Going home

August 14, 2011 at 9:36 am (Uncategorized)

I am in Johannesburg and will be taking a plane home this evening.

What to say.

The makhadzis asked me to come back to Venda when I have a baby and a family so that they can meet them, I promised to do so. Vho Joyce gave me a little pot of snuff to put down in offerance to the ancestors so that I go safely… Mphathe arranged a surprise party on my last evening where many of the makhadzis came to say goodbye, and Mia Masha and Nungo from Mashau, and Rayna, Konanan and Mashudu. We sat around the fire, and ate and laughed together. It was lovely. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my last night, everyone was happy and there was no time to think about it being the end.

Now back to the UK where kids are rioting on the streets like nutters.. its going to be a shock.

But as long as I know now what is most important for me to do with my life.. protecting the earth’s diversity, in people, in species, in spirituality. I will return to Venda one day and their sacred sites will be restored, their culture intact and their people still rich with life.

I think the bones were right.

.. Im going to sit in the sun now


Permalink Leave a Comment

No time to lose

August 3, 2011 at 8:33 am (Uncategorized)

Since I came back from Zimbabwe I have had my 26th birthday

Muofhe's birthday










I went on a walk to a big steep hill

Muofhe on mountain










and I went to Mtubatuba in KwaZulu Natal with elders of Dzomo la Mupo. We went to see the ocean!

Vho Tshavhungwe at the ocean

Permalink Leave a Comment

a mini but substantial adventure

July 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm (Uncategorized)

So I set off for Zimbabwe pretty anxious and rather sad because the trip symbolised me getting near the end of my stay in Venda.. It had been Thama’s birthday so everyone was happy and I didn’t want it to end! Anyway, I packed up.. not many things, only one bag to avoid looking like I was a good mugger target.. and set off from work to Makhado where some lovely ladies who were friends of Mupo let me stay overnight at their house. I got a new name here; Lufuno, which means Love! It was a really fun night actually, watching the TV going in and out of signal, and we ate the most amazing fish stew, Daucus had a rock that looked just like ‘Tshidzimba’, a sort of bean/peanut meal.. was quite amazing! At 1am in the morning, they drove me to the place where the Greyhound bus was to pick me up, Daucus gave me a big blanket to wrap around me, it was freezing. They stayed with me until 3, when the bus finally came.. I was so grateful, and they were really fun to be with, it was a good start to my journey.. I got on the bus and they waited and waved til I left.

Great Zimbabwe

The border crossing was fairly uneventful, lots of waiting. I got talking to a guy and girl from Zimbabwe who were very nice, and from that conversation on I realised I had nothing to worry about; they were agreeing with each other how much safer they feel in Zimbabwe than South Africa and were surprised that I have been living in South Africa for so long with no trouble.. we drove on, the landscape became more rocky and full of baobab trees, donkeys and rondavels. I got dropped off in Masvingo 4 hours and one Kevin Kostner film later.

I was the only one being dropped in Masvingo and I walked out the big coach with my one bag whilst everyone was watching me. I felt quite bold. So my instructions were to find directions to the taxi rank and then find a taxi to the place I was staying. I asked in a hotel. Masvingo felt like quite a forgotten place, somewhere that once used to be prosperous maybe but was now just waiting for that prosperousness to come back. There were some old buildings from colonial times, and some new buildings with Chinese shops. I found the taxi place, and lingered only 5 seconds before someone asked me where I needed to go. I sat in the taxi and answered the usual questions, asked a few.. and a guy then took me to buy a sim card from a shop down in the town, which was very helpful. He was going to the same place as me. When we got there (they really pack people in these taxis! 21 people in a 15 person taxi.. nuts) this guy took me round the village (a Mission settlement), showed me his house.. the shop, was very helpful!

So I stayed in the Mission for 2 nights, I went to see the Great Zimbabwe ruins with a guide called Melody, a girl my age and we talked and talked all the way. Great Zimbabwe is a truly beautiful place, a maze of rock walls in between biig rocks. Saw a few monkeys and aloe trees. I met a really nice man there who showed me the area and I had dinner with the descendents of the Mission founders round a lovely big fire and a swivelling table in a house that was mysteriously long. Then early ish morning on the 3rd day I headed out in misty cold weather on what I thought would be a half day journey to Chimanimani.

cave drawing!

