500,000 bottles of sparkling wine mature in this section of the underground cellars at Cricova Winery just north of Chisinau, Moldova. Photo taken December 3, 2016.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Chisinau, Republic of Moldova.

Where are they going next? Transnistria. The country that doesn't exist!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How many cows did you pay for your wife?

On Saturday February 1st, we did the Village Tour offered by Bulungula Lodge. The idea of the lodge is to have the visitors interact with the community as much as possible, and vice versa. This tour shows you a lot of local customs and it was certainly the most interesting part of our stay in the community.

Our guide was Zamika, a 22 year old single girl. She's still learning English, but she's doing really well and although we had to get her to repeat a few things, we're glad that she's putting so much effort into it. We know how difficult it is to learn a second language!

A couple of the local women.

In the pic above, the lady on the left is married, but the one on the right is not. How do we know this? When you are married, a lady is only allowed to wear a long skirt. If you are not married, you have a lot more choice in clothing.

It was a Saturday, so the kids spend a lot of time playing.

There is no electricity to this area, so the children don't have televisions or computers. They spend most of their time outdoors. However, many people now have cell phones, and you can see tiny solar powered charging systems set up on people's roofs. We paid about R140 ($15.00) for our cheap basic cellphone including some airtime, so that gives you an idea of how inexpensive it is to stay connected.

Part of the community of Bulungula.

Bulungula doesn't have a central area, or a town square, or anything that you would consider a town. It's just a community. Bordered by two rivers. All of the land belongs to the community, and if you want to live there you have to be approved by the community. Then, the headman will assign you a plot of land. It doesn't cost anything, but you may have to buy him a beer.

If you grew up in the community, are ready for your own rondoval, and can afford to build it, it is the same process. The headman will assign you some land.

Building a new rondoval.

When you have been assigned some land, you can build your rondoval. It costs approximately R800 ($84) to build the wall, and approximately R1000 ($105) to build the roof. Yes, that includes labor. All materials come from the land with the exception of a piece of glass for the windows which they buy in town. Total cost of your house, including land? Less than $200.

Xhosa woman and child.

Odds are good that this lady has never been outside the community. We heard a story where a lady was asked how she felt to live in such a beautiful place.

Her response? "I wouldn't know, I've never seen anywhere else."

Our first stop was at a white man's home. JP is a 70 year old retired South African construction guy (and jack of all trades) who moved to the area to help teach the locals about different construction techniques that would make them employable. He's got some interesting ideas and he's enthusiastic about what he's doing, but the place was a bit of a dump.

RSC stands for Rural Service Center. 

Teaching them how to build walls with glass bottles.

He teaches them how to build furniture from sticks found in the forest.

And how to have better gardens. Every homeowner has a large enough plot of land to have a garden for personal consumption.

Only problem is, he currently has only six students. On an overall basis, the locals still don't trust the white man and when he tries to recruit someone to take his classes, the response is often "how much will you pay me?". They don't have the attitude that they will benefit from learning these things, and they don't seem to appreciate the white man trying to help them. The six students he has are training to become teachers of his techniques  to the rest of the community.

He also fixes things for the community. If you have something that is broken, you can bring it to him and he will fix it for free. The only stipulation? You have to stand there and watch him fix it so that if it breaks again you will be able to fix it yourself.

It's even more interesting because these communities along the Wild Coast weren't as affected by the apartheid regime. There wasn't a lot of involvement by the whites and they were essentially allowed to self govern during those years. Really, that left them far better off than the black people who lived in or near cities in South Africa, and we think they are even far better off today. They lead simple lives, but they seem quite happy to do so. Yet another example where we have found that they are not nearly as "poor" as western society tries to tell everyone they are.

Me, with some of the local boys. The one kid loved my sunglasses!

In another ten years or so, these kids will be going through a ritual that will officially mark their progression to manhood. This is one of these situations that is difficult for us to understand. There's a lot more to it, but here's the basics as we were told them. For 30 days they will be stripped of all clothing with the exception of a blanket. Then, there will be a celebration where a cow will be slaughtered and there will be a feast. Everyone in the community is invited. The cow costs approximately R6000 ($630) and is the second most expensive family tradition. Only marriage comes at a higher price!

Then, the boy will be circumcised. We had the opportunity to speak with the local doctor, a woman from Holland. She said that every year she sees a couple of these boys die, and some have to have their penis amputated because of infection. Nasty business, these traditional rituals. We don't get it, but there's a long list of things in this world that we don't get!

Next stop was a place where the ladies make soap to sell to the tourists who come through the lodge. There was no production going on because it was Saturday, and so no photos. Every homeowner here grows lemongrass in their garden plot, and they use the lemongrass to make the scent in the soap. They grow enough lemongrass to be able to sell the excess to a company in Cape Town. Yet another example of how the lodge has brought so many side benefits to the community.

Then, it was off to the local shebeen. This is an unlicensed bar; a gathering place for the locals to have a drink and socialize. There are thousands of these such places in South Africa.

Kevin, with a jug of the cheap beer.

They pass around a bucket filled with this cheap beer. The stuff sells for R5.5 (58 cents) a litre. And it tastes terrible. Warm and creamy, and a little bit sour. Yuck.

Men drinking in the shebeen.

Zamika explained that women are welcome in the shebeen, but at this hour the man will be expecting the woman to be at home making his dinner. If the dinner isn't ready when he gets there, he might say "Woman, what did I pay 10 cows for?".

