Sunday, October 10, 2010

A job to remember- English

I work in the kitchen. I wash, clean, chop, cut. I sweep, I tidy, occasionally I stir the pots which are as huge as industrial boilers, with huge utensils, all to the amusement of the Zulu mamas. I didn’t really learn to cook. I don’t think I caught the secret of spinach with rice or of cabbage with phutu. But what I learn everyday is more precious than any cooking book.
I watch them working. Zulu mamas and zulu young girls, side by side, from morning till night. Here and there is a volunteer like me. When I go into the kitchen in the morning, they are already there. They all lovingly smile to me. They know me by my name and they ask how I’m feeling, how did I sleep. I look around for a knife, somebody hands one to me. I try to infiltrate into the wall of aprons lined up on duty next to the long tables, somebody moves away to make room for me. Even if this means giving up an area where access to the potatoes or peppers was easy and convenient and the subsequent exercise required for repeated bending and stretching toward the bowl.
I think what I would do in the same situation. I think of it every day. How I would hold on to the knife that I had carefully picked to suit me best, even a couple of knives - cause you never know what you’re gonna need. How I would have
kept still when I found myself in the most convenient position next to the bowl ... or what a bushy argumentation I would‘ve developed if someone “wronged“ me in some way. The Zulu mamas sing and laugh. The old inner man has died. The new man is joyous, warm, peaceful. When they talk, I recognize expressions like “amandla kaJesu” (the power of God) or “Unkulunkulu uyasebenza“ (God works). If I shyly start a song they immediately sing together with me. I listen to them and I KNOW God has a special place prepared in Heaven for these giants of faith. Their only concerns are the things that are truly precious and eternal. If they care to know anything about me it is my walk with the Lord. All the rest will soon burn. We finish the bags of carrots or red beets. They are peeled, cleaned and chopped. Unseen hands constantly collect skins, pips, leaves, the water that is running all the way to the floor. Nobody holds back, nobody expects that the other should do it. Notions like “this I don’t do” are completely unknown. I can work an hour or five or ten. Nobody is counting, everybody works before God not before people. I sweep and I look around for a dustpan. It’s not an easy job because on the floor there are wet onion skins, pepper seeds and drops of white phutu. But by now I am motivated by them and I find pleasure in doing anything. Or more exactly I would have gladly done it, because as I couldn’t find the dustpan in the next moment a zulu girl rises as from the ground and lays down a plastic sack for me and helps me get all the garbage onto it. Her radiant face doesn’t need words. She is glad that she could help me. She is glad no matter what.
I laughed so much when I heard about a lady who - as she left Sizabantu- said: “I think they put something in the water that they drink, because they are all so….umm… happy…”It’s not the water that they drink, it’s a new heart, cleansed and attached to God.
We had weddings, birthdays, funerals, anniversaries together. I was with them - the staff and the guests. The anniversary of 25 years of marriage of a very loved couple ( Arno & Franzi) was a rich day and we all enjoyed it alongside each other, serving others and sitting in the hall of ceremonies in our turn. I hesitated until late to sit down at a table and when hunger helped me decide to sit down, I couldn’t see any free seat. Suddenly someone took me by my hand without a word and pulled me to a table in the middle of the room, the only remaining one which was completely unoccupied. Noyimanga – is a kind of chef in the kitchen. I said to her: “ I can’t sit here alone”. “I’ll sit with you” she said and she discretely took her plate from another table (from which she had already finished eating) and set it at my table . Then she brought all the delicious courses to my nose. And she served me. She then put some crumbles in her plate and pretended to be eating with me. From time to time she would turn to me and ask if I was ok. In the middle of a very important speech I choked with the rice. My airways revolted instantly while I desperately tried to avoid a noisy explosion. I turned bright red, anticipating with horror the grotesque noise of the donkey cough that was about to take over me in the silence of the fancy room. Uncle Erlo and the entire family were sitting at the table next to me. I quickly looked to estimate how far was the door, so that I could sprint out, but it was too late. A loud and spontaneous convulsion let everybody know that I was choking on the food. The next moment Noyimanga and a few others turned to me with a worried look on their faces, saying “sorry…. sorry…” and tried to help me. I am sure nobody laughed or even thought to themselves, “how embarrassing, I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me”. I am convinced nobody ever commented on the incident and did not even remember it.
I think: so many women, for months and years together every day, knowing no tension, no conflicts, no murmuring, no gossiping, no cheating, no resigning and looking for a better job… For so many years in the same job - serving others.
One night I watched Nokuthula, the one in charge of our tea. It seems simple, you pour water into a cup. But after a little while I humbly reassessed my opinion. I think would need at least a month of intensive training to be able to do what she does. Not only does she know what each of us drinks – some drink Rooibos tea, some English tea, some with milk, some without milk, some milk and water only, some only water, - but she takes about a second to look at the person in front of her and pour water into the cup with the right combination . And that’s for hundreds of people! I drink English tea with milk. When she sees me she pushes toward me the handle of the cup with my combination and smiles. For a while I uselessly still asked, “Is this my tea?” But now I know for sure she knows what I drink.
One day I misplaced my camera. It was a Sunday night around 7 o clock when I realized. As I reconstructed the filming of the day, I was more and more convinced it’s gone and I’ll never see it again. The place where I wanted to go and talk with someone was the kitchen. “Hau!” they cried looking at my long face when I told them. Then they talked together and I could hear in their voices how sorry they were, how they wanted me to find it. I felt so privileged to know them, to have them around me, to be accepted in the kitchen. I found the camera the same night, forgotten in the Auditorium, but they were happy for me for many days. Even those who were not in the kitchen when I returned with the camera in my hand came the second or third day to hug me.
Faith isn’t necessarily visible only in big things. There’s no need to give my body to be burned. I can clearly see Christ in the kitchen. The old man doesn’t die unless he is replaced. I am so grateful to the Lord for sending me there and I am so happy I obeyed. Because I can say it’s the most beautiful and profitable job I have ever had.
Some pictures (and the romanian version) HERE


小玲 said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

J.C. Vermeulen said...

hey it still a nice story.

Chavoux said...

It's been many years since I have last been to Kwa Sizabantu. But one of the permanent impressions I still have is of the women working in the kitchen and their joy. This was such a nice reminder. :-)

C.N. said...

If you haven't visited for so long, maybe its time to go again? :-)
Thank you for your comment