It surprised me. It was going to be a hot day, I was never in doubt of this. Yet that was not what surprised me. It is their arrival at our village. I have already moved under a tree even though it is still early and that sentinel of the heavens, that fiery ball of hot white is already burning down relentlessly. I look up from the moist grass I am eating as I hear the sound of cars coming up the rutted track towards our village. Two 4x4 vehicles are slowly negotiating their way towards us. Strange. Strange because the only cars that ever come along here are the taxis to drop our villagers. Strange because it's Christmas Day and no one moves around today.
Moments later the doors of both cars pop open, almost as though it were a synchronized Olympic event, and a whole lot of umlungus* emerge from the cars. Still chewing the soft juicy grass I look on with interest. Strange, strange indeed. Maybe they are lost.
The village is quiet as everyone is sheltering indoors away from the increasing heat of our African sun. The only sign of life, besides the few of us grazing on the hill, are a pair of mangy looking dogs eating some leftovers they've discovered in a discarded tyre. It's almost as if the village has been abandoned.
"Woza ingane**," one of umlungus shouts out in stilted Zulu. The village remains still. One of the dogs looks up with a cursory interest before returning to its frenzied feeding of the scraps it's enjoying. The buzz of lazy flies fills the air as they rise up in protest agaimst the swish my tail as I attempt to chase them off. "Woza ingane," he shouts again, and this time there is a response.
Gogo^ is the first to emerge. Even though she is bent with age and walks with the aid of a roughly hewn stick smoothed on the top with years of use, she is somehow lightening fast when called. Age has not dulled her mind nor her sharp wit and curiosity. Behind her, like a bride's sweeping wedding trail, are a swath of wide eyed children. They peer out curiously from the safety of Gogo's shadow at this strange arrival. Soon more children and adults appear, seemingly rising out of the dusty village floor. Within moments the village is a buzz of people chatting and looking curiously on at the unexpected arrival.
"Merry Christmas," one of the ingane umlungus shouts, holding out a wrapped gift towards a shy young girl clinging to her mother's leg. For a moment she looks on, still unsure what this all means, but within moments her curiosity wins out over her uncertainty and she ventures away from her safehaven to take the proffered gift.
"Siyabonga," she says, as a huge smile splits her face revealing her lovely white teeth. "God bless you." Soon all the children are running to receive their gifts, and bubbling chatter and laughter fills the village. Parents stand by and smile their appreciation as their children run back to them to tear open their gifts. Their reticence is forgotten replaced by the excitement of unexpected gifts.
In moments new soccer shirts are being donned, and dolls pulled from their packaging. The village has transformed. Excitement, laughter, kids playing and adults chatting in the shade outside their huts replaces the stillness that just minutes before lay heavily over the village. Even the sun, which seemed so oppressive just minutes ago, seems to have lost its intensity as a cool breeze ripples across the grass making the small yellow flowers dance as if they are alive.
Gogo, leaning lightly on her stick, extends her gnarled hands and grasps the hand of one of the umlungus. She beams a huge smile, replete with missing teeth. A smile that demands a response and cannot be ignored. She says something that he does not understand but her reply needs no words, her face says it all. The umlungus smile back, and in moments they too are laughing - not just a shallow laugh, but a laughter bubbling deep from within the heart, a laughter born of receiving a real gift, one so unexpected, one found in the joy of giving.
I return to my moist grass as the umlungus clamber back into their cars followed by a waving, laughing, bubbling river of children. They young umlungus lean out the windows and wave farewell and the village children shout after them "hamba kahle"^^. This is Africa. She is beautiful. Her people are beautiful. And when they come together to share, to meet each other, to touch for a few moments, her beauty is complete. Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika - God Bless Africa!
Meaning of Zulu words:
* white person
** come children
^^ go well
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