Saturday, 31 August 2013

Chatting with Cats

It’s a dark and stormy morning and I blunder out of the bedroom past the easy chair that Yorick habitually takes his early morning nap on. I will bend down to within easy eye-shot and he will give an off-hand early morning “purrp” from behind his tail and I will respond with a comradely “Hi”.
"Purrp" - which may mean "morning"
This morning the chair is empty – but weirdly as I look down I hear in my head a familiar “purrp”. Strange how habits can perpetuate. Perhaps this is how legends of ghostly music and odd sightings have occurred. Vestiges of memories of commonplace events have become somehow imprinted on the subconscious (there's a blog subject in there!). I hear again in the crown of my head the ghostly greeting but this time with a yawning meow which snaps me out of my extra-sensory musings because Yorick is actually above my head, lazily sprawled across the fish tank. He’s obviously been chatting to Jaws and Susan the two elderly inhabitants of that dank, green and foetid watery realm.

The rub of course is that I have absolutely no idea what the usual early morning “purrp” means, nor do I know what the early morning “purrp” followed by a yawning meow means either – although I suspect that a “purrp” from the favourite chair is different from a “purrp” from a high level fish tank - especially when modified by a yawning meow.

Communication with cats is not easy, and I suspect has never been easy.
Cat conversing with a Toad. An
inverted conversation.
Cat conversing with a Lizard. A frank and fearless

With dogs it is an entirely different affair.

With puppies the number one priority is to establish an early rapport by exchanging names. And this can usually be accomplished fairly quickly, although I have never really succeeded in getting any of our dogs to say “Steve”. They seem to have difficulty in getting their tongue around the sibilant “S”, the palatal “T”, the tongue against the back of the lower dentures to make “E” and the lower lip against the upper dentures to get the “V” sound. In fact they are crap at it and there are times when I wish I had been called “Grwoof” instead. Life would have been so much simpler, although on reflection I suspect I would have been bullied at school more than I actually was.

Well once you’ve sorted out the naming business (albeit a little one-sided, unless of course you are called “Grwoof”, in which case I am deeply jealous) all the rest just slips into place.

Here are some essential words from the Mitchell Dog/Human Lexicon.

·         “Sit” means wait expectantly for a dog biscuit.
·         “Down” means
a) if you are in the sitting position, lie down in the hope that you will get a dog biscuit, or
b) if you are rearing up on your hind legs with your front paws suggestively stuck in the ample bosom of one of the ladies from book-club get the hell off you over-familiar hound and there is no ways you’re getting any biscuits, ever again
·         “Fetch” is simple. It means run after the ball and don’t quite bring it all the way back to the thrower (the “chukka”)
·         “Bring” means will you please bring the bloody ball all the way back and stop dropping it just out of reach.
·         “No” means whatever you are doing - stop it
·         “Kitchen” – means get the hell out of wherever you are and go in the general direction of the kitchen and stay there for an undefined period of time.(see also living dangerously for alternative usage)
·         “Grwoof” means there is a disturbance at the bottom of the garden but we’re on to it.
·         “RrRgRwooF” means if those bastard dogs from Dr Wasswas’s place get any nearer we will tear them limb from limb. Yeah right!
·         “Rwoof rWoof” means although you don’t seem to be aware of it you are sitting within 2 metres of a large and fearsome snake and while we are not getting any nearer we respectfully advise you to beat a hasty but measured retreat.
Chap with Dogs. The vocabulary is actually a common one.

And talking of dog biscuits, I can safely say that having shared a biscuit or two with the dogs during an idle hour messing around on the kitchen floor trying to see things from their point of view; they are nothing to write home about. For some reason I had expected them to taste somewhere between Twiglets and Ryvita spread with Marmite. Not a bit of it! They taste exactly as they look – like brittle cardboard. I had hoped that being fed a sweetmeat shaped vaguely like a bone by one’s wife that I would have experienced something of the quivering pleasure clearly enjoyed by the dogs – and who knows, a frisson of something else? Instead your mouth ends up feeling like the inside of an elderly cornflake packet with a really bad aftertaste and an overwhelming need to drink something with a very high alcohol content. How the dogs stay sober after receiving such rewards beats me, although their all-consuming sense of euphoria suggests high octane ethyl-alcohol.

