At home in Africa

By Jim Eagles

Miriam Ndeya, proprietor of the kwa-Ndeya bed and breakfast, is very excited and her face seems permanently set in a huge, beaming smile: "You are the first white people to stay here. That is why I am so happy."

Her homestay has been running successfully for four years now, and judging from the visitors' book has had a steady flow of guests, but our arrival is obviously seen as a big breakthrough.

"All of us in the homestay programme went to a meeting and one woman said she had white people stay . . . but," she pulls a face at the memory, "we had none!

"Now I can say . . ." and she giggles and does a little celebratory dance with her hands.

It was nice to be able to inspire such pleasure because kwa-Ndeya, in the sprawling Xhosa township of Joza on the outskirts of the dignified colonial city of Grahamstown, is actually a fine place to stay, whatever your skin colour.

Joza, like most of the townships we visited in South Africa, is a mix of ramshackle corrugated iron shacks, rows of the neat new cottages provided by the Government as part of its rehousing efforts, larger older houses and a few flashy modern mansions - all of them set amid unfenced grasslands where cattle wander and rubbish accumulates in heaps.

The Ndeyas' is one of the older homes, a large, roomy concrete building, kept immaculately clean, with a tree out the front in whose shade Miriam's husband, who wasn't introduced, sits during the heat of the day with an old friend from just down the road.

They are obviously well-off by local standards.

Miriam did kitchen work when she was younger, spent many years as a nursemaid and then for 22 years assisted in a local shop. "I lost my job in 1997 when the shop was sold."

Apparently she and next door neighbour Jacqueline Moti were chatting one day and the topic came up of the Eastern Cape Province's Makana Tourism scheme. "We were sitting here and doing nothing so we thought we might as well get busy."

The provincial government has a number of such programmes aimed at creating incomes and improving lifestyles.

For lunch, for instance, we went to the Joza base of the Umthathi Training Project which aims to teach people how to grow vegetables and use them in food.

The three large ladies who run the project welcomed us with some Xhosa songs, demonstrated the point of the project with a delicious meal and then gave a tour of their nursery, garden and soup kitchen.

Next we visited the Egazini Outreach Project, based in what was once a riot police base, where local artists are able to work, hold exhibitions and sell to the public.

The pictures on display, mostly woodcuts, were fascinating, many telling tales from Xhosa history, especially the Battle of Grahamstown in 1819 in which thousands of Xhosa warriors were killed.

The government programmes have put a particular emphasis on tourism because of the influx of visitors expected in 2010 when South Africa will host the Football World Cup.

In Joza alone there are now 20 homestays where once there was virtually no accommodation.

It's a scheme which suits people like the Ndeyas whose children have left home - though grandchildren seem to spend a lot of time there - so, as Miriam puts it, "there are only two people in this big house".

"Now," and her smiles grows even broader, "when you are here you are my children."

To qualify to enter the homestay programme the two women had to attend three courses and the certificates they earned are proudly displayed in their dining rooms: tourism awareness, customer care and business skills.

It seems unlikely they needed any training, really, because both are obviously good housekeepers and excellent cooks.

I was ushered into a big high-ceilinged bedroom, with two comfortable single beds, both with crisp white sheets and newly laundered blankets, a desk and a wardrobe.

Just down the hall was the bathroom-toilet with a big iron tub, and several smaller plastic washing bowls, which Miriam filled on request with hot water from a kettle.

That evening our group ate at Jacqueline's house next door, gathering round a big table laden with fresh rolls, mealie pap, sour milk and a delicious chicken and vegetable stew.

Sitting with us was Natalia, a bright young African woman who goes to places dealing with food - including homestays - and advises on food hygiene.

At her urging I tried the mix of mealie pap and sour milk - "It is my favourite food. We call it African salad" - and greatly enjoyed its savoury, cheesy flavour.

Afterwards we enjoