As children growing up in rural Transkei, we were vaguely aware that somewhere there was a more modern world existing in some far away places, remote places relative to where we were. A distant world it was, one of running water, electricity and microwaves- far removed from what was our reality. We used to go on about with our daily routine as if that was all there was to life, maybe for us it was. We had our way of life, and the routine was pretty straight forward.
As a girl you would wake up at a certain appointed time, perhaps 7 in the morning, and do your daily ablutions-which involved, first going outside to find a basin (i-vaskom) from which you’d be taking your bath, finding maybe a 5 litre bucket to pour the water you were to use for the bath. Collect the water and find a three footed pot in the fireplace outside, where you would have your water boil. As soon as it came to a boil, you’d decant it into the bucket to carry it to your selected spot-or room where you would then take your bath, mostly standing up or kneeling, depending on which part of the body you were cleansing. This of course was just the beginning of the day. With the daily ablutions done one was now ready to get into the flow of things. Eating was of course the first concern, but it was never too complicated as breakfast was more or less the same every morning, A bit of buttered steamed bread and Tea or coffee with fresh milk straight from the cow, or maybe porridge, all of which apart from the warm drinks, were home-grown…organic one could say. This type of food was enough sustenance for the body for most of the day till lunch time.
Assuming it wasn’t a school day, one would know without being told what chores one had for the day, and therefore could get on with it. Much importance was placed on cleanliness, of the spaces indoors and outdoors. For the outside merely collecting stray rubbish or bones for the dogs and sweeping would suffice. Although the spaces were wide and far apart, this part of the day was always done at a leisurely pace-so one felt no real pressure to perform. As with the indoors, well, that was a different story, for depending on what kind of floor the room to be cleaned had, one would need either a broom, a cloth, some floor polish or ubulongwe-cow dung. Now there was always a room that required some fresh cow dung to get it into it’s mint condition…usually the room which had a fire place at it’s center. A type of rondavel- hut. The cow dung was for ukusinda– which is like hand ‘painting’ the floor with soft almost wet cow dung, making patterns if one wished and ensuring that every corner-if there were any, had a layer of the cow dung. The process took a lot of patience and endurance, but was found to be not as unbearable to a regular as to one who has never done it would think. I personally did not favour this particular chore, for on account of having had extra fingers that were earlier removed, I found that the use of the sides of my hands was rather an uncomfortable experience, so I much rather preferred another chore which was to go to emthonjeni– the well or spring, to get some water. Now this I didn’t mind too much, except that it did also have it’s pros and cons. The nice thing about having to go get water from the well was that it was an outdoors activity, so in the summer it gave a lovely opportunity to go for a stroll and have a bit of a chin wag with your mates that you met there. The well was a gathering place for the girls-both young and old. For young boys too sometimes, when they needed to get udongwe-mud for making small figurines of mainly animals, such as cows of horses, depending on the extent of one’s talent.
At our regular ‘water hole’ there was almost always a crowd of girls gathered chatting up a storm and having a relaxed time, while waiting in an unformed queue, which decided whose turn it was to go get the water next. Sometimes the water would take time to fill up as it was coming straight from the ground-mother nature providing, one could only wait and hope that the spring would keep filling up.
As a young girl one’s age determined the size of the bucket you were expected to carry on your head. At age 7 or 8 one could manage a 5 litre bucket on the head, it was easier than carrying it by hand for long distances. It was easier of course once you had learnt the art of ukuncekelela-balancing the bucket on your head with both of your hands free. This took time, but inevitably as a girl you would learn and master this art. I generally enjoyed the long walks to and from the spring, for if alone this allowed you some solitude, a time to just be, and with company there was always much chatting as we walked in a line one after the other following the footpath that lead back to our home.
The drawing of water was both a pleasant and unpleasant exercise depending on the needs of that day. Most of the water was needed for things like washing clothes and for cooking, water from a tank was used-if there was a tank in the family. The cooking was of course always part of the day as it had It’s own intricacies. If an outside fire was to me made, one needed to get some fuel for the fie, which meant girls had to go and get amalongwe-dry cow-dung made into small, dry pie-like shapes. This I imagine was a substitute for coal. It burnt more effectively than wood, but wood was also necessary to start the flames and get the fire going. To get the fire going took a while, but once ready and blazing it was time to get the three foot pot get some water and ingredients for whatever one was intending to make. If making umgqusho (samp- dried de-shelled corn with beans) the process could take longer for each of these items required quite a while to cook to get soft. Usually most of the morning could be dedicated to the cooking of this particular meal. While waiting for the food to be ready, one could always have a jar or cup of amarhewu-this is a drink made of ground corn-sometimes left to ferment other times not, a sort of liquid porridge with sugar which went down very nicely when cold on a hot day and visa versa. This drink gave energy, so one was able to continue with the days work feeling recharged somewhat and oh did it also quench the thirst.
When the food got ready there was eating and again we’d go through the process of cleaning up, washing up of the dishes, giving some left over food to the dogs and or pigs. Basically organising the space. The next thing on our daily routine would be to play and socialise with friends. The games differed, if it wasn’t 3 tins, or dusha– both required a small ball the size of a fist, fashioned from cloth, or plastic and stalking; or Ugqaphu– skipping rope, it would be iiketo ( a game played to enhance motor skills and hand and eye co-ordination, which required for you to have maybe 10 to 15 small stones-the size of a coin, which one threw up in the air and caught with one hand, while picking up another simultaneously- with them both ending up in your fist ) A bit hard to describe I guess, but this was a favourite time indeed to let loose and get some exercise. The playing could go on for hours at one of our homes mostly or outside our yard, until one was called to return home and then get ready for the evening chores….
The chores seemed never ending.
When I now look back, this kind of life seems like a lifetime ago, a distant memory in another era altogether. It feels almost surreal to recall this after all that has changed, but as dreamlike as it sounds now, it was real.
What seemed to be real then, now feels like a dream, and back then, what seemed to be a dream is now a reality. It makes you marvel at how things have changed, and yet somewhere out there they continue to stay the same.
Am remembering a much simpler time indeed!