Life in the lane of rural living

2009-12-29 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG is a small city that is growing. Its landscape is pretty representative of South African society and structurally the City of Choice is part urban, part rural. Still though, if you grew up in Pietermaritzburg you are a city person and probably do not know what rural life is like.

I spent a year as a farm boy in a home where the largest part of the yard was a vegetable garden and which had about six peach trees. There were chickens and a goat that looked as though it was semi-sheep. This creature fascinated the neighbourhood and taking it to graze was my and my brother’s only experience at being herd boys; Gogo would decline our pleas to accompany our friends who were herding cattle to further areas.

We used to eat berries that hung on vines on the plantations in minifarms. This made us sick on more than one occasion but it did not stop us from going back, including an expedition across a swamp to find more berries when the local ones ran out. This was, in hindsight, dangerous for many reasons, but our only casualties were reed cuts. We were waste-deep in water, running behind Thembinkosi, who was the ringleader on a lot of the adventures. There seemed to be a path that he followed until we reached the other side only to return with a jar each of berries. Only one jar made it back semi-full and it was not mine. Can you imagine what our T-shirts looked like?

The trips to fetch water at the river were fun because of the wheelbarrow that we used to deliver it. Our big brother would let us sit on the front of the wheelbarrow while pushing two 20-litre barrels of visibly contaminated water, if he was in a good mood. Other trips to the river got us into trouble because we were not allowed to swim in it, so we would deny that we had despite our telltale red eyes and ashy skin.

Another source of water was the tank that was connected to the roof so that when it rained water would collect inside. When this emptied, the river was always there.

Malumekazi is the hardest working woman I have ever known. Despite being quite learned she didn’t have a problem working in the garden, mixing mud for a house before plastering the walls with it. It was a quality life that she led when I think about it. She and my uncle Dlamini were both nurses in Umzimkhulu and they would return in the holidays or when they were on leave to check on things at the house, including their children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren and the gentle matriarch, Gogo, who was Dlamini’s mother.

To this day the farm is a good investment. The only thing lacking is running water, but there is a tap across the road.

The scariest part of the [farm] experience was the ablution facility. Have you ever seen a long drop? I’ll not elaborate except to say that the garden was well fertilised. There was also no refuse collection, so waste, including garden refuse, was located in a corner at the back of the premises that was close to the toilet. It was a localised landfill site. The vast green fields also served as public toilets so you had to be careful if you didn’t stick to the footpaths while walking. I won’t be surprised if this is edited out but, um, the grass was the tissue.

A mud house was erected within a day, usually an extension to the house as it grew room by room. Dlamini was an excellent carpenter and he built the skeleton of the house before mud was slotted into the right places.

The house was not greatly insulated so hot days were hotter than average and the cold winter days were spent in the kitchen, which was warmed by the coal stove. However, we used logs chopped into pieces instead of coal, so there were always chores to be done. We used hand saws, which were lubricated with vaseline, to cut logs into pieces and then we used an axe to chop them up.

These were many great times and, save for the contaminated water, it was a very healthy lifestyle consisting of scenic views, organic food, recycling activities, abundant exercise and sounds of nature.

And then came development …

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