Monday, October 13, 2008

of cows and boys

One of our understandings that has been challenged working here in South Africa is the meaning of poverty. We see very clear cut examples of suffering that are not hard to define. But there are so many other instances, particularly in the rural areas, where the line is very indistinct. We know people who, by the numbers, would be defined as poor. And yet they are living full and healthy lives. They work hard and have enough, even if just barely. And there is a beauty to a simple rural life that cannot be enumerated.
Two weeks ago we decided to use our day off to follow a sign that we had seen indicating that there was a waterfall somewhere in that direction.
We turned off the road and followed a nice tar road for 11 km. We had to ask someone how to bypass some construction that had the road totally blocked off. But we got around and this time there was actually a sign telling us where to turn off the road. This path ran out and we only had to drive across country for a few metres to get on another track that wound up a mountain and back down into a stunning valley surrounding a fabulous waterfall. We parked at some little huts and signed the guest book for the man who spends all day there with very little company. We hiked up to the top of the waterfall which featured a series of pools and mini-waterfalls.
As we approached we saw cows and boys, the age-old combination in this area. The boys were running and swimming and jumping. While they played, the cows ate and rested. At the end of the day, the boys will take them home but in the meantime the time is theirs as long as the cows are safe. It is exactly the boyhood that Mandela describes in his autobiography, almost as untouched by the outside world. We greeted the boys and were met with very little response besides them lining up on the rocks to watch us. Eventually a few scattered to return to play but the rest stayed in their lineup. We swam and played a little bit (feeling like we were on Baywatch) and then left as we were getting hungry and had not brought enough food to share.
The waterfall was gorgeous, the water fresh and cold, the day clear and hot. We had been a little blip of interest in these boys' day but when we left, they returned to their age-old routine. Are they poor? Probably they are by the numbers. But their daily play place is a holiday destination for us. What we take time off to enjoy is their everyday existence. Would they give up this kind of freedom in order to make enough money to be able to take time off to visit this waterfall? I don't know.


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