Literary Zone

Short Story-Journey into the Unknown(Final)

22 August 2011 at 04:13 | 1664 views

By Hilda Goitsemang Busani, Gaborone, Botswana.

Edited by Bakar Mansaray, PV special correspondent, Edmonton, Canada

Chapter 3

New Experiences

The bus driver’s destination was Barolong, from where he began his daily trip to Gaborone. He took Joseph to a yard where he offered Joseph accommodation in one of three mud huts with thatched roof. The owner of the yard was Mable, a widow in her sixties to whom Joseph was introduced.
After listening to Joseph’s story about his journey, she asked him if he would like to stay a couple of days with her, looking after her sheep and cattle as her herd-boy had not turned up for duty that day. Joseph agreed to her offer, as he knew he would earn some money to take him through his journey.

Mable was a kind and religious lady. She was the leader of the Methodist Church in the village and well respected. She was always reading the bible and praying. One day he called Joseph to join him in prayers. To Joseph’s surprise, the lady prayed for him and asked God to give him the best things in life. To Joseph, this did not mean much as he had never been to church and prayers to him meant nothing.

Days went by and there was no trace of the herd-boy. In the meantime Joseph was well fed, clothed and looked after. Mable came to like Joseph as he was responsible, kind and helpful and was already liked by people in the village. It was a struggle for him to learn the local language, but as a survivor, he learnt it very fast. He spoke the local language with a Zambian accent and listening to him was easy to tell he was not a local.

Joseph was a handsome young man, tall with a dark complexion. Although he had never looked after sheep, goats and cattle, as his parents had none, he enjoyed what he was doing. Within no time he had learned all the tricks of looking after these farm animals.

One day Mable asked him if he still wanted to go to the South African Mines or if he would like to continue looking after her sheep and cattle.

The thought of the hardships he had gone through, made him not to hesitate in deciding to stay with Mable. The hospitality that he had enjoyed so far from Mable and the friendship amongst the village boys was nothing that could make him not take the offer.

Joseph agreed to continue working as the herd boy for Mable. He was treated as part of the family. Although he was not paid a salary, he was given food and clothing and at the end of every year given either a sheep or a goat in return for his service.

As years passed, Joseph’s goats and sheep increased and this made him care even more for Mable’s animals like his, because he felt a sense of ownership and considered himself a partner. He did not have to contact anybody in Zambia as the relatives never cared for him. He decided they would take it that he was dead. It was now ten years since he left Zambia.

Joseph was very happy enjoying farm life. The feeling of having friends around him kept him going. In the afternoon, when the animals were grazing, they would sit under the shepherd tree, (motlopi) as it provided nice shade especially during summer and play traditional games like mmela and morabaraba. They did not get too absorbed into these, as on occasions when they got carried away with the games, the animals would stray into the fields and destroy crops. The punishment was severe, which was normally a good number of lashes on the back. So they were always alert.

They enjoyed riding on the back of the donkey. They would choose a donkey which was not used to be ridden on with a view of taming it. Normally, it would run around wildly, kicking and making sudden turns, trying to get rid of the burden on its back. The boy who would hold on tight to these unpleasant moves was regarded as a hero. Others, who could not hold on tight and were thrown off soon at the first kicks, would be laughed at the whole day and be called the weaker ones. At times, the boys sustained serious injuries, like a broken arm, from such rides.

The boys knew the behaviours of their animals, especially the cattle. Much attention was paid to cattle that drifted frequently from the grazing area. As these animals had the tendency of being followed by other cattle, the boys would tie a bell to the neck of the cattle. The distinctive noise made by the bell from the movement of the animals helped the boys to track their movements. So if the cattle had moved a distance from the herd boys, they would always know which direction to take in order to get to the cattle, guided by the sound from the bell.

If the sound of the bell became fainter, they knew it was time to go and look for the cattle as it meant the cattle had wandered a bit too far.
During the evenings, once the cattle have been herded into the kraals, the boys would pass their time playing guitars and dancing to music of one talented musician who was called Matsoni Teemane. He played the segankure or segaba very well.

The segankure is made from the hallowed log of a tree. The top part, from which the sound is emitted, is made from slightly squashed five gallon oil tin. It is a simple one-stringed indigenous musical instrument, and it’s strung using the long shreds from the tail of a horse. Matsoni’s segankure music can often be heard on Radio Botswana.

