The price of good luck: R480, 2 litres of milk and my underpants

2015-04-03 11:29
(Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

(Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Johannesburg - A trip to Mama Jeddah to rid me of my bad luck cost me R480, two litres of milk, a litre of strawberry flavoured mageu, and my underpants.

When the job was done about an hour later, my bad luck lay crumpled on a plastic bag in the small room of a house in a gated suburb in Woodmead, Johannesburg.

Then, for a terror-stricken moment, I thought I would not be allowed to leave until I had bought a "spiritual coffin" for R2 600 to bury my bad luck and underpants.

I responded to her newspaper advert and found her working from an unremarkable-looking house set below the level of the road, with a broken electric fence, a BMW with a Botswana number plate peeking out of the half-open garage, and the blinds drawn over the kitchen windows.

Her son led me into a small, windowless outside room. It smelt of incense and the only source of light was a candle on the floor. I had to leave my shoes outside.

“How is your name?” Mama Jeddah asked, sitting on the floor. Her face was wrapped in a red headscarf.

Paying up

Within arm's reach she had a roll of toilet paper, six eggs, a calabash and her Samsung phone. The skull of a small animal with horns was propped into a jug.

I told her I wanted to see my enemies, the ones who had caused me to be retrenched. Six hundred rand, she told me. I only had R480, which she graciously accepted and placed into a basket with shells and some coins.

She took my hands and began rubbing her thumb into my palm. “Do you smoke?” she said.

Smoke began rising from my palm.

“Why is there smoke coming from you?”

Since I am a non-smoker, she came up with an alternative theory for the smoke. She told me money was slipping through my fingers and asked me who I was spending it on. She did not seem to believe me when I told her I was good at saving it. “Be honest to me,” she said.

“There are people whom you trust very much, but they don´t appreciate what you do for them. Instead they are jealous.”

She told me what the smoke coming from my palm meant.

“Those people who pretend to be your friend, they went behind you making some witchcraft so that you´ll be fired and you´ll lose everything you've got, ok. That's why you see the smoke. Where there is smoke there is fire behind, ok. That smoke means losing things, because when the house burn, you see smoke coming out, yes?”

She asked me to collect some dust from my house and bring it to her. I asked if I could just get some from my car. Despite my car having recently been serviced and cleaned, I managed to scrape a few crumbs out of the baby seat, even found an old hazelnut in the crevice of the rear seat, and a pinch of sand in the far reaches of the boot. I scraped these into a plastic bag and brought it to her.

Grocery shopping

My next task was to head to the local Pick 'n Pay and buy 2 litres of milk and a litre of mageu.

“Buy the flavoured one,” she stressed.

When I returned, feeling like an idiot for just having done her grocery shopping, she had a grey bucket of water in front of her. She poured a generous amount of dishwashing liquid into her palm, dipped it into the bucket and began paddling the water until the foam began to rise over the rim.

She poured in just a bit of the milk and screwed the lid back on, then reached over to a stack of small plastic buckets and poured a brown powder from one into her palm.

“This is muti,” she smiled. It had a faint whiff of biltong and tanned hide. She sprinkled it into the bucket.

“You are scared?” she asked, smiling, seeing the expression on my face.

My stomach had begun to contort as I assumed I was going to be made to drink the bucket and then vomit. And the toilet paper would be used to clean up.

“I want you to be pure like milk, to remove all the bad luck and everything.”

“You are going to remove your clothes and wash yourself from there,” she said, indicating the bucket.

“All my clothes?”

“Ja,” she laughed. I was relieved not to have to drink the contents, so washing seemed the better option.

Luck locked

I did it quickly, by the light of that candle, scooping the water out of the bucket with my hands, splashing it over myself and apologising for making her floor wet. All the while she sat arm's length away, looking at her feet.

“Make sure the water reaches everywhere,” she insisted, and I had to redo it.

I was told to use the toilet paper to dry myself, toss the bits in the bucket and get dressed.

She covered the bucket with a cloth and told me to sit on it, my back to her. She began shaking the calabash behind my back and muttered something about “enemies” and “show me”.

The carton of strawberry mageu disappeared into the bucket and was torn open. She began to remove the toilet paper from the bucket, muttering “ju, ju, ju. Oh my god. Your luck, it has been locked.”

“That one is the hand of a baboon, or what,” she said, her face wrinkled in disgust as she used a piece of toilet paper to prod at something black she had pulled from the water. It looked like a rotten, chewed up mango pip.

There was my hazelnut, a key I did not recognise, and, to my horror, what appeared to be the R20 note I had given her earlier entangled with the toilet paper.

“I don't know what type of hands are this, but there is even money inside,” she said.

“I can see you are not bad person. People hate you for nothing. They locked your luck, they broke everything which belongs to you, they even tied your money.”

‘I heal people’

But she could not tell me who these people were, only that they were friends of my friends.

She could return my bad luck to my enemies and asked me if I wanted to do this. I said no. Someone had even come to her once asking to have an unborn baby killed, but she refused.

“But me I don’t kill people. I heal people.”

That pile of toilet paper, she then told me, had to be buried in a baby-sized “spiritual coffin”.

“Most especially Indians use it. When someone dies they burn that person.

That small box which they put the ashes in, that is what we need to bury this.

"Ja, that’s it, you need to buy it," she said, smiling.

Two point six, she told me when I asked how much. R2 600 I gasped. I was getting off lightly as apparently they could cost up to R12 000. She knew a man in Pretoria, one Esla, who made them, and he was a reasonable guy and willing to negotiate.

Could we not simply burn it, or bury it without a coffin, I suggested.


“When you burn it the smoke goes out to the people, put bad luck. So you need to go and buy it.”

And burying it without the coffin? No.

“The spiritual coffin holds the spirits.”

‘You look scared’

What if I took the plastic packet with the toilet paper with me?

“You cannot take bad luck with you. It is even more dangerous when you remove it.”

It had to be done, she insisted.

“So that you can see everything change again, be happy, your success will come back again.”

“Do it as soon as possible, because here, now, I cannot work on someone in here. When do you think you can get the money?”

“Are you scared? You look very scared,” she laughed.

I was, because for a moment I saw myself being prevented from leaving until I had agreed to go and buy that coffin.

But, seeing my reluctance she changed the subject.

“You gonna put your pants here, on top,” she said, indicating my pile of bad luck.

“The inside, the underwear,” she clarified when she saw me clutching at my jeans.

The bad luck, she explained, needed to stay with something it thought was me.

“It will smell that you are still here with it, so that it will not follow you.”

She returned to the matter of the coffin and asked when I could come up with the money.

I expressed the hope that next month, perhaps. She looked disappointed but proposed a solution.

She would keep my bad luck in a separate room and pray for me.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  culture  |  health

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