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..]


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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

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