section. They built houses on the land and rented to Coloreds, but a few Coloreds fishermen and teachers who could afford to bought land and built their own homes.
There were few people when Christina and I arrived, but the house soon filled with family and friends. Many of the later arrivals speak English. Christina’s best friend with her husband – now teaching maths after teaching history for ten years – and their two daughters, aged eight and twelve. Nicklass, the family’s oldest child, arrived shortly after them with his wife and two young children. He followed his paternal grandfather into road construction twenty-five years ago and his company has built many roads in northern Namibia. The two younger brothers came after him. Johannes, his wife, and two year-old daughter are expecting a second child. He is third after Christina: they are very close and were living in Mitchells Plain when I met her. Robert, the youngest sibling, and his wife have the oldest grandchildren. He works for the greater municipality of the West Coast. Lizzy, the youngest sister and penultimate child, and her husband live in their parent’s house. The women joined other women in the kitchen and the men joined us on the open fire in back of the house.
The evening was memorable. The food and company were excellent. We ate a lamb curry, served on roti bread or rice, and fried chicken. There were two salads, a vegetable one and a sweet and sour bean one, made with cooked black-eyed beans in a base of onion, garlic and warm spices, corn and yellow pumpkin. I thought the curry and sweet and sour bean salad were excellent. I drank coke, but there was an array of adult beverages, which attracted some of the characters in the neighborhood and my father-in-law’s ire. More people were willing to risk speaking to me in English as the adult beverages flowed and the night aged. I had a great conversation with my sister-in-law’s husband. We talked about rugby, his first love, and soccer, his second and my first, his family and his wife, late into the night. I reminded him the next day that he said, “I will die for her,” to my remarks about taking care of my sister-in-law. The party broke up around midnight.
I was tired from traveling and the party and I slept until noon. The sun was shinning brightly when I woke up, but the Cape’s weather is notoriously mercurial. My brother-in-laws said the Cape can give you the joy or misery of all four seasons in one day. He pointed to a mass of thick clouds following the bright morning sun. “Don’t worry, there will be no rain today,” I boasted. I am the rainmaker and I will hold it for a second day of my father-in-law’s birthday celebrations. He laughed. The Cape is not kind to pundits of the weather, he said. I am no pundit I bring my power from Africa, I said in jest. We both laughed again and I walked to the kitchen for a cup of tea. The ladies were in there, preparing lunch. The men were in groups, most gathered in conversation around my father-in-law in the convenient store, some looked after the children and read the newspaper. Children ran in and out of the house in play: most are grandchildren of the three sisters who raised sixteen children in a ten meter radius.
The family home was quiet Monday morning. Most everyone returned to their routine after robust celebration of my father-in-law. My sister-in-law took a day off to spend with her sister. The two of them are close: she looks up to Christina and loves her with all her heart. Christina and I planned to sleep late and visit her Godmother later that evening. I followed up on the plan with a late rise around 9 am. The mercurial Cape weather finally arrived. It turned cold by mid-afternoon, but the morning started brightly with sunshine followed by remote clouds that brought rain and blustery winds that sharpened the bite of the cold evening and night air. After we ate a light breakfast, I asked for an official tour of Hopefield. I first visited ten years ago, and this was my fourth visit, but I have never seen more than what is on the main road in the former White section of the town.
We dropped off my mother-in-law in front of the main department store across the Salt River in what may now be characterized as the civic part of town with the municipal building, post office and so on. I changed my mind about where we should start the tour on our way to the store: I wanted to start the tour with a visit to the cemetery and see where her Grandparents, but even more, her youngest brother, were buried. Five of them lived to be adults but Christina’s Mother had ten children: all except one were victims of infant diseases but one died at age twelve, and his death profoundly affected the family and throws light on the state of race relations in Hopefield. She has told me the story many times while wrestling to come to terms with the events. I had never asked to see where he was laid to rest until now. Everyone is now free to bury their dead in one of two grounds but it was not always so. Christina’s grandparents and her brother lie in the former Colored cemetery across the R47 near the formerly White section of the town.
I see the pain even now. Her demeanor and tone changed instantly when we started on the road to the cemetery. We drove parallel to the Salt River past a bush of beautiful white daisies in bloom, interspersed with the orange flowers of a wild plant of the veldt, near the river. The daisies lined the edge of the road running parallel to the cemetery, alternating with a dominant grass that she said they used to thatch roofs. We parked the car near the entrance. Some of the graves were well-kept, but quite a few were not. Christina walked to her youngest brother’s grave. She knelt in front of the grave and picked up the dry stems of flowers they brought during the Easter holidays. I did not say much at first but just watched her gently tidying the grave. She said she is dealing better with it but it has taken her a long time to reach here. Her Mom has asked them to move his remains to the new burial ground on the former White cemetery. She wants him to be next to them after they are gone. I joined her in picking up branches and tidying the grave.
The graveyard is oblong and stretches a short distance to a visible boundary with trees separating it from the veldt on its northern boundary. She walked us to her Grandmother’s grave. There it is love and remembrance, not anguish. We could not find Opa’s grave immediately, she was at peace, too, with this. I walked close to her as we left. I felt her hurt inside the cemetery. I also felt the power that some deaths can have over life albeit we must fight to make it only fleeting. My thoughts were solemn, my emotions were on the brink but I had to be strong for Christina. I was. I walked in the direction of a landmark she mentioned just before we walked into the cemetery. I could not reach it on foot on the edges of the southern boundary of the cemetery, nor could we drive there in the small rental car. I went as far as I could go and gazed at it: slightly beyond the southern boundary of this sacred ground is the rubbish heap of the White residents of the town.
We left the Colored cemetery and drove through the former White section of town. It was my first time. She took me to one of two sites of her primary school, a Colored school run by the Anglican Church. The last four years of the school and Coloreds Anglican Church were both in this White section of the town although very few Whites had homes in that area at the time. She pointed to a house near the location of the school where her Mother worked for a White resident of the town and she recalled the taste of apricot jam and bread that Mom had for her at lunch time. The church and school moved to the Colored section of town in the early part of the seventies. We drove by the former White school. Her oldest brother went to high school fifty kilometers away in Mamelsbury, while she and her other siblings, and cousins, went to Vredenburg. None was allowed in this former White school and no one built a high school for the majority Colored citizens of Hopefield.
Some bury their ancestors in gardens. The cemetery in the old White section, located delicately near a southern bank of the Salt River, was the biggest contrast I saw between the two Hopefields of the past. Most of the roads on this side are paved, though they are wearing signs of disrepair, the houses are larger and more spacious, the school has more, and better, facilities, including hostels, located opposite the cemetery but none pointed to affluence, and none stood out as clearly as the cemetery in contrast to the other section of the town. We drove the car on a dirt road near the embankment and took in a pristine view of the river, dominated by the wild yellow flowers on the slopes of the bank. I slowed down Christina and peered into the graveyard. Most of the tombstones were marble or granite. Flowers hung from edges of the cemetery and on some of the graves someone has taken time to plant flowers and to tend the garden. I had a thought as we drove away: it is wonderful new dawn that all of Hopefield can now bury their ancestors in the same garden.
My mother-in-law was waiting for us in front of the main supermarket in the civic center. We drove east from there on highway R27 in the direction of Veldriff to where the family lived before No. 27 Bloem Street. No evident signs remain of their time on the land, except for highway R27, built when Christina was in primary school. She walked two miles on highway R27 to school with her brother and sister. “It was cold during winter mornings and we did not have shoes,” she recalled. Nature, or the veldt, has reclaimed the land, but they both knew the exact location of their house, those of the neighbors, and further on, that of the White farmer, in the overgrown veldt. They pointed to where the farmer grew watermelon and wheat, and where he kept livestock of cattle and sheep: all are now potato farms. Christina indicated where her other aunt lived with her family before joining the other two in the triangle on Bloem Street: it was fifty meters from where her youngest brother was hit by a car that was driven by a young White couple.
Who will cry for the White Male?
I have heard the cry: the White Male is under siege. The first time a White Male called Safm, the public station, during a show on Black Economic Empowerment.
“I can’t find a new job.
No one will hire a White Male.”
He said his wages were stagnant the last five years, but Black counterparts are walking into new jobs and raking fortunes in wages increases. I heard a different note of the same tune from our landlord. He was here to raise our rent all right, he was here to sign a new lease. It is five percent more for us after renting for six months. I am told he was generous: it is only half of a mandatory ten percent increase each time you sign a new lease. He will levy only five percent more if we sign for another six months. We will pocket R960. The conversation touches on my difficulty with finding a job.
“Where are you from?”
I told him. Black Economic Empowerment will not help you, he said.
“Absolutely right,” I replied.
I wanted to add that I did not look to Black Economic Empowerment, I would not need it if I am evaluated on merit. It should have ended there.
“You have to compete with young White males.
Many, like you, cannot find jobs. Black Economic Empowerment would help if you were from South Africa.”
We should really have ended it. I was astounded by the leap of faith in his conclusion. He only asked, and I told him, where I was born and yes, that I have a College degree. He didn’t ask where I went to school, or what I do for a living. It does not matter: I am a Black Man. What if I am more qualified or went to a better university? Still just a Black Man. What about ten years to enhance my education or acquire additional skills? No difference: I am still just a Black Man who must compete with the young White Male. Pity then, the young White Male, crippled by the end of apartheid and now emasculated by Black Economic Empowerment. What in the name of the gods is this fellow smoking? I thought. The statistics I have read far fly in the face of the farcical notion that the White Male, young or old, is the sacrificial lamb on the altar of apartheid.
Who needs statistics? I only need to open my eyes to what I see on the streets, in the banks, in the shops, at the university and in the public offices. I don’t see young White males on street corners with brooms and paint brushes waiting for temporary employment. I don’t see young White males in the middle of traffic with no more than a box of peaches on either hand, chasing a car with four handbags, two umbrellas, ten newspapers or on a street corner with a tray of sweets. Do they sell enough for the day’s meals, especially operating in a perfectly competitive market? I have never seen a young White male directing you to an obvious parking spot. It is not young White males that I see near creek or crevice, cooking diner on an open fire, washing in muddy waters and probably braving the cold nights of winter. No, I see young White male supervisors, managers and directors in private and public business. Life is probably more difficult for all in the Rainbow Nation. It does not help to cry wolf for the young White male.
Ge ke bolêla Sesotho (I can’t speak Sesotho): Ke bolêla Sesotho (I can speak Sesotho)
Christina and I did not rest enough in the Cape catching up with friends during the day and staying up late the last two nights with her brothers living in Cape Town. We both came down with the flu at the beginning of the week. She lost her voice on Wednesday and Thursday and added a cough on Thursday. I mainly could not shake off a nighttime cough. We both struggled with sleep as our bedroom resembled a croaking chamber during the night. It forced us to spend more time in bed, but I returned from the Cape determined to double my efforts at finding employment. I planned to network more and set a short-term of goal of doubling circulation of my resume among contacts I have made since I arrived in South Africa. I updated my curriculum vitae on feedback I received from a friend after we returned from the Cape. I narrowed my objective to financial management and sent her two copies for further critique and circulation. I will contact a recruiting agency to help me crack the labor market if my networking activities and replies to newspaper advertisements fail in the next month.
My friend phoned late in the morning. You do not have your age, identity number and marital status on the curriculum vitae, she remarked. She said a potential employer asked my age. Far better if he asked about my qualifications, I thought. “They don’t want to hire old folks like me,” she joked. I nervously joined her laughter. I don’t have an identity number, but I can use my passport number, I said. “But what if an employer used my nationality to eliminate me?” I asked her on the passport number. “I would like to get the employer interested in my qualifications and experience before we discuss the obstacles to employing me,” I offered. “This information is required in South Africa,” she replied. Besides, we should be honest about all information, and I believe they will focus on your skills, she added. It’s more faith than I have at the moment, but she has more than twenty-five years of work experience here, and has tirelessly supported my efforts to find a job. I updated the curriculum vitae. I could not help thinking the information is irrelevant, but I rebuked myself for comparing everything with my previous experience.
I went to the office to be near Christina after the conversation on my resume. She recovered half her voice by Friday but elected to teach. The course time is divided between separate English and Afrikaans sections which meet on alternate Fridays. Each section has seven sessions which makes it difficult to miss a session. She requested a microphone to boost her voice. While she taught, I read a short history of the Northern Sotho language and the Basotho people I downloaded from the Internet. It had a phonetic explanation of the vowels of the language. I repeated a pronunciation of simple phrases on short wav files. It brought to my mind the challenge of language in the rainbow nation. I thought: what if Basotho students petitioned the Constitutional Court, the highest court of South Africa, to be instructed in their mother tongue at the University of Pretoria? I wondered if there is a statute that preserves Afrikaans and English as the sole media of instruction at the university: how would it address the fact that the constitution recognizes all eleven official languages as equal?
Christina returned from class with a large group of students. Most were in their middle ages, and they were all Black, hardly representative of the profile of the students I see around the Greonkloof campus. The group came to get her email and fax number to submit assignments. Some missed the first session two weeks ago and assignments were due in class today. They asked for an extension. You have until 11:59 pm. Two said they live in a rural area and travel far to get to a fax machine or computer. Saturday morning then, but they want Monday morning. She stands her ground. One walks over and addresses me in Sesotho. He points to the syllabus and wonders how and where to get the material for the assignment. I saw into his game: the lecturer is tough, but surely my kinsman behind the computer will help me. I help him after I regrettably told him that I don’t know how to speak Sesotho. I mainly offered encouragement. “You can do it,” I said to him.
Christina discusses some of the reasons the students give her for being late with assignments. One said thieves broke into her home. The local news reports break-ins all the time. Two emailed about deaths in the family, and another about going to the doctor for tests on his heart. I was incredulous before I met this group. I based my profile of her students on the young group of students walking to catch the bus to the main campus of the University of Pretoria from Greonkloof campus in the mornings. I urged her to be flexible about the first assignment. They must do the work and you should be less flexible about future assignments, I added. But four months here have opened my eyes a little to the difficulty of being disadvantaged in South African society. Why are these students embarking on education in middle age? I doubt the majority in the group threw away opportunities in their youth. It is far more likely that they did not have opportunities.
I asked Christina rhetorical questions on our way home. I could not shake off the question of why it is necessary for me to include my age and marital status on the curriculum vitae. I struggled with how age in particular has anything to do with my capability to do the kind of job I am qualified to do. Christina said she asked similar questions about the amount of personal information required on curriculum vitae during orientation of new lecturers in the Faculty of Education in January. Let’s say the more matured students in your class finish their degrees and work another three years to be more competitive, I began, should it matter that they are older or even close to retirement if they are qualified to do a job? What if they are the most qualified? Some in that group probably gave up part of their lives to help liberate the rainbow nation. Is it not additional discrimination if they are excluded from considerations for jobs they are qualified and experienced to do on account of age?
Die Bokke The ‘Boks ama Bokko Bokko… (The Springboks)
You can learn a lot about a people or society from sports and the conversations about it. I arrived in the southern United States during the peak of debate on Black quarterbacks in American football. Quarterback is the most glamorous position in the sport. He is de facto leader, decision-maker and is perceived at the apex of the brain trust on a team. The position was a monopoly of White players for many years following desegregation. Black Americans will tell you this was not by accident but design. Why teams coveted Black players in every other position. A Black quarterback started a game for the first time in 1996 at my alma mater, the University of South Carolina after almost a century of football at the school. I met a Black player in the student game room in who said coaches asked him to switch to another position from quarterback but he played quarterback all his life, on sandlots, on playgrounds, and in high school, and the university recruited him to play quarterback.
The phone startled us around 10 am with an invitation to watch a Tri-Nation rugby test between the Springboks, the national team of South Africa, and the All Blacks, that of New Zealand. I had plans, but I know why the host phoned: his beloved ‘Bokke have never lost a test he and I watched them play together. I accepted the invitation with that and my own selfish motives: to learn more about the lingua franca of a powerful segment of South African society, and perhaps, catch a glimpse into the soul of the Rainbow Nation. South Africa earned a seat on the table of rugby’s world greats with a memorable victory in the World Cup in 1995. They vanquished a feared New Zealand side in the final. It must count among the then new nation’s finest hours: a world championship on the heels of a remarkable political transition. I recall a lithe President Nelson Mandela donning the symbolic No. 6 captain’s jersey, visiting the locker before the match and joining the crowd at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. I remember also the mood of the nation then on what was my maiden voyage to the Rainbow Nation, on the quest of winning the blessing of my future in-laws.
The sport of rugby is gaining in popularity around the world. Argentina and Uruguay have brought Latin America into the fold and rugby closer to a true world sport. The International Rugby Board, the vanguard of the sport worldwide, hopes partnership with its US counterparts will grow the game in the United States and North America. However, the epicenters in world rugby presently lie south, in the southern hemisphere and southwest Europe: they dominate the sport and have won all the quadrennial Rugby World Cup Trophies since the inaugural tournament in 1987. Annual pride in the two axes involves a fight to the death between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa for the Tri-Nations trophy, and a hunt for the Six-Nations one with England, France, Ireland, Italy, Wales, and Scotland as hunter or prey. The Bokke walked away with the Tri-Nations last year, and drew first blood this year with two bruising home victories against the Wallabies of Australia but pundit rate the All Blacks best in world rugby right now and thus considered them a sterner test for the Springboks.
My host, with his wife, picked me up at 2:30 pm and drove three blocks to their house just across the main street in our part of town. He is training to be a dental surgeon and his wife is a lecturer at the University of South Africa. Christina and his wife became friends when they taught at Lentegeur High in Mitchells Plain, a Colored township in Cape Town. They are both wonderful people and great friends and we have benefited from their big hearts. Christina stayed with them for five weeks when the University of Pretoria made poor arrangements for her accommodations, and they hosted my welcome party. They moved here from the Cape, where they both grew up and met, five years ago. He offered me juice we arrived, and said we were waiting for another friend to watch the test on the big screen of another friend. I saw the European soccer championship match on this six-by-six TV screen projection. The picture quality was fantastic and helped make the match memorable.
The friend we were waiting on interrupted my conversation with the ever graceful lady of the house. We were introduced, and I rode in his vehicle. He thought I am at university and excused himself that he didn’t speak French when I said I am from Sierra Leone. I don’t speak French either, I said, and we are one of five English speaking nations if you think our Liberians brothers speak English, I joked.
“Most South Africans do not know a lot about the rest of Africa,” he said.
I did not disagree.
“It is a legacy of apartheid: we were never allowed to study history or literature of Africa.”
I nodded. My wife and I had many conversations about what she was allowed, or not, to read or to study in school. I can help with knowledge about West Africa, I said, in half-jest. I also thought: the apartheid régime always argued that their Blacks were better than the rest those on the continent. He dreamt of being a lawyer, but bursaries were only available to Coloreds in teaching or nursing.
“I could not get a bursary to study law,” he said with a touch of sadness.
The conversation switched to sports. For me it means soccer. He is a fan, but his son plays and is a bigger fan. He grew up playing rugby and still follows it, but he is not sure how he feels about the Springboks. I am not sure I support them, he said. I am aware of a residual of non-White support of the Boks: the financial markets of South Africa went crazy when the current finance minister was thought to favor the All Blacks against the Boks just after he was newly appointed. He continued. “Black players have to be three times as good as Whites to be selected for the Springboks.”
But soccer is not like that. We won the African Cup of Nations in 1996 with a White captain. He is right about Neil Tovey, who captained Bafana to their cup win as hosts. I have a different opinion on rugby, but I was content to just listen right now. We arrived at our destination before either of us said much else. We rushed into the house to see the pre-game and kickoff but we missed the haka, a pre-game ritual of the New Zealand All Blacks that is steeped in tradition and no doubt meant to intimidate opponents.
The host served us drinks and snacks. I limited myself to soft drinks. I was totally absorbed by the test match the minute I sat down. I don’t know the history or rules, but I followed the game from a few recognizable similarities with American football and what I learned from watching two other test matches. I suspect raw power, tactics and finesse, in that order, probably define victory in both rugby and American football. On the day, the Springboks matched the All Blacks in all three phases, and they cashed in almost all the errors of the All Blacks. The action was gripping till the end. The All Blacks threatened to score on most of their possessions. They are tenacious and they responded to the pressure from the players and the spectators. The last twenty minutes was a test of mental wills: did the Springboks have the will to preserve their lead or the All Blacks to snatch a last gasp victory? The vaunted ‘Boks prevailed and will have a say in the outcome of the Tri-Nations.