Okay so that’s dog communication sorted.

Goldfish are a complete mystery to me, because I suspect that they communicate with the outside world using some form of complex whole body sign language interspersed with the odd bubble. For the dogs this lack of interspatial communication does not seem to be an issue. The fish tank is well above canine eye level and as such simply does not exist. Yorick on the other hand has had several conversations with the Jaws and Susan and seems to have built up a rapport with them although to what extent they are reacting to the odd “purrp” that he flings at them it is difficult to tell. But I digress . . . .
Yorick strikes up a conversation with Jaws, or is it Susan?

Moles I am not sure about, not having ever met one in the flesh as it were. I do feel that they must communicate with what in England are referred to as regional brogues, in other words accents with a rather pleasing and beguiling twang much loved in TV comedies.

Spotted Eagle Owls (smallkittenus eatus) obviously go “WooHoo Wuhoo” which means either “When shall we three meet again?”, or “Wow!” Both of which are well known quotes with classical allusions as I am sure you will have spotted.

But returning to cats, given the paucity of information about Cat/Human interaction Yorick and I are about to embark (sorry!) on an extensive study of this mysterious area of communication. Already however I can see potential intellectual dissonance; I approach this subject from a neo-modernist Marxist view point – where as Yorick is a declared Meowist.

Watch this space!
Yorick and the late Shadow bone up on language - any
Although to be honest I have little expectation of anything in the least useful coming out of the exercise . . .

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Lassitude of Hate

Some time ago a colleague and I drove to the coast. We were going to join my family and some friends to be beside the seaside for a week or so. S and I drove from Mbabane in Swaziland to a holiday town North of Durban. The journey was a long one – some six to seven hours as I remember over some dreadful roads. This was my fault because I thought it would be nice to take an unusual and scenic route along the Pongola River before joining the N2 heading south. A fat-headed idea as my passenger remarked as we were stopped at yet another one-way road-works cabin that usefully and cheerfully informed us that we are likely to be stopped for a maximum of 15 minutes, or 25 minutes, or 45 minutes depending upon the length of road undergoing pavement surgery. This was mildly bearable to S and I, but was enormously unbearable for A, S’s fractious 3 year old daughter.

By the time we reached Empangeni, a featureless “sugar” town in KwaZulu Natal on the route to Durban A was at boiling point and we decided to stop at a road house for sustenance and sodas for A, and very strong coffees for us adults. The combination of being a naturally fractious three year old exacerbated by a hot and ill tempered journey had rendered A virtually uncontrollable. About as uncontrollable as any fractious three year old can be. Food and drink was liberally strewn around our table and the noise was awful. S and I were too tired to so anything but alleviate A’s behaviour as best we could. Bolting her to the table and strapping a horse’s feed bag to her head would have been useful, but probably illegal.

A was not the only miscreant in the restaurant. There were at least two other similarly aged harridans and perhaps we could have put the three together and retreated to a quiet corner table while they slugged it out together. But that would have been impossible because S is short for Sindisiwe and A means Andza, both of whom are black Swazi’s, and I am a proto-white one. Far from being able to hook up the miscreant toddlers together and swap raised eyebrows between suffering child wranglers it was impossible to slice through the glutinous atmosphere with so much as a glance – let alone a sympathetic shoulder shrug. A mixed race couple with a badly behaved child. Typical!

Perhaps I’m over sensitive but I felt questions burning into our backs like “Surely he’s not the Father?” and comments like “Can’t they control that child.” This trip is still a subject of anecdotal amusement – but my abiding memory was the heavy sense of disapproval from an exclusively white clientele towards a non-white combo, or rather the lack of latitude that would have been given to a “normal” suffering "family" group.

