Saturday, February 16, 2013

THE DAY: February 15, 2013

This was one of those magical days.


Went to the Campbell Museum.  Had to phone for an appointment, so we were the sole visitors.  The Campbell is the former mansion of Scottish sugar barons.  The last of the line was Killy Campbell, a woman who never married, and was devoted to African, specifically Zulu, culture.   She was "married to her books and collections."  Of course, one can't help wondering  if such a woman is actually a lesbian.  She was CERTAINLY a Crackpot Crone.  In her day, very few white women had the Zulu king to dinner on a regular basis.

Her collections are now this museum run by the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.  Yandisa, a young man studying Tourism Services, was our astonishingly knowledgeable guide.   Unfortunately, no photos were allowed.   Two fascinating facts from Yandisa:  

In some tribes, women could only take off their headdresses after asking permission from the gods, by burning incense and praying.  So mostly, they slept with the headdresses on.

Sangomas (aka "witch doctors," who were both women and men) served an apprenticeship where, when they weren't studying, they had to go around without speaking or having eye contact with anyone, slightly bowed down, to imbue them with their mission to serve the people.  Sometimes this lasted six months.

Yandisa also gave us instruction in the different kinds of Xhosa tongue-clicks.  

Killy saw that the very fabulous modes of traditional dress were starting to be debased by modernity, and she commissioned Barbara Tyrrell to paint watercolors to record as many costumes as possible.  

The museum displays over 250 watercolors.  It is an awe-inspiring vision of African dress.  The love of adornment is still a primal passion in Africa, but mostly it's a lot simpler now than the everyday tribal garb of the past. 

Married Woman

Woman Sangoma

It was, I'm sure, just a little peek at a culture that was/is so rich.  For Eric and me, it was intoxicating.


Hlengiwe arranged for us to meet Colette Bodenstaff, event planner, lesbian magazine editor, and trainer of marine mammals at UShaka Marine World.   

If I come back to Durban, she'll organize a performance for me.  She's as warm and interesting as you'd imagine an event planner, lesbian magazine editor and marine mammal trainer to be.  Needless to say, working with dolphins puts a lot more food on the table than working with dykes.  She invited us to see the shows the next day! 

Below is a photo from ALICE, the lesbian magazine that Colette has just assumed control of.


Then it was on to meet  Hlengiwe's good friend, Gnina Mhlophe  (Yandisa's lesson helped me say her name correctly.  Or somewhat correctly.  Or better than before my click-lesson.  People prefer to have their names pronounced correctly, Africans included.)  Gnina is a storyteller, poet, actress, director, playwright, literacy activist… I'm sure I've left out a few of her worldly manifestations.  She's performed all over the world -- won an Obie in New York!  This is a POWERFUL woman.  

Gnina surrounded by books she has collected for literacy campaign

She was so kind to us.  She took us to her beautiful art-filled house overlooking the ocean, where she's created a peace garden.

Even her clothesline is a work of art.

It was an honor to meet this gracious woman.  The drive to her house was very special, just the two of us in her car, with Eric and Hlingiwe following in our car.  Listening to her speak, I could sense such a deep connection with language -- and this is her 3rd language, Engish!  And I felt the intensity of her listening when I told stories in my very different American "Terry Baum" way.  Really, her listening helped me see that I had a way! 

Gnina is a powerful, visionary, successful, fulfilled and happy artist.  Wow.  I'd like to be that when I grow up.  Needless to say, she's also very beautiful.

Gnina and Family -- Parents upper left


Then we went to meet a young Communist that Eric had contacted.  Eric is a Communist, and we had come upon a flyer for a meeting that was already over.  But he called one of the numbers on the flyer, and this student was willing to talk with Eric.  So we went to Steven Biko University to connect, but we were late and Eric's contact had already left for a meeting.  But Hlengiwe was able to rustle up two other young Communists, by talking to the people standing around.  So we went out to dinner with these two young men, and debated and discussed South African politics for a long time.  

Hlengiwe held her own very well against the Communists.  I was impressed.  That girl is articulate and strong and has real presence.  I didn't say much.  It was hard to understand people, in the noisy restaurant.  Plus I figured Eric already knows most of my opinions.  


No, the day wasn't over yet.  In fact, the most special part is to come.  

It was too late for Hlingiwe to take the jitney home.  So we drove her 30 K to her home.  She lives with her mother in a house they had built on land her mother owns in what Hlingiwe called a "bantu."  Formerly lands segregated for black people.   Hlingiwe told us her mother would probably be asleep, so we wouldn't meet her.  But when we arrived, she came out in her pajamas with an umbrella in the pouring rain and invited us in!  Hlingiwe's mother was so wonderful and warm and welcoming.  She gave me this bracelet she had made!  

Mrs. Buthelezi talked about her work with the Methodist Church, and  both mother and daughter talked about the project of slowly creating their home, room by room. When they get their guest room built, Eric and I will not be permitted to stay anywhere else when we come to Durban.   

Mrs. Buthelezi showed me her vegetable garden, which is her great passion and way to relax.  There was one thing that really upset her:  That she would not be able to cook us a meal.  I mean, I'm sure she would have, right then, at 10 at night.  But we were full, it was late, and the next day was our last in Durban, and we had lots of plans.  Hlingiwe reported today that her mother cannot get over the fact that she won't be cooking for us.  She's a great cook.

I can't tell you how special it was to meet Hlingiwe's mother.  She called me "sister."  Sorry, no photos.   I didn't want to take notes or pictures.  I just wanted to BE there on the couch in the Buthelezi living room

And then I drove home in the pouring rain in the black night.  Oy vey.  I will be so happy not to drive for a few days.

And that's all that happened on February 15, 2013 to Terry and Eric in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal province, South Africa.  Maybe nobody has read this far, but I'm glad I recorded it all.  When the universe gives you a day like this, you need to capture it. 

Everyone TOLD me Africa was dangerous!


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