Taxi to Masvingo, to catch a taxi to Mutare, we were stopped by the police with guns at least 3 times.. all of us getting out so they can look inside.. the landscape was beautiful, so many baobab trees! At least 4 hours later, and after several nuisance questions by me to the taxi driver asking ‘are we there yet?’, I arrived at the junction of Wengezi. It was HOT and dusty, and there was some sort of hustle and bustle going on around some cars. This was the point that I was mostly stressing about before I came here because I’d been told I need to catch a lift from this place to Chimanimani. But I found that I felt pretty safe so I just sort of wandered around, bought some bread for my avocados until someone asked me where I was going. In the end it was a taxi that took me to Chimanimani. We drove past quite a few people all wearing white and sitting under trees listening to a pastor. We went up and up and up, when we stopped once I wanted just one orange from a lady at the window, but in Zim everything is 1US dollar, or 2, so I had to buy a dollar’s worth of oranges! Turned out to be a good idea since I was getting a cold. So finally we got to Chimanimani; it’s a little bit like a Swiss village in the mountains, but African, and there were dramatic clouds and some of the most stunning mountains I have ever seen peering through the trees, and that (if I may say so) is saying something.

A man called Mufaro was waiting for me in Chimanimani with instructions that if you see a white lady she is coming back to the same village as you.. so he let me sit in his hardware shop then went with me in the 4th taxi of the day to the village down in the valley. Beautiful drive and about 15 small children were singing in the back so very loudly all the way. It was dark by the time we got there, and I was grateful to sit by the big big fire and to be given some food. This place was COLD.


I spent 3 days in this village, a most beautiful peaceful, green village. I was able to join some people going into the national park, amidst such crazy dinosaur type vegetation and we saw a cave drawing! ..A cave drawing!! Just there on the rock with no fences or signs or souvenir shops! I was taken into the village one day to learn some things about permaculture from the people, and each night we sat by the big big fire and ate traditional food. I loved it very very much. On the 4thday I was given a lift to Mutare (a little bit like Bozeman, but perhaps Bozeman in the 1960s.. crossed with Makhado) and then another taxi took me onto Nyanga over Christmas pass. Wow! Such a beautiful drive, and the sun was setting on the mountain tops. A guy passed me his phone with a message that said “where does a stunning beauty like you hale from” I said “I’m from Britain..” (and hale is spelt hail right? ..didn’t say that, but I wanted to). I

me on the mountain in Nyanga

was picked up from Juliasdale and spent 3 nights and 2 full days in this gorgeous place walking around and playing scrabble by the fire. One of the days we climbed a big rocky mountain… and after so many avocados and pap in Venda, I found I was pretty shockingly unfit. New (but actually very old and repetitive) resolve to shape up by August.

On the last day we drove to Harare and stopped at a traditional food fair where I ate baobab yoghurt and millet cookies, and in the evening I took the coach overnight back to Makhado. The border this time was somehow quicker, although the man stamping the passports fell asleep when I was at his window, had to remind him he needed to actually stamp the book!

Got back to Vuwani around 11am, Thama ran out to give me a hug, it was nice to be back.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Muofhe blogging

July 5, 2011 at 11:56 am (Uncategorized)

It has been a while since my last post. I have been staying in a kind of suburb of Thohoyandou called Makwarela. It used to be a village and they used to have a forest, but now it’s all houses joining them to Thohoyandou.

Madudu, a really bad photo of me, and Vhoni

I was staying with my friend Mashudu T (Toli, or ‘Madudu’ as given by her small nephew) and her family who have 3 vicious dogs that all walk on only 3 of their 4 legs. There has been electricity in Makwarela for a long time and they have a TV. We spent many evenings watching scary horror movies (Saw VI!), and Venda dramas under thick woolly blankets (very very cold at night now) with her 4 younger sisters; Vhoni, Azwi, Livhu and Andan. The scary movies really freaked me out, I’ve never been good with scary movies! and a couple of times when I went out to pee, if they caught me on my own, the dogs would come and growl and bark at me! Had to run away from them biting at my heels more than once. At the weekend we went to see a beauty contest.. which is another story.. I had a really great time in Makwarela and I hope Mashudu will come and stay with me one day!

Birds on sticks in Mashau

It was Youth Day a few weeks ago which meant it was a holiday from work and I thought I would spend it back in one of my favourite places so far; Mashau. Mashau is a small sprawled out village between Vuwani and Elim.. on the way to Makhado and it is in such a beautiful spot with amazing views of mountains, and forests (for now). I was there for a weekend in June with Mphathe, Thama and Mashaka to visit their family there and Mbilu took me to see the reservoir so I got to go bush whacking in the bushes. I was slightly scared of the cows. To get there, there is no taxi from Vuwani so we had to hitch hike. The first time I have hitch hiked in my life, one man in a fancy car picked us up and was interested in the Mupo Foundation, but could only take us so far.. then a red truck picked us up and we sat in the back with some logs that were covered in creosote.