They are rugby aficionados, with passion equaling mine for soccer.
“We’ll win you away from soccer yet,” one offered.
“Possible, but not probable,” I replied.
We all laughed. The host served food and more drinks. Two of them started a round of pool. I can find the pockets on a good day, but I am not that keen on pool. I was the only one that paid any attention to the post-match analysis until man-of-match was awarded to a White player. It brought a vigorous discussion among them. They thought one of the Black players was most deserving. On occasion, the discussion disappeared into Afrikaans, but I don’t think it was meant to exclude me. My wife’s family or friends would cut to Afrikaans among themselves even when I was involved in a conversation. It is actually worse sometimes when I am among groups who speak African languages as some would insist on communicating only in the indigenous languages. I understand. It is a default reflex, sometimes to properly reflect an emotion at times like this one.
Someone apologized for excluding me from the conversation. Don’t worry, I have given as much as I am receiving, I replied. There is the problem I have with the Springboks, the host said, in English: “You have to be three times as good as a White player to either be selected or recognized.” I do not know enough about the game to comment on the decision itself. I bide my time and spoke near the end of the post-match analysis and their conversation on the award. Hey, South Africa won, and that is surely more important than who won the man-of-the match award, I offered. They all looked at me. I know it is always easier looking in from the outside. He is just a dumb foreigner, they must have thought, but humored me and nodded in agreement. I accepted an invitation to a new a round of pool matches: I am a sacrificial lamb on the pool table at these gatherings.
Color Bar: Black and Colored
I went to bed late. I read and wrote until 5 am. I woke up at to a warm sunny day at noon. We ate brunch, scrambled eggs on rolls that I chased with a blend of Earl Grey and Joko Brand teas at 1:30 pm. I did not find a job listing in my field in the careers sections of two Sunday newspapers. In the late afternoon, I read about dividends taxation and reviewed basic accounting. I am evaluating a venture in portfolio investment and one on exporting cement to Sierra Leone with two friends. I was a bit homesick and cured it with music from home during breaks from reading. I laughed at the lyrics of a track in my native language, playfully making fun of a Japanese pronunciation of the English ‘r’ by the Mende. Temne are not immune: the other groups mock our German ‘j.’ Christina started dinner around 6 pm. She made chicken and potatoes in a light stew of onion, spices, tomato paste and gartered raw tomatoes. We ate it with rice and steamed vegetables around 8 pm.
We talked about race. I am more curious about the relationship between Black and Colored people after we left the Cape on the heels of a racial controversy that caught the nation’s attention while we were there. The Black political adviser to the Black Mayor of Cape Town made incendiary remarks about Colored people on his personal website. He said Coloreds are inferior to Blacks. He was quoted saying, “Coloreds must undergo an ideological transformation if their race is to prosper and not die a drunken death.” Hateful and vitriolic, I thought. But I will be honest: the furor from both sides forced me to focus for the first time on racial differences between me and my wife. It was absolutely clear for the first time that we are a mixed-race couple in South Africa, and I gain better understanding of confusing racial terms among Non-Whites. Colored players on the Springboks, the National Rugby team, are Black. But it was clear from the uproar in the Cape that the terms Black and Colored refer to different people.
Black is a fusion of all the racial groups disadvantaged during almost two centuries of South African history. Black players on the formerly White only Springboks Rugby team refer to Non-Whites of all hue. Black Economic Empowerment seeks to redress past economic disadvantages for all Non-Whites in business ownership. But the Black rainbow masks cultural schisms based on the social engineering of apartheid’s past, including a fissure of ‘Colored’ and Black or ‘African.’ The first time I heard it, my wife used the term ‘African’ to distinguish Coloured from Black in reference to South Africa while we were living abroad. More recently, my brother-in-law’s wife referred to the three ‘African guys’ on Hopefield’s police corps. It resonated differently this time: I am better schooled and I know African does not include Coloured in that context. I chuckled at the irony: surely every South African, black, white, colored or Indian, is African?
I reopened a dialogue on her heritage, or that of Colored people in Hopefield, we tabled after she gave me a tour and history of White Hopefield during our last visit. It’s clear even now, as it was in Hopefield, and from recollections of the past, that this is a difficult subject. The Colored people, a majority in Western Cape Province, bear a multiple heritage. I was most curious about the Khoi-San heritage of Coloreds who trace a part of their ancestry to the Khoi-San. I have read about the Khoi-San heritage, but I have not met anyone with a distinctly Khoi-San name in Hopefield, or even in Cape Town. What are some distinct or identifiable remnants of Khoi-San culture among modern social mores of the Colored people? Much or most of Khoi-San heritage is lost or ignored, she replied. Remember much of the recorded history of modern South Africa was written by European settler or colonialist, and they portrayed Khoi-San as backward and barbaric.
My other question was about Bantu and Khoi-San. The relationship between Bantu and aborigines of Southern Africa is not sufficiently explored in the history of South Africa I have read or learned. The first wave of Bantu migration may have occurred before the tenth century. It means Bantu and aborigine live in Southern Africa more than a half millennium before the first White settlement on Table Bay in the Cape of Good Hope. It is impossible they did not interact with each other in any way for three hundred years before Europeans arrived in the Cape. It is difficult to answer questions about history before 1652 because the academic interest has centered on the history of the country since the White Settlement. I am most curious about the effect of Bantu migration to Southern Africa. For obvious reasons, I am more curious about the historical relationship between the Bantu and aborigines before the Europeans.
Christina seldom displays strong opinions on race or nationality, and we seldom disagreed on them when we lived abroad. So I laughed one week after South Africa lost to Ghana in a World Cup 2006 qualifying match when she looked me in the eye, paused, and said, “I will not go to Germany if Bafana fails to qualify.” We were waiting for the caretaker in front of Aldoel, her office building, on a cloudless spring afternoon. When I stopped laughing, I playfully dubbed it the Aldoel Declaration and wrote it on the white board in her office. But I did not laugh at her reaction to comments the Mayor of Cape Town’s political advisor made about Coloureds.
“He can go back where he came from,” she said, referring to Zimbabwe, where he was born.
He is a South African citizen now, I reminded her. I believe I have read he only became one in the eighties or even later, she replied, “I wouldn’t go to a person’s house and insult them.” It should not matter nearly as much as you and critics make where he was born or when he became a citizen. “Are you saying the insults would have stung less if they were uttered by a Black citizen that was born in South Africa?”
We viewed the issue with slightly different lens. I am a foreigner, one with a peculiar view of Africa. I came of political age around the end of the second decade of independence. My lessons in history portrayed Africans as one people: kindred through our ancestors, our struggles to be liberated and to overcome poverty and underdevelopment. We were taught to dream Kwame Nkrumah’s dream of a United States of Africa that would bring back glories of Mali, Songhai, Ghana and Zimbabwe. We danced to Bob Marley’s song on African unity, and held youthful hope it would come to pass. I strongly condemned the comments of the adviser about the Coloured people, but did not see him as much of a foreigner. In my mind, the Black peoples of Southern Africa essentially share a common heritage. What is the likelihood that the colonial boarders of South Africa would have been drawn to include Zimbabwe?
The erudite Professor Ali Mazrui, first, perhaps, among peers in the study of African history and politics, mused in a City Press newspaper article that no country has achieved economic development without using an indigenous language. If it were so, are we doomed to underdevelopment in the beloved continent? It means our best human and capital resources must be devoted first to the delicate and sometimes volatile issue of language before we can achieve economic development. For which of more than five hundred languages in poly-ethnic Niger-Congo delta would you develop without disturbing delicate ethnic balances? What would stop Ogoni from rejecting Hausa, Yoruba or Ibo in Nigeria? Is it possible to develop all, even most, of even the major indigenous languages in Nigeria with more than four hundred indigenous languages or Democratic Republic of Congo or Cameroon, with more than two hundred, without resources from economic development?
A washing of the spear
My batting average on the eleven official languages in South Africa is very poor: one of eleven. I am determined to change this. Two months ago, I found a ten week course for beginners in Afrikaans, offered by the University of Pretoria. The class was scheduled for the first Monday in September. It would meet once a week for three hours. I could not find a less expensive one in the two months before the scheduled start. I phone the course coordinator on Friday and inquired if I could register and then attend the first session of the class on Monday afternoon. I also proposed to pay half the fees now and the remainder a month later. She referred me to the instructor, who agreed. I filled the form two hours before the first class started at 5:30 pm. The questions and information requested on the form hinted that the course caters for staff of embassies or foreign corporate employees. I took the form to the coordinator an hour before the scheduled start of class and paid one thousand Rand.
I had not been on the main campus of the University of Pretoria since the chats in the Finance and Budget Office about my skills and experience almost three months ago. My business today was in the opposite direction of my prior visits. I took the form to the Graduate Center on the east side of campus near the Law School. The coordinator directed me to walk west from there to a huge multi-storied building near the main entrance on Lynwood Drive. I was hungry for a snack, and had forty minutes before class started, but I first located the room on the fifteenth floor of the right building before I bought chocolate in a campus kiosk next to a bookstore and student center. My eye caught a poster that read: “English only ‘is erger as slegs blankers.’”
“‘English only is worse than Whites only,’” my wife translated.
I arrived first for class. I looked at photos on the wall to the right of the entrance: all the prominent pictures had White faces. My eyes wandered away from the wall to a lovely view through the window of these east parts of Pretoria, or Tshwane if you will, set in a valley.
I had four classmates: a lady from Australian and a gentleman from New Zealand, who are married to South Africans and two ladies affiliated with the Finish Embassy in South Africa. The Instructor is tall and thin, with dark brown hair, and he wore slacks and a blue T-shirt. He introduced himself his English had a heavy Afrikaans accent. I will start with a short history of Afrikaans as a language, along with statistics on languages from the Census in 2001. I would also like to clear misconceptions about Afrikaans before we start with today’s lesson. But first, please say who you are and why you are learning Afrikaans, and what you expect to get out of the class. I want to learn Afrikaans to be able to have conversation with my sister-in-law and the rest of my wife’s family. Also, I am looking for a job and I would like to be able to speak more than rugby to break the ice, and finally, I am reading about the early history of the Cape and hope I can learn enough to be able to read some documents in Afrikaans.