There is another episode where the same small child – now five years old, considerably wiser and accompanied by some cousins, an aunt or two and Gogo. A similar scenario but much more relaxed. A road house restaurant with a deck overlooking a large inland lake. On this lake and close to the deck was a boat with a white middle aged man and a boy of perhaps 10 years old. They seemed to be fishing for the cat fish just visible under the surface of the murky waters. Andza and her cousins were fascinated by this activity and clung to the balcony firing questions at the fishermen who were a mere 5m away.  “What are you doing?” “Are you fishing?” “What are you fishing for?” “Have you caught any fish yet?” They were studiously ignored. They were ignored with an intensity that was stunning. I have never before witnessed such stupendous effort expended in ignoring, by both man and boy – extraordinary behaviour!

At the same road stop I was with a friend who, through minor language difficulties and a major lack of concentration on his part could not understand the question from the waitress about whether he wanted hot or cold milk with his coffee. Her intolerance and immediate impatience with him tensed her entire body to the point where she was quivering, and even when I “translated” for him ("Khetabahle - for Christ's sake - Hot or Cold?") the sense of idiot kaffir hung around us like smog until with relief we left.

Lastly; a friend and I fetched up at a street-front café in Citrusdal in the Western Cape an hour and a half’s drive North of cosmopolitan Cape Town. An archetypal agricultural town redolent with the trappings of a recent apartheid history - indentured labour, unemployment, poverty and endemic alcoholism – the last a hangover from the historic “dop” system of payment. We had been hiking in the nearby Cederberg Mountains. After three days of absolute isolation, living on survival rations of nuts and spicey tinned tuna fish and no decent coffee we were gagging for banana splits and mocca java, both of which the café in question excelled in. We sat on the veranda watching the café proprietor feed a visiting sparrow on a variety of cheeses.

At one end of the veranda sat two elderly white couples. They were clearly upset by a european guy sitting with a coloured woman. So much so that I got the feeling that they were increasingly uncomfortable with their own company because of the obvious comfort we had in ours and the fact that we were somehow trampling over their comfort zone. The gap between our table and theirs crackled and spat with odium and disgust until they tired and left, passing our table with jutting chins and stiff backs held like body armour against marauding rioters. My companion seemed far less upset than I felt – it happens all the time – she said.

I regard myself to be hugely privileged by the company that I keep and the friends and colleagues that I have. Even the one who throws his hands up in mock horror when I sit next to him in a café and says “Oh no – I have to sit next to a white man!”

This is not meant to be a faux, soppy, liberal – “what a world citizen I am” sort of a piece but a real acknowledgement of the people around me that don’t actually care a stuff about what colour I am, what their or my lineage is, or what neighbours we collectively have. The fact that we come from different cultural backgrounds is regarded as a symbol of richness not a stigma. There is so much to learn from our differences. The fact that there are at times cultural and language issues and misunderstandings is part of the fabric and texture of cross-cultural relationships, and I have long stopped outwardly apologising for my own inability to assimilate other people’s languages and remain eternally grateful for non-native English speaker’s ineffable politeness in deferring to my own language arrogance.

Next time you find yourself feeling alienated by someone or something different, or wanting to alienate someone or something different, think a little about the energy that is accumulating within you and is emanating from you. It is negative and so utterly, utterly sapping. The sheer lassitude that hate inculcates is destructive and infectious.It is surely so hard to detest with the all consuming intensity that one often sees in others.
Completely gratuitous picture of the "Mitchell Child
Wrangling Service". You will note that aside from
the complementary headgear we also provide in-flight

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A Nasty Story

Two storeys below the traffic sounds are intermittent. Morning “rush hour” is over. The sun shines on my circular conference table, the one that can comfortably seat five, but at six elbow room is getting a little restricted. Sibusiso had phoned earlier to say he wants to see me but wouldn't tell me what it is about, so my interest is piqued.

“Eish,” he says, “sorry about the fire Steve.”

“Don’t worry” I reply. The fire had happened four days ago. The under-storey had been burnt off and all the saplings destroyed, but the mature trees were, as far as I could see a couple of days ago when I was there were okay. “Look, the cottage and water tank were fine, and the only damage I could see is the supply pipe to the ramp pump that is burnt through.”

