One night the Coffee Shack hostel organized supper at a local Xhosa village a few miles away from town. Sounded like a great way to kick off the evening, so off I went.
First thing’s first, gotta distribute the beer to the guests! This stuff is very obviously homebrew and made from corn, a dead giveaway because the main taste was a very corny, yeasty one. One of those things that you’ll generously try a few sips of the first time the bucket is passed around, but smaller and smaller sips as it keeps coming around… Also, it turns out traditional African beer is very non-alcoholic in content and the locals are more into it because they’ve developed a taste for it/ in places where you can’t guarantee water quality it’s best to drink fermented stuff.
Ok, time to get into a hut for dinner! And yep here’s what most villagers eat day in and day out in this part of the world, boiled cornmeal with varying types of spices on top. Exciting? Can’t pretend my plate was finished because I wasn’t a real fan, but it did make me sympathetic to people who have no choice but to eat such a non-varied diet every day!
There was also a second course, which was mealie-meal with a mashed potato-type quality, some brown sauce, and some boiled greens on the side. Meat is only for special holidays in this part of the world.
Food’s done, time to dance! This first one was done by the boys and basically consisted of walking around with a stick in hand. It should be noted that there were virtually no men older than my age in the village- due to economic necessity most families live here while the father works in Johannesburg, with the father spending maybe a month at home during the year while the wife may visit him in Johannesburg once or twice as well depending on the family’s situation.
Sort of related, I also got into an interesting conversation with an older woman about Xhosa bride-prices: in this part of the world the potential groom’s family has to pay a certain amount of cattle to the bride’s family in order to marry her, depending on how hardworking and how much income the woman can bring to her new family in the future (traditionally marriages are arranged, but nowadays most guys will tell his family of his girlfriend so the marriage can be arranged). If you have a reputation for laziness you’re not going to bring much of a price, maybe only seven cattle, but a woman who has a nursing certificate or some such can fetch twice as much (the highest bride price I heard of was a man who worked several years to get 23 cattle to wed the beautiful daughter of the chief who was also a teacher).
“So how much would I get?” I asked, and was subjected to a look of frank appraisal.
“You’re beautiful and probably well brought up and undoubtedly educated so you could bring in income,” she began, “but you probably don’t know the first thing about pounding mealie meal or how to build a rondavel so that would count against you. ” She then concluded that my father should not accept any offers on my behalf that were less than 15 cattle as a starting point, and he should do it soon because I was about five years past the average Xhosa marrying age. Good to know!Last but not least the girls danced, a lot better than the guys I should note, and turns out I could hold my own with the Xhosa gals. Maybe we can up that bride-price to sixteen cows in light of that information?
As a final note, the night was a lot of fun but my favorite part was when the traditional music was pierced by the jingle of someone’s cell phone. Before I could cringe that one of my fellow backpackers was being so disrespectful one of the white-skirted girls jumped out of her seat and ran outside with her phone to answer it. Mind this village has no electricity so I was surprised that a pre-teen had a cell phone- hell I didn’t have a cell phone then!- but the villagers looked at me like I was an idiot when I asked how the phones got charged.
“At the store,” I was told matter-of-factly, as it turns out some area entrepreneurs will charge a phone for a few Rand each time. Lack of electricity doesn’t stand in the way of progress!
Anyway, to finish the story after a few moments the girl came back with her phone which obviously had a text on it, and immediately had a pow-wow with her friends over the meaning of her latest social development like girls do the world over. People are more alike the world over then we acknowledge, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.