The history of the Afrikaans language starts in the mid 17th century, in The Netherlands, and with Jan van Riebeeck. The instructor told us that the type or accent of Dutch van Riebeeck brought to the Cape in 1652 was that spoken in Holland, the region of The Netherlands where he was born. For the greater part of two centuries, the language of the Cape remained, officially, Dutch. But a new lingua franca evolved between 1652 and 1875 as interactions between slaves from Malagasy, Ceylon, India, Mozambique, Angola and Dahomey combined with Khoi-San to found a new way of communicating that was different from the official Dutch. A new language emerged that still had its spirit in Dutch but now borrowed from the languages of the participants in two centuries of human drama in the Cape. By 1875, a group known as the AVR was formed to advocate for Afrikaans and one hundred years ago this year, Afrikaans gained status as a new language, distinct from Dutch.
The first misconception the instructor cleared was the role of the Afrikaans language in the Soweto uprising of 1976, in which a majority Black students protested against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of all instruction in Soweto’s schools.
“The language did not oppress anyone. It was used by people in power … but the language was not the oppressor,” he said.
“Huh?” I thought.
Another impression, he continued, is that Afrikaans is a mother-tongue of ‘White People.’ On the contrary, Colored South Africans are the largest group of Afrikaans mother-tongue speakers. That is true. A much higher percentage of Coloureds, about eighty percent, speak Afrikaans than Whites, among whom it is slightly more than fifty percent although there are only about two percent more Whites than Coloreds in the total population. The combined proportion of mother-tongue speakers of Afrikaans among White and Colored South Africans, thirteen percent, is third only to Zulu, at twenty-two percent, and Xhosa, eighteen percent. I would save this for Christina, I thought, but I commended a clever used of statistics.
He found support in the plight of the Maori in New Zealand, mistreatment of the aboriginal tribes of Australia, and chauvinism of Sweden and Russia in Finland, all highlighted by my classmates: the Afrikaners simply joined an elite company in history that sought to impose their language and culture on others. He continued: Afrikaans is the language of a majority in three of the nine South African provinces and more people speak Afrikaans as a third language than they do English. On and on: their Black maid would never understand a request for tea and cookies in English, but would snap to attention when he gave it in Afrikaans. He did not say that the population in the three provinces he mentioned is less than a fifth of the country’s, nor that a lot of Blacks in present day Guateng, North-West and Free State Provinces were probably forced to learn the baas’ language.
I thought we would start the lesson at last after we returned from a short break around 7:30 pm. He had a few more nuggets. I don’t want to make this a political lesson, he said but he did. What about Robert Mugabe’s actions in Zimbabwe? And, here in South Africa, most Blacks do not think their lives better since 1994. Really! He saved the best for last. A Zulu student almost fought a Xhosa in his Afrikaans class on who makes better, or the best, pap. I believe Afrikaner oppression of the majority in South Africa is peculiar. I agree that no nation, or group, has a monopoly on evil, or virtue.
“But you were trying to write the majority here out of history.”
We must not wash the spears with the perverse logic that the Afrikaners are justified by because they sharing the platform of evil with others. My opinion had come full circle from when he first said language, while difficult in the South Africa milieu, can also be “… a very creative issue, depending on your perspective.”
He reminded me of my conversation with an urbane White South African I met almost twenty years ago between Harwich and Hamburg. We shared a cabin on the overnight trip on New Year’s Eve, and chatted through dinner and drinks in the bars on the magnificent vessel. He tried to convince me there was no problem with racial discrimination in South Africa. The only problem, he assured me, was that fostered by the African National Congress in their bid to turn South Africa into a Communist state, a satellite of Russian if it were allowed wrest political power. He was cleverly sold, and bought, a great ruse, one that no doubt entrenched his privilege as a White South African, and the status quo. I countered with Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh, and argued that the United States probably miscalculated the communist loyalties of a patriot who first, and perhaps, always, put a free Vietnam above all else, one who simply turned to the East when the West failed to understand that Vietnam had jealously guarded her independence for more than a thousand years.
Tower of Babel
Christina and her friend were alarmed at my talk of riding a taxi to do business in the city center. Taxis have a reputation for being aggressive, which I can confirm, and accident-prone, on which my jury is still out. The taxis here can’t be worse than those at home that hardly obey traffic rules and operate under far more risky conditions, I protested. But you are familiar with those in your home, Christina argued. She drove me everywhere in the last three months to make sure I did not ride the taxis. I defied her on Thursday morning. I worked in secret. Christina’s friend is an encyclopedia of Pretoria, but I did not reveal my plans even though I did not know where to get a schedule: I was sure she did not know or probably would not tell me. I would simply ask other passengers at the depot on Atterbury Drive. It occurred to me to ask the security guard who rides a taxi to work from Mamelodi, the Black township of Pretoria. It was, like he said, easy: when the taxi approached, I raised my hand straight up above the head it would have been ninety degrees for Mamelodi.
There were no more than five passengers on the off-white Nissan kombi or minibus, and most of the empty seats were in the back, but a passenger made way for me near the front of the taxi. He greeted me in Sesotho when I sat next to him. I smiled broadly and muttered a soft reply. The driver pulled off before I sat down and was soon honking at other passengers. He filled up the taxi halfway through the trip: he followed the fifteen passenger limit of the law and the door is always closed. It baffled me at first that he did not have an assistant to collect the fare, but I got it halfway through our trip. The passengers collected the six Rand fare from each other and passed it to others in front of them until it reached the driver. I learned quickly: I passed sixteen rand forward handed to me by a passenger in a seat behind mine and watched with great admiration that the driver did not count the proceeds even though the monies passed through several hands before reaching his. I was intrigued, and I planned more trips and different routes to observe this magnificent manifestation of trust.
I thought we were near the last station when everyone paid. I turned to the passenger sitting next to me and asked where I would get a taxi to Van De Walt Street.
“We are going to Van De Walt,” he replied to my utter relief.
“It is my first time,” I confessed.
“I understand,” he replied with a smile.
When the driver turned north from Walker Street to Van De Walt Street, I asked him where to get a taxi back to Faerie Glen. Walk east on Pretorius Street until you get to Prinsloo Street. Turn left and walk to the near end of the street. The taxis to Faerie Glean from the city center leave from a depot near an open market there. I thanked him, got off at Vermeulen Street, and walked southwards past many trading stalls to Pretorius Street. I walked west on Pretorius until Bosman Street. The job ad did not give the physical address of the Department of Education, but a parking attendant directed me to turn right onto Schoeman from Bosman Street and walk to the building before the next street on the left.
I walked to the intersection and watched the traffic light to cross to the right side of Schoeman. A middle-aged lady with a beautiful fair complexion addressed me in Sesotho. It was the fourth time since I started walking from Vermeulen, less than a kilometer away, that smile and pretended I did, or say I did not speak Sesotho. She lost her way translating what she said in English and gave up. Just as suddenly as biology suggested a kinship, language put a Great Wall of China between us. Our beloved continent is the Tower of Babel, I thought in frustration. I want to reply in perfect Sesotho, in isiXhosa, isiZulu or Setswana when they address me in those beautiful languages of Africa, to tell them I come from a land of Africa, too. I was rescued from my frustration by a grey, unimpressive building that holds the dreams of the future in the rainbow nation.
I bought a chicken and mushroom pie and a vanilla coke for lunch in a smaller branch of King Pie near the Department of Home Affairs on Pretorius after I dropped off the applications. I read Pretoria News, ‘The Paper for the People of Tshwane’ – I admired their original approach to the Pretoria-Tshwane issue – during lunch. The Pretoria News does not differ much from The Star, the other main English language daily based in Johannesburg. The headlines differ, but the majority of the stories are similar, and some of features written by the same people. I have not paid a lot of attention to their editorials to detect where both stand on the political spectrum. For these reasons, we buy both newspapers at random except on the weekends for local information on movies or entertainment. The lead story today is on the death, at twenty-two, of rugby star in the making. His car overturned on the N1 highway in the early hours of the morning. I quickly checked the remainder of the headlines and stories after I read the sad story of the rugby player.
I walked through Volkstem Avenue, a side street from Pretorius, to Schoeman Street to cut my hair. The section of Schoeman between Bosman and Prinsloo is populated with barber shops operated, it seems, mostly by foreigners, Africans from north of the Kalahari. I asked for an Afro – one, to my chagrin that will stand no more than an inch – cut with slight fades on the sides. I wanted my beard trimmed, not cut, and taped: my sister-in-law recently joined a chorus of the fairer sex – including my wife – that likes me in a trimmed mane. The barber was excellent and I was generous with a tip. I walked leisurely towards Nelson Mandela Avenue. I could not resist an hour in an Internet Café at five Rand. The streets were full of shoppers hunting bargains in strip malls in the city center, and among street merchants offering their wares from stalls or toting them around the center of the city. It was near the rush hour. I walked to the end of Prinsloo and got a taxi to Faerie Glen. I marveled, again, as fares passed through several hands to the driver, who simply put his hand in his pocket.
A Black guy in the family
Christina’s uncle by marriage predicted when she was young that she would marry someone from a land far away. I am not sure if he meant one as far as mine, or someone of my heritage, but I made his prediction true. When she returned to Hopefield with a ring in 1994, everyone was curious who the lucky guy was. It is probably a White American, some were heard to whisper. The wife of her Dad’s friend did not bite her gossiping tongue when she learned I was neither White nor American, but was, as a matter of fact, Black. My sister-in-law told my wife of her hurtful comments after we were married and together abroad. I know the comments bothered her for a long time. We have always talked about these and many other serious issues about our backgrounds, but our discussions have assumed a different tone since I arrived here in April, and they have resonated differently since my penultimate visit to Hopefield. It has occurred to me for the first time to ask what my future in-laws and her family thought when we met for the first time.
Christina seldom initiates our conversations on race or heritage, but she always all my questions about them honestly. Our conversation today started on the formerly all White school in Hopefield and touched on how her Aunt reacted to whom she was marrying. The school is now integrated: Black and Colored students are in the classroom and the hostels. How are race relations among the students in the hostels? Christina asked a Colored lady working there. She was visiting my mother-in-law after she was discharged from hospital. She replied that the children relate to each other very well. Friendships are developing across the races, she said, and recounted an instance of watching a rainbow group playing obliviously in a hallway of the hostels. Christina said her Aunt, who was present, made profound comments on the lady’s remarks.
“It was incredible to hear her say this after her attitude about us getting married.”
It had never come up in any of our conversations, even on matters of race.
“What was her attitude?” I asked.
