I absolutely love this picture! 

I was lucky enough to visit our Engineers Without Borders project site one last time before I hand over the reigns to the new leads. Our mission was to find ‘hidden’ traders to get a idea of how many traders were operating ‘behind the scenes’.  Most of the traders selling meat or vegetables line the main roads of the Nyanga interchange and the taxi-rank, but those who brew African Beer or ‘Umqombothi’ in Xhosa. (Both ‘umqombothi’ and ‘Xhosa’ have clicks in their pronunciation just by the way). The master’s student on the TD4SUD project, Rissa came with us with the minivol, a machine that collects air samples for testing in the lab. While she set up and waited for the minivol to do its thing (accompanied by two chaperone’s who agreed to take care of her), Tumelo and I followed Jack, our translator through the township.


Steaming drums of beer, being cooked with
harmful treated wood
The sights, sounds and most of all, the smells of Nyanga never fail to surprise me. We passed groups of old men gathered, drinking umqombothi or just sleeping off Friday-night hangovers on their humble porches. I wanted to know more about the method of brewing the beer so Jack took us into a ‘shebeen’ or drinking house to speak to one of the mama’s. We needed this information to be able to design a stove to meet their needs.  We sat on a bench in a small shack, facing another row of customers as they talked, joked and sipped on paint-tins of beer. Jack, respectfully as always, asked the elder if she would tell us the recipe of umqombothi, which she began to relate to us with excitement.

An elder explaining the significance
of the walking stick
Once she and the other customers heard about our project, they were all to willing to help with any information we needed. Jack paid the ‘mother’ R5 (about 80 cents) for half a can of umqombothi and Tumelo (who is Xhosa) and I had our first try of the drink. One of the mamas taught me that the cultural way for a woman to drink umqombothi was in a kneeling position. I obliged out of respect, a value which is extremely important in the Xhosa culture. The elders told us about the traditions and cultures of the people and told us they were really glad we’d come to visit. One of the elders then said something really special to us: he told us that when we were there, nothing will happen to us and nobody will rob us. This is a privilege afforded to people and NGO’s that work to help the community in township areas.  The influence of mob-justice or vigilantism exacted on caught criminals in townships by the community can be quite powerful. A colleague who worked on the upgrade of Warwick Junction in Durban a few years ago had her stolen phone returned to her 20minutes after it was taken.  Although this makes me feel slightly safer, I still wouldn’t take any risks as its sometimes difficult to control the younger ‘skebengu’s’ in the area. 

Tumelo drinking umqombothi

Me drinking the African beer
We rejoined Rissa, who had been chatting to some young men about her home in Rwanda and sharing stories over a can of umqombothi.  A group of children gathered around us, curious about the strange new faces and machine. They pushed to be in front of the camera and begged us to show them their images on the digital screens. We chatted a while longer and Jack told us about how the community had been shaken up about the Anni Dewani murder and how his Township Tours business had suffered. This unfortunately was the result of the media rampage surrounding the murder.

A man selling trinkets and plastic jewelry came by to offer his wares. I replied, in Zulu ‘Ngiyaxolisa Baba, kodwa siyasebenza namhlange. Asikhona iMali.’ (Sorry my father, but we are working today and do not have and money to spend). Rissa was shocked that I could speak Zulu (although that is just about all I can say in Zulu)…but I was anxious that I may have offended the man, as he was Xhosa-speaking. Jack just laughed and said, “Sweetheart, you’re speaking a language of the African people, of course its ok!”  The man beamed at me, answering is Zulu that it was alright and walked away, chuckling to himself as he went…
‘Mama’ in her ‘shebeen’