“Yes I know. Sorry about that.” He apologises again. “I was trying to look after the house.”

“No, no it’s fine,” I continue to reassure him, knowing that we were just lucky that the day of the fire was calm and that had there been any wind it could have been whipped up into a veritable firestorm. I know that he would have done his utmost to protect the property.

Why is he here? This is mundane stuff.

I wait patiently as Sibusisio looks down at the table. Dust motes slowly spin and weave in the dry and still air and the only background noise is the occasional car passing through the traffic lights on the corner below.

“Eish,” he says. “I have a problem.”

“I thought so,” I say.

“It’s my Daughter,” he says, and proceeds to tell me his story.

I listen to the story without interruption. He finishes and I sit there and feel nothing and wonder why. I look out of the window into the strong winter sun picking out the various greens and textures of the trees and grass in Coronation Park, and the low mountains that separate the town from the Northern valleys. Gradually the dull traffic sounds intrude and as my eyes refocus on Sibusiso’s bowed and slowly shaking head the dust motes dance and the low sun gleams on the polished table top. I realize that I am feeling something after all.

I am feeling numbness.

At a loss as to what further advice I can give to Sibusiso I phone an attorney colleague for immediate advice on procedure. I email another colleague, an ex-high court judge who has necessarily a very broad grasp of the law and explain Sibusiso’s plight and ask who might be able to give some pro bono advice. I get a rapid response expressing shock and sympathy and the name of a colleague who runs a law clinic out of the University.

In the mean time I have given Sibusiso E2,000 against expenses and asked him to keep in touch with me.

There seems to be confused advice from the Police in this affair. Sibusiso is being told that there are instructions to cover the affair up. This he thinks may stem from the fact that the child was reported missing on Saturday by her Grandfather, but he was told to come back on Monday to open a missing persons docket. There is therefore a sense of embarrassment on the part of the police about their inefficiency.

The first advice that I had sought had confirmed that an unnatural death would naturally lead to a post mortem being carried out. There is no requirement for consent from close relatives to be specifically given in such circumstances. The law requires that a post mortem be carried out. So why was Sibusiso being asked for consent for a post mortem to be carried out? Following my attorney’s advice I suggest to Sibusiso that a post mortem must be carried out.

I recount this awful tale to a couple of colleagues during a working lunch - an unsettling subject to discuss over open sandwiches. We observe the paradox of the expression of freedom and democracy on the one hand and the now not so funny warning to “look after your children and old folk” on the other. Elections are after all upon us and canvassing is in full swing and it is hotly contested. The country is alight with accusations of dirty dealing on the part of one, then another, then another of the candidates vying for community votes. The one colleague is from the same community in which the child lived and died. He is adamant that this is not an incident of drowning, and he implies that within the community it is common cause that this is an unnatural death.

We are sitting again at my conference table.  A different day, but the same bitter wintery sun.
Sibusiso has returned with two scraps of paper. The one is the receipt for the coffin, and the other is the death certificate. It is obvious that no post mortem has been carried out.

The death certificate gives the age of the child correctly as being 8 years, and the cause of death as “death by drowning”. The certificate is signed by the Police Pathologist.  “Death by drowning” at least accords with the newspaper article on Tuesday which also stresses that the police have not found evidence of foul play. There is no mention of any autopsy on the certificate. Death by Drowning is the official story.

“No,” Sibusiso shakes is head. He is vehement. “No. They are wrong. How can you drown in winter? She was in her school uniform. She was accosted.” Indeed accidental drowning during the dry season is very rare. Rivers are low and crossings from home to school, or church are easy and familiar.

“Steve, her hands were missing here,” and extends his own palm and makes cut gestures with his other hand across the upper end of his figures. “She was missing here and here and here,” he says indicating both ears and his lower lip.

What do you say to someone whose daughter has been the victim of a suspected ritual murder?
What can you say?