Grasses in Mashau

So on Youth Day I went on my own, the taxi dropped me too early and again I ended up taking a lift. But the full moon was out and it wasn’t too dark. We walked along the dirt road up the hill to their house in the moonlight, it was beautiful. On that first night there was a lunar eclipse, we stayed up until midnight by a massive fire watching and waiting for it to go back to normal, we saw about 5 shooting stars when the sky went black. We spent the next day walking to another reservoir that some Afrikaaners people once made to irrigate the land, before they were removed for the land to be given back to its original clan owners. We came across some empty European looking houses that looked like they had been burned down a while ago.

Last week I was invited to attend a traditional funeral of a brother of the Chief of one of the places I stayed at a few months ago. I wasn’t expecting it and so wasn’t dressed appropriately, eg I was wearing trousers, so I had to borrow Mphathe’s traditional cloth to wrap around me. I went with Johannes from the office and we arrived when someone was giving a kind of speech. We waited at the back. Then everyone started moving, we were headed to the sacred site. Johannes and I didn’t have transport so we got in the back of a seriously BIG truck with lots of other people. Some women really wanted the mukuhuwa to sit with them and for me to sit on this lady’s knee. So I did, it was a pretty funny journey, people laughing and shaking my hand, I was trying not to be too heavy though and succeeded in giving myself cramp the whole way. At the sacred site everyone was silent. Usually I wouldn’t be allowed in the forest and I was told I too should not speak. I sat quietly at the back. Some women brought the traditional basket in (mifaro) wearing only the Venda skirt and necklace. Men then filled in the grave with soil and then passed rocks in a human chain to place on top, silently, and then the makhadzi (who took me up the mountain that day) sprinkled the grave with seeds and water. Then it was over, everyone said “aa” or “ndaa” as one and silently left the forest. Johannes and I got a lift back to Thoho in a car (actually the hearse the corpse came in) with a crazy product of Jesus the almighty “God owns this whole place, and until you find Jesus in your life, you will cry until you die” Amen.

Thama and the cake

Yesterday it was Thama’s birthday and we had a party! Mphathe bought the ‘things for the party’ including simbas and Marie biscuits, marshmallows and ‘chappies’, balloons and party trumpets! Everyone spent the day preparing, mostly cooking and tidying. I took a trip to the Spar at the other side of the village to buy some wine. It is quite a ways away so it was a good chance to get some sun, and found that it was quite strange to actually be alone walking around.. as it doesn’t happen so often. It was a nice walk, and I got a customary proposal from a man who ‘just wanted to make love to a white woman’.. really I couldn’t resist. I got back to the house and people started arriving, some elders who brought sugar cane and kids who took the balloons 🙂 I was set the task of setting the table with biiig bowls of aforementioned party things, with help from the kids. Muofhe – the kids party entertainer. Then it was time to eat, we had chicken and pap, the cake was brought out, candles lit, candles blown out.. did some dancing to the radio the kids managed to acquire for 2rand. Then as it got dark and the nail like moon was shining and setting, everyone left. Done. We were left alone to sit by the fire, I popped the cork on the wine and gave Thama the drawing I drew of him for his birthday, and we ate 8 squares of fruit and nut chocolate each. Mashaka said she had 10 but I don’t believe her. Also we found out that this was Thama’s 9th birthday, not his 10th as we all thought!

Tomorrow I am going to Zimbabwe for 10 days, then returning to Venda for my last month.. time is going fast!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Pausing to think

June 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm (Uncategorized)

Having finally finished reading Wild Law by Cormac Cullinan, I wanted to quote something of his. Because this is what I have been also thinking but wasn’t able to express so easily:

“Scraping topsoil, plants and the rich community of life off land and covering it with concrete is an assault on our inner world. If we continue too long on this course our consciousnesses, and those of the generations who follow us, will no longer be shaped through interaction with the beauty, diversity, and sheer unexpectedness of nature. Concrete parking-lots breed parking-lot minds: uniform, barren, predictable and devoid of any sacred or transcendental meaning. How many great works of art or literature do you suppose our parking-lots will inspire? How many laws on our statute books are inspired by this outlook?”


Permalink Leave a Comment

Taxis and fat cooks

June 3, 2011 at 8:18 am (Uncategorized)

I am at the stage where everything is becoming relatively normal. I’ve been here nearly four months and can greet people in the appropriate way, get myself around on my own and can eat chicken’s feet and tree worms no problem.. in fact I quite like the tree worms. I have been spending every day going to the office. We make fire at around 6:15-6:30 in the morning, Mphathe’s houseworker and friend Rayna arrives with her 2 year old girl Konanan and we sit around the fire waiting for the water to get warm so we can bath. It is freezing cold in the mornings now, and bathing in the shack outside is like bathing in a shack outside in the wild hills of Cumbria (perhaps involving less sheep and more cockerels). We have a cup of tea (rooibos, no milk, ¼ teaspoon of sugar).. before walking to catch a taxi at the road.

