Monday, June 21, 2010

Dodging the village

On the note of the previous entry about being in the village, I feel it appropriate to explain the eccentricities of village living. Where, back home in Muizenberg, I had neighbours who kept to themselves even after we got to know each other, here in the village it doesn't matter whether you've known each other for years, a day or a second - a neighbour is a neighbour. What that means is that you're taken in as part of their family. I realised this last year while staying alone in the family home for five days. I'd open the red window shutters and start counting. On the count of 20 I'd hear the sound of neighbourliness. That is, the sound of saintly neighbour's slip-slopping sandals hitting the concrete at a racy pace, rushing to offer me my morning treat. Once, this was a decadent, homemade half-and-half chocolate and creme-caramel cake. At 7am! And she sat down to watch me eat it all! It was my mother's favourite cake when she visited the previous month, said saintly neighbour, so she wanted me to taste it too because she knows we don't have such things in Africa.
This time, saintly neighbour was less obtrusive. Or so I thought. I opened the shutters yesterday morning and counted. Nothing. I opened another shutter just in case, this time making a bit of a racket for her to notice. The only food in the house was a packet of biscuits that had expired and I needed some saintliness with my morning coffee. Still nothing. Grumpily I began to make the coffee (and that's where the idea to walk up and buy a manoushe was born) when I heard my name being called from the front door. Yes! Breakfast cake, here I come. But instead, there she was, all saintly and stuff, but holding something far less indulgent. 'I'd left these on the shelf outside the kitchen,' she said, 'but you never opened the kitchen door, so here you go.' She handed over the three little cucumbers and I hid my disappointment with a great appreciation for receiving something picked out of the garden. Manoushe it was then.
'Come have Nescafe with me,' she invited. I made up an excuse about having to work and waited for her to shut her front door before I snuck out on my manoushe mission. She didn't give me time to walk down the garden path before her kitchen door looking out onto the street opened. 'Yalla, you're coming to drink juice with me? Nice, homemade passion-fruit juice.' No thanks, I replied, feeling kind of sheepish. I just suddenly felt like having a manoushe so I'm heading up to get one. 'Okay, then you'll come have juice with me after.' No thanks, I really need to get back to work, and off I went.
As I passed by our big gate, I heard voices coming from the top floor of the building, the floor Dad rents to a family as their weekend and summer-time getaway. I couldn't sneak past - heib! - so I called out a hello, but felt their greeting eyes dragging me up their steps and the next thing I knew I was having a big chat about my stay and trying hard to refuse their invitations to lunch and trying even harder to convince the old man that I don't need a ride up to town - that if I want to eat mne'eesh, I need the exercise to work it off. Okay, he said, he'll drive me up and I can walk down. He didn't get it. No one gets it. A 'no' here is like their favourite toy. They take the word and turn their sentences around and play with you until all your nos become one confused mess of excuses.
Making a half-jogging escape - still refusing the lift while he was halfway down the stairs - I hit the road. The same road that passes Dad's busy-body cousin (who, if she sees me, will never leave me alone - the same cousin who, last year, after me telling her I wasn't interested in going to some show, still told me to think about it; I told her again the next day that I wasn't interested; she said she'd ask me the next day; still no change in my mind but she was convinced that I was going and was this close to purchasing tickets). I let my hair loose and made sure it covered my profile while my sunglasses covered the rest of my face. Incognito. I successfully managed to dodge another family compound where two other of Dad's cousins live and have their shops, with windows in every direction and curious neighbours ready to go running to them to tell them their South African family has arrived; and another cousin who sits in a gloomy shop across the road looking for something to gossip about (this one I'll call my uncle's cousin, as he 'loves' her for the way she harasses him to get married - as if she thinks he's suddenly going to listen to her at the age of 64; I suspect her nagging is the reason he never set foot in the country for 30 years!).
Mission Manoushe complete, and another set of dodging practices accomplished during the return trip, I smile and breathe a sigh of relief when I'm almost in reach of the house's gate - and then I burst out laughing. Saintly neighbour is standing in the road with a ready glass of juice!


  1. Shades of my first visit in 1966....!! I know exactly how you feel.

  2. am living it through you. too funny!!