A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend three nights in Kabokweni with a child headed family. The house I stayed in was right across the street from Elizabeth’s, where we do the feeding program. The house had one bedroom, a small wash/storage room, and a room that had been divided into the kitchen and living room. I was actually very surprised when Pinkie (19) and Muntuza (17) opened the door and I saw they had a stove, a television, and a fridge.
Our stay started on Wednesday, after the feeding program. All of us students were split up to go to different houses, and we each had a bundle of food to bring with us. I wish I had taken a picture of the parade it was going from house to house! Not only was it all of the students with our bags and pillows, but tons of the kids from the feeding program walked with us helping us carry the food- each person brought six loafs of bread, three jugs of water, a head of cabbage, a bag of chicken pieces, a bag of carrots, a bag of potatoes, and a bag of onions, a 5kg bag of maize meal, and a grocery bag filled with sugar, tea, oil, and who knows what else I am forgetting. So take all of that food, multiply it by six, and imagine about thirty people carry it, walking all over the community.
Since Eunice is from the community, and she knows what community life is all about, her mother, Elizabeth, put her in the bush. I was shocked when we were walking there, “We’re walking down that path?” It was a skinny path winding down into the woods. We had to go over a stream and back up until we got to the house. The family was already preparing food on their “stove”- an open fire.
We did not know with whom we were going to be staying with prior to arriving to the house, so I had been practicing my SiSwati, and I had learned how to say “Can I help?” (ngiyasita) just for this occasion. I was very fortunate to be put with Pinkie and Muntuza who both speak fluent English. They were calling me Jessica, so I told them just to call me Sipho. Sipho is the Siswati name that Eunice gave me, it means “gift.” When Pinkie would introduce me to people she would say, “This is my friend Sipho, she is a gift from God.” But I often got laughed at because Sipho is a boy’s name.
The first night, we had a little friend, Perseverance, with us. She goes to the feeding program and had walked all over Kabokweni depositing people to their host families. It was then dark, and you don’t want to be out in the community after dark. Pinkie taught me how to make pop, or pelisse, as they call it. When Perseverance’s mother came to get her, we all hung out. One thing that I really remember is that they were looking at my Bible, and speaking in Siswati and I heard a word I recognized. “Angivisisi” means “I don’t understand.” So I said “You don’t understand!?” They all laughed at me. It is very uncommon for white people to speak Siswati, but they were very impressed (props go to my teachers- Stanley and Eunice!).
I shared a bed with Muntuza and Pinkie slept on a foam mat on the floor.
I did not sleep very well and I awoke in the morning to the sounds of roosters right under my window. Muntuza had gone off to school, so Pinkie and I cleaned the house. We washed the dishes. It would seem like a normal enough task, but they don’t have a kitchen sink. The dishes are in a bucket, which gets filled with water. You lather up the dishrag with dish soap- which is in bar form, wash the dishes and place them in another bucket. Once finished washing all the dishes, you empty out the dirty water and put some clean water in to rinse off the dishes. After we washed the dishes, I swept the floor and Pinkie washed it. After taking bucket showers, we headed to Elizabeth’s to help prepare food for the feeding program.
While we were at Elizabeth’s, Pinkie got a call from a friend. We met up with her friend and drove to the grocery store. Since I was supposed to be at Elizabeth’s helping prepare, I was going to walk back, but Pinkie wouldn’t let me. She said I would get stolen. The friend’s brother came with us as well. He said he wanted to marry me. It is a very awkward thing when they tell you that. I forgot to say that I cost too many cows, I just said no. When we were walking back to Elizabeth’s house, a lady in the community asked me if I was in a car accident. I replied “Ngatalawaso!” meaning “I was born this way.” And they laughed at me, of course. But then they kept speaking to me in Siswati so I just said “angivisisi.”
That night, after the feeding program, and after helping prepare dinner (which, I peeled one potato in the time Muntuza peeled five!) I got to spend quality time with the girls. There were people over the house every night, which was expected- people aren’t used to seeing white people in the communities. So Thursday night we had a dance party and they taught me some African dance moves. I was also able to get to know Pinkie and Muntuza much better, so I am going to share some of their story.