A Vuwani taxi driving away, a common sight

The taxi system is the strangest and most frustrating thing. If you get there before 8 you might catch the fast ones that go straight to Thohoyandou, but if you are after 8 the taxis wait at the junction and take people to the taxi rank in Vuwani when it is full and then when you get to the taxi rank you have to get out and get into another taxi to go to Thohoyandou which you also have to wait in for it to get full. But sometimes the taxis at the junction are not there at 8, they are there at 20 past, and sometimes when you get to the taxi rank the particular taxi in the queue to leave for Thohoyandou isn’t there and you have to wait for the right one even though there are about 10 taxis hanging around the place. It can take 1.5 hours from door to door when it should take about 40 minutes. It would be VERY frustrating if I hadn’t reached a state of serene ‘nothing’s going to piss me off today’ type attitude nowadays (apart from a few exceptional circumstances). You have to accept that the system is ridiculous.. and eat some roasted peanuts (not as nice as the Ghana ones) from the fat lady who eats all the popcorn she’s meant to be selling at the taxi rank. Or maybe you could amuse yourself listening to men trying to get you into bed/to date/to marry/to believe that you have stolen their heart through the taxi window. Or take time to be interrogated by interested educated Vuwani citizens (“WHERE do you stay?” Here in Vuwani “NO!, whereabouts?” Over that side “What are you doing here?” Visiting “What’s your programme?” Don’t have one “What are you studying?” Nothing “you’re writing a book?” No “Your name?” Ruth “Rooos?” Yes “surname?” Leavett “What church do you attend?” I don’t I’m not a Christian “haahahaaa WHAT? Then what are you?” Um excuse me?) I am also quite into watching the ladies cooking chicken on the stalls by the taxi rank, from killing it, plucking it, gutting it and cutting it into pieces.. and trying to figure out what is in the tuperware boxes at the back of the shack. I THINK they are tomatoes, but if they are ‘fat cooks’ (sweet fried dough, probably mentioned them before) then there’s no hope for me returning lean, fit and beautiful, I’ll be a big fat cook myself, probably with the frilly maid hat too to hide under. So perhaps I won’t look too closely into that and will believe that they are tomatoes.

What I mostly do though is read. I was reading Soil not Oil by Vandana Shiva and now I’m reading Wild Law by Cormac Cullinan (www.wildlawuk.org) which I started in December 2010 I think.. serious. I highly recommend everyone reads Soil not Oil especially… for the benefit of the future of this planet.

At work we are struggling a bit at the moment because there is no money, we have had to freeze many of the programmes so there hasn’t been anything exciting on that front for me to report to you. These past few weeks though I have been developing the website, which I am very proud of; www.mupofoundation.org It is not yet finished, and I’m not sure how to take it offline while I’m editing it.. but you can look at the pretty photos and admire the little millet flavicon in the tab. Also if anyone can tell me why the pdf links won’t work on the Sacred Sites page I’d appreciate it.

Today I picked up my renewed visa from Makhado which I applied for over a month ago.. (and will have to apply for again next week). Makhado is a completely different town to Thohoyandou, a fair few Afrikaans people and shops.. but as soon as you step into the taxi, at the market place, it was like I’m the only white girl in the country again. A bizarre clash of cultures, and there’s a kind of invisible stumbling block that exists between them. There was a white South African girl in the taxi back to Thohoyandou this afternoon (the first time this has happened to me since I’ve been here) and she lives in Makhado but has never taken the taxi to Thohoyandou before. When we got there she was in need of directions to the place she was going and she asked me “are you not afraid?”… actually no, I’m not.. are you?

If you are afraid then you don’t understand something, and if you don’t understand or know something you don’t care for it, and if you don’t care for it; it is vulnerable to being destroyed. See the miles upon miles of land overtaken by pine trees, bananas and macadamia nuts (I haven’t yet seen anyone in Venda eating or using a pine tree or macadamia nut for anything, and there’s no way all the people in Venda could eat THAT many bananas), where villages and people have been displaced, turfed out.. See the tourist chalets being constructed in sacred forests where thousands of species are taking refuge from our greedy lust for money that is chipping away at the edges.. understand and really know the people, the place, the environment; be connected with the land, the life, and perhaps you wouldn’t be so quick to uproot it; denying beauty, diversity and life to future generations…

Permalink 1 Comment

A spiritual journey

May 13, 2011 at 8:34 am (Uncategorized)

I would not say that I am a spiritual person. I have grown up to be pretty cynical of religion, of God.. along with several million others of my generation in the UK I should think. But I’m beginning to wonder.. how can you truly appreciate nature without understanding and appreciating the ‘spiritual’? Without spirituality there is no mystery and no wonderment (again McIntosh). By always wanting to know every detail and have everything explained scientifically we have effectively disconnected ourselves from the spiritual dimension, because how can God exist logically? And disconnecting yourself from the spiritual is also disconnecting yourself from knowing and truly living within Earth.


