Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shacking Up in the Slum - Pt. II of III

The next morning, minutes after 7:00, I was woken by blasting reggae music. I staggered out of Patricia’s and saw a huge black Miller truck at Nessie’s shebeen. But that wasn’t the source of the music. Half asleep, I bumbled over. Tobekho (with the dreads on the right), Nelito, and the other regulars had already gotten the day started with some Hansa. First, who’s up at 7 am on Saturday? And second, who’s up at 7 am on Saturday and drinking heavily?

The rest of the day I hung out at the shebeen, passing the time like anyone else in Motsoaledi would on a Saturday. I also interviewed some people, one of whom was Sandy, a gregarious woman who always seemed to be wearing a smile, and her husband Victor. Sandy operated a shebeen, a fact confirmed by the 10 or so people sitting almost silently in a room in her home, drinking – an odd sight to say the least, but typical of shebeens. Music's not necessary. I asked Victor, the inebriated electrician, how many kids he had. 33. Only four belonged to Sandy, the others to mistresses, he said with a smile. Sandy was standing right next to him. “He’s a womanizer,” she said. I remarked that she was still with him. “What can I do?”, she implored. Plus, she said, he’s “a good man.” Personally, I have no illusions that men, especially in the slums, sleep around, but that it is this blatant was appalling. I’ve heard this especially in Mozambique and now South Africa, which accordingly has the largest HIV population in the world.

Later that evening, Siphiwe grabbed me and tells me we’re going to a party. My dinner goes cold on the table. When we get there, we find a space jump and hoards of kids, grilled chicken, beer, and dessert. In no time a drink and slice of cake are shoved in my hands. I'm a big celebrity, pulled in every which way by people. Siphiwe says I have a few admirers in the group of women I talked to when I entered. And who is there? Sandy and Victor (with the blue shirt and jeans in the second picture), the latter of which is even worse than before and now basically physically harassing me. Major man crush. Siphiwe, meanwhile, drinks Coca-Cola.

That night we found ourselves at, you guessed it, Nessie’s shebeen. There was a soccer match, and I split the bottle of wine gifted to me by a neighbor. Again, amazing hospitality from the South African people. Patricia hated the strong taste, but had a second and third glass because, she said, “I can’t afford any Hansa…I have to drink this.” She talked as if it was punishment, yet she drank more than anyone else. I thought this was terribly rude, and her drunkenness seemed a bit in appropriate, especially for her age. But, this is all learning for me, so you accept things as they are. After all, I am intruding on their lives, so I'm probably not one to talk about rudeness. The whole night Siphiwe had a glass of my wine, but otherwise, nothing.


  1. Rob, man, I'm so glad you're doing this. I've always wanted to spend a few days (at least) living in the slums. I've always believed it's essential to learning about poverty. You're right, all the reading and the observational stuff I have done is only good to a certain degree. And not enough people take the time to live with them. Sounds like you're having an awesome adventure, and I definitely hope to experience the same some day (Mom, I know you read this. Don't faint.)Keep it up. Are you still planning on working in northern Moz or are you staying in SA for a while?

  2. Ahoy Thomas. Yea, it was very insightful, but still not enough. Would like to stay longer. I'm back in Moz now, and yes, just started working up north. Will give an update about that on this ole' blog thing.