“There is very little you would say to change my mind about people and things in your family now.” Well, it was just incredible to see how far she has come from the way she reacted our wedding to the comments she made to the lady who works in the school hostel.
I don’t quite remember her exact words but she said to the lady we must all get to know each other and learn to live with each other. It was quite profound to me.
“And it was a contrast to what she thought about us being married?”
She paused again.
“She apparently asked why I had to bring a black guy into the family.”
Phew. Thank the gods for the value of ignorant hindsight. I am not sure how I would have reacted to that during my first visit or just before we were married. I am happy I did not have that hurdle in my mind when I set out to establish relationships with all in the family.
I would like to know what my future parents thought in 1995. I paid very little attention to race or heritage, but there is little doubt in my mind now that it was a factor, even, perhaps, a major one, for them. I arrived in South Africa and Hopefield in 1995 preoccupied with the fear that I was taking a critical step without my parents, family or friends. I did not ignore race, especially after the remarks of my Black South African friend, but it was not the issue I assigned the most weight then: it simply did not occur to me that my race or heritage would withhold blessings from my future in-laws or family. Christina said she sensed strong disapproval from her Mother when she opted to spend December 1994 with me: “She felt I was pursuing you, and that was wrong.”
“I can understand that.” I want to believe that would be a parent’s prerogative.
“You impressed her when you sent them cards at Christmas. A friend told me she was impressed with how my Mom described you, as my husband, to her.”
That is exactly why I want to know. She was guarded when we were introduced, and I have always wondered about her words after I stated my quest. It was the third day of my first visit to Hopefield. We had just finished a lovely meal in the living room of the family. I remember two glasses of red wine to help steady my nerves. I did not beat around the bush. I am here to ask for the hand of your daughter, I remember saying. My hopes went up after Darrie spoke.
“It is all right,” he said.
I probably disarmed him a week earlier in Cape Town when I reached for the culinary skills my Grandmother placed in my trust and made him peanut butter stew. It was different with Mamie: She was all class and steel. She seemed determined to not make it easy for me. I recall now the stare of her eyes, the steel in her voice, and her words, in perfect English.
“If you ever get tired of being with her, you must bring her back to me.”
I did not ask what she meant. I was overwhelmed by the delivery and weight of her words. In retrospect, it was no more than a definite maybe.
Christina interjected: I believe that was more for my benefit I think she doubted that I could live up to the responsibility of what I was about to take on, she said. I have not discussed it with her, but I sometimes feel like Christina walks a tightrope between her family, heritage and her choice to spend life with me. I have questions about where her genuine enthusiasm about my modest capabilities end and a latent Guess Who is Coming to Dinner syndrome starts. The printer of the local newspaper inflated my resume on the wedding announcement, saying I was a lecturer in economics. I let her know I was much displeased. I believed her when she said she had nothing to do with it. However, I cannot help feeling it served a purpose for her, especially when I recently heard her boast to my brother-in-law about her Dean’s exaggerated comments after reading my resume. I cannot shake off a strong feeling that some on her side of the family work too hard to make me comfortable, a fact which only serves to exacerbate my status as a bit of an outsider.
I am not suggesting a dark underlying purpose in her actions. I only wonder if she is dealing with a bit more for choosing to marry one who does not speak Afrikaans, does not share a similar background, and one who requires additional efforts to communicate. I cannot help feeling in some circles of family and friends that she must deals with perceptions engendered by who I am. I picked up hints on these during all my visits, but the trail has been hotter in the last five months. Try as hard as I do not to be, I sometimes feel like I am an intruder. Everyone must speak in English when I am around. But am I, perhaps, making more than there is to it? Is it possible that my antenna is more sensitive from living here?
The angels in my bible
I felt her enormous warmth and energy the first time we met. Christina returned from the interview in the University of Pretoria in March 2004 raving about a lecturer who made her feel welcome and enthusiastic about the University of Pretoria. When she learned I had arrived in South Africa, she called and spoke to me on the phone, and when we finally met, she hugged me with the warmth of a long lost friend. She made me feel welcome. She phoned with information to help me with immigration and employment in the weeks after I arrived, and she always urged me to persevere with all the challenges.
“Don’t worry, everything is going to be all right,” she would say with a smile that always lifted my spirit. She earned a PhD in education administration from Michigan State University and is lecturer in the University of Pretoria and the Director of the UNESCO Center at the University of Pretoria.
We had not seen each other for quite a while when she phoned to see if we had time for lunch. She recently took a short break to care to take care of her health around the time we rushed to the Cape when my mother-in-law receive a pacemaker. We picked her up from the covered parking lot near Aldoel Building and drove a short distance on George Storar Street to Café 41 in the Greonkloof Plaza. She was doing better, she said when we sat down, but the doctor advised her not to eat bread for six weeks. No bread for six week: that would be just enough to kill Christina, I thought. A tall waiter walked over and asked for our orders. We started with drinks as we were too busy catching up to study the menu. When he returned, Christina settled for a fruit and ice cream desert, our guest ordered pasta and I asked for a chicken mayonnaise sandwich on wheat bread. The café is a popular spot and was almost full even though we arrived after the official lunch hours, around 2:30 pm.
Christina talked about meeting that morning with the head of Department of Education Leadership and colleagues in an inter-university center housed in the Faculty of Education. They met to discuss a potential bid for a grant to train school leaders in financial management. The executive director of the center emphasized that the project was a nonstarter without a PDI, a previously disadvantaged individual. What about a CDI, currently disadvantaged individual? the head of Department asked. The speaker reiterated that the project had to have a Black individual to even be considered by the Department of Education. She reiterated near the end. Even if you send and angel from heaven, the contract would not be awarded without if the angel is not a PDI.
“All the angels in my Bible are White,” Christina said the head of Department replied.
“But don’t you qualify as a PDI?” I asked.
“Yes, but White South Africans want solidarity with Coloureds when it suits them,” she replied.
You can’t bring him home
My curiosity about how my new family reacted to my heritage increased after the weekend. Christina invited a younger cousin to spend the weekend and belatedly celebrate her twenty-seventh birthday. We planned to tease her for being quiet about news of a new beau. She did not exclude us from her complaints about the scarcity of men in the city. She is third in a line of four and only daughter of Christina’s youngest paternal aunt. She grew up in De Doorns, where she and Christina were born, but they are spending more time since she moved here from the Northern Cape in May. We kicked-off with early dinner in the Kelder, a bar and restaurant located in an upscale division near Faerie Glen. The girls said it was unimaginable for two Coloureds ladies and a Black guy to be served at the Kelder before 1994. The staff treated us with class. Christina tried ostrich meat for the first time, the birthday girl ordered steak and I settled for kingklip fish. All complimented the chef when we left, in good time to get cake in a family store and rent DVDs from a nearby rental.
I met our guest of honor’s Mother for the first time when she visited in the middle of July to see how her daughter is settling in the city. I looked forward to meeting her. Christina always told the story of the aunt that she gave her money to pay registration at the University of the Western Cape. She would have lost her bursary and place that year without her generosity. The government gave her a bursary, but books, registration and pocket money, not covered in the bursary, were not easy for many families, including hers with five children in school. Also, the bursary did not pay cash until the middle of the year. We invited her to dinner during her visit. She is among those who say they are shy about speaking English. She hardly said a word to me, but she smiled and occasionally spoke to me through Christina or her sons. She was not present when we were married, so Christina showed her pictures of that and also recent photos of the third generation in Hopefield. I showed pictures of my family I took while I was in home.
Our guest was reserved when we were first introduced. She is my youngest sister’s age, and while fluent in English, is infinitely more comfortable communicating in Afrikaans. Our relationship has grown and we now communicate with ease however, she talks with Christina more, and mostly in Afrikaans, when three of us are together. While we were waiting see if the first restaurant was open, I teased her about the new friend. She got back at me with my pronunciation in Afrikaans. I asked his name. She looked at Christina.
“No, tell him yourself.”
You are the one who is kissing him.”
We all laughed.
“And what does it mean?”
“I believe it means pride.”
He apparently loves soccer, Christina said. Then he must be a great fellow, and I like him already. But he is very young, she said while we were eating dinner. She nodded when I asked if he is mature in thought and action. Well, then you should not make an issue of his age if there isn’t one, I said.
She talked more with Christina about him. They occasionally spoke in English.
“He is Tswana.”
“Do you communicate in Afrikaans?”
I am ware that many Blacks in Gauteng speak Afrikaans.
“No, in English,” she replied.
“Really, and you play shy when it is me.”
She giggled. People stare at them everywhere, she said to Christina.
“Same with us,” I reminded Christina.
“They do?” Christina asked in reply, always the optimist.
She said her Mother did not react well to the relationship. She introduced him when her Mother visited a second visit in August. She first objected to the difference in their ages. Then she said she did not approve of the relationship. I don’t understand her objection on account of the difference in their ages, I said. I don’t believe it is the main issue, Christina replied. She said her Mother said, “’You cannot bring him home,’” Christina continued.
“So am I welcome in her home?”
“Well she apparently loves you.”
Oh glory, I thought to myself.
I am not a White Man
I am trying to embrace the rainbow nation, to understand all its peoples. Two weeks ago, I emailed the American Chamber of Commerce in South Africa for an appointment to search for information on US companies operating here. I then inquired about a taxi to the Chamber’s office in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg. To be sure about the right taxi in the morning, I walked south from Schoeman Street after I cut my hair to Bosman Street, where taxis takeoff for Johannesburg. I was beckoned by a great tune from the speakers of a street entrepreneur near the corner of Bosman and Scheiding. He did not have a compact disk of the album.
“I will get one for you if you come back next week.”
“Sharp, my brother,” he replied.
I asked one of two drivers standing next to their taxis where I would catch one to Johannesburg. He pointed to a cove straight ahead from where we stood near the southern edge of Bosman Street.
I crossed the street to an open market on the other side of Bosman Street and walked past stalls of food, clothing, more music and artifacts. I continued into the cove. Rows of taxis stood on the left column. An elderly lady asked me – I guess in Sesotho – about a destination that was different from the city of gold. It occurred to me some of the taxis in the cove went to different cities. Someone pointed to the end of the cove when I asked half way through. I walked to the end, straight to another opening adjourning the cove. Taxis where randomly parked there, waiting to take a row in the departure column. It is a system. Passengers filled the minivans and with the help of a marshall. The vans took off through an opening near the end of the cove. Those waiting at the opening then took an empty row in the departure column. I did not have much luck with the first driver. He did not speak English, nor did he have time as he was hustling for the next row on the departure column when a near full taxi took off. He did not ignore me, but his eyes were focused on the prize ahead. “Go there,” he said, pointing to a platform next to a half-full taxi.