Death by Drowning is the official story.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Yorick Goes Cyber

It is a dark and stormy evening. Lightening flashes across the skies and mountains are rampant with the base-drum rumble of thunder. The Collies are lying under the desk panting with barely concealed anxiety, and Tyke is gasping asthmatically by the side of the filing cabinet in naked terror. Yorick is curled up on the only comfortable seat in the study with a look of bored disdain on his face.

Yorick wearing his 'wot you think you looking at face'
rather than the bored disdain look . . . .
 I am trying to download the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius in an effort to educate myself in the true precepts of stoicism. As this task nears completion events unfold rapidly: –
  • A phizzing click (or perhaps a clicking phizz) of infinitesimal duration
  • A tremendous bang that echoes in my chest and is mirrored in every door and window in the house
  • Another slightly longer click
  • A gasp from Tyke the fat Staffie cross
  • A flash from across the road as the pole mounted transformer blows up in a roman candle shower of metal
  • Yorick stiffens so that every fibre is taught and his tail is thrice its normal svelte size
  • The lights go off; the computer goes off
  • There is a warm familiar electric smell of burning plastic.
“Rapidly” is probably less than one second; and all that’s left of the event is the feeling that it all lasted a lot longer, the smell of the fried router power pack, and the more pervasive whiff of a mighty rear end expelation from Tyke.

Hallo Summer! Season of violent electrical storms and the death knell of any electrical appliance stupid enough to remain plugged in to the mains.

I sit back and try to be stoical – after all this is nothing unusual. I could check out how Marcus Auraliaus would perhaps have dealt with the situation – but of course cannot, because not only is there no power, the down-load was not completed. The curse of the information age is that you need good old fashioned 19th Century power.

And the IT age is wonderful is it not? I am not addicted to Facebook – but I know many people who are.
I would just like to annonuce that my cat now has 37 genuine facebook friends (well mostly genuine) of his own. What does that say for the power of social networking? And if you are not a friend of his . . . . is life worth living?
The contemplative look - his best profile
 So there you have it. The guilty secret is that Yorick has gone cyber. And there are other people out there daft enough participate in this little fiction. Fiction?
It would help if you spell "annonunce" properly . . ..
And what’s more he’s not afraid to use the spell checker either.
Anthony S
Well done to your cat. I've been trying to get my dog to use FaceBook, but he's sold on MySpace.  
Kiki M
thot I wud add a witty comment, but Yorick clean blew the funny outta me...! Hyuk hyuk hyuk! Oh man! 
Yorick missed this one because I think that he would have had a dictionary fit . .

