South Africa and the Welshman

My father is Welsh. I was born and raised in South Africa, with a South African mother – but I am part Welsh. Some people tease and say I shouldn’t say that out loud, but I’m proud of the bit of Welsh blood in my veins. ūüėČ

It posed a slight problem for me when Wales took on South Africa in the Rugby World Cup a few months back. Rugby is something similar to American Football, although there are some key differences, but I won’t mention them all here. When I asked ‘one of the guys’ what he thought the biggest difference was between the two, he said that Rugby is played by ‘real men’, because they wear no protection gear. I found that rather amusing!
I was invited to watch the Wales vs. South Africa game with some friends – and as is SA tradition, we accompanied the game with a braai. (Rugby is big in South Africa, and a braai is essential to the pleasure of the game.) If you’re unsure about what a braai is, then please see my post relating to that¬†here.
I was in trouble with my friends the moment I walked through the door – I wore red, for Wales, as opposed to the green and gold of South Africa. I teased and said, ‘I wear my heart on my sleeve’. One of the couples told me, ‘I couldn’t lose’ because I am part Welsh and part South African – I think it’s the first time I have ever been in a win-win situation ūüėõ Wales¬†did in fact lose that night. But the braai was good, and so was the company, so I had no real reason to complain.

But braaing, and rugby, and my blood are not what this post is about. This is about a visit I received from my father, accompanied by my Welsh cousin, and some things about SA that my cousin inadvertently brought to my attention to teach you something about my country.

My cousin, Dai, was the first member of my Welsh family that I had the pleasure of meeting. He’s a strange little man, with a great sense of humor, but he curses regularly, so¬†I will omit that from this post.
I was most excited when I heard my dad was coming for a visit, and bringing along someone from his rather large extended family. (My dad has three brothers and three sisters.) So excited that I cooked a roast for their arrival. I’d like to say I have great culinary skills, confirmed by my cousin as he commented on the roast potatoes being ‘the best he’s ever had’. Unfortunately, as it turns out, my dad confirmed that our potatoes are in fact quite different to the ones they grow in the UK, and so it had nothing to do with my cooking. At this point in the conversation, I learned something new, because I didn’t know you got different types of potatoes. You’re never too old to learn, I guess.

The evening was spent discussing how things had changed since the last time my dad had been for a visit. Of course, the increase in crime had to be addressed – I needed to make my dad aware of certain factors that were now very different, so that he could take the necessary precautions when out and about with my cousin, if I wasn’t with them. Of course my dad can be a bit stubborn, and insisted he’d be fine.
Dai seemed to be taking special note, and had already commented (and been enlightened) about all the security bars and gates on the windows and doors. (Also in my previous¬†post, along with the fact that we don’t have air-conditioning.)
Now is the time to mention that my dad and Dai visited us in one of the hottest months of Summer. That night, while preparing for bed, I went in to the spare room to check that Dai had everything he needed. I found him closing all the windows. To my amusement, when I told him he needed them open for the air to circulate in the heat, he replied, “And let someone stick their hand in and slit my throat. Not a chance. I’d rather overheat.”
Now while that may have been a very slim possibility because crime is bad, it definitely was not high in probability. But since I couldn’t convince him of this, and we had obviously scared him with what to us was ‘normal’, I left him to sleep in his hot box – but did¬†give¬†him a free standing fan for the night.

