This past Saturday we were cordially invited to a party at the home of Sylvia Nqenqa to celebrate her coming out of mourning. One year ago, Sylvia’s husband passed away, and on the day of his funeral, her house also burned down from an accidental candle fire. Poor Sylvia! Fortunately, there were a few small shacks on her property so she was able to move into another space while renovating, but it was a really devastating blow.
Apparently, mourning is a tradition introduced by missionaries — nothing African about it — and part of the tradition means dressing in dark clothes. For one year Sylvia has worn the exact same navy blazer, powder blue cotton sweater, head scarf, and formless navy skirt…. So you can imagine how exciting it was when the year was up and she got all new clothes, and gifts to replace the items destroyed in the fire!
Our ASAP boss was in town, so she bought a really nice set of China to take as a gift from the entire Hlomelikusasa staff. We were very excited to go, although it rained the entire night before and the road was a mess. The rural areas are impossible to get to w/o a 4-wheel drive. Even w/ our driver, Themba, behind the wheel we eventually had to get out and walk the last 200 yards.
Singing and Dancing
We were greeted with songs and dancing, and Sylvia Nqenqa–practically glowing in a beautiful new dress made with fabric brought to her from Johannesburg. She was very honored that Hlomelikusasa came to celebrate with her and her family on this special day. There seems to be an uncomfortable dynamic between Sylvia and our project manager. Back in the day (when they were doing Red Cross), Sylvia was her boss, but now that S. is just a village health worker, the power has shifted. But none-the-less it was a festive day, and we seemed to be honored guests.
In fact, we were such honored guests that they slaughtered a sheep for us. Um … thanks, I guess? They brought the sheep into the room we were all sitting in, and Sylvia’s nephew gave a big speech about what an honor it was to have us there, and would we accept this sheep. If I’d had my way, I would have accepted the sheep and then set it free, but that’s not how it works. Fikiswa (the Hlom. secretary and lovely girl) told me they were going to slaugher it right there in front of us (a mean lie!) which totally freaked me out, but everyone misread my expression and thought I was scared of sheep. Our project manager stood to accept the gift and say thanks. She said that Andy and Themba would go outside and slaughter the sheep and that we would leave the head and feet for the household to say thank you. Andy turned green at the gills and hid inside with the women while Themba went out and did the deed.
The lucky sheep
One village health worker grabbed my hand and offered to take me out back to watch the slaughering, in order to show me that sheep are nothing to be afraid of. I declined. Once the sheep was killed and cooked, we assumed it would be passed around for everyone to enjoy, but it was only for us! We were not allowed to share it with anyone else–not even Sylvia! And what we didn’t eat we took with us when we left. Andy, Priscilla, and I donated our portions to Boniswa and the rest of the staff. Thanks but no thanks.
Fikiswa, Themba and Nokulunga eating Mr Sheep
It was a fun party! They were really bummed when we left. Apparently it was going to be an all nighter, with lots of singing and dancing and storytelling. That would have been fun, but there’s only so much fun I can take in one day — especially when there’s slaughtering involved!
Thanks for the celebration, Sylvia!