South African stories. What a lot we got. Folklore, fables, strange phenomena, myths, old wives’ tales, tall tales, we’ve heard them all. Or so we think. These make South Africa an intriguing, even mystical, place in which to live.
I heard about “the Tokoloshe” when I was very small. Yes, deep under apartheid. The 60s, babies. Mary was a very large, round woman who lived in what was then called a “khaya” (home) in my family’s backyard. A tiny room with a bed, chair, shower and toilet. Behind the garage where my Dad kept his gleaming white Ford Cortina. With red leather seats. And those kiff tail fins.
Artistic impression of "the Tokoloshe"... fortunately not invisible and, even more fortunately, without its "exceptionally long penis".
I loved Mary. What I’m about to say may seem patronising but it isn’t. She was one of two mothers that I was blessed to have. My Mom worked all day so Mary looked after me once I got home from school. Fed me lunch, checked on me while I played on the foofie-slide down at the river with George from next-door and worried that I might have my leg taken off by one of the legavaans (large monitor lizardy-type reptiles) that lived there. And wouldn’t allow me to bring tadpoles and silkworms into the house.
When I was very small, she would wrap me in a blanket, tie it to her back and take me with her to the tea-room to buy milk and bread, having countless very long conversations with other “maids” on the way. When I was about 12, Mary “got sick” and moved back to her family who lived in a “location” somewhere near Edendale, outside Pietermaritzburg. Soon after that, she died. I cried as if I had lost a mother. Because I had.
While she was living in that “khaya”, Mary had her bed put up on bricks. I remember she had two bricks placed under each leg of the bed, making it so high that it was difficult for me to clamber up and chat to her.
“Many urban and rural women use bricks as a protection against the Tokoloshe. That is, they raise their bed on bricks. This is so that the Tokoloshe can’t reach them while they are sleeping. The Tokoloshe is the evil creation of a man who murdered nine women in his quest to be come a witchdoctor. He is hairy, has the face of a monkey, can make himself invisible and, other than attacking unsuspecting women, is responsible for all sorts of mischief. The Tokoloshe has an exceptionally long penis (which it hitches over its shoulder as it walks) and is, fortunately, a dwarf.”
Musical footnote: There is a very cool South African band named “Bed On Bricks”.
Five days. We have five days before The Heartman and I (and new Heart & Sole recruit and documentary film-maker Simon) roll out of Durban in the general direction of Cape Town.
Monday can’t come quickly enough. We’re done with the talking. We want to do the unicycling. And back-up driving. And blogging. And tweeting. And facebooking. And filming. And photographing. And everything else that we’ll find we will do. We just want to do.
The Heartman and I are grouchy. We’re restless. We’re expectant. And we are totally amped to do this Heart & Sole baby. It’s weird. We’re in this kind of compression chamber. A bubble. We’re irritating each other. The media have now got on to us. We’re being phoned for interviews. And we tell them more or less the same thing. The thing is we don’t know. We know that sometime in February – our choice would be Valentine’s Day – we want to roll into Cape Town.
We just don’t have a clue as to what will happen between Monday and then. No, we don’t know where we will sleep, although there will be some foam rubber in the back of the small bakkie that is to be our back-up vehicle. We have a feeling that the generosity of people we have yet to meet will mean that we will find beds, hot showers and some good food along the way. Don’t know where, don’t know when. We don’t know how often.
I expect to be seeing some of this...
We know that we are going to have a jol. Our minds are made up about that. Anyway, we are wired like that. We are both ADD. We get distracted. It will be hot. Very hot. So dams and rivers will distract us. We both love the ocean. I am writing this with the most constant sound of my life crashing in my ears… the waves. So our route will hug the coastline between Durban and Cape Town. This is why, instead of turning inland from Port Shepstone on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast and going via Kokstad, we will head for Port St Johns and the phenomenalness of the sparsely populated Wild Coast.
It will be beautiful. We will be beautiful. It will be dangerous. We don’t know the exact nature of the risks we will have to take. We don’t know what might confront us. But we have worked through the fear. Because the only fear we can have is our fear of something we do not yet know. There is no point to it. We have both been through military training, in my case a long time ago. This will help. We are both a bit crazy. This will help even more. And we both believe, in somewhat different ways, in the higher energy source which surrounds us. This will help us the most. We will meditate. We will love. We will sing. We will argue. We will be scared. We will appreciate. We will understand. We will grow. We will change. And, flip, we will unicycle and drive and laugh and cry and live.
... and quite a bit of this...
We instinctively know that to schedule stops and goals and deadlines is to be disappointed. We will go as far as our bodies and minds and moods take us each day. And as far as the weather and the heat and the wind and the terrain allow us. If we cover 50km in a day, great. If we go 10km in a day, equally great. One kilometre is a gain. There will be rest days. There will be nightmare days. But every day will be a fun day.
We look forward to meeting the various characters that only South Africa is capable of producing, especially in the no-horse towns in the middle of nowhere. Extraordinary people. People in rural areas with very little but the shirts on their backs and the wealth of living a life extraordinarily lived. Stories. Anecdotes. We will photograph them. And we will laugh with them. And Geoff will probably try to teach them to stay on a unicycle for longer than two seconds, something I can’t do. Funninesses.
... and, yaaawwwn, a hell of a lot of this. Pix: Hatman
We want to publish a book of the experience with which we are about to be blessed. The Heartman is a freelance photographer. I am a writer. I think that it will be a wondrous story of the Great South African Experience. Lives and tales of lives less experienced. South Africans forgotten about. Real South African stories. Real people. Realities. Folklore. Myths. The truth. And of many people becoming aware of the people who cannot walk to the river to wash their clothes without fear of losing a limb. Landmines are unnecessary. A curse that is only real for the people left behind after wars with land that cannot be used to grow food. That cannot be walked upon. Because the people who planted their evil ordnance went to fight other battles and left the locals to live in terror. A terror that stops them from moving, from planting, from living. From bettering their lives.
This must be stopped. And, in order for that to happen, we won’t be stopped.
With a very expectant and excited eye on World Cup 2010, and the hundreds of thousands of you who will come to experience the strange and wondrous country I call home, I am launching a series of posts about largely unknown gems unique to South Africa.
To kick this off, something that always gets me going – and there are a lot of those – is the mythology which tightly enwraps the many cultures indigenous to the Beloved Country.
It is a subject that is endlessly fascinating. This is indeed a land where one’s spiritual ancestors walk hand-in-hand with that old man you might see walking to nowhere in particular on the side of a dusty country road… and also the young, stylishly dressed professional woman striding confidently to her office in any of the big cities.
The mysterious baobab tree: mythologically succulent
South Africa never ceases to amaze. Prepare to be amazed.
This from South Africa Tourism’s website: “In the Transkei near Coffee Bay is a prominent rock formation with a big hole in the middle, a powerful symbol of tragedy in Xhosa mythology. In short, a young girl called Nongqawuse had seen a messenger from the realm of the ancestors at a waterhole, but her uncle misinterpreted the missive to mean the Xhosa had to kill all their cattle to be spared the rule of the British. They did so, and lost everything…”
How was that for you? Too much of amazedness, huh? Wait. Golly gumdrops, there is so much more I have to give you. By the time you jump off that plane in June next year, I will have you fairly frothing at the mouth with all the excitements and adventures to come. Never mind the small matter of some pretty rad football. Consider it to be part of the Fred-hot service. It’s the way we roll here in South Africa. Warm and friendly to a fault. And full of amazing stories.