This exchange was clearly promoting some searching thought .
Anthony S
quick cat quote... "Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this." - Anonymous
Portrait of a Cat howling at the mid-day sun. We haven't
quite worked out the essence of vampirism yet.
I have a feeling that this might actually have been said also by Marcus Aurelius. Unfortunate fuel I’m afraid to the feline ego.
You damn right about that Mr. S  
And there he is again, sneaking in a quick comment behind my back. Obviously got hold of the home help's laptop. It’s all fun of course but I do have a sneaking fear that it might just get out of hand –
The fear is of course that the cat will end up with more friends than me. Fat chance!
Watch this space . . . . . . .
The advice flows in.
Candy V-O
Remember Steve - dogs have masters, cats have staff. Cats are only here to keep us in our place! I shall toady up to Yorick in a bit....
Candy I know, I know. I am just the secretariat. I look over my shoulder and Yorick is curled up on the only comfortable chair in the study, secure in the knowledge that when I've gone to bed he will, behind my back, respond in (un)kind. Its a real bugger being a pet!
Essential reading for the modern Cyber Cat
And this is the nub of it. Social networking is essentially a trite activity, a dumbing down of interpersonal relationships. It’s full of commonalities and cliches. Silly photographs of normally sensible folk doing daft things at fancy dress parties when they are legless on bootleg cider after an unusually large spliff. Daily reports on bowel movements and fatuous sayings, invariably punctuated with multiple exclamation marks and sometimes with risqué printers marks such as @*$$#. And my particular favourite - instagrams of the food you are about to partake of. As an antidote to this I suspect Yorick offers an aloofness, a superior mien, and yes – I’ll say it – a snootiness; all natural feline traits. And I venture to suggest just a hint, a soupcan of exclusivity.
Olivia  R-I
I'm sure the only reason Yorick doesn't have more friends, Steve, is that he's rejected most applicants as hopelessly unworthy. Those of us who made the cut are the creme de la creme.
Oh I know Olivia. He is however being seduced by random angst ridden teens from places like deepest rural Idaho or Oklahoma who can't understand why the F... their parents called them "Yorick" and seem to want answers from the wider Yorick community. I suspect that when they read Y's profile they might get an inkling of the extent of his humanness though - 'cos he never hears from them again!
This last bit was a bit of a shocker I have to admit. Stranger than fiction I know – but there are hoards of young men out there who have been saddled with the name Yorick and have no inkling as to the nobility of the label. It’s not the guys from France or Greece who are clearly happy in their Yorickness, it’s the poor saps from the American mid-west. The guys from the vast conservative cereal cropping bible belt who cannot understand why they are not called “Reuban”, or “Easau”, or “Jacob”, or any of the myriad other names the good book has on offer.
"Yorick? Great name. I'm very comfortable with it."
I  can just picture the conversation –
“Yorick? Who is Yorick then?”
“Well son he’s a fictional character in a play about an unreliable Danish Prince. The character is a dead Elizabethan Jester who makes a fleeting appearance with a couple of grave diggers. He has no lines and adds absolutely nothing to the story line. In fact there is little opportunity for even the most inventive director to flesh out (as it were) the character in any way.”
”Get aht’ ‘a here!”
“No really. And as soon as you were born we felt that you were the embodiment of all his attributes. You was born to be a Yorick son and you’r Ma ’n Me, we’re mighty proud of you Son.”
Little wonder that with such identity crisis piled on top of “normal” adolescent anxiety the face book pages were getting a little steamy. In fact we (I admit to some editing on behalf of Yorick who does lose interest fairly quickly) had to ditch one namesake after public requests for advice on how to score with girls. And I had to ditch another one from San Francisco (where else!) who was offering graphic advice on how to score with boys!

Does anyone know of an exclusively feline social networking site? Pending which of course I suppose you could befriend him - or would this be deemed to be "reverse trolling"?

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Tourists & Missionaries

Here are two little stories.

Homestead above the Nkomati Valley
Some time ago I was an observer at a community meeting. I was the only mulungu there, sitting at the rear of the meeting with a staff member whispering translations in my ear. The details of the meeting are not material, nor the reason for me being there, but suffice to say my entirely passive presence was accepted and deemed to be necessary.

This was an important gathering, held at the edge of the grounds of a rural school set high in the mountains commanding views across the deep Nkomati Valley in the Swaziland high/middle veldt towards the distant blue mountains surrounding Piggs Peak. Like many such meetings the participants were spread around, sitting on the flattened grass and sheltering where possible from the relentless sun under the inadequate shade of the few stunted high veldt acacia trees; traditionally men to one side and the women to the other. Matters of great import were being discussed and recorded, and as I have observed before and since at similar gatherings, everyone had the opportunity of a polite and respectful hearing.

Some way into the meeting I became aware of a minibus edging its way along the rural track and drawing up a little way away from the meeting area. From this vehicle issued forth a dozen or so tourists sporting white and cherry red limbs protruding from safari khaki shorts and many pocketed waist-coats, liberally slung about with expensive camera equipment and topped to a man and a woman with floppy safari hats with “Kruger Park” emblazoned on them.

Some of the visitors floated around the periphery of the gathering taking photographs of the scenery – both topographic and social. Some even strayed into the seated crowd of community members seemingly oblivious of the geography of this gathering of people. Ever courteous, senior members of the gathering rose to their feet and politely greeted the newcomers. After perhaps ten or fifteen minutes of pleasantries and further photographs (portraits and scenes) the intruders retreated to their vehicle and the meeting proceedings re-commenced as the mini-bus lurched down the dusty and potholed rural road.