Their father died in 2002. So Pinkie was 13, and Muntuza was 11. Their mother then died in 2006. They didn’t share how, and I am not one to pry, so that is all I know. I know that after their mother died, things got really hard. They did not have any money for food and had to resort to asking for change at the door of the cafeteria at school. This went on until Muntuza applied for a government grant. They just received the grant last year. Muntuza gets R650 (approximately $65) a month for food, school fees, clothes, electricity, ect. She’ll get the money from the grant until she graduates this December, after which, who knows. There is no work in Mpumalanga. Everything they have is what they still have remaining from their parents. Their entire house is about the same size as the bedroom that Monique, Laura, and I share on the base. The toilet is outside- the door has fallen off the hinges, and some of the slats have fallen off the door. They own two knifes- one of which the tip is broken off, and the other’s handle is broken. One night I was writing in my journal and Pinkie said something to me about it. I told her she should write in a journal. She said maybe one day she would have a journal. That to me is heart breaking. I have at least ten journals piled up under my bed at home, and hardly any of them are written in. I bought a journal for both Pinkie and Muntuza and I am going to give it to them on this upcoming Thursday.
On Friday, Pinkie and I started the day again with cleaning, but Pinkie didn’t graduate and had to go to take a test at school and I had to go to Elizabeth’s to meet up with everyone. We went to Elizabeth’s church to help clean in. I was mostly in charge of rinsing the chairs. Stanley taught me how to say “a little bit,” so that when people are shocked and say, “You can speak SiSwati?” I can reply with “kachani” (not the correct spelling, but it sounds like ga-click-nani).
After cleaning the church, we went back to Elizabeth’s and I took a nap. That night I took it upon myself to make dinner with out any help. I made chicken, chips (a.k.a. French fries), steamed cabbage (which I burned), and pop. While the food was cooking, we had a dance party outside. Stanley, Ronny (who Stanley was staying with), Muntuza and her friend Jones, as well as Monique and her host sister Gloria came over. It was hard to really grasp that Pinkie and Muntuza had no parents. Most of the time it felt like their parents were just out of town and all of our friends were hanging out.
Well that night was our last night. While we were eating dinner, Pinkie’s drunk and high ex-boyfriend came over. It was very awkward. The barred door was locked so he couldn’t get it, but when Pinkie tried to shut the other door, he would just push it open. He was going on that he loved Pinkie and wanted to marry her. Muntuza and I just sat and ate our dinner. He said he wanted to come by and say goodbye to me before I left. I said “ok”and didn’t think much of it. He finally left and we were able to enjoy our dinner for a little longer until there was a big bang on the front door. We all stopped eating and another bang on the front door- rocks being thrown. “Pinkie!” a deep low voice called out and there was knocking at the window. My heart sank. “He’s back,” I thought, “and more drunk than before.” I went to grab my phone. At first I thought I would call Stanley, but he was too far away. Then I thought I would call Elizabeth and have her send her husband Nicolas over. I thought maybe I should grab the knife. As these thoughts were racing in my head, and Pinkie, Muntuza, and I were frozen in fear, we heard a cackling of laughter. We opened the door to find Elizabeth, Monique, Gloria, and Gloria’s sister Cynthia. Apparently it was Elizabeth’s idea to scare us and see how prepared we were.
Well after our scare, we spent the rest of the night having fun. We got to know each other better, I taught them some Spanish- now when Muntuza sees me she says: Como estas?, and we used up the rest of my airtime calling random people.
The next morning we entered into the same routine of cleaning the house when Pinkie’s ex-boyfriend came back over. It was again very awkward and I stayed in the house while they were outside. I then gathered my belongings and the girls came with me to Elizabeth’s where we said goodbye. They invited me to stay with them for a whole month, and I wish I could have. I will never forget my experience living in that little house with Pinkie and Muntuza and I am going to miss them dearly.