Our menu: for starters, steamed mussels with white wine, toasted french bread and a beer bread muffin. For the main, we split a huge mixed seafood platter with individual side salads (caprese for Michael and mixed greens for me) with a great Merlot all followed by lemon meringue pie. Just fantastic. And the bill, with tip: R 512 or just $48.50!
We thought that going at 5 pm, we would be by ourselves, but within 20 min, the restaurant began to fill up with families, both black and while, with small children (who sat quietly with the adults), business men from local hotels (management and execs from the local Mercedes, BMW and VW car factories basically use Grazia’s as their diner away from home), black couples, white couples, young and older, a single black man, two white women, two black women, a real multi mixture. It was great to see. I guess I’m constantly asking, “how far have opportunities expanded since the end of apartheid?” This experience was a nice contrast to the fact that almost every store facing the street in East London has a locked metal grate door. One is let in. ‘Security’ guards watch your car for which you pay them $.50. When we first arrived, the whites we spoke with cautioned us about wearing jewelry or carrying my camera or other valuables in public, especially when walking on the beach, hence few “everyday” street pictures. The first day I walked on the beach with Michael, a police helicopter flew over several times. The last two days, police on horseback road by on the beach. There are stories about not letting your dog run into the bushes along the shore, because ‘they’ set traps and catch dogs and eat them, or about not going around the point at either end of the beach because you can get mugged. How much of this is true is hard to tell. But it certainly points to the pervasive poverty and disparity or to irrational fear that still exists here some 20 years after the end of apartheid. We’re cautious but not fearful, greet and talk to people when we can. It’s still very much an ‘us vs. them’ world here.
Baby’s the cleaning women who comes on Mondays. This weekend, she had been away from her house at a funeral, her cousin’s wife had died at age 38 of encephalitis leaving behind a six year old boy and twin babies, still nursing. The doctor said because they didn’t get to the doctor within 24 hours of symptoms, it was too late. She died within 1 week of her first symptoms. Ambulances are few in the rural areas and take a very long time to arrive. When Baby was sick with kidney failure a couple of years ago, it took them 3 hours to arrive and on the way to the hospital, they made two other stops to pick up others. Normally, people would have to take a taxi, which are plentiful, but if you make R 150/day house cleaning ($15) and a taxi costs R 20, many can’t afford it. Luckily for Baby, her employers, generous whites for whom she cleans, took care of much while she spent 2 months in the hospital. Few are so lucky. Baby says with a big smile that because she has her own house (left by her mother), a job and her children, she is a wealthy women here, and she is very happy. She walks about a mile to catch her taxi at the end of the day, and it’s a 35 min drive to her home. She had her one son when she was 30 (says her mother was very strict), didn’t want to marry the man (“he was not right for me”) and hasn’t wanted to marry since. She likes to have her freedom to do what she wants. Her sister died leaving two young children, so she has raised them also.
I’ve been collecting shells (obsessively when we walk on the beach) which Baby was admiring, so I gave some to her and asked if she every walks on the beach. “No, I don’t like the water.” “But it’s just walking on the beach; you’re not in the water.” “I don’t like the atmosphere.” Ah, they may be able to but feel very uncomfortable walking on the beach with white people. Although, we’ve seen a few black couples lately walking where we walk, it’s not common. I asked if she would like to go to the beach with us one day, and it was an immediate ‘YES.’ So goes life if our part of the world.
I wanted to see and perhaps buy some material that the local Xhosa use for themselves, so today after Baby finished work, we asked her to take us to the shop – which turned out to be a Factory Outlet shopping area – where we could find the South African made fabric. There were bolts and bolts of fabric in so many colors and patterns it was dizzying. Baby pointed out the ones that are used mainly for weddings and those that could be used after being married for 3-6 months. Tomorrow I will post pictures of several different ones.
On the way there, we stopped at the BP garage so Baby could buy more electricity, for which she spends R150 per week, a days wages. In her house, she has a refrigerator, an electric stove, an iron, a TV which she doesn’t us much; no hot water. She was 20 when apartheid ended and remembers the harsh treatment. She did attend school through 12th grade. If the police found children walking around when they were supposed to be in school, they would beat them with a whip. She had experienced that. But she says she doesn’t resent it. “It’s not good to hold onto those things. You have to move on.” After school, she worked for 11 years at a pineapple factory, but then they closed and moved away. That’s when she started cleaning houses, but people come and go, so right now she works only 3 days per week. She’s a bright women and fun to be around. Picture next week.