The boys would gather around well-lit fires from the wood they collected during the day. When the moon was shining, there was enough light around to see how well they danced and who was dancing better than the rest. The best dancer was cheered by the clapping of hands and whistling. At times, they competed against each other and the next day, the winner was awarded the first bird to be killed, which normally would be a dove, as it was easy to trap and kill.

The boys liked this form of entertainment as it kept them from mischief and made them more self-disciplined. They respected people in the village and they received respect in return. At times in the evenings, they would lay down on mats made from dried animal hides while competing with the translation of short Setswana poems dinaane like (sa re nyedi sa re tsee sa ruta pudi matsepa (legadima);, tlhare se seleele mmakatse (seporo); Lwapa la ga mmasekokotalane (meno) Modimo oo nko e metsi (nko ya kgomo). The competition was usually between two groups. The winners would be exempted from looking after the cattle the following day. Like chiefs, they would sit under the shade of a tree and give instructions to the losers on how to look after the cattle. The losers were also expected to gather fire wood for the evening entertainment.

As Joseph became of age Mable could not let him carry on working as a herd boy. He was now in his early thirties. So she proposed to him to look for a better work elsewhere. She promised Joseph that her farm would always be his home.

Chapter 4

A Dream is Realised

A replacement was found for Joseph and Mable helped him to find a job in a cement factory called Pretoria Portland Cement in Mafeking, South Africa. The factory was about 60 kilometres from Mable’s village. He worked tirelessly and always visited Mable during his annual leave.

When he came home, it was also time to see how Mable’s animals were doing and he would give advice to the new herd boy on how to take care of the animals. Joseph got attached to these animals and as a lover of pets he got himself a poodle puppy that he called Messie. He loved this puppy so much and he carried it around whenever he was home.

Every morning, he would feed the goats and sheep with corn bran mixed with salt, as he believed salt helped clear their system of intestinal worms. Whenever he made the sound “kom, kom, kom” that is ‘come, come, come’, the goats and sheep would come rushing to him for food.

At the cement factory, he was well- known for his hard work and enthusiasm. He also talked to his fellow workers about teamwork and told them they should be at each other’s side at all times.

One afternoon Joseph was busy at work with his boss who was a white man, and they were working on an electrical appliance. Joseph knew little about the dangers of electricity and what to do in case of an emergency.

This was during the time when South Africa was practising apartheid laws, when people were classified into categories like whites, Indians, coloureds and blacks or ‘kaffirs’. The Whites considered themselves to be superior to all the other groups and were to be treated with respect. They held supervisory positions in most companies. As a black person, Joseph knew he could not ask to assist his boss, even if he saw him doing something unsafe.

His boss’s name was Alan. As they were at work, Alan accidentally touched a live electric plug with his bare hands, and he was electrocuted. Although the thought of not being allowed close to his boss came to his mind, let alone touch him because of his colour, this did not bother him at that moment. All he was interested in was to save a life. With tremendous speed, he moved close and kicked Alan’s hand with all his might to free him from the electric plug. He then raised an alarm. Within a short time, the ambulance came and Alan was taken to hospital where he was treated for shock and burns.

Joseph’s fellow black workers took it as a big joke, asking him how it felt like, kicking a white man. This was not a bother to him, as he knew he did it for a good cause.

Alan was out of the hospital after two weeks. When he reported for duty, the first thing he did was to look for Joseph, and thanked him for his assistance. He asked Joseph what he liked doing during his spare time. Joseph told him that he normally goes home to take care of his goats and sheep. He also told Alan about his lovely dog, called Messie.

Alan realised that Joseph was keen on farm animals. He decided to reward him with five live turkeys. He told Joseph that they should always remind him of a life that he saved. Joseph was really grateful, as he did not expect such a gesture from Alan. They became good friends thereafter.

Chapter 5

Coming of Age

Long time ago, in the African tradition, when a boy became of age and was ready for marriage, the elders would look for a girl for him to marry. The reason being they wanted to choose the right girl. Normally, it will be a girl belonging to a family that is well-known to the man’s family. It must be a well-behaved and respectful young lady.

Mable had one girl in her mind that stayed in their village with her parents, and were well-known to her. The girl was attending school and was in standard five. Her name was Rebecca.

