16 Dec 2011
Friday, and I have to do what many people do on a Friday (although today’s a holiday in neighbouring SA): Fetch the work crew from site 20km away, pay them, and drop them off where they live, 7k’s the other way.
I set out in low range 4×4. A steady, cool drizzle has been falling since early morning after a murderous night. That’s on top of 25mm two days ago that didn’t manage to break the oppresive heat and humidity, but did pre-soak the soil.
The eight-man road crew, when I get there, already has their tarpaulin and tools on the trailer and their three fires extinguished. Eleven km of bush track has been opened up and they’re happy to be heading home after a week of camping in lion country.
I slip, spin and slither the Nissan and trailer all the way back again through the black mud and then tackle the rocky track to the village where I drop off the guys.
Just as I’m about to drive off again, a little girl arrives with a message. The chief would like to see me. Protocol dictates that no chef should spurn another, so I turn around and mudplough through the streambed and the track that leads to his compound.
Turns out chef is really happy to see me. All smiles and triple handshakes.
The old man in his company is even more happy. He comes charging up, correcting his course a few times along the way, brakes too late and then falls upon me like I’m his long-lost brother. I help him find his balance, do the handshakes, and then have to prop him up again by the shoulders.
Chef sends him reeling off in a new direction and then gets down to business. A lift to Mapai? OK, if I’m not going, then how about five litres of wine? It’s christmas after all. No? OK. But please, next time, four tyres for the Nissan sitting on logs over there. Fourteen inch. Big problem. No transport.
A pity I can’t help him. As a chef in these parts myself, I fully understand.
The old man, I learn, is none other than old Maquaqua, who passes himself off as a sangoma in the village. He may not do as well as the one in Machamba who is rumoured to have twelve wives and two cars, but he has a few bedside stunts of his own, including downing a nip flask of gin in one go and practising medicine under the guiding haze of the green weed.
Had I not started taking anti-biotics for my painful ear infection already I may well have considered seeking his advice. At R2 for a consultation it’s a fair enough deal I’d say.
But old Maquaqua has done his last wild leap and holler for the day. He’s snoring peacefully when I leave, right there in the mud where he’d crashed.