I lost a bit of my confidence. Black South Africans are particular about their indigenous languages, especially among the man in the street. I summoned courage and approached the first driver on the platform. He was a mountain of a man, dark, but with laughing eyes. He was pulling quickly and violently at the last dregs of a cigarette.
“I would like to ride your taxi to Johannesburg early in the morning.”
His gay eyes brightened. I was not sure if he was pleased or startled.
“Why do you want to ride my taxi?” he said, emphasizing on the last two words.
“Well, you look friendly and I thought you would take me where I need to go.”
His laughter was full throated, almost as if he was relieved. Phew, the tokoloshe did not send this one, I imagined he may have thought. I will take you if we are both here at the same time, he replied. He threw the butt and walked away in haste: his taxi was full, ready to leave for the city of gold. I did not get to ask him how to get to my destination in Houghton.
I observed the activity inside the cove for ten minutes. Taxis were filling quickly from a wave that brought many passengers headed for the city of gold. Most of them knew the system. Those who did not spoke to a marshall in the indigenous languages, probably the Sotho group of languages. I did not hear a word in English, or even Afrikaans, in the time I stood in the cove. My confidence sank further. Go home, it is useless, a voice urged me. No, you must keep trying, another said almost immediately. I searched for clues. The majority of passengers were African, and women. I felt a second wind of courage. I walked to the next driver. He hurried off before I asked a question. His taxi was full. I had even less luck with a third. He was short with me. We had two monologues his in Sesotho, mine in English. Exasperated, he pointed to the marshall.
“I am not a White man … go there.”
The marshall could not help me, his English smithereens and my Sesotho nonexistent. I walked off the cove with my head down. Christina drove me to Johannesburg the next morning.
Do the gods test me?
Do the gods test me with these challenges? Do they test to gauge or strengthen my mettle? But the gods know my mettle! Do the gods forge limb and sinew, and we our mettle? Is my fate really in the hands of the gods? I have three score and ten: am I the captain of my ship, the maestro of my destiny?
Afrikaans will not die!
I have not given much thought to my progress in learning Afrikaans. I felt confident after the first two weeks, but I am lost near the halfway line. It is never easy to learn a new language more than half way through your three score and ten. I only muse silently that I can get away with occasionally hauling some gall at my better half with claims of practicing the Afrikaans g, which I have to bring from my stomach. I laugh to hear native speakers’ insist everywhere that Afrikaans is ‘n maklik taal, an easy language. I felt confident today and startled the department’s secretary in the hallway with greetings in Afrikaans. I impressed her using U, the formal you in Afrikaans, in my salutation. Her eyes were brighter than an owl’s when she replied. She gazed with a mix of wonder and delight. I believe she really saw me, perhaps for the first time.
She struggled for words momentarily. He is in beginners Afrikaans on the main campus, Christina said. Ja, that is great, she said when she recovered. She then showered me with praise.
“Your diction is wonderful.”
“That is very kind of you to say.”
“But they are saying Afrikaans is dying, so you are wasting your money, and your time, learning it.” “Ack, but I must still talk with in-laws my new family in Afrikaans.”
I struck a chord and I believe our relationship was changed for good by this brief encounter. She was always cordial and smiled during our infrequent encounters, but I saw the glint in her eyes this time when I said goodbye, in Afrikaans. I saw her excitement when she told everyone later in the hallways and tea room later in the day that I am learning and speak excellent Afrikaans.
Native Afrikaans speakers fear a wave that would drown the language. The majority is descending into formerly exclusive spatial domains. The choice open to Afrikaans mother-tongue speakers is Hobesian: English or nine indigenous African languages. So Afrikaner students in the University of Pretoria went on strike in August against the onslaught of English in their traditionally Afrikaans institution. The university is increasing course offerings in English. English is the compromise for the majority who has not, so far, demanded instruction in their mother-tongues which have equal status in the constitution. They clearly prefer their own languages, but if the choice is between English and Afrikaans, they seem reconciled against the later. One took me to lunch recently and he was surprised at my assertion that Afrikaans will probably not die.
“Really, you don’t think so?” he retorted.
“No.” It will probably lose the lofty status it once had, but I don’t believe it will die in rural Western Cape or Northern Cape.
Turning and turning, in the widening gyre ….
I must not let things fall apart. I must hold on to my hopes and fill them every time they fade. I do not see light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I must keep an open mind I must triumph over the feeling that I must leave to breathe again. I love South Africa but does she, or will she, ever love me? I must make her love me, but is it not better to let her love me? She needs me. I believe that to be true. I read daily of a dearth of professionals, of skilled administrators. I can help especially in the public sector, where I have the most experience and where need is most acute. I have circulated resumes in the network of people I have met. I am forced to wonder: does anyone want my help? Oh, the words of hope. Do not despair, everyone tells me. They tell me stories of all who hung in until it all worked out in the end I am not alone in the tunnel. I despair: I do not see a ray at the end of the tunnel. I have toiled long and hard for the light. I do not wish to denigrate the paths others have traveled, but I took a road less traveled. Am I selfish to want the light?
“You cannot be denied a work permit if you are married to a citizen.”
I had hives of withdrawal from three months without a visit to the Department of Home Affairs. I went back today to get clarification on work authorization and to check on my application for the permanent resident permit. The associate who interviewed us for the permit advised me to check on the status of the application after three months. I left home around 11:30 am and took a taxi into town. It is a good time to go into town in a taxi. It was half-empty and we saw very little traffic into town. I arrived on the hour. I resisted the usual suspects pushing photos, pens and other goods of the trade outside the building. It was virtually empty inside. I saw very few customers and no queues in the domestic sections. I have read of the Department’s efforts to serve the public better. Has productivity improved here? I mused. I was eighth in the queue in Room 104, but all three counters were manned and the line moved faster than other times. I arrived in less than twenty minutes.
I was fortunate to see the same associate a fourth time. I held out a form she gave me during my last visit, pointing to her hand written notes. She half-smiled. I asked my question: Does an employer have to show a reason for hiring me beyond the fact that I am married to a citizen? She took the form from me. You fill here and the employer here, she said, marking the two sections in ink.
“I got that,” I told her.
I turned to the penultimate page and showed her the subsection where the employer must indicate no South African qualified for a job I am offered.
No, you only have to indicate you are married to a citizen and bring the supporting documents.
You can’t be denied a work permit if you are married to a citizen.”
My thoughts exactly! I thanked her. Six months, five visits to Home Affairs, a consultation with an immigration practitioner and numerous conversations with friends of friends who work, or worked, in immigration to establish what I have always believed to be true.
I slowly mounted the marbled staircases to check on my application for the permanent resident permit. I was feeling lucky. Everything roses today, I whispered to myself. A dirty waiting room with ugly hard benches on the west wall – replacing most of the cushioned chairs – wiped the snout from my face. I sat on one of the chairs to catch my breadth and observe the activity in the room. It was like old times: clients moved in and out of the office at random. Are you in line? I asked four with their backs against a proverbial weeping wall nearest to the office. They said no, in unison. I rushed in when two lanky clients came out of the office. The lights were off in the office, and it was dimly lit by the sun. The room had its usual appearance – unsavory – made worse by the lighting and a huge pile of electrical cable on the visible part of the floor. I sat on the garnet visitors’ chair expecting the agent to send me back to sign in or take my turn in line. She merely looked up at me, expectantly.
“You don’t even light?”
“No, it is hot with the lights on and we do not have an air con in this room.”
Pity, I thought.
“I am here to check on my permanent resident application.”
I gave her the date of my interview.
“I am sure it is not ready.”
“Please phone and make sure I not missing any documents.”
“Everything is in order.”
“So when must I check again?”
She hesitated, and then she gave me the company line. It will take a long time. The new procedure requires us now to send all applications to the Department of Intelligence first for the security check. Only then do we start processing them internally.
“I just need your best guess on when I should check on it again.”
She was a bit irritated.
“It should not be soon.
What if I said you should come back in January?”
She thought it would upset me.
“I will come back in January then, and thank you.”
I would not scream, so I allowed myself a moment of unbridled optimism when I walked out into a warm beautiful mid-afternoon. Words of Johnny Nash waltzed in my head.
I can see clearly now … I can see all obstacles in my way ….
I stood in front of the building for a moment and mulled the events of the past hour. I went to the crux of the matter: I can toss pizzas or pump petrol nay, I can dig graves to earn a keep. What about the ten thousand pound dragon of twenty-six – or forty – percent unemployment that I must slay, with the bull’s eye, ama kweri kweri, foreigner, on my chest? All true, but the law is on my side.
“Don’t get too carried away.
This, after all, is your beloved Africa” a voice warned me.
Enough then, Johnny, I pleaded, but he ignored my objections.
I let him: Here is the rainbow I've been praying for….
My lens on the rainbow nation have been altered by this my fifth visit to Home Affairs.
I celebrated with a haircut. I returned to the shop and barber I have visited the last four times. They had a Nigerian movie on tap. The premise of two rascals torturing their blind grandfather is awful, but I recognized the two talented and funny pint-sized lead characters. The barber knows the style that I want. I walked into a good buy of the Internet on the same street when I left, but the network went down after fifteen minutes. I started my merry way home. I walked east on Pretorius Street and detoured through a market square on Church Street and onto Van De Walt Street. I smiled at a dialogue in Nigerian pidgin English inside the square. Young, mostly Black, people filled the square, engaged in honest but low-skilled economic activity. One wore a cardboard ad for a beauty parlor on her neck. Others handed flyers for traditional doctors. I took most, read and then threw away, all except one. Dr. Magezi, it said, will solve all my problems, chief among them – yes, you have guessed right – those in the bedroom. I was tempted, but I did not phone the good Dr.
