My last day at Kruger National Park was spent visiting the local village and later attending a gospel service where I was invited to play along with the choir.
My guide for the day was Axon who also lives in the village and I was in for a few surprises….
We were first greeted by these guys on a stunningly gorgeous Sunday morning:
On the outskirts the soccer field:
and the local store, interestingly owned by a Pakistani man named Arfan.
This is apparently normal. In many villages, the local stores are run by a Pakistani man who usually marries a local girl and is accepted into the community. Arab music playing from the radio didn’t seem to bother anyone and I noticed repeatedly – also when speaking to my guides – that for the most part religious differences are accepted without problem.
Even within families, there is often a divide between the old traditions and “witch doctors” (called “Sagomas”) and Christianity of various denominations. My guide Ronnie was actually a pastor in a charismatic church when he wasn’t guiding tours. Unlike in most parts of the world where religions aggressively fight each other, the local villages here seemed to practice a philosophy of “live and let live”, allowing each to follow their path, according to their calling.
Of course, there are conflicts, but they are usually not religion-fueled which is refreshing. While I was repeatedly told in the Kruger region that racism between blacks and whites was not much of an issue anymore, most of the blacks I met openly admitted to rivalries between the different tribes. This area was mostly Changaan with its own melodious language. And it was seen as considerable progress that Changaan and the neighboring Pedi tribe inter-married and had other cultural exchanges.
With other tribes, however, that was not yet possible, and it seems that it would take at least another generation to overcome those differences.
Of course, we all heard of violent xenophobic attacks against African refugees in South Africa, in particular towards Zimbabweans who thanks to the British education system received excellent schooling, while the black population in South Africa was deliberately kept un-educated by the Apartheid-Regime. The Zimbabweans often get better jobs – in supervisory/senior capacity – and that naturally creates tension.
Those feelings, however, seem to be mostly limited to big cities like Johannesburg where poverty and hopelessness exist on an entirely different level than out in the country.
Out here, people seemed to be happy overall. Of course, many are poor and loan sharks are a big problem, but basic healthcare and education is provided free for everyone and old people – of all colors – receive a pension and, if needed, free government housing like this round building of which we saw quite a few:
There is little crime or drug/alcohol abuse in villages like these – very unlike the big cities or larger towns – and many find employment in the tourism industry of nearby Kruger National Park.
This is the local clinic for basic testing and examinations. For anything more major, the next hospital is 15km away, reachable by regular shuttle buses:
One of the things that surprised me was the disparity in wealth within the village.
There were simple, but steady houses like this one:
And also a number of houses that looked rather wealthy:
In particular the local doctor owned quite a mansion and a brand new car right in front.
The majority of the villagers though live in simple brick houses that are built one room at a time. People move in when the first room is built and then keep adding as they go along. The kitchen is typically outside and the basis of all food dishes is Pap, a form of gritz.
This is a local family who were nice enough to show me around a little: Veleza, Bulelo, Trefena, Ester (and not in the picture) Selena
No village excursion would be complete without meeting the local Sagoma (or Medicine Woman/Shaman). I’m always interested in other forms of traditional medicine and spirituality and had heard rather amazing stories about the capabilities of some Sagomas.
While the West often ridicules any form of native medicine as witchcraft and quackery, there have been numerous examples of effective healing – one of the most interesting being Dr. Malidoma Some and his very different (and successful) approach to healing mental illness….
While I am very healthy, this Sagoma pointed out correctly the two areas that occasionally cause me trouble (though nothing serious), most notably my stomach – without my ever having mentioned it. The craft of Sagoma is usually passed on from generation to generation and in modern day African Sagoma trainees also attend school and get a certificate.
Whatever you may think about it, I like to treat other traditions and cultures with respect and curiosity. Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Yoga, Tai Chi and so many other ancient traditions have long become mainstream practices in the West – though they were all at first ridiculed and eyed with suspicion. Western medicine has its place, as have these traditions, and mutual respect and an openness to learn from one another – or at least “live and let live” as I so beautifully witnessed in this village – is a much more helpful practice than arrogance and righteousness.
After my morning visit to the village, we went to one of the local Gospel churches for a service, which was another moving experience. People dancing, singing, laughing – young and old – joyfully together.
The choir and band were excellent and as someone had mentioned to the pastor’s wife that I am a musician, I suddenly found myself on the stage at the piano playing with them – another wonderful treat. I was especially impressed how effortlessly the choir followed along whatever harmonies I was playing – without any prior practice.
Another beautiful day in a week filled with so many new impressions – my first week in Africa!