Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If You Go Hungry It's Not My Fault


If You Go Hungry It’s Not My Fault

Within in the first ten minutes of meeting Tania, the wife of “Motorbike Chris”, she took me in her house, a complete stranger, showed me the kitchen, looked me point blank and said, “If you go hungry in this house it’s your fault.”  You know whenever you are a guest at someone’s house and they say, “Help yourself” but you never really know if they mean it?  There was no questioning the meaning behind Tania’s words or attitude.  If you were hungry, open the refrigerator and eat.  I have loved Tania ever since.

I have noticed through my travels that South African’s are a unique, hospitable, fiercely South African group of people.  Every South African I have met over the past year has had the same impact on me. 

Tania and Chris are born and bred South Africans.  I love hearing them speak in their native language Afrikaans.  Their young son Nicus is being brought up in the Afrikaans tradition.   I met Chris and Tania last December when I jumped on the back of a motorcycle for a two week adventure through Africa.  Chris deals in Motorcycles and had found five BMW’s for our group.  I think Tania thought I was crazy.  She was telling me of her last motorbike adventure with Chris where after falling numerous times she walked 6 kilometers out of the sand in her motorcycle boots vowing never again.  Sand and mud are not the terrain passengers like to see coming up the road, as my collarbone still bears the Tanzanian mud wipeout scar.

That first time six of us stayed with Tania and Chris for several days prior to setting out and NONE of us went hungry.

The second time I saw Tania was this past February when I was in Pretoria to pick up Zulu.  Again, the call, we’re coming down and getting a dog, do you mind if we stay with you?....and our new puppy?  Of course we stayed. 

Last week, with a super cheap $500 roundtrip special on Rwandair air and the side deal of an extra 30kg bag allowance (once again notoriously working the Rwandair staff for weight!), I got the opportunity to see Tania and Chris one last time before leaving Rwanda. 

Tania set up a hair appointment for me the morning after I arrived with her “hair girl” and also set up a spa day for Saturday for us.  What I love most about Tania is she FORCES me to take time for myself and reminds me that I’m a girl and its okay, after spending all my time with boys, to just be a girl.  After she picked me up from my hair appointment and we had lunch, she insisted on dropping me off at the mall….oh my God…a mall? And made me shop….and made me promise to buy something for myself.  Yes, I am now the proud owner of a pair of jeans that is not two sizes too big.

Every night after work, she would crack open a nice bottle of wine and we’d just sit and talk and gossip and just be “girl”.  We would talk about everything from the increasing collection of motorcycles in her garage to living vicariously through others…her through my crazy, sometimes reckless adventurous wanderings to me living in her beautiful, comfortable home with perks only a first world life has to offer.  What I loved most was hearing her talk about her family, her Afrikaans upbringing and how much she loves her country.

South Africa is a unique place.  I jokingly call it Little America since I can find pretty much anything there that I can find in America, what is different though is the cloud of danger and the amount of security that consumes their daily life.  Houses in South Africa are gated, dog patrolled, electric fenced, barbed wired fortresses.  You lock your doors in your car at all times and do not drive slowly through neighborhoods at night.  It is always on everyone’s mind….be vigilant.  South African’s seem to have an easy going, very welcoming persona but make no mistake, they are guarded.  They are always watching.  If I had to be in a difficult or dangerous situation, give me a South African in my foxhole.

Tania grew up under apartheid, however, she is passionate when she says, “We are all South African.”  Talking about the problems that plaque her country she becomes emotional.  I think like most of us who live in Africa, sometimes you just get so emotionally spent with hoping and working to see things get better while continuously faced with governmental corruption that at best stymies growth in general, at worst, uses the loyalties of “their people” to line their pockets.   Unfortunately, the majority of people they profess to be representing continue to waste away, uneducated, unemployed and living in shanty towns.  It is clearly evident in all our talks about the problems in Africa that Tania wants to see black South Africans really have equality.  The only way that will happen for South Africa, for Rwanda or for any of these African countries is through education.  Sadly, education continues to be more of a buzzword than an actuality.

I love the passion South African’s have.  I love their hospitality.  When a South African invites you to stay at their home, share a meal, there’s no question they mean it.  There is a couple living and working in Kigali who are South African, who have housed me more often then I can count.  Belinda’s favorite saying is, “There’s room at the inn.”  They cart me to the airport and let my janky SUV take up drive way space.  When I got back from Tania’s, Belinda was there to meet me at the airport at 11:00.  Every girl should be as lucky as I to have South African girlfriends!

So….Saturday afternoon, after my manicure, pedicure, hot stone massage, facial and lunch….I’m walking down the steps to the Spa Reception area to pay my bill.  As I get to the counter, the staff is all standing there smiling, I look over at Tania and shake my head, “No, you didn’t”.  She’s just smiling….once again, she took care of me.  I have learned, over the past year of living like I’ve lived….it is okay to just let someone take care of you once in a while.  Tania gave me more than a gift of a great spa day, she is a friend that really understands Africa, why I do what I do and go without so much, and she fights the same fight in her country in her way.  We both have a passion for doing for others to see things just a bit better…she is a kindred soul.

So….if you ever come to my house (not sure where that is at the moment J), please know, if you go hungry, it’s not my fault!