I bought a chicken and mushroom pie and a canned soft drink from Woolworths inside a mall on Church, Prinsloo, and Van De Walt Streets. I ate lunch under the protection of a tree and observed the people inside the square. Black women caught my eye with their style and manner of dress. They seem comfortable with their endowments: jeans are contour-tight and slacks are cut to fit exactly, especially among the young, but there was competition from my age group. I walked into two stores after lunch, but I had had my fill of the city. I started a slow descent to Prinsloo to get a taxi home. My ears caught a familiar sound halfway from the taxi depot: the Muslim call to prayer. I stood for a few minutes, hoping to live in a few minutes of my youth, but I strained to hear it above the hum and din of the city. I persisted but lost to the motor horns and the union of tire and paved streets on the busy streets of Africa’s Capital City. I did not have to wait long for a taxi to Faerie Glen.
Of tribes and men.
It is probably true to say that the rainbow nation hold a special place in the hearts of most Africans, especially those south of the Sahara. In a land where experiments in self-governance and democracy are inconclusive at best, it holds the great hope that men of Black African descent can successfully run a modern nation. In the near half century since independence in the early sixties, the African peoples have invested this promise on a few nations. Ghana, the Black pearl, under the charismatic Kwame Nkrumah, whom they called Osagefo, savior, was the voice of the sixties after winning independence as the first black African nation. Nigeria combined it human resources and wealth from oil to lead in the seventies: she was probably the key player in the denouement in Angola. There was also Egypt under the alluring Gamal Abdel Nasser but it has rightly been said about Egypt that while her body belongs to Africa, her soul is Arab.
Ghana and Nigeria both faltered and Cote D’Ivoire flirted with leading in the eighties. The Rainbow Nation assumed the mantle of the hope of Africa in the nineties following the end of apartheid. But it has done so with some of mines that were hidden in the first independent nations of Black Africa. Chief among them is the question of ethnic or tribal versus national identity. There are few nations where ethnic and national identities are synonymous and history teaches us it is the first challenge of the new political elite to forge a new national identity from the disparate ones that makes up our nations. We know from lessons in Nigeria, Rwanda, Liberia, Somalia, and even Cote D’Ivoire that this is a difficult task, one that has wreaked havoc in all corners of the continent. It is not one to be underestimated or approached in simplistic terms. I cannot help feeling it is in the Rainbow Nation. To hear some talk, you would think they have found the solution to ethnicity.
I saw evidence of this today. We joined a group of PhD students in Educational Policy, Christina department, in the University of Pretoria who were blowing off steam after a bruising week with the Dean, who is famous for the heat of his academic furnace and the weight of his academic hammer. The directions to the gathering took us east on the N4 past the Pretoria Botanical Gardens to the east Tshwane suburb of Constantia. We arrived around 7:30 pm, but not even darkness could hide a huge beautiful house. I was drawn to a word with an angelic beauty on our way to join other guests. I asked her name. Malaika, angel, she replied.
“Did you plant all the lovely flowers in this beautiful garden?” pointing to those behind her.
“No,” she replied with the most beautiful smile and giggle.
“All right, I know, you water them everyday so they grow and have very beautiful flowers.”
She shook her head. More smiles and giggles. Her mother, our host, joined and welcomed us. We traveled well: dinner was just being served.
We joined the other guests on the stoop, overlooking a swimming pool. I sat next to a lady from Umtata, in the Eastern Cape Province. She is studying how schools are implementing the current language and will write a dissertation on the implementation of language policy in Eastern Cape primary and secondary schools. Under the current policy, schools may instruct in mother-tongue. One of the challenges is that many parents are enrolling children in English language schools.
“How long do you think children should be instructed in their mother-tongue,” I asked.
“I believe they should be taught in their mother-tongue until university.”
She and most in her generation were taught in Xhosa in primary and secondary school and believes they read and write English better than their children who switch to English language instruction after only a few years of instruction in their mother-tongue.
“Our children are lost because of early instruction in English,” she asserted.
I recently found a study on mother-tongue instruction in six African countries: Botswana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania on the Internet. The findings suggest correlation between mother-tongue instruction and students’ performance in science and mathematics. Eureka! I have found the answer to my struggle with maths and science at long last, I mused. On a more serious note, I am more intrigued by language in the African context since I read it. I was preparing to ask her what are the opportunities and challenges she sees in mother-tongue instruction in a multiethnic context, but our conversation was interrupted by the host. She introduced us to her friend who was not affiliated with the University of Pretoria in any way. We exchanged pleasantries. She had on a beautiful gara dress. The conversation moved in a different direction.
Our new acquaintance is a consultant. Consultant, it seems, is a popular title among the new Black South African elite. I did not go there. I correctly guessed the beautiful dress she is from West Africa.
“It is a present from a friend in Ghana.”
She stopped there recently after a trip to Cote D’Ivoire. We lamented the state of affairs this once stable nation, one that was growing in prosperity and confidence. I probably should have saved the tidbit that the lady to my left is from Umtata, in Eastern Cape Province. They are home girls and they soon threw me out of the conversational loop, going on for most of the night in isiXhosa. I did not understand a word, but I recognized the affinity reserved for one that speaks your native language and hails from your home town. I reentered the conversation during a lull.
“I look forward to my first to the Eastern Cape and Umtata.”
“The Eastern Cape and Xhosa are the most educated in South Africa,” the one to my right said. You don’t say these things in Africa, I replied.
“But it is true, she insisted, there are no minerals or factories and the only recourse was school.”
“Still,” I said.
Some of the guests left after dinner. Those who stayed broke away from academia or politics to the dance floor. I said in jest I would only dance to music from West Africa. I am not dancing if you don’t have a Fela Kuti number. I don’t know the music of Southern Africa. A lecturer from Lesotho called my bluff with a CD of Fela Kuti among the collection she brought to the party. Eish, dumb ass, you should have asked for Prince Nico Mbarga. I hedged in further jest for Lady, Fela’s mocking track about the liberated African woman, which I did not think was among unlisted tracks: I would have failed my rational expectations test. Between dances, the consultant and I talked more politics and about language. She is fluent in all the eleven official languages. I learnt them from being put in impossible situations, she said. I marveled at her and others with the same capability. We both leapt onto the dance floor to dance to the sounds Malaika, a talented Afro-pop South African trio I heard recently on public radio.
A lot of the Black South Africans I have met can speak or communicate in a majority of the eleven official languages. Many, in fact, are fluent in most, which I believe is unique in multilingual Africa. I am not aware of a similar degree of multilingualism in Sierra Leone except for those who grew up in towns or villages bordering two or more tribes or traders who travel or live in many areas of the country. There are two main branches among the nine official African languages, and fluency in one language in either branch facilitates relatively easy communication with others in that branch. This is immensely helpful. My new friend, a Xhosa, which belongs to the Nguni branch, can communicate with mother-tongue Zulus, Ndebeles, and Swazis. Christina and I are enrolled in beginners’ Sesotho which belongs to the Sotho branch, and it will enable us communicate with mother-tongue Tswanas and Sepidis. Venda and Tsonga stand outside of this.
Black South Africans are proud of their African languages. They are prominent and accorded equal status with the European languages in the constitution. I get the impression in my conversations with some Black South Africans that most feel the united front against apartheid, the ease of communication across the two main strands of African languages and the statuses conferred by the constitution have solved the ethnic question. I need not say much on the fusion against apartheid. The continent is littered with fissures following the overthrow of a common scourge. South Africa does not have far to look: Zimbabwe. There are other questions. Will all nine the African languages develop equally and maintain the aspirations of the constitution? I pose this question everywhere. I heard a familiar reply from her. Afrikaans developed from nowhere, she said. True, that, but don’t forget the long unchallenged monopoly it enjoyed.
“The challenge of a national language remains.
“I don’t believe all nine African languages will develop equally.”
She replied that four in five Black South Africans speak fluent isiZulu and it is almost the same with isiXhosa.
“I believe one of the two will emerge as a national language.”
“I beg to differ.”
Language and ethnic identity are emotive, sometimes virulently so. I don’t believe any of the official African languages would voluntarily give up the status and prestige for a one national one, and you would ignite a fuse with forced.
“But I don’t think we have a problem with tribalism in South Africa.”
I wanted to ask her about the Xhosa nostra, but I recalled the savage verbal lashing of a radio caller from KwaZulu-Natal who dared to mention the Xhosa nostra. I saved that fire for another day and simply begged to disagree once more. I dearly hope I am wrong.
“The English and Scot have learned to live together,” she continued.
And we pray the Rainbow Nation does, too, I said, for the hope invested in her success echo as far away as the sand dunes of the Sahara.
Home (Affairs,) again
I know you are tiring of my visits to the Department of Home Affairs. So am I, but bear with me. I have another happy ending. I applied for a work permit ten days ago after confirmation that the Department cannot deny me permission to work as the spouse a South African citizen. Eish man, I am finally feeling some love from the Rainbow Nation. I walked in at 11 am this morning with a slightly different air, with the words of a South African friend inside my head: “Don’t get too carried away with the fact that the law is on your side,” he warned. True, but I must at least alter the angle of my tail by twenty degrees, I said to myself. I walked past long queues on the ground floor up a short staircase to Room 104 and joined the pick-up queue behind a young student and, much to my chagrin, two Immigration Practitioners. I breathed a sigh of relief when the first Practitioner, who was at the counter when I arrived, left in less than five minutes shuffling Chinese passports. I could not afford that luxury.
The other took her place at the counter. The queue did not move for fifteen minutes. I wondered. I was on the pickup queue. You file applications on three counters to the right pickup and pick-up from the where we were standing on the far left corner. The Immigration Practitioner at the counter confirmed this.
“You file your applications on one of the three counters there,” she told the young fellow in front of me. I move closer to the counter when he left just to see the Practitioner and Home Affair Agent playing a usual game of keep away the Agent was checking and filing what I eventually saw were at least ten applications. The rogue of a Practitioner just sent the young man to a queue on the right. It was not a Samaritan act, I thought to myself. I held my ire a minute. Perhaps they were near the end. I was wrong. I looked closer to see they were cross checking each page on a six page application.
“I am sorry but you are not filing applications in the pick up window, are you?” I asked in dripping sarcasm.
“Why don’t you ask the lady behind the counter?” the Practitioner replied.
I did, and fractured the African Union because they now spoke in Sesotho. I had bounced my check on African hospitality. The Agent ignored me.
I persevered: “I would be grateful if you serve us first and then continue with what you’re doing.”
I put my receipt on the counter. Two ladies had joined the queue behind me. The agent swelled up like a puff adder. She was still trying to ignore me.
“Excuse me,” I started again.
