I loved my grandmother and had always wanted to visit her. It seemed I would never get a chance as most of the time she would be at our place to sell thatched mats, “meseme”. She was making a lot of money since every Tuesday she would be around to make deliveries and get new orders. Her mats were very beautiful and neatly handcrafted. She decorated cultural prototypes such as Basotho hats “mekorotlo”, jugs designed from butternut outer shells “mehope”, thatched brooms “mafielo”, thatched strainers “metlhotlo”, porridge lump breakers “mafehlo”, and clay pots used for storing food “meritšoana”.
One day, I overheard her telling my father that one of my uncles was planning to get married and that she wanted to be at her place to ensure all was in order. I thought my father would announce the good news to the family so that we could attend the wedding, but nothing of that sort happened. I told myself that I was not going to miss the wedding, especially because it was during the school holidays. I asked my mother if I could visit my grandmother, and she agreed.
So I set off on the journey to my grandmother’s homestead. We had to walk a long distance from Ha Ntsie, via Kolo Mine, through Ha Petlane to Ha Nkhabu. Along the way, there were piles of stones at about 2km intervals and my grandmother would ask me to kneel down and join her in the Lord’s Prayer at every stone pile. We passed about five stone piles along the way; I was tired and hungry, and if I had known, I would not have embarked on that devastating journey.
We arrived at what I assumed was her place. It was already at night and I saw smoke gushing out from what I assumed was her house. I wondered why people would light a fire inside a house instead of using stoves and heaters. I did not know it was common practice in such communities. There was a fire place right in the middle of the house where family members would gather to warm themselves while enjoying popped corn. While I was imagining what my mother would do to me if I tried the same back home, I was served with a bowel of fine and sour sorghum porridge “motoho oa mabele a nepotsoeng”. It was nice, but, as a visitor, I hoped for a better treat than that – maybe rice and meat.
Upon finishing the porridge, I was given a cob of mildly salty, cooked corn. It was so hard to chew and it felt like there had been no attempt to cook it. Off course, I knew how corn tasted, but this was different. I was used to the soft corn “lehoetla” that you get during the harvest season, not this “way after harvest” one, “khoahla”.
After eating, I felt sleepy and I thought we would head to the bedroom and rest. To my surprise, I saw my grandmother placing some animal hides, thatched mats, and blankets on the floor in that same smoky room. I thought, maybe, she was preparing to craft her thatched mats. At that point, all the males left the room and my grandmother asked me to undress and get ready for bed. I asked her where the bedroom was, and she pointed right on the floor. I had never slept on the floor, let alone, in a stuffy and smoky room. For a minute I pondered, it would be a miracle if I wake up alive. However, given that it was winter, the night was unimaginably warmer and homelier than my bedroom back home. Sleeping on the floor was also very relaxing. I could not understand the source of the comfort judging from the unbearable experience of lying on my mother’s artificial mats for a brief period.
I could not sleep instantly as the door was slightly open for air circulation. I was also afraid of intruders, but I noticed that people were peacefully sleeping, others even snoring. My thoughts were “either Kolo is a peaceful place, or there is a condition of total insanity with everyone”. I was deep in thought, wishing if I knew where to locate a telephone and call my father. I wondered what my parents were thinking to allow my grandmother to host a big event such as a wedding at a place I considered a ramshackle and unorganised. Even with no telephone lines and electricity, my grandmother’s village was considered one of the best, which l failed to comprehend.
In no time, it was in the morning. I asked my grandmother for toilet paper and to my dismay she told me to improvise with a stone. I thought: “What have I got myself into? Am I dreaming or is this really happening? Am I still on earth? Is this the 21th century or have I gone back in time?”
The house I had slept in was just an old, uncivilised, and unattractive hut. But inside the hut, there was a wall adjacent to the door, neatly decorated with utmost creativity to hang plates and other kitchen utensils. They called it “mohoaoloana”. At the rim of the hut, which also served as a sit, where pots on one side. Around here, the idea of owning chairs and tables was a far-fetched notion.
Next to the hut I had slept in there was ongoing construction of a new hut. I overheard that my uncle and his bride would occupy it. It was built with neither bricks nor cement, but stones and mud mixed with cow dung. This was something else. Nothing I had ever seen. The pillars inside the wall, meant to reinforce and strengthen the building, were gum tree poles. As much as the design of the huts was not enticing, there was warmth and freshness I felt. Now I know it was as a result of their organic nature that would provide effective insulation against both cold and heat. Those huts had a unique form of luxury unfamiliar to the so called “civilised” brick and cement buildings.
By the end of the day, the wall was complete and women were decorating both the inside and outside walls with brightly coloured soil, artistically using their fingers to draw beautiful flower-like figures called “litema”. I enjoyed the atmosphere there. There was beauty, warmth, and unity I never knew existed. Everything was done together and at one place, unlike urban life where people get a glimpse of each other’s faces briefly before everyone goes their own way. At my home town, there was no family quality time that compared to what I experienced at my grandmother’s place.
It was Friday, the day I assumed was the eve of the wedding. The only thing I saw was a sheep. There was no cake in sight; no wedding dress, rice or vegetables. Everyone was very relaxed, not engaged in the kind of preparations as I had witnessed in my home town. Surprisingly, there were no salons or clothing shops nearby. The only form of preparations, I suppose, where the “litema”. Little did I know that not all marriages call for a wedding. Soon it was night time – back to munching corn in the smoky room. Unlike the previous night, I was now beginning to appreciation and enjoy the fire. All my fears hand suddenly vanished.
We ate and slept. At night, I head my uncle knocking on the door and telling grandmother that he had brought a visitor. I could sense my grandmother’s disguised surprise and slight anger. In a short while, the visitor, who I finally learned was a bride, was ordered to sleep next to my grandmother. I was stunned because I thought the bride would be fetched from church with fancy cars. Back in the day, one did not have to know a person to get marry. The common practice was “chobeliso”, whereby a girl would just be taken by surprise and dragged to the men’s place. However, in this case, the two had met before agreeing on marriage, which brought tranquillity to the family.
In the morning, everything was just normal. There was no sign of a special ceremony on the cards – a wedding for that matter. A little later that morning, the bride appeared from the hut wearing a blanket with her head wrapped so much that her face was not visible. A sheep was presented to her while lamentations were murmured. She was given a new name and she returned into the hut; there were no celebrations or ululations that I thought would be part of the wedding ceremony. I hated the way things were done. I vowed to myself that I will never get married in such a manner. I now know that the beauty and depth of that ritual was to rid any barriers, establish a union between the couple, and graft the bride into the new family.
Men slaughtered the sheep, and some women presented part of the cooked meat to the bride. However, she turned down the meal. Honestly, I was not surprised by her reaction – I would have also declined – no rice and salads? Methinks that is inappropriate and inconsiderate. Well, I did not know that the bride had to demonstrate some resistance and not yearn for the meat to give the impression that she does not have any hurried desires for family treasures.
Girls began gathering inside the hut. I realised that they were pinching the bride, but she remained motionless like a statue – neither fighting back nor stopping them. I regarded that as unfair treatment and abuse, but little did I know that it was a way to break the ice. Around mid-morning, food was served – just “papa” and mutton. That was it. What followed was the family meeting to discuss ways to inform the bride’s family where to locate their daughter and prepare for negotiations for the bride price “lobola”.