The second story also occurs in a generic rural setting.  

Another homestead in the Nkomati Valley
On each rural homestead significant areas of land are under cultivation (on average about 1.4ha per homestead according to a study we did in the Nkomati Valley) with a mix of maize (which is the staple), cabbage, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, cassava, rarely sorghum, various other commonly recognised vegetables produce, and in more secluded areas, dagga (yes - cannabis sativa! - or weed if you prefer). Surplus produce is hawked at the side of the road, or in town, or is sold into the formal market mechanism run by the National Agricultural Marketing Board (Namboard).

Cattle are pastured on open commonage, chickens scratch for food around the homestead yard area and goats graze and browse in the vicinity. Interestingly pigs are a rarity. Cows are a vitally important store of wealth and are used for Lobola (bride price) and other exchanges, and for slaughter in celebration of special events. Surplus beasts are sold at formal auctions.

A very well ordered homestead showing the extent of cultivation
Not so long ago there descended into this setting a group of missionaries whose avowed intent was to teach the rural Swazi’s how to plant and manage vegetable gardens. These were folk who were I assume moved by some thought or spiritual impetus to temporarily up-sticks from their comfortable western existence and move to Swaziland for a short period of time to, yes, to teach rural Swazi’s how to plant and manage vegetable gardens. This endeavour took place in an agrarian economy where 70% or so of the population is rural and engaged in animal husbandry and the production of food-stuffs at a subsistence level.

I still remain open mouthed at the memory of the event at the community meeting; for two reasons.
Firstly I am aghast at the sheer bare faced intrusion of foreigners into a community forum. For that there can be no excuse. Did the tourists not think that a group of 70 or so folk gathered together in the veldt are not there for some private and meaningful reason? Did they think that the gathering was being held for their benefit and perhaps they left hugely disappointed that there was no impromptu show of sibhaca or gumboot dancing, or perhaps a rousing choiristic rendition of a Michael Jackson number?  Or worse – as I think is the case – did they did not even see the folk on the ground as sentient beings.

Hand operated maize mill
Secondly I remain astonished by the equanimity and tolerance of the people at the meeting when faced with what I would regard, do regard as being a most intolerable intrusion.

With regards to the second story, at the time I felt that it does not take much insight to be able to observe something fundamentally wrong about a bunch of foreigners intent on imparting knowledge on market gardening descending on an environment that is redolent with generations of farming and local environmental experience. This I felt could not even be characterised as misdirected well intentioned efforts. It was paternalism at its worst and at its most crass. And once again I found my jaw dropping at the patience, tolerance and ineffable politeness of rural Swazi folk in the face of such intrusion.

You may care to indulge in a little bit of cultural readjustment and re-frame both premises –
Imagine if you will that you are sitting in your favourite pub, bar, cafe, restaurant or community hall watching an important nail biting national soccer final when the door bangs open and in troop a small but noisy group of Swazi warriors clad in traditional dress and brandishing “cultural” weapons. They interrupt the sport for between ten to fifteen minutes by performing various well rehearsed warrior dance moves and then depart leaving behind only the heady smell of sweat and wood-smoke. Bemused, amused, angered perhaps, you return home after the match only to find a small group of smiling ululating Swazi women who are there, at the express invitation of your local priest, to show you how to use your washing machine, how to iron your socks, and how to cook your Sunday Roast (with Yorkshire Puddings).

Yet another homestead set against the kopje behind

Now I would hate for this to be taken as an anecdotal illustration of foreign crassness measured against noble native tolerance; that would be too twee by half! That would be to assign some ridiculous level of cultural symmetry and typecasting.  

In a way however I wish it were that simple, a laughable clash of misunderstanding and cultural disjuncture. But it is not, and it is far more serious – and I believe that my simple anecdotes illustrate scenarios where the potential damage is grave and long lasting . . . . .

Well I thinks it's all pretty funny . . . . . .
 . . . . and there is more discussion on this to follow!