I had many questions about the way rural people lived, which Carol the assistant principal, kindly answered for me during our visit to the Dihlabeng Christian School.
Rural homes are made of wood, adobe, and scrap metal. They are pieced together and usually look pretty run-down. Some of the homes are built in the traditional round African style, which looks very nice, but we were told that those homes are often some of the barest on the inside. But Carolyn told us that many of the rural homes are “absolutely beautiful” once you step inside.
If the infrastructure is there or they are able to steal off the grid, the residents can have electricity. Some homes have basic bathrooms, but many have to resort to digging 20 foot holes in the ground to dispose of their waste. Very few homes in the rural communities have running water; instead, there are a few water spigots within the community that residents use to fill up containers of water. Sometimes a water spigot will be in need of repair but it takes the government forever to fix it, then the residents have to walk farther to find a working spigot. They carry the containers of water back to their home.
Some dwellings have kitchens with stoves or fireplaces (I saw quite a few makeshift chimneys), so they can cook inside. But other families have to make fires outside and cook there. When we would drive through the rural community at dusk to get to downtown Clarens, we saw many families cooking over fires they had built outside. Also, there would often be people burning excess brush near the side of the road for fire or vegetation control. The air would be choked with smoke. We would see people walking along the dirt road to their homes or huddled over cooking fires on the hillsides.
Because I had so many questions about the way rural people lived, Carolyn asked a lady at the school (I’m not sure who she was) if we could visit the home that was immediately next to the school. I was concerned that the residents would think us very rude but we were assured that it was fine. “In that case,” I said, “it would be an honor.”
One of the teachers told us that this home had been there for many years and the family kept expanding it. He said it was considered “palatial” by common standards. They are also one of the few families who own a car and a truck.
A little boy, about the age of five, and his older sister, lead us over to the house that was their home. There was a small area fenced off with a few chickens in it and a german shepherd lying in the yard. The children’s grandmother was sitting on a bench by their truck. I went up to her, introduced myself and stuck out my hand. She shook it and exclaimed something sharp in her language. I laughed. I knew she was saying,”Cold hand!” because my hands are freezing in any language. Then Bill crouched down and said his hand was warm, she took it and said something that was obviously nice about his hand. It was pretty funny.
Anyway, we walked to the front door and stepped inside. We were so surprised to see a nice kitchen with a large cast iron cooking range, an oven, a sink and a refrigerator. Dim lights were on as well. The little boy went to a corner of the tidy kitchen and pulled out a big toy truck for me to see. The floor in the kitchen and throughout the house was linoleum that had been laid directly over a dirt floor. It rose and fell with the contours of the natural ground.
From the kitchen the kids lead us into a bedroom with a double bed and some kind of storage for clothes (it was too dark to see). There were strung up lights but they did not come on. The little boy pulled a doll out of his bed to show my husband. There were two more bedrooms and a sitting room with an old couch and a fairly large TV. A string of lights hanging over the couch was dimly lighting up the dark room. Through another door we could see one more bedroom that was also being used as a storage room. No one was inside the house other than us.
It was so generous of them to show us their home. We said it was lovely and thanked them very much.
I keep extending these blogs about South Africa because I don’t want to leave it yet! So next week I’ll post some pics of downtown Clarens.