The parents discussed the marriage without Rebecca’s knowledge. When all was finalised, she was told that they decided that she was old enough to be married. The girl could not believe her ears. She told her parents that she has not thought of marriage, as she was still interested in school. Those were the days when a child had no case to neither argue nor voice an opinion about anything that he or she felt was unfair practice. The parents’ word was final.

Marriage was regarded as a sign of respect to the parents and they saw this as a blessing from God. Some villagers would wish it was their daughter who was to be married. The news of marriage would be a talk of the village until the day of the ceremony.

Rebecca begged to finish school, but all fell on deaf ears. They explained to her that if she got too educated she might not want to marry Joseph, as she would be more educated than him. Those days, women were only expected to bring up children and not to get any education nor engage in any professional work.

It was made clear to her that if she refused to marry Joseph, nobody would pay for her school fees and she would be asked to leave home, as her refusal, would be regarded as lack of respect for her parents. Rebecca thought of leaving home but where would she go.

She went to school to collect her books and did not know how to explain the issue to her teachers. She cried throughout the morning and the teachers thought something bad must have happened to her. Rebecca was a bright and well-behaved child at school. She was adored by most of her colleagues at school and in the village.

Some teachers and friends accompanied Rebecca home in order to know what her problem was. To their amazement, the parents happily explained that their daughter was about to be married and all has been finalised by the two families and relatives. The teachers felt powerless as the plan for the marriage was at an advanced stage.

Lobola or dowry had been agreed by the two families for six cattle, two sheep and a suitcase full of clothes and blankets. The clothes were to be used during the patlo proceedings.

Once the day for patlo was agreed by the two parties, Rebecca’s family slaughtered a sheep and cooked a meal, called ‘samp’ for the visitors.

Neatly packed in a suitcase, the clothes from the Joseph’s family were two blankets, a dress, a petticoat, shoes, and head scarf for Rebecca. The clothes were brought early in the morning on the agreed day and handed to the wife of Rebecca’s uncle who dressed up Rebecca for the ceremony.

With small blankets, traditionally called dichale on their shoulders, and their heads covered in head scarves, the elderly women gathered by the house where Rebecca awaited for commencement of the marriage ceremony. The women wore custom made mateise skirts as a sign of patlo proceedings. The men gathered at the kgotla holding sticks and wearing hats.

On arrival, Joseph’s representatives were asked what they wanted. They respectfully pointed out that they were looking for sego sa metsi, meaning someone who is to fetch drinking water for them. They went on to explain that they met Rebecca once and she offered them water to drink.

Joseph’s representatives were already knowledgeable about Rebecca as they were asked several questions among which were her name, the name of her parents, and the ward she came from.

Once all the questions were answered, the Joseph’s representatives were given permission to marry Rebecca. She was then called from the house to be shown to her future in-laws. She was dressed in the traditional leteise, and a small blanket attached with a big safety pin on top of the dress.

Once Rebecca performed her greetings to the guests, her parents cautioned those of Joseph that she was given to them in good health, and that if they do not want her anymore, they should bring her back home in good health without any scars. The ceremony was then concluded with ululations from Joseph’s representatives.

The payment of ‘lobola’ followed and a wedding date was fixed. When the wedding day arrived, a couple of cows were slaughtered and there was enough food for everybody to eat as well as plenty of traditional beer to drink. Men and women ululated, sang and danced to traditional wedding songs.

Chapter 6

Journey of the Holy Union

Few months later after the traditional marriage ceremony, Joseph and Rebecca were married at the Methodist Church under the guardianship of Mable.

They were blessed with nine children, three boys and six girls. Joseph’s always told his children about the importance of education, and for them to take school seriously. He told them about the hardships that he went through in life due to lack of education. He said it was the only thing one could wholly inherit. Whenever Joseph was on leave, he would teach his children life skills.

One day, in his late fifties, Joseph fell ill. He was admitted at Athlone Hospital in Lobatse, and diagnosed with throat cancer. The disease made him weaker as the months went by. In the last days of his life, he became so weak that he could not even recognise his children. He died at the age of 58 and was buried in Pitsane.

Rebecca remained with the children who were now grown-ups. The girls got married and she had the opportunity to see her grandchildren. Fourteen years after the death of her husband, Rebecca got sick and was diagnosed with liver cancer. For three years, she bravely fought the disease, but on March 23, 1996, she died at dawn.

The End