Thursday, 11 July 2013

Of Grave Digging and Life

I recently learned of my neighbour's sudden passing. As customary I went over to be part of the group of men to dig his grave.
The digging started a little after 01h00. I could hear from my window the pick hitting the many rocks as the men laboured, some drunken laughter a steady accompaniment of heavy toil. I awoke and gingerly made my way to where they were digging.
As customary, the last arrival is first to go in when the bloke down below gets tired. My turn promptly came before I had much time to psyche myself. I have always imagined what the mood would be like when my turn to have my own grave prepared came. Will the men have a sense of loss as they laboured? Will it perhaps be that they'll be merry and of jovial spirit, celebrating the life that once was (and still is)?
"Shona khona ndoda, usand' uk'fika" (Go, you are the last to arrive) was the call that sent me down below. Upon landing I regretted downing the last two rounds some three to four hours before. My head spun for a while and I found myself mumbling something barely audible. I reached for the pick and gave my first hit. I was in for it.
The grave digging is one of the last gatherings that bring together the young and old men of my community. With the roll out and demarcation of municipal wards our traditional chiefs have lost their power over the people. Perhaps it is the people who have deserted the traditional ways and authorities. I have always wondered about democracy and its role in the African context.
We die because we lose our ways I contemplated with the last blow with the pick. I would be back to dig some more; I should not give all my energy at the first go.

The men always joke when we dig. As young men we get a rare opportunity to pick the brains of the elderly men. This is one of my favourite parts of grave digging. In African culture we pride ourselves in painting an elaborate picture when making a point. This we have learned from our forefathers and is passed on to us through story-telling. The other part that I like with this process of grave digging is when we share traditional beer, umqombothi, with the older men. For me, this sharing of umqombothi signals a silent truth. It is acknowledging that we are mortals; our day will also come.

The atmosphere remained bubbly throughout our toil. The beer helped our chorus of controlled laughter at many truths and contradictions of life and afterlife. We were men of one heart at that time; or was it for the moment? Our unity reminded the older men of what once was. It reminded me of what we could be.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Of dreams and folly

I love going to the beach. The vast and open shores give comfort in a way that I'm not yet able to capture in words.
'I feel complete' was the thought that crossed my mind as I searched for the source of this love for the beach.

My love for the beach has been a turbulent one. Some 16 years ago I nearly lost my life at the beach. That was my first near-death experience. The swallowing of vast amounts of sea water and the visions of death that flashed through my mind on that day gave birth to the fighting spirit within. Ironically, my love for the beach was re-affirmed on that day despite the difficult and challenging circumstances. Isn't it said that true love triumphs and manifests through the most trying of times?

Having spent part of my childhood in Soweto, the beach was an unexplored avenue. It became a gateway for my imagination to run wild- it still does today. The vastness of the sea mesmerized me, and my inability to swim was compensated by illusions of walking upon the sea like Christ. Imaginations of sea monsters and breathing under water without any machinery captured me. The hard reality though, entailed evading white people's dogs that terrorized me. Couldn't they read the signs that said dogs were not allowed?! My love for the beach still remains though, despite these dogs.

While I'm at it, perhaps the absence of black people at the beach, with the exception of major holidays, is related to the ever-present dogs. Hmmm.
I regularly carry a stick with me. 'It adds to your beach comber tendencies' a friend said. Little did she know that it's there to help fend off over-zealous dogs keen on biting more than they can chew.

Just the other day I was walking along the shore and happened to strike a conversation with an American woman who flattered me by suggesting that I have an accent. What a joke, I thought.

I love how relaxed I feel when I'm at the beach. The inner child gets really excited as I splash and dive at the breaking waves. I just wish more black people would join me when I'm there. Perhaps they'll witness a miracle as I eventually walk upon the waters.