I’ve never fully understood the merriment that is Halloween, apart from being the one day in a year when guys can legitimately wear eye-liner and walk down the street with speedos outside of their pants, demanding sweets (without being committed/arrested); and where a certain z-list celebrity female is papped wearing a mermaid’s get-up in public. My American friends on the other side of the pond however go Gangnam for this holiday.
Halloween used to be the one night in a year when I’d purposely ensure that I was AWOL from the house, or bunkered-in watching a movie in the dark, to avoid the need to re-oil the hinges on the front door and/or replace the batteries of my door chime in the aftermath. Needless to say, this makes me sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, but bar humbug, the truth will set me free!
Halloween in South Africa passed without the faintest whiff of a trick-or-treater. No terrified screams from adolescent zombie-lookalikes to accompany the triggering of an arsenal of booby-traps I had rigged up along the length of my driveway. It was all rather disappointing.
Jokes aside, the concept of ‘trick or treating’ in South Africa would not fly. If a stranger were to turn up on a South African’s doorstep wearing a Scream mask and wielding a plastic blade, they would either be wasted by a 9mm on site, or become a human-sized dog-chew. There is also the scenario where a trick-or-treater, partaking in a ‘one-of-a-kind-police-supervised-trick-or-treating-session-along-a-select-street-in-Jo’burg-where-all-the-homeowners-are-paid-actors’, is mugged for the stash of goodies in his plastic jack-o’-lantern. Chortle if you will – this would inevitably happen.
I’m sure many of you have seen Monsters Inc. and can remember a time from your past when you left the bedroom door slightly ajar to let in just enough light to keep the monster under the bed (or the one who lived in the cupboard) at bay. In Southern African folklore there exists a similar monster that is said to hide under beds, in dark corners, or behind curtains and is referred to as the Tokoloshe.
Perhaps naively, I was of the impression that this was a creature created for younger children, by adults, as a preventative for naughty behaviour, however the tradition of elevating beds off the floor using bricks continues well into adulthood. One thing I know about many black South Africans is that they believe heavily in folklore and superstition and when there exists an evil spirit whose power extends to inducing illness, biting off toes, raping women and even causing death for its victims, they probably take the view that a few bricks under the bed couldn’t hurt anyone. The Tokoloshe is a creature feared by many.
There are mixed accounts as to what a Tokoloshe actually looks like, although the general consensus seems to be that it is scary, hairy, and shorter than the average human, possessing a huge third leg (more on this later). It is also hard to see (sometimes invisible) and should one happen to lay eyes on it, they are likely end up blind. Others say that only children have the ability to see the creature – a bit like Lizzie in the movie Drop Dead Fred. Continue reading
Having lived and worked in London, I have frequently been exposed to the ‘joys’ of the business commute. This is especially momentous during summer months when rush-hour masses are packed into claustrophobic, non air-conditioned tube train and whisked to their respective destinations. There is always one soap dodger who inevitably ends up in your train car and then decides that he would like everyone to know that HE (and it was usually always a male) was the one who neglected to take a shower that particular morning. I’m sure that these people purposefully stand with their arms raised to grip a handhold next to an open window, at just the right angle so that the draft dissipates the horrors within their armpit(s) throughout the entire shared air bubble.
My prior knowledge of sangomas comes mainly from chatting with my medical doctor friends and a Carte Blanche episode on South African television which I watched about a year back. From these fleeting experiences, their reputation does not sit well with me, even though I am relatively open-minded when it comes to alternative therapies.
Traditional ‘healers’ are revered and respected members of the community and yet I hear of many stories where infants and babies arrive at hospitals, dead or dying, and if not dead severely dehydrated, vomiting and many with pronounced signs of colitis (inflammation of the colon). Depending on the severity of the individual cases, medical staff battle to keep these children alive; their internal systems are sometimes so toxic from whatever they have either ingested (or been given as an enema) that their body pH level is sometimes more acidic than that of a cadaver, which in turn affects many of the body’s natural processes – enzyme operation, oxygen delivery, mineral assimilation to name but a few. Meanwhile the ‘culprit’ sangoma continues to hand out the death medicine, chant, beat drums and do everything else that they shouldn’t be doing. Whoops..cynicism fart! Continue reading
If you ever choose to visit South Africa, you may get invited to attend a braai. Don’t panic, as this is merely the local variant of a good old fashioned BBQ, with a few subtle differences. Take notes from here on and you’ll go a long way to impressing a few locals with your knowledge of what can only be described as one of the cornerstones of South African male tradition.
Mention the word ‘BBQ’ when you attend such an event and you might very quickly become the centre of some unwanted attention. This attention can range from a subtle correction in your use of vocab and an explanation as to why a braai is not a ‘BBQ’; a bit of wors flung in your general direction accompanied by an exclamation of the word ‘Pommie’ (more on the ‘wors’ later), or a good firm Boer hand klap around the back of the head. I speak from experience. Continue reading
Friends for overseas always ask me, ‘what is traditional South African cuisine?’ and whilst a standard ‘traditional’ list of foods exists, under which stuff like Bobotie falls, I more often than not reply ‘meat’. South Africa is a definite contender for the meat capital of the world!
My response is by no means a fib, as one thing which South Africa does better than anywhere else I have ever been is meat; both in terms of quality and the amount. You can literally walk into a Woolworths (the equivalent of say Marks and Spencer in the UK) and pick up a very decent half beef fillet of say 900 grams, which can easily feed 4 people (and some) and pay in the region of about £15.
This value for money is echoed when you come to dining out. Kream, one of the top fine dining restaurants in the Pretoria area (Brooklyn) serves a fillet camembert (approximately 300 grams) for R129 (at the time of writing). In my mind this is incredible! Actually, let’s say mind blowing, considering the reputation of the restaurant! My friends who have visited from the UK, also chuckle slightly and shake their heads when it comes to settling the bill. Continue reading