A number of years ago the Wee Manny family took a scunner of living in Norn Iron and bought themselves a South African village. It was a bit run down so they got it for a good price - about the price of a three-bed roomed house in Galgorm actually. The village was in the Eastern Cape and was called Old Thomas River. It was a little township that had been built around a railway station. It comprised a hotel, a post-office, a school and a station house. The Wee family lived in the hotel and used the post office for parties and guests. Their farm worker (South Africa remember) lived in the schoolhouse. The other buildings were pretty dilapidated. Let me explain the farm worker. Kabula came with the place and would have been devastated if his employment hadn’t continued. He definitely found the Wee and Diana very benevolent employers and said he had learned more English from the Wee than from any other boss. South African employers typically speak to their black employees in Afrikaans or Xhosa.
We visited them for three weeks one January. While we were there we took several trips around the country. One of these trips took as to a tourist resort called Hogsback, which is part of the Amatola mountain range. On the way back the Wee decided we should visit an old friend of his in a town called Keiskamahoek*. Mrs The Wee Manny (Diana) is South African. She’d met the Wee in London Town and after they got married they went to live and work in Keiskamahoek where they worked in a lumber factory The Wee as a boss (remember he’s white) and Diana in the office. The Wee befriended Harry who was the factory foremen. No doubt Harry kept the young, inexperienced boss on the right track.
It was a Sunday and although Harry was not expecting us he made us very welcome. His wife was not there. He told us that she was at Church and he chuckled that she spent all Sunday in Church but that it was not for him. Rum was produced. Within an hour Harry’s porch was full. There was the five of us and as many and more again of Harry’s friends and neighbours. There were no women for they were all at Church. The men were all Xhosa except for one Zulu man. They all spoke good English. It was decided that more drink was needed so a trip to the bottle store was proposed. Everyone piled into the vehicles, our car and their pick up truck. As we drove through the town lots of women and children and a few men were coming out of various churches. Harry’s party blared horns and yelled and waved to attract attention to them and us. I remember feeling a bit affronted at the disapproving looks of the good God-fearing, Church attending people.
When we got back to Harry’s place his wife and a couple of her friends/sisters had returned from Church. Mrs Harry was part of her Church Choir and she and her friends wore an elaborate, beautifully tailored costume with matching headdresses. It was in emerald green with a dazzling white ruffled, starched collar. I’d noticed on our trip through town that different churches had different choral costumes and that they were all equally elaborate. The ladies were quite shy and not half as raucous as their men folk. But then they’d been imbibing the word of the Lord, not big feeds of rum. We were given a meal of stewed meat and vegetables with delicious flat bread. Diana, Laura and myself were served first, then the Wee and Bert, then Harry, then his older friends, then the younger men.
After a few hours and a few glasses of gin I needed to visit the toilet. I whispered to Diana, “Will there be a toilet?” She said, “Ask Harry’s wife.” so I did ask her and off she went coming back moments later with a beautiful, rose-patterned china pot with a lacy towel folded over the top. I just couldn’t! I just couldn’t do my thing in her beautiful china pot and then what? So I shook my head and thanked her and said no.
But I still needed to go. The Wee said, “Why don’t you go to the long drop?” I had it pointed out to me and set off. The long drop was a little tin construction sitting on top of a mound. I dandered over. Even at a distance the smell was very bad. I ventured in. I held my breath. I did my thing. It wasn’t the first time I’d used a dry toilet. But it was the first time in a hot climate. And at about 12 foot it was a long drop too.
The Wees sold Old Thomas River several years later and came back home. He missed the Ould Sod too much. The village is a backpacking hostel now. I wonder if Kabula still works there? And does he still speak English with a Ballymena twang?
*Keiskamahoek is situated in the poverty-stricken but beautiful Transkei region. In 1959, the National Party government introduced legislation to create eight ethnically and linguistically divided homelands for black South Africans. The Transkei was designated the homeland for Xhosa speakers. The Transkei homeland became independent state in 1976, although it was only recognised by a few countries internationally. With the victory of the ANC in the 1994 elections it was reincorporated into South Africa, despite opposition from many of its citizens. (Wikipedia)