After arriving in Johannesburg early in the morning, we took a shuttle to Nelspruit to meet the in-country staff. After a few days of training, it was time to head out to our villages. They are located in the Lilydale region, the Bushbuckridge municipality, and the Mpumulanga province. The official unemployment rate for the province is around 27% but it is much higher within our region.
The drive was nice. We stopped in the closest town to the villages called Mkuhlu (pronounced ma-kuth-lu). There was African music blasting from speakers in someone’s trunk, and as we entered the crowded grocery store, all eyes were on us- the mulungus.
We turned off the tar road to head into the Lilydale region. A couple of kilometers down the dirt road we pulled into Huntington. This would become my home for the next eight weeks. Our contact Grozia showed us the shabeens (bars), spazas (little shops), a church and the primary school. My fellow advisor and I dropped off our things at our homestay for the night with a kokwana (grandmother) named Essi and her 12 year old twin granddaughters Nolwazi and Lwazi. After a jaunt over to the neighboring village Mabarhule, where two other advisors would be staying, and a stop to see their chief and listen to an amazing choir, we returned to our new home.
In any homestay situation, there are naturally challenges. Not only is a complete stranger letting you stay in their home, but you have to find out the basics of “Where do I get water?” “May I use the kitchen now to cook dinner?” Add on top of these awkward moments the inability to communicate these things in each other’s language, and well, it gets interesting.
Essi doesn’t speak English. We don’t speak Shangaan (a dialect of Xitsonga). With our 12 year old sisters (aka translators) at school during the day, I did a LOT of miming the first couple of days. We had so many questions that we decided to hold off on bathing the first morning and do it in the afternoon. That way, we could find out where our family stores water and what we should make our oats breakfast in and where we should wash our hands. What takes 10 minutes at home, probably took us an hour and a half that first morning. On our way out the door to meet Grozia, Essi mimed about bathing. I explained, by pointing at my watch, that we wanted to bathe later in the day. I’m not sure if it was a look of horror, shock, or not understanding, but I remember thinking that she surely thought we were dirty Americans for not bathing that morning!
I am fortunate- out of the four advisors on our South Africa trip, I’m the only one who has done an extended stay in a village. I adapted easily. The language barrier wasn’t all that uncomfortable. I could laugh off the awkward moments, try to communicate on a basic level, and recognize that it’s probably 10 times harder for Essi than for me because she’s opening up her home to complete strangers. Huntington has never had foreigners stay in their village longer than a couple of days and never in homestays. This is new to the community, and I feel fortunate that this elderly woman gave me a room in her home.
That’s my short introduction to arriving in the village! The next few posts will be themed with the next one being about water (or the lack of it).