A few months ago I would have been embarrassed to admit it, and probably would have laughed it off .. but I am learning, my well educated and finely tuned mind is being woken up to the realisation that perhaps it is this that has been missing, this that has the key to a deeper sense of living; the spiritual dimension. This is NOT to say that I have suddenly been duped by some religion, I am merely allowing myself to truly accept the notion that there is something connecting everything on Earth, that has always been there and that has had a hand in its creation, its sustenance.

Last week I went to a shaman who threw the bones for me. It was a personal experience, so I’m not going into details but what came out of it was something quite poignant for me. The bone reading was done in the shaman’s wooden shack, he had all his medicines on one side and his certificate of traditional healing stuck to the wall along with some photographs of elders in full traditional clothing and a portrait of King George. I had to blow on the bones and he threw them on the floor. They were all sorts of objects; carved bones, actual bones from a small animal, shells, a coin.. a fossil. After the reading he banged a sculpted wooden stick on the ground and put snuff down, and gave me a mixture of medicines to go away with, with instructions of what I needed to do to fix the thing that the bones revealed.

For the first time in a long time he made me to think of my grandfather, my only grandparent to have died, and therefore my closest ancestor. There were many things the shaman said during the reading which resonated with me, but one thing I was brought to realise was that my grandfather, and so many generations before him, made me, and that because I didn’t know them when they were alive, I mostly don’t give them a second thought! How can I really know who I am if I don’t know my ancestors, my roots? Like Mphathe says; “if you are a leaf of a tree, how do you propose you can you live without the roots?”. Which then again reveals the madness of mainstream religion in this area where people are told their ancestors are demons and you should burn all trace of them, never talk to them and instead pray to the dead son of Mary and Joseph (/God obviously), a white couple who lived 2011 years ago. Who is he if not ancestor to a great many people? (But unlikely to be ancestors of the Venda people). Madness. Also, where they are taught to pray directly to God and are given dominion over all things, traditional Venda spirituality teaches that you speak to your ancestors, who are closer to God (Nwali) than you on Earth, because they do not feel God should be bothered with small troubles; Nwali is the creator, the provider. And whatever you take from the Earth should only be enough to meet your needs, allowing all others to live also.


The afternoon after my bone reading a group of us packed our pots and pans and drove way high up into a hidden mountain valley waterfall and camped under the stars. We cooked wild greens (to have with our bottle of red wine and tinned pilchards) on a fire with the pot balancing on big stones, on a rocky plateau looking out over a big valley basin with big steep rock faces on the other side. It was such a peaceful place, I spent most of the time in the small (but very fast moving) river, picking leeches off me and persuading Thama to “get in the water!” (the deep bit), he did eventually! The task the shaman gave to me meant I had to wait until the sun was nearly setting and find a part of the river that was fast flowing; pretty much feared for my life on the steep slippy rocks when I was testing to see if it was safe. Turned out it was safe once you had slipped down into the rushing water, and was easier getting out than in. After I had completed the ritual I sat on my own on the rocks looking out over the valley, Mphathe said I should wait until the first stars appear before coming back down. I have often been outside at this time of night, especially in Patagonia; where we were outside every night.. And I have even sat alone in a similar way a few times before, thinking about the beauty of the place. But I never really knew what I was doing it for before and I have never sat for such a long time either; I was contemplating the changing light in the sky and how the grasses move in the breeze.. and how the ants move along their road. I watched the clouds changing shape and the rocky mountain face changing its mood. I also discovered that it takes quite a long time for the stars to come out.. then only 2 appeared, and a satellite darted across, then another one appeared, then 5 more.. back with the others Thama was telling his extra long, extra action packed story. I lay close to the warm fire and the warm people and continued to look at the stars, but there were WAY too many to count now.

That night we went to sleep in our sleeping bags, under the gazebo, I bent round a bit so I could still see the sky.. when at 3am we were woken up by a heavy rain shower! Water was everywhere and it was cold, so Mphathe magicked up a fire from wet wood and we sat it out before deciding we would have to go home.

Permalink 1 Comment


May 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm (Uncategorized)


I want to talk about Thohoyandou, the town where our office is. It looks a little bit like the crap end of Bolton, or Blackburn… It seems like the whole town is made up of big malls that have no windows and which advertise the same shop that is down the road at the other mall. The post office has incredibly long queues only for them to tell you the news that there are no stamps left. Banks at the month end (when the government grants are handed out) have queues even longer than the ones at the post office, and there are many banks so there are snakes of people everywhere, just standing and waiting.. all day. Then the shops are rammed on this day as people go to spend all the money they just got out the ATM. Market stalls sell socks and belts in a place where if you wear socks they will get dirty in 5 seconds if you venture off the few tarred roads, and once you have one belt, you don’t need another. At this time of year, if you look for food on the market stalls, other than dried tree worms, termites and some fruit & veg, you might be able to find some ‘simba’ (crisps like nik naks or cheesy puffs) or candied popcorn of some sort, probably made in China and all sorts of unnatural colours. ‘Cold drinks’ are unusually popular, which means any fizzy drink made by the coca cola company, but they don’t stay cold for very long. Christian music can usually be heard at all times, usually from some insanely loud speakers outside ‘Shoprite’ and the majority of books on sale are books that explain why there is a heaven and how Jesus Christ can save your marriage.

