Sunday, February 1, 2015

BULLWHIP

Its strange the things people associate with your country. Good beef, sun, desert, the Okavango Delta, diamonds you'll never be able to afford but then theres always that one guy.

I'm in Johannesburg, enjoying the cafes and pubs in Melville. I don't really go out when I'm in Botswana. I did when I was younger but now there's a lot of arm twisting and googling of event details before anyone can get me out of my apartment after 9pm. Quiet dinner with friends? sure. Sundowners with a colleague, a movie? absolutely. Its the hectic party scene that I've been away from for a long time. Perhaps its time to change that, lest they call me something other than a leopard.

Cattle crossing the Thamalakane river
Today I'm doing laundry at the cottage, on my walk from the main house I run into the two weekend gardeners. I stop to say hello, we navigate a conversation in a combination of 4 or 5 different languages. Between us three I'm at the greatest disadvantage (South Africa has 11 official languages and these two are used to code switching between multiple tongues) so we peacefully accommodate this handicap and stick to a kind of makeshift Pedi-Tswana. The younger gardner clearly an apprentice of the elderly man who wields his tools with casual yet precise intent, says 'O tswa ko Botswana?' You come from Botswana?

I say, yes.

Where?

Well I was born and raised in the city and though I know its controversial to say this, no one is really from the city, my parents come from a small village called Mmadikola.

That near Francistown, Tutume?

Not exactly, though we are the same people.

Heeehee I know those people in fact I speak iKalanga.

How come, I say.

I lived there. I crossed the border near there without papers once.

You don't say, why? *though I suspect I know*

Work, why else. But they caught me and whipped me at the kgotla.

I laugh. What? *I know it happens, mostly young men get caught stealing or being naughty and instead of taking them to the police they are put before the traditional leaders who prescribe a serious, serious beating as opposed to jail time. Yet all my life I've never met someone who has experienced this form of … discipline.*

Yes, really hard. I still dream about it. It was a... a

*he puts his hands close together and mimics a degree of flexibility, so I nod and say sjambok? bullwhip?*

Yes sort of, but from a branch not leather, you know?

I say, I've heard they soak it in salt before they whip you.

They might as well, the chief said five strokes but it felt like ten afterwards. He said it was so I would remember that everyone needs papers to cross into Botswana. You are not special my son he said, nor is it a special rule just for you, I am chief and I need papers to get to South Africa.

And do you remember?

Very well, I tell everyone who wants to go to Botswana, they don't joke over there either you behave or you'll get a lashing.

Its not all we do, I promise!

If you say so.

He pulls out scraggly but determined weeds from the gutters above the cottage and leaves me to my laundry and chuckling. I'm thinking the national brand custodians need to do a better job of branding us as something else because this young man sings this gospel with conviction and an uncanny ability for storytelling.