Don’t get over-excited. It wasn’t me that picked up the condoms, it was a well-meaning Sipho, who appears to have become my honorary pervy uncle in Swaziland. We had only stopped for directions anyway. The silver lining of getting lost was surely the classiest carwash in the Southern hemisphere, and seeing one enterprising orange vendor dividing his stock into arbitrary “E6.50” and “Export Quality E9.00” heaps.. wonderful.
Eventually, we found our way to the homestead, and met up with Sizwe (the happy couple’s son and a colleague of mine) and various other cronies. Whether they were more overjoyed at the arrival of the beers or ourselves was hard to gauge. Still. It was a scorching hot day, the light breeze did nothing to alleviate the coma-inducing thin air and shimmering heat haze. I necked the rest of the mineral water and took refuge in the one spot of shade. Sizwe showed up with his 12-year-old sister, decked out in traditional cloths, headdress and Morris-esque ankle shaker. She looked totally miserable. In fact, that’s a lie; bizarrely enough, she had exactly the same expression my younger brother used to wear whenever he was made to do something he thought was stupid, such as pose for a photograph. The forehead was down, the upper lip was tense, the shoulders pulled down so far it looked like her arms were falling off.
“Show them the thing.. show them!” said Sizwe.
Deadpan is not the word. Only three muscles contracted, her leg lifted half an inch of the floor and stomped ironically down. The shaker made a shaker noise. Her face didn’t move.
I cracked up laughing. So did she.
Shortly after this, small groups of women started dancing and singing, in a somewhat meandering, random fashion – rather like the audience drumming at festivals. Slowly, they began to gather together, until I suddenly realised all the female guests were wandering round and around the homestead in an enormous, trilling conga-line. I grabbed the camera and asked Sipho what was going on, but he was no help whatsoever.
You can see from the pictures almost exactly what I saw; first the girls all lined up and started singing, clapping and blowing on some horrifically shrill whistles. I stood quite happily at the back of the spectators’ group, not least because of the light breeze blowing dust from directly behind the line of young women. Eventually, and seemingly randomly, a bunch of men turned up, and started dancing in front of them with spears and shields, occasionally placing the latter on the floor in front of some poor spectator, then jumping back as if to say, “take it”. It appeared to be a poor offer, presumably touching the shield carries some sort of horrible penalty which the warriors are only too eager to witness. Compared to the organised women, the men were both older and less coordinated.. some of them were still carrying half-empty bottles of Scotch.
The wind was picking up, and I resorted to holding the camera up against my head in an attempt to deflect the dust from going directly into my eyes, also using the people in front when it got particularly bad. Various people attempted to call me to the front, saying that I was missing out on the experience – apparently being able to see just isn’t enough. I politely declined, but compromised by moving round, away from the house. My eyes began to water.
When the bride came out with a gang of bodyguards and started dancing around, I’d been on my feet watching for over an hour and, to tell you the truth, it just wasn’t that exciting. The magic of it was somewhat diffused by the camcorder-wielding bloke in a green t-shirt, and the spectacle was blurred by dusty tears. When Sipho suggested a quick pub run, I grabbed him and dragged him to the car.
When we got into town, the first thing was to find a radio, and see if Sihlangu, the national team, were really showing the South Africans how to play football or not. They were not; it was 2-1, after being briefly level. I went to buy bread and cheese (very, very late breakfast), Sipho waited in the car. Eventually he got bored and followed me, so we went to the booze counter together, and tooled up on all kinds of fermented products. When we returned to the car, I waited for him to unlock, as I had left the keys with him. He looked at me. I looked at him. I looked down. Winking at me from the dashboard were my keys.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Mozambican break into your car, but now I can say I have. This guy was a total professional; he didn’t scratch or damage anything in the slightest. The fact that the police were watching him do it, of course, meant that he had to fool around for a respectable amount of time pretending to have trouble with it before popping the lock with a quick flick of a tool he’d made out of a length of barbed wire, if you please, ten minutes beforehand. The cops shook their heads and laughed. I felt glad I have a gearlock, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he could get into that with a toothpick and a length of string.
We paid the guy for his trouble and returned to the party; it was getting dark already and the herd of cows I’d seen earlier were now one down. Beef stew all round; marvellous idea. Killed, cut, cooked and served outdoors, it was just the ticket; after the afternoon’s excitement, I laid into it like a man possessed with hunger (which I was).
After that, things became just like an English wedding; most older people retired for drinks to the marquee in the garden and all the young male guests got drunk and talked lewdly about the young female guests. Eventually, we began to flake (not before raiding the cooking pots again) and I’m told that there were four of us asleep in the Golf for most of the night. I’m not sure how that works with Senzo asleep across the back but all I’m saying is I had dreams about wrestling all night.
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