This town makes no sense to me, and I have not yet found any place in the town where I feel like there is a soul there.. I have found no magic, no creativity, no imagination.. no trees. Possibly proving what I read in a book recently ­by Alastair McIntosh that “Postmodern thought seeks to deconstruct, or dismantle all sense of story and meaning [and hence any mystery and ‘wonderment’].. the body is considered real, but the soul is not”. I want to find the soul of this place, and I don’t think I will find it in Thohoyandou. It is like someone said today, the majority of people in Thohoyandou seem to be lost, they are disconnected from their roots.

However, what redeems the town is its location amidst some spectacular mountains… which are being stripped bare to make way for pine trees and eucalyptus trees that absorb all the groundwater.. and the government want to mine it, to just leave a gaping hole where there used to be forest and habitats and life; biodiversity. When I asked an elder if she can explain why she no longer eats the healthy and diverse traditional food that they used to when she was a young girl, she said; “I feel less healthy now than in the past because where are we going to find those [wild] fruits now? Those people have chopped down the trees and have planted pine trees and tea”. There are no wild fruit trees left for her to harvest. This is forcing people to buy from the shops, which is then forcing them to eat whatever the food producers, or food corporations, deem to be healthy. Like ‘simba’, a snack made from maize (which grows in abundance here in the soil), which contains no necessary nutrients, but instead a whole load of sugar and addictive e numbers… on top of that, you have to BUY it! Making you dependent on having money! Crazy.

tractor and mountains

What brings the town hope, is the people like Mphatheleni and the elders, and those at the Mupo Foundation and similar local organisations like ‘Mudzi’, who are working against this stampeding tidal wave of destruction (accompanied and steered by the spiritual oppression and brainwashing by some people’s interpretation of the Christian religion) to preserve the rich culture that isn’t so far from the surface, in a town that is (from what I can see), currently particularly devoid of the desire to create a live-able future for the next generation.

“When all the trees have been cut down .. when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” Chief Seattle, Cree prophecy.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Mountain – 20th April

April 22, 2011 at 10:30 am (Uncategorized)

Tea plantation

I have been writing in a diary every day whilst being here so that I can remember the experience in many years to come. This is my entry for the 20th April when I was in Duthuni staying with a makhadzi (Nyamukamadi) and her grand-daughter (Nyadzanga).

‘Fuck off’ in Afrikaans means ‘whatever’! Vho Lucy was telling little Nyadzanga to fuck off yesterday, I was shocked!

We got up around 7, and had bread and tea – it wasn’t raining! I put my clothes back on the line. … We took some bananas and oranges, simba and chappies, and set off for the mountain that we can see from the house. It was a steep climb at first and there were maize fields going so high up! When we reached some tall trees, I thought this was it, the top – we saw a monkey – but it wasn’t at all, we walked further along the mountain, past houses that I was surprised to see so high up – then we came to the tea plantation – miles and miles of shiny green tea leaves. It was actually beautiful; smooth green then pockets of forest (the sacred sites) down into the valley, then great mountains going up the other side with steep rock faces. I wasn’t allowed to take a photo of the [heart of the] sacred site, I think it was because I would disappear if I did so. So I didn’t. Nyamukamadi caught some grasshoppers to fry and eat later. We were walking for a while when we came across the great big ‘Tshivhase Tea Factory’ in the middle of the plantation (Tshivhase only got involved last year, mukhuwas [white people] took the land in 1972, they told the villagers, like Nyamukamadi and her family, that they had to go and live on the other side of the mountain, then when they refused [saying this was their land where they have stayed for thousands of years, look this is our sacred site..] the mukhuwas burned down their houses). We went inside and asked to buy some tea. Some nice ladies helped us out – and with each one we bought, we somehow gained a free box of tagless teabags – great! On the way out I saw another monkey, and some guy wanted to ‘be my friend’.. I didn’t really like the idea.. anyway, we walked on and came to the sacred site, the sacred forest. We had to greet the ancestors – “aa” – then we walked around the edge because I am not meant to enter, or I will disappear. The forest was so peaceful and magnificent – big old trees, lots of weed like plants and hanging vines, there was a constant noise from the small insects – it was so dense and green, and cool – spiders were all around the edge, their webs bridging the gap between the forest and the tea bushes. An owl was disturbed by us and it flew from one branch to another. I really felt again how important it is to preserve these areas of rich biodiversity, and how profound and reviving it feels to be in a place so ancient and spiritual, and full of life. We walked onto the next island of forest where Nyamukamadi went inside to do her rituals. Mashudu and I waited outside. Then we started to walk back when a truck drove past and offered us a lift! So we got in the back with 3 Zimbabwean guys and some wood. I got a very muddy ass.

