Pause in the rain, so I went out quickly to buy some groceries. The local ‘supermarket’ is really just a trading store with luxuries for the more affluent and packs of sugar, Imani soy mince, maize meal in bulk and canned chakalaka for the majority. I found my grains and pulses, a small packet of jasmine rice on discount. All around me farm workers smoking handrolled cigarettes and wearing old clothes smelling of woodsmoke (no electricty, no running water). Very good-humoured if noisy atmosphere (rural Xhosa people bellow over your shoulder as if calling to one another on distant hilltops) and the manager came past and laughed when he saw a little boy tearing open a packet of toffees, saying he could have it for free. It is a tough time financially here: clothing shops go bust, there are no farm machinery outlets, the farming co-op is battling. Yet there are new shops opening to sell hi-def TVs and cell phones. Drug dealers are having boom times and gun-running is profitable as ever. Small villages, or platteland dorps as we would say, hang in through bad and good times, years of drought, years of civil unrest, years of better crop prices and fattening cattle. There are potholes in the roads and more farms on sale, but also cheap drumhead cabbages and pumpkins stacked high at the roadside, mud-stained sheep grazing peacefully in fields and the aloes about to throw up their red spires on the kopjes.
An elderly friend came up to me and complained that a local handyman has wrecked her plumbing and now she is having to pay for him to have some kind of treatment for his alcoholism. The treatment involves a hypnotist who claims to have been a hit in Florida and payment in US dollars, but my elderly friend is taken with hypnotism and there is not much I can say about that. I doubt the handyman wants to get sober and there are plenty of kind-hearted clients who will help him perpetuate his habit. Taking money off foolish elderly women is a pastime the world over. ‘He’s a bad lot and hopeless at fixing anything,’ said my friend cheerfully, ‘but this hypnotist has the cutest accent and does Elvis impersonations too. He grew up in Brakpan and has travelled the world, met President Obama last year when the president came down to surf in Miami.’
”The world is a small place,’ I said vaguely. Barack the surfer dude, who would’ve guessed?