That is the cost to get married. An expensive proposition, the groom and/or his family must pay 10 cows to the bride's father. A cow is worth approximately R6000 ($630) each, so the groom must save his chickens and goats until they add up to a cow. The interesting thing is, they don't place that much value on a cow as currency. Difficult to explain, and we're not sure we understood that part of it correctly.

Apparently you can get a deal if the groom and the bride's parents know each other.

When she was explaining all of this, I said that I paid 20 cows for my wife. I wanted to make sure I got a good one!

Cleaning your floor. With fresh cow dung.

As we were walking back to the lodge, Zamika saw an open door at one of the rondovals. She lead us over there and we were invited to see the inside of this lady's home. She was in the process of cleaning her floor. The cleaning agent? Fresh cow poop! Oddly enough, it didn't seem to smell bad.

Ruth and Zamika.

We totally enjoyed our tour with Zamika. Oh, you notice that she has something on her face? It's a special mixture to protect her skin from the sun. She says it leaves her skin soft and wrinkle free.

29 comments:

  1. That was quite an interesting tour, some new and interestin customs to us.

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    1. It was an interesting tour and it sure made us realize that there are some modern conveniences that we quite enjoy. I bet we have some customs that they would think are strange too!

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  2. I love how you get right in there with the locals and learn all about them, their customs and traditions.

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    1. That is one of the many reasons that we love to travel to different countries for, to learn about these things and another is for the beautiful scenery.

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  3. Yup... 20 cows for Ruth is a bargain!!!!! I loved the printing on the side of the carton... understood so much better than complicated lingo. Tee heeeee



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    1. I also think he would get a bargain at that price especially considering how much he likes my cooking.

      The printing is good on the side of the box as long as it is in their own language on the other side because out here they don't all speak or read in English.

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    1. Great post guys. Love the photos. You should think about doing a calendar when your trip is over.

      Cheers

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    2. Thanks John, that is an idea perhaps Kevin will look into it sometime over the summer.

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  5. Just think of what a different world this would be if we all lived this simple life (minus the odd rituals, of course). Grace (in Tucson)

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    1. We agree, we as a society put to much emphasis on material "stuff" that really isn't needed. We may not live a real "simple" life but compared to most people we do, and by not having lots of "stuff" we feel much freer. These people live a life that is close to the earth, they don't require lots of things but it is a harder life for them but they are much better off here than if they lived in a city. I could also do without some of their "cleaning" products though.

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  6. Must try that cow dung cleaning technique. Will get some tomorrow.

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    1. Let us know how it works out, Peter! ;-)

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  7. As always a fascinating and informative post. It's refreshing to know that some Africans are not nearly as poor, and their living conditions not as bleak as we are so frequently told. Thank you for the gorgeous pics as well. Seeing the blues and greens of South Africa instead of Ontario's frigid whites and greys is like a shot in the arm. Keep 'em coming!

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    1. These Africans are considered poor by "Western World" standards but they also don't have a need to spend lots of money at least not in this area. Schooling would probably be one of the biggest expenses that they would have and to be honest education is the most important thing in order for their lives to improve. Having said that, we believe that the people living here are much better off than the ones that live in the tin shacks in the townships.

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  8. Very interesting glimpse of life in South Africa. And I didn't pay any cows for my bonnie bride, but with what I've spent on her over the years I could have bought a couple of dozen herds! ;c)

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    1. It was a very interesting look into their life, makes us think that we North Americans complain too much about things in our life that we think are "hardships"!

      What you have spent on Marti has been worth every penny, right? :-)

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  9. My now deceased father-in-law would have fit right in there in the role of the "white man". He had some ideas about renewable resources way back before it became "cool". He also liked to invent stuff. On the other side of it, he did have a LOT of junk hanging around. It seems to go with the turf. Had it not been for the insistence of my mother-in-law (whom I never met, died in 1974) he would have built a house out in the country somewhere. And surrounded it with junk. She wanted to be on a bus route. Wise choice.
    So, do you think you could get MORE than 20 cows for Ruth these days? I'm sure she's gone up in price.

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    1. Even here they seem to have lots of junk lying around, you never know when that piece of something might just come in handy for who knows what!

      I hope that's not referring to Kevin trading me in?!

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  10. What a great area. I think it is my favourite "scenery" of your trip. Rolling, green hills. Looks and reminds me of Ireland!! Great pics, guys!!

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    1. Yep, I think it is one of our most favourite in South Africa too! We really loved the scenery here.

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  11. Another interesting post about local customs!

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    1. We are learn so much when we spend time in areas like this!

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  12. As the saying goes, interesting place to visit, but I sure would not want to live there:) After all, I do not own any cows:(

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    1. You are already married, so you wouldn't need any cows!

      We did love the area and could spend quite a bit of time there and not sure we would want to live there either, 2 hours on a dirt road and then another hour or so just to get to a decent grocery store would drive me nuts!

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  13. I like the calendar idea but think you should do a book. You have a lot of see and say and an interesting way of putting it together. Great post!

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    1. A book is a lot of work but who knows!

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  14. Great tour and post. Do they only have glass bottles there? Here in Mexico they use plastic pop bottles filled with sand to build homes.

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    1. Thanks Contessa! No they have plastic as well, but this is only JP's ideas that he would like to get the locals to use, to help use up both glass and plastic empties. The locals still use mud bricks that they make themselves, he is just trying to show them other ideas.

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