Riemvasmaak Goodbye

My closest friends on the committee had a braai for me on the day I left.  The food was lekker, but my departure time of 16h00 came fast, with Pastor counting down, “thirty more minutes in Riemvasmaak!”  After eating, I said a few words about what a privelege it was to spend time with them.  Chairman responded, “you are no longer an outsider, you are now one of us.”  Later, they gathered around to pray for me.  Pastor, one of my dearest friends, said he didn’t want to pray so he could avoid crying.  Another man prayed in Afrikaans, or at least it sounded like he prayed, I wouldn’t know.

Before leaving, I visited my neighbor’s homes to bring them photos I had taken.  Lozelle hugged me tight and claimed it was the nicest gift anyone had given her.  I told her she must be crazy.  Clara came to the door in only a bra.  Her husband described how happy because they didn’t have any photos of the youngest child.  They asked if I had any of the neighbor’s 2 year old son who had died two weeks ago.  At Christina’s home, 2 year old Mawethu said thank you (the first words I’d heard him speak) as he tried to eat his photo.

Zola was the most emotional.  I brought him photos of he and his 12 month old daughter.  He shoved me in joy as he saw me approaching with the photos.  He was so excited that he began swearing.  When I informed him that this was my last day in Riempi, he turned away for a long period.  I thought he was going to cry.  I tried to distract him with another subject.  He paid me one of the most meaningful compliments I’ve had here, “When I see you walking, I don’t even see you as white anymore.  You’re black, like me.”  His parting advice was to buy Spice Gold rum for the plane.

Four of the guys formed an entourage to walk me to catch the jigaleza (public taxi).  I tried to tell them that they needn’t waste their time, but they insisted on coming.  It was touching.  After so much solo traveling where I’ve departed by myself and arrived to the blank faces of strangers, it meant a lot to me (except for my wonderful parents, who have always been there to take me to the airport, no matter how early in the morning).  As opposed to kwaito or house music, the soundtrack for my exit was Phil Collins and Queen.

How do you keep in touch?  The vast majority of people don’t have email.  International phone calls are wicked expensive.  They have no address for “snail mail.” They could disappear and be erased cleanly from the system.  They have no permanent marks outside of relationships.



Plop….plop….plop….. The room is still and quiet except for the repetitive sound of raindrops, forcing their way through the roof, cascading to a low spot in the ceiling and leaping into the kettle placed strategically below.  They are patient, waiting on queue for several seconds while they sign indemnity forms, strap on harnesses, and listen to lectures about safety precautions.  Their little, wet friends take photos from above, while down below, in the kettle, they sell DVD’s for ten times what they’re worth.

Port Elizabeth is a windy city, but rarely a rainy one.  The city is on water rationing; apparently the dam is at 25% and water will run out by July of next year.  But today, the rain has come.  Despite Thabiso’s reassurances, the roof does, indeed, leak.  Now, one solitary drop in a shack made of metal scrap, I consider quite a success.  Of course, as I write these words, I notice several wet spots on the newspapers lining the wall.  I can only hope the photo of 50 cent wearing a NY Yankees hat gets damaged.

Themba told me last night that if it rained, he would stay in bed (in couch) all day.  I didn’t have that luxury, as I noticed when I awoke that we were out of matches.  I left in the drizzle for Barakat’s to fetch fire so I could heat water for my morning Nescafe.  While I was out, I noticed the opportunity presented by the rain softening the earth and to my neighbor’s gleeful chiding, decided to turn the soil of the land I’m preparing for a garden.

Upon return to the house, I could see Thabiso was true to his word, blankets pulled over his head.  The only sounds were his stuttering snoring and the plip plop of water.  This soon increased with the mooing of nearby cattle in the bush and ubiquitous weekend kwaito from next door.

When Themba did arise, he immediately set about plugging leaks with bar soap and addressing issues with the roof.