More tea

They took us to the junction near Mapitas bar where Mashudu and I went with the Chief of Tshidzivhe, and we walked from there, visiting a couple of the makhadzi’s relatives, to the Chief of Vhutanda’s place. I like the Chief of Vhutanda, he has a nice warm personality. We took our muddy shoes off [the 2nd time I have actually worn shoes and not flip flops] and went inside his house (dance music playing outside). We were able to ask him a few questions and he gave us fanta pineapple, and lovely fresh brown bread with the most amazing ripe avocado, and fresh honey from the wild (!!) in a box with a few dead bees and ants. It tasted so good. And since it was 3:30 and we had only eaten a few bananas and half an orange since breakfast I didn’t mind so much the remarks about me being a chibumba.

We left the chief (with an avocado to ‘take away’) and walked back through the villages back to Nyamukamadi’s house. I was introduced to quite a few people, and some kids shouted ‘Mukhuwa’ VERY loudly from a ways away. The light at sunset was really nice, and we are still high up in the mountain even at the house so there were beautiful views across the plains all around. When we got back we ate some more avocado, warmed some water on the fire for a bath, and went to bed. A good day.

[Actually I’m not sure that it is entirely correct that ‘fuck off’ means ‘whatever’ in Afrikaans.. maybe someone will tell me..]

Permalink Leave a Comment

Funerals and avocados

April 12, 2011 at 8:22 am (Uncategorized)

This weekend was the funeral of Vho-Phophi, a very elderly lady of the Ramunangi clan who was very much involved in fighting for the clan’s sacred sites. Also this weekend it was planned for me to move from Vuwani to a village just outside Thohoyandou to stay with an elder makhadzi named Tshavhungwe.


In the past few weeks I have been with Mphathe and her family, which is continuously changing! She has one son; Thama, who likes dancing and flicking me in the neck, and when I was staying there before she was also looking after her niece Mashaka ‘Mashaka Maka’ who is 16 and wants to be Miss South Africa. Mashaka went home for the school holidays, and then a small one year old girl called Mazanga has now come to live with Mphathe for a few months. Mazanga is hilarious, and has absolutely no worries, she isn’t worried that her mother is not around, and calls everyone else ‘mmamaWEY!’ and always wants to eat crisps and cake.. which Mphathe never has! Rightly so.

Workshop in Tshizivhe

For one week in the middle I was attending a workshop on Seed with Mphathe and the Mupo Foundation. The purpose was training in good seed saving, and a lot of the time was spent out in the field visiting member’s nursery’s and farms. We spent one day in Vhutanda, talking about cross pollination of maize.. I learnt a lot! And I have made a list of what I will plant one day on my own farm (mostly potatoes and spinach, then I will live close to a butchers so that I can buy sausages 😉 ). The next day we all travelled in two taxis (named ‘brutal’ on the windscreens) and a truck (Thama and I in the back.. very dusty) to a far away village called Mphaila where it is very hot and dry, most of the trees have been chopped and the river is no longer clean from the loss of roots that kept the soil in. This day I wore my traditional Venda skirt and beads.. it made for quite an interesting experience! Whenever we stopped somewhere there was someone taking a photo of me on their phone, when we stopped for lunch a man came over to ask if I would go over to his party and have my picture taken with them… Vho Joyce from Tshidzivhe told him that I would not. The last three days we were in Tshidzivhe, camping in the room with all the drums (and a very small snake!) we ate a lot of porridge, and I was told several times that I was becoming a

Venda Dancing

chibumba.. but we also walked up and down the village to places where I went only a few weeks before, visiting people I had already made friends with, it was really nice… I felt a bit like it was my home and I was able to show people the way a bit and tell people a few details about people’s plants that I had already found out. Everyday in the morning the makhadzis would sing and dance before doing any work, and at each person’s house someone would start singing the ‘mupo song’ and there was no doubt that at some point in every song, the focus would be on me to perform some kind of contribution! I loved it, I love the singing, and I know that if I try and dance people will be laughing, which makes me laugh, so it was a good time.