The Practitioner shot me a cold look from the corner of her left eye, but she was chastened.
“I don’t want to cause any problems,” she said in a soft neutral tone.
Oh, they understood the crooked nature of their action. The agent took my receipt and searched for my permit. She did not look me in the eye when she asked for my passport, nor when she stamped the permit.
She ignored me still, but she held out her hand for the next customer. It was 11:30 am. I stopped downstairs and examined the visa. I had one year. I pray my application for a permanent resident permit is approved then. I was cool enough to ignore the heat of a warm Gauteng summer day. I took the short walk to Schoeman Street to celebrate with a haircut.
The inmates are running the asylum
“Go back to your dream, your vision, why you returned home and reentered the classroom at this level. I recall your words when we discussed the future and our dreams before we married. You said, ‘I want to get a doctorate degree and make a contribution to education in South Africa.’ It is dark now, but you must stay true to your dream you must honor the vision!”
It has been my sermon the last two months, following each major trial. Hayi, shame, she did not see any of it coming. It started well. She was excited about teaching her first university class at home. Teaching, with research and public service, is fulfilling the dream but the dream morph into the long act of a dreadful drama. Yet it could have been different. The department originally assigned her to co-teach an honors class in qualitative research methods, but her role changed when the other lecturer accepted a position in another university. The department did not replace her nor did they assign a teaching assistant to help her with two sections – English and Afrikaans – and a hundred eighty students.
Halfway through the term, it was clear that the majority of students were having a difficult time with the material. Many turned in assignments late and scored poorly. Few approached her to explain and ask for extensions to turn in the assignments late. A majority of students in the English section were mature, work full time in the classroom or offices, and obviously have family and other community responsibilities. What do you say when a middle-aged old man or woman says I had to attend the funeral of their brother or sister in-law? But this did not absolve them of responsibility. A few did show commitment and drive. I was present when a gentleman came in person to let Doctar know he was going into a hospital to check a growth in his throat and to undergo tests prior to exploratory surgery on his heart. Christina did her best to help, but she stressed ownership and insisted on them learning the material. She allowed those who scored below fifty percent to rewrite assignments to improve their understanding of the material or their marks.
I booked a part in the drama by volunteering to help with recording marks. She pressed for help and was assigned a very intelligent and hardworking doctoral student. We both entered the drama more than a third of the way, during a crisis. Left to juggle all acts in what was initially a bad vaudevillian circus, handling more than a hundred fifty scripts, submitted erratically and often disingenuously to cover tracks, and missing an allele in organization, Christina struggled with the scripts. The doctoral student was great help marking scripts, diligent and always on time with marking the scripts she was assigned. I designed a spreadsheet to keep track of the marks from the six assignments and probably drove her half crazy with my demands that looked at all the minutiae. She used the help to steady the ship, but she was dragging an anchor from the first third of the class which wobbled the mast. And the high point was yet in a future act of the drama.
The real problems started when she published the term marks two and half weeks before they wrote the final exam near the middle of November. She used the best of four grades from six assignments to compute a semester mark out of forty, but less than half scored fifty percent or better. Suddenly, most wanted another chance to rewrite the assignments. They were also mean and crass, openly criticizing her on everything. Few took ownership or responsibility for failing to make the grade.
“I am passing all my other classes except this one,” I heard more than one say.
Others insisted their marks were different from what was recorded. She apologized and promised to correct the marks if they brought proof. For a majority of the claimants, it was a ruse. In the most memorable case, Christina asked one to resubmit her ‘lost’ assignment. She obliged and returned two hours later with someone’s assignment. Christina found the original two days later because she had the wrong label on it. One showed me the same assignment twice to con me into recording her highest grade twice it was one and a half out of five.
At the end of the term, they asked her how or what to prepare for the final exam. Everything we covered in class. If you completed all six assignments or resubmitted and earned passing grades, you won’t have problems with the exam, she replied. They demanded she be more specific most would probably have preferred the exam paper.
“What is the scope of the exams?” one who recognized me asked in the hallway.
I understood the question. Christina asked what I thought. Post a past exam that you set. You didn’t test during the term and it might help some to be familiar with how you set questions. Past question papers never helped me in classes where I did not understand the course material, I said. She agreed, albeit reluctantly, and gave them the paper she set for the distance education class with the same content, in June. Some still complained that she gave them the paper too later, about a week before the exams.
The ink was hardly dry on the exam scripts before the mudslinging began. Two students complained to the Dean about, among other things, the absence of an exam paper in Afrikaans. It was a cleverer ruse, sure to resonate in a University that is hungry to keep its Afrikaans identity. The University is vague on language. The policy states that English and Afrikaans have been adopted as the media of tuition. Technically, you can interpret this to exclude assessment, but you can also make the case that instruction and assessment are two sides of the same coin. I split hairs to make a point. I disagreed with Christina on this: I thought she gave them bullets by taking the Afrikaans version of the paper to the exam room on the morning of the exams.
“What about a paper in Sepedi, in Setswana, in isiXulu?” I mischievously thought
One of the complainants, as a matter of fact, wrote assignments in English during the term and the other wrote the final exam in Afrikaans from the English question paper.
Another student’s complained that Christina was rude. She ignored him when he shouted her name across a hallway. The same student showed up three weeks after the class started and she gave him a chance to submit the first two assignments late. A pattern emerged suggesting racial undertones. No Black student wrote the Dean a complaint instead, they would plead or even beg to obtain the extra marks to the course or to rewrite the final exams. One pled for eleven percentage points to get the forty percent that is required to rewrite the supplementary exams. Two others asked Christina to see their exam papers. They did not lecture her. She went through their work and explained where they went to help them prepare for the supplementary exams. The disgruntled White students wrote the Dean and lectured Christina about what she should have awarded them when she showed them the rubric she used to grade the exams.
The best story was that of a couples who were in the class together. Christina warned them early in the term about plagiarism early when they turned in two assignments that were clearly the work of one person. She promised her it would end, but it did not. They both failed to pass or qualify for the supplementary exams. She phoned for a joint appointment. Christina said she would see them at different times. Besides, he had an administrative backlog and had not obtained his marks, which meant there was nothing to talk about. When she arrived, they insisted on seeing her in tandem. Christina refused.
“But I made the appointment for the two of us,” she said.
“Please don’t lie,” Christina said she replied, “I told you I could not see him with his administrative hold. I would be glad to see him on his own if he clears it.”
It did not suit them. He left in huff. She commenced with lecturing Christina on what marks she should have received. Christina heard a knock a few minutes later. Before she answered it, he marched in like Napoleon he was not the third or even fourth one to behave in this manner and I was present in some of the other cases.
Christina received correspondence from the Dean the next day. They were both applying to rewrite the exams next year, and he demanded a written apology because Christina was rude to him, and to other students.
“Good heavens,” I said, “the inmates are running the asylum!”
“Where is the ownership or responsibility?” I wondered.
I was both vexed and nonplussed. I recall placing the responsibility for my results on a teacher once, in secondary school. I only challenged my marks once in university. I brought the textbook and my notes from class to help make my case. He agreed. The five extra marks I earned gave me a B grade. I never bothered to challenge the lecturer if I did not do well or failed a test in graduate school. Oh, I checked my marks thoroughly and grumbled plenty in some borderline cases but I simply studied harder or got more help from the lecturer to make sure that I did not have to lodge a complaint.
A season of hope
Hope is the fuel of life. It ebbs and flows, and sometimes it fades when life challenges us violently. November was a difficult month for the fair Christina, one that tested her hopes and dreams. The ghosts of November were knocking in December, too, but hope came again in a beautiful vessel. We nearly missed it. A new friend invited us on Friday to hear his son in the renowned Drakensberg Boys Choir in Centurion Mall, even offering to drive us. We accepted, but we were both mentally comatose when Christina walked through the door half an hour before we were scheduled to leave. He knocked on the door while I was searching for his phone number. We offered apologies we did not think we would be good company. He persevered. It was his son’s last performance with the choir before enrolling in a new school. We relented and followed him on the N1 highway towards Johannesburg. It was less than twenty minutes from the N1 and the exit on John Vorster Drive to Centurion Mall.
Centurion is a new name for Verwoerdburg, infamously named originally after Henrik Verwoerd, a professor of sociology and prime minister of South Africa who said the Africans must never be educated to hope for things they can never attain, like equal status they must, instead, be educated to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. Verwoerd mastered sociology, and later, politics but he ignored history and ended in its rubbish heap. There was no time to explore Centurion Mall because we were a quarter hour late. We rushed through a middle entrance and doubled our pace for five or six minutes to an amphitheater cut in a beautiful arc in the back of Centurion Mall and looking over Lake Centurion. The Boys were in the middle of their fourth rendition when we squeezed through a teeming crowd to an unoccupied spot on the boundary of a restaurant and the theater.
They looked and sounded masterful, dressed in beautiful grey pants, black shoes and white tops. Some still had cherub in their eyes but out of the mouths of these babes came the sweetest classical harmonies and hymns of Christmas. Led by maestros, they sang with discipline, but they sang with freedom they sang as golden rays of sunset refracted on the waters of the lake. Echoes from solos, duos and harmonies carried softly like the still waters of the lake. I saw the hopes of the Rainbow Nation in the mosaic of the Boys, in the faces among the crowd. We walked through the boisterous crowd to join a motley crew of parents, drawn from all hue in the Rainbow Nation, in the middle of the theater during intermission. The parents hugged each other during the intermission, cheered all the children and catcalled when the Boys struck high notes in solo, in duo or in harmony.
They ended at dusk, an early bedtime hour during longer days of summer. Their best was last: Silent Night in three languages of South Africa. Everyone stood up for a three minute ovation. We left fifteen minutes afterwards and walked into a bookstore near to the amphitheater. I asked for an early Christmas present, Season of Hope, written by an economic adviser in the current regime about economic policy in the first two democratic regimes. We bought a DVD in a record store near an exit. Christina phoned a friend before we left. She offered dinner. I was keen on dinner and the movie at home, but she is an irresistible hostess. We had lamb chops with macaroni and cheese, and for desert, ice cream and tea with biscuits. The host played sounds of the seventies and eighties and we reminisced about meeting our spouses. He had competition from Barney and Friends, courtesy of the gregarious two year old daughter of their other guests. We both agreed that we needed this evening on our way home. My heart was full when we opened the door to our home, and so, I am sure, was that of the fair Christina.