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Into Impendle

Shortly after leaving Drakenberg, we arrived in a small rural community surrounded by rows and rows of gently rolling greenery. Staggered throughout the valleys of the lush countryside were a number of quiet homesteads. The hustle and bustle of downtown Durban was certainly a distant memory in this place; in its stead was serenity and a lethargy specific to those places nestled away in the bosom of lazy hills.

The town, Impendle, is a farming community. There are livestock everywhere. Several times, in the vans, we had to pause on the dirt paths as a bevy of cattle marched across. They took their time, heedless of our presence. This happened more than once. By the third time we were all so used to this occurrence that no one even bothered to grab for their cameras—the awe-factor was long gone.

Many of the homes in Impendle were little more than huts. Many were comprised of one big circular room topped with a conicular roof made of straw or aluminum scraps. Metal fences snaked around each homestead, and in many, a dog or two lay sentinel near the rickety gates. Sheep and goats trotted around many of the yards, sometimes even outside of them, and into the paths. Roosters strutted around on stick-like legs, calling their songs even though it was the middle of the day.

The dull gleam of the worn animal harnesses, the sporadic fencing, the thin roads and mud walls, the thatched roofs, freely roaming livestock, hay bales, the endless bleat of the lambs, and the subdued luster of rusty metal beams—almost everything in the village was reminiscent of sometime past. It was hard for me to think that, yes, this world, this town, existed in tandem with my home in America. Still, I realized that although the worlds existed simultaneously, for the most part, they were parallel and isolated from each other.

We arrived in the homes of our homestay families late in the afternoon. It had taken a long time for Sdu (not “Stu” as I’d previously thought, but pronounced that way) to deliver us because of the inefficient roads. Several times he had to drive off of the path to turn around or back up. I even heard that the van had to be pushed up and out of a pothole at one point (but that had happened after I’d been dropped off).

Two of us were place in each home. We found out that we were the first set of student to ever stay in Impendle (in other words, our group was the guinea pigs!). This, if anything, made me feel more at ease; my family would probably be a lot more nervous than I was at having a set of foreigners in their homes.

The family which Molly and I stayed with was a lively crew. There was gogo (granny), Thuli, our 25-year-old sister who spoke English the best, Ntombi, an extremely bubbly woman who was also in her 20s (she literally ran whenever she went from one room to another), Ntombi’s 3 ½ year old son, Alex, the child of Thuli and Ntombi’s sister who had died some time back, and Mdu, a stoic 15 year-old who had a quirky obsession with American pro-wrestling.

When we arrived, gogo and and Thuli were in the middle of dinner preparations. We chatted and got to know them better as they prepared the potatoes and Zulu bread. Thuli was very energetic. She laughed often and made us feel right at home.

For me, one thing that’s been a challenge to adjust to is South African eating habits in general. So far, however, I’ve been able to muscle down everything I’ve been given (and, in fairness, most has gone down smoothly). This particular dinner, however, gave me some problems.

I watched as Thuli sauntered up to the wood-burning stove, carrying a small opaque plastic bag. It appeared to be filled with something squishy. She held it up.

“Do you like liver?” she asked, shaking the bag for emphasis. Me and Molly exchanged glances, stammering. We were thrown off balance. Molly recovered before I did.

“I’ve never had it, but I can try a little.”

I quickly agreed. Thuli reached into the bag and drew out a dark red piece. The whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion. I was so horror-struck at the bloody little piece—it was EXTREMELY fresh.  She lowered it into the pan of hot oil; the jiggling niblet was completely devoid of seasoning.

Now, I realize that liver isn’t even an exotic food–you can get it quite readily in America, in fact. What did me in was the knowledge that the meat came from a freshly slaughtered cow (the meat could have still been warm for all I knew). A few minutes later, Thuli served us a small piece to try. I pressed forward, trying my best to ignore the metallic taste of blood flowing from the juicy piece. I tried my best not to picture the cows grazing literally right outside of the door. Molly too, I noticed, chewed for an unusually long time before she was able to swallow (I felt better knowing she was going through this ordeal with me!).

When Thuli asked our opinions, I simply couldn’t lie (in the long run, I’d do more damage to her feelings if I’d had to struggle during dinner). Molly, however (a much stronger woman than I on this front), agreed to take a little liver with her dinner (she emphasized the little however!).

While we ate, and afterwards, there were several visitors. All were neighborhood children who arrived simply to get a look at us. Our meager Zulu greetings turned out to be a great source of hilarity for them. By nightfall, the house was brimming with life and laughter.


Molly and I decided to go to bed early in preparation of tomorrow’s activities. We’d be traveling with home-based health care workers and also take a trip to the local daycare center.  The two of us shared a room with Thuli. It got a little cramped in the small space, but we made the best of it. The three of us shared a single full-sized bed. Thuli, by far, took up the most room. She laid spread eagle on her back, oblivious to her bed-mates.  I, on the other hand, sleep nearest the wall and spent an overwhelming portion of the night wedged into the sizable crack between the wall and the bed. There were ample blankets, yet only half my body was covered at any one time, no matter how much I prodded and tugged. I was freezing! Molly fared little better; squeezed between two bodies and heaped under three layers of blankets, she was burning up. It was, by far, my oddest sleeping experience to date—but it sure makes for one heck of a story!


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