On Saturday, the day of the funeral (the Christian version, the traditional version was the next day and was only to be attended by elders), we had to wake up at 4am and get ourselves to the graveyard. We hired a driver and his car was a really old Mercedes I think, and he was playing old country music and driving all over the place dead slowly. At the funeral I had to wear a headscarf because the Christians here do that. I felt a bit silly but I think people would have stared at me whatever I was wearing. We all circled the grave, but we had to wait for another funeral of a teacher who committed suicide to go first.. a woman started singing the first line of a song, it was quite melancholy but uplifting at the same time. Everyone joined in with their own harmonies, it was beautiful. The service, when it started, was quite quick, and the boys who I thought looked a little unkempt to be standing so close to the grave (before I realised who they were) started to shovel the dirt and cement back into the grave. About 5 boys, the youngest was listening to his headphones, worked so quickly and efficiently, the audience were singing, the boys were shovelling. Then they placed the marble on top and sealed her in. It was over so quickly! I did not know the lady, although I was meant to visit her during my time here, but the fastness and finality of the burial with the sad singing made me quite emotional. Back at the family’s house we were given lots of food, including mash potato 🙂 and as I was no longer with Mphathe or anyone I knew, I was introduced to two really nice girls called Duwe and Freedom who I could talk to and I spent the rest of the day with them learning some Venda and answering questions about English food (‘you don’t eat pap in England?!’).

Taka and Musandiwa

Tshavhungwe was one of the elders to perform the traditional funeral the next day, so we had to stay in this village an extra unexpected night, we stayed at her daughter’s house further up the hill. Tshavhungwe’s daughter wasn’t there but HER 4 daughters and one daughter in law were there (Tshavhungwe’s grandchildren) and also the next generation of children.. including a baby of 1 month, a one year old called ‘Ompa’ and 4 boys of about 11 years. Many people! I very much enjoyed staying in this house, I have never felt so welcome! They were very excited for a mukhuwa to be staying, and because it was unexpected there was quite a bit of screaming and shaking of hands! Their house is unlike any other house I have seen here yet, with shiny tiles on the walls and floors, wooden boards on the ceiling and a plastic chandelier, plastic flowers everywhere, a massive gate outside and a real bath with HOT water actually coming through the pipes! We watched an extremely long Nigerian film involving lots of rape, beating and crying. Then I went to bed on top of pink satin sheets in a room with Tshavhungwe and a door that had the handle fitted in upside-down.


The next day was spent out in the yard of the house saying ‘ri hone’ quite a lot, and ‘ndo vuwa zwauhdi’ in answer to lots of people testing my Tshivenda language skills, and one girl wanted to hug me and have a picture with me.. crazy! For breakfast Taka (second to youngest of the grandchildren and same age as me) took some avocado’s from the tree and we had them with red bush tea and bread, amazing. Then one of the sisters fried some fish in some amazing spices (actually ‘barbeque spice’ from Shoprite) and this is now my new favourite food here. We went to visit another sister’s house who had no electricity and no water.. and no trees, but then it is an 8 month old house. On the way there the girl who hugged me took me by the hand to show to her friend in the shop who asked my name, I said ‘Muofhe’ and she said ‘NO!.. aaaaa!’ pretty excited. When it was time for me to leave, all their brothers turned up and I was sat at the table so they could ask me questions, a bit like an interview with 10 people interviewing. One guy asked me ‘Can you cook? Can you wash? .. and clean?’ I said ‘yes, can you?’ .. ‘noo, I can only work’ .. no chance mate, haha. He wanted a photo with me, and he held up little Ompa and said it was our first born! Haha. I left with 5 very ripe avocados and a very happy face. I hope I can go back there one day.

Tshavhungwe and Tshinakaho near Tshavhungwe's house

Even the journey to Tshavhungwe’s house from there in Mapate was eventful. We had to drop off about 4 elderly makhadzis, which we did, and then the front tire went flat so we had to wait and be met by a different car, then we went to a elderly man’s house (grandfather of Freedom) where I was asked to ask him for bananas (mukalaha, ndo khoumbela banana!) and we were given hot pumpkin to eat. When we finally got to Tshavhungwe’s house down what seemed to me to be like a crazy long, and bumpy, maze of dirt red tracks it was 10:30pm. Tshavhungwe, at 86 years doesn’t speak any English but likes to talk, which I like because I do generally understand what she is saying after a few variations on how to say it, she also lives only with her son who has ‘gone mad’ as he was described to me. With her son asleep already Tshavhungwe and I sat at the kitchen table and ate some pap and the amazing fish, and made pretty good conversation considering neither of us really understood what the other was saying. We discussed the 3 framed photos on the wall, the picture of Mandela and the photo of a white bishop, and how good the food tasted. She didn’t want me to sleep alone so she gave me her bed and she slept on the floor, I couldn’t persuade her otherwise..

This week I will be with Tshavhungwe and Mashudu from Ngulumbi, and then next week I’ll be going to Vhutanda, where the tea plantations are!

an old photo

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »