Three months in South Africa are coming to an end. I have ridden big open roads through the desert. I have seen mangoes dropping from trees and the sea and red rock and blue sky and monkeys and even a giraffe. And we’ve stayed with so many people that I want to count them on my hands, to remember and honor them. I want to thank them for welcoming us into this magnificent country that breaks my heart with its kindness and generosity, with its injustice and its apathy.
There was Juliet and her family in Table View. She picked us up from the airport and made us a pasta bake. She carried a mattress and pillows into her daughters’ dollhouse in the yard so we could sleep. She told us we must start the day by dunking rusks into rooibos tea. Her family went on a three month cycling trip through Europe this past spring.
There was Johann in Prins Albert that encouraged us into the Karoo. He told us that no matter what color your skin is, we all bleed red. He’s supported the Freedom Challenge for years. This will be his year to ride.
And then Jaco pulled up in his bakkie. He said we must stay for two days so we can have a proper braii and see his orchard and clean our clothes.
There was Monsieur Joubert that quickly thawed lamb and kudu sausage and poured us cooldrink after cooldrink– first diet coke and then Tab and then coke zero.
Sydney and Gay asked us what we needed and brought us to their guesthouse and gave us a freezer pack of lamb and kudu biltong. In the morning I nursed a sick lamb with a baby bottle. They thanked us for visiting when we left.
The Mom and Dad and daughter and son and grandmother with a French surname and sheep and cows.
And 24-year-old Vossie with 8000 lambs and a jolly smile and a George Foreman grill and a father dying of cancer. He referred us to his friend Chris in Wartrail that invited us into his guesthouse with no questions asked.
And the young dreadlocked jobless professor at the bottle shop at the border to Lesotho that spoke his hopes for the future.
Into Lesotho, Canadian-Ukrainian Ivan with his grassroots permaculture technical school and solar-powered everything. He arrived to dry dust in the ’80s and has since planted thousands of seeds in the last thirty years.
The two chiefs in Lesotho that let us camp in their yards.
The Indian couple in the shit-hole town that has seen much better days. They reheated spicy spicy curry and sugared our coffee.
And the folks with maize and cows and guns to shoot wild pigs.
Estra and Wim with their macadamia trees and picture perfect meals and koi pond.
Canadian Edie and South African Roy that met on the internet and married on a whim and have been together for the twenty years since.
The young guy in the sedan that pulled over to check on us and then brought us to his mother’s house. She stood on the dirt inside the fence eating a bowl of pap and chicken’s feet. She just smiled and laughed and laughed when she saw us.
And for Christmas– the uncle who carted us to his old village to relax with his brother’s family and then to the three surrounding bottle shops to search for the coldest beer. Everywhere we went, he told us to feel at home. Feel at home, Nico. Feel at home, Lael. Then he brought us to his home. I danced with his daughter and his great niece sat in my lap as if she were my own.
In Vaalwater, Mike and the Lehmkuhls pulled into the gas station and asked where we stayed at night. They called us to their timeshare on a game farm six kilometers away and at once told us we must stay with them in Centurion as well.
In Rooiberg, Swaney, the owner of the Koekepan, asked where we’d sleep. We asked for a patch of grass for the tent and he said he’d sort it out and then fed us a braai and gave us the keys to a fully stocked bachelor pad and came around in the morning to invite us to breakfast at the pub.
And now we’re at home with the Lehmkuhls in Centurion.
That’s an even twenty hosts and that’s just counting roofs, but they’ve shared so much more than that. They’ve shared stories of family and relationships and origins. They’ve shared ideas and criticisms and uncertainty and pride. They’ve shared who they are and how they fit into this complicated place.
After so many talks over dinner, I have a very full plate.
And I mustn’t do the dishes because a lady will come in the morning. Of the twenty families we’ve stayed with, well over half have house servants. These ladies feel like secret elves that cook and clean when no one is watching. Sometimes I’ll bump into them in the morning in the kitchen. We say hello and smile at each other.
It’s wonderful and it’s hard. At once, I feel honored and all mixed up.