The next morning, as I struggled to wake up (it was, after all, 06:00) and was making myself a second cup of coffee, Dai came rushing out of his bedroom, muttering a string of expletives. When he saw me standing there, he apologized, and then asked, “But what¬†is that?” At first, I wasn’t really sure what he was talking about. And then I heard it. I laughed¬†out loud, at his expense of course, and received a well-deserved glare in return. When I could catch my breath, I took him over to the window and showed him. It was a bird, called a hadeda ibis – although we just call it a ‘har-di-dah’. And it’s possibly the most annoying bird ever – which says a lot coming from me, because I love birds and the different melodies they have. But this bird has no melody. It’s loud, and annoying. It’s a screeching¬†“haa-haa-haa-de-dah” call, and we often joke that they’re afraid of heights, because they make the most noise when they’re up high, or flying. Their favorite time to ‘cry out’ is early in the morning, and it can be rather frightening on your first morning in this country, because you’ll be convinced someone is being murdered outside your window. You get used to it eventually, and so sleeping late does not pose a problem – but if you’re a visitor? Then it’s a different story! Not only is their sound alarming, but they’re rather ugly!¬†They’re big birds, with a very¬†long beak, and are mostly grey and black in color.
If you go¬†here¬†and listen to sound 1 and sound 2, you’ll get an idea of it’s screech. It’s great preparation for a planned trip, but the real thing is still much more frightening ūüėČ

On a trip to town later that day, there were a few other things that fascinated Dai. I needed to stop for petrol for my car (same thing as gas, but when we use the word gas, it is never in reference to our cars, but rather to our stomachs). As I sat waiting patiently at the petrol pump, Dai looked a bit confused. He asked me, “Are you wanting me to fill your car?” I was the one who was then confused. A chuckle from my father, and a quick explanation made everything all right, and Dai spent the rest of the time at the petrol station in open mouthed awe. In South Africa, you don’t put in your own petrol (or pump your own gas). There are men (and the occasional woman) employed by the petrol station to assist you. You have to wait patiently for one of them to be available and approach you. You then pop your petrol cap and tell them how much you want them to put in, in currency, and off they go. When they’re finished at the pump, the petrol attendant will usually also offer, “Oil and water? Tyres?” I guess in some ways we’re spoiled – but it’s job creation, and I’d hate to think how our already rather shocking unemployment rate would rise if they were all suddenly put out of work!

Our economy leaves a lot to be desired. But it goes without saying that this is a huge advantage to overseas visitors. Everything seems cheap here, when you’re bringing in dollars and pounds and doing direct conversions. For us, it’s all expensive. But I’ll go into that another time, because it needs another post all of its own.
Needless to say, Dai was continuously surprised as we made our way from store to store, and was amazed when we got home to find how much he had bought ‘for so little’. This is also about the time where he took up chain smoking, and I don’t think we’ve braaied so much expensive meat in one sitting ever before, or since.

Dai became very interested in the vast amounts of bead work being sold on the side of the road by street vendors. This opened the door to explanations¬†about the different types of African culture, and their beliefs. Bead work is one of the most important symbols in African culture. Beads are made from a variety of things, and their placement in a string is of great importance. Africans can tell if their fellow African¬†recently lost a loved one, or are of wealthy importance, which tribe they¬†are from etc. by the beads that are worn. Of course, I also had to tell him about the ‘witch doctors’ scattered all over our country. A witch doctor (traditional healer known for witchcraft) is a huge thing in African religion among the black people, and very real – except that around here they are known as ‘Sangoma’s’. They create lotions and potions and powders, (from things I don’t even want to begin to discuss) and can ‘cure any ailment, including love sickness’.
That night before dinner, I spotted a bottle of baby powder, and got a brilliant idea. I placed some in a piece of paper, and then folded it up carefully. At dinner time, I put it next to Dai’s place setting, and then called everyone to come and eat. Dai noticed it, and asked what it was. I told him,
“It’s a powder for you to drink.” Of course, I wouldn’t have let him actually put it in his mouth. He looked confused and asked why. I smiled mischievously and replied,
“In town today, an African lady noticed you. She asked me to give you this powder tonight, and by tomorrow you will be madly in love with her.”
The look on his face was priceless, and he flung the paper on the floor, jumped up, and looked like he might take flight at any moment. We all burst into fits of laughter, and even my dad had to wipe the tears from his eyes.
My cousin Dai now calls me ‘Miss Love Potion’. ūüėČ

I am sure there were a few more things that happened, but I can’t recall them now.¬†I enjoyed my little trip down memory lane though, and hope you did too. And maybe you learnt something new?