Two weddings and a shebeen

2012-07-20 00:00

WHEN Melissa Nicholson was jokingly told that her friends were taking her to Bali for her kitchen tea, she knew that something was up.

Her maid of honour, Kelly Ingles, is a bit of a joker and Nicholson knew she would make sure that a kitchen tea would be full of fun and mischief.

But Nicholson, who would be marrying her Aussie fiancé Brad Holt a day or two later, had no idea that the event was designed to expose her to the other side of Pietermaritzburg before she settled down to a “tame” life in Adelaide.

Ingles and a friend had heard of the shebeen 033 Lifestyle in Imbali from students at university and decided to arrange their friend’s kitchen tea in the heart of the kasi (township). They chatted to accommodating owner Bongani Mhlongo and he was eager to please the women.

Mhlongo is always looking to market the shebeen and the novelty of attracting young white women to party at his establishment is unexplored territory. He knows that most mlungus are scared of venturing into the township, although he says the danger is exaggerated.

On arrival, the 15 guests were ushered into the VIP section, a sunken concrete area of the tavern with couches and tables, and drinks were ordered — ciders, soft drinks and a bottle of JC Le Roux bubbly for the occasion.

Starters had been arranged and the women eyed the fare nervously. “Oh go on, we won’t die,” said Sharon Ingles, while helping herself to a big helping of traditional tripe and steamed bread. The others followed with mock bravado.

“I love tripe,” said soon-to-be-mother-in-law Sally White in her Australian accent, tucking in without qualms. Her daughter Hannah looked a little skeptical but the proof is in the tasting and the inyama yangaphakathi (meat from the inside) was delicious. Two guests, domestic workers Agnes and Joyce Nxele, who have worked for the Nicolson and Ingles families for years, sat giggling and whispering to each other, probably wondering what all the fuss was about. Seeing an opportunity to carry home some leftovers, Joyce rang her son to bring a “Tupperware” to save the tripe. In the meantime, the catchy songs of Durban kwaito band Big Nuz had begun booming over the speakers.

The beat began to change the mood and around the corner the smell of meat cooking was starting to make appetites expand. A few curious locals watched the party of women pose for photographs like tourists, eagerly purchasing merchandise for their “been-there, done-that” story.

Nicholson met her man in London while playing “English Monopoly” — a type of drink-and-drive pub crawl where the participants search for pubs on the intersections of streets with certain names.

Before the end of the night they had exchanged numbers and three years later she followed him back to Australia. When her working visa threatened to expire, Holt popped the question and they quickly tied the knot, but Nicholson always wanted a big wedding in South Africa.

They were back last week with his family to do the traditional wedding at the Epworth chapel with her friends and family. The shebeen-style kitchen tea was a great surprise. “This is just great. I am only sorry Brad is not here because he would just love to experience a shebeen,” she said.

Poor Holt’s stag party earlier in the week was a little different. He was forced to do the bungee jump at the Moses Mabhida Stadium dressed in drag, a KZN scientific experiment to prove he was a man and not a sheep. The Witness was told by sources close to the family that he has still to make good on his promise to pay lobola in kangaroos.

As the beers flowed and the music got louder at 033 Lifestyle, shebeen owner Bongani Mhlongo’s smile got brighter. It seems that the flow of alcohol and a festive occasion are all that is needed to overcome cultural differences.

The men who were sent off to play golf were urged to abandon their game midway and join the festivities — which they did.

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