by Barry Thorsness -
SGN African Correspondent
Louis and I are combining our journals for our seventh and eighth weeks in Africa. We have been very busy getting set up so we can travel through Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda next week. Until then, off to the cradle of mankind!
It has been believed for some time that homo sapiens originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago and then spread throughout the globe. The Maopeng Museum of Mankind was built based on the nearby Sterkfontein caves, where the skulls and skeletons of our ancestors have been found. This museum answers many questions with its great timelines and exhibits, along with skulls and skeletons of many of the mind-blowing discoveries of the last 100 years.
We learned that Rhoda, the housekeeper for where we live in Joburg, was celebrating her birthday. Rhoda has been working for our friend Sharon for about 20 years, and we see her almost every day. She lives in her own suite at the back of the house. We had never sat down and had supper with her. I had been instructed by my South African friend in Seattle not to "make the staff your friends," as doing so would not be appreciated. So it was that after some conversation, Louis and I decided it would be nice to cook dinner for Rhoda and buy her a cake.
Birthday supper turned out to be a wonderful time. We learned about her home and family in Zimbabwe, the fact that she sent money home every week so her children could live and go to school, and how excited she was to be able to see them every Christmas. When it was all over, Rhoda got up to clear the table and do the dishes. When we insisted that she didn't have to do dishes on her birthday, she laughed and was hard to convince.
A dinner party for Elton
As you may remember from our third week, we have gotten to know Elton quite well over the months. He works for many of the friends we have met in Joburg and lives in his own room at the back of Trish's property. We went over one afternoon to visit Trish (and, of course, drink wine) and ask her how she would feel if we cooked dinner at her house and invited Elton. She thought it was an excellent idea.
Our dinner party was fun. Elton talked about visiting his home in Zimbabwe and his experiences crossing the border to get back - seems you don't even try to go through immigration. There are paths around the checkpoints so you can meet the bus on the other side. A small bribe to an immigration official and it seems they may lift the barbed wire fence to help you go through.
and Joburg theater
Gavin Hayward, the owner of the Exit newspaper, held a birthday party. Louis and I arrived late at the party and suddenly found ourselves chatting with all the newspaper staff and their friends. You must be aware that the people at the party were a diverse lot, with some from Mozambique and one a prominent reporter for the British newspapers in London who has lived in Harare, Zimbabwe, for years. We heard his stories of Zimbabwe, his expulsions from the country, and time he had spent in jail. Again, we heard, "But you must visit Zimbabwe; it is a wonderful country."
We were asked to go to the theater with our friends, Chris and Craig from Exit. They had managed to get a couple of tickets for Doobee Boobee at the Joburg Theatre. It was an incredible show - one of the funniest drag shows I have seen in years, and certainly not for anyone with an aversion to risqué middle-aged sexual comedy. It was hilarious. After the theater, it was drinks with the cast, and then we went out to go drinking and dancing at Risqué, a well-known Joburg Gay club.
Linda and Simphiwe
Perhaps the hardest thing for me when I travel in South Africa is when my friends say, "Barry, you don't understand." I usually don't understand - then again, my friends certainly don't understand my Canadian/American perspective on race and equality.
Sharon thought it would be great to have someone living in the house while we were away in Mpumalanga for the week. She decided it would be a treat for her employees, Linda and Sephiwe, to live in her house. The two of us drove to Soweto to pick them up.
On the way home, Linda and Simphiwe talked about work. This was to be the boys' first time in a white person's house. It was therefore the first time they had ever had supper at a white person's home. I think the boys were quite amazed at all the meat on the table. We had an incredible pork roast, and also roasted chicken for those who did not eat pork. Simphiwe chatted with Louis that at his home in Soweto, the family would make a chicken last for a whole week. We are looking forward to spending some time with them at their home in the Soweto township when we get back.
Next week, we are off to Mpumlanga with Sharon while she has a week's holiday, and Louis and I explore the beautiful valleys and waterfalls in this northwestern region of South Africa.
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