Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Grandma and Farmer Nagel : a tale of two Identities

I grew up in Apartheid South Africa in the Mid'80s. Now what is interesting with that time was the chasm between black and whites. Growing up in my grandmother's rural homestead I had a lot to learn about human relations. Grandmother, Ennie Nompitimpti Nyauza was one formidable woman. Nompitimpiti means traffic to those uninitiated to the Xhosa vernacular. Grandmother a force of nature as her name implied. she drank a lot, took snuff and was generally energetic. Neighbours in our small village used to brew sorghum beer for her specifically, call her and let her have a time of her life. Drunk, she would come home and harass us all. She would tell me in her drunken stupor that "Yes, I'm struggling with you here while your wayward mother is having fun in Johannesburg. I buy shoes for your, pay your fees at school while nobody cares about you suka![get out of here] " But all in all gradmother was a lady of the people. One side of her that never failed to amaze me was that she was also deeply spiritual. Said her prayers every night when she went to bed. I struggled with these different versions of her. Another fact is her unusual yet cordial friendship with one farmer called Oom Nagel- an Afrikaner boer who use to come to our village and sell everything, from wood, milk potatoes and tomatoes. Mind you, this was at the height of apartheid. Oom nagel with his battered lorry will come every week...toot!, toot! toot! He will hoot. "Ouma melk, tamaties, dikgong (wood) he will advertise his wares as he drove slowly down the street passing our home. Well, you might ask why is this relevant? Here is why: around that time we were taught to fear the white man. He was the baas. The system afforded him such power over the natives. Hey! Not to my grandmother. She could bargain with Oom Nagel each and every time, complaining that his wares are not to good standard. Grandma was able to get her points across each and every time, and each and every time she won. She would buy a load of wood from the old white man and if she was not happy with something she definitely let it be known. "Hhayi, izinkuni zaka Nagel zi manzi. Zenza umsi." [No,no,no, Nagel's wood is wet. It does not burn and it smokes a lot].She would say this in no uncertain terms. Or maybe she would complain "Nagel's milk is watery. It does not have cream at all. I won't buy it next time". Now Oom Nagel was an old man himself...with peeling heels, craggy face that was papery as though it is a scone with too much self-raising agent in it. Week in, week out Oom Nagel will come, and every time grandma will buy something. In my young mind it appeared as though they enjoyed each other's company and the banter that always developed between them was something to behold. Oom Nagel will never pass our house without calling out grandma. It was unheard of then. For a white man to be so cordial with an uneducated African old lady. It taught me one important lesson- that friendship can cut across the colour line...and that human beings are one and the same after all. It does not matter the language you speak. If you can be able to find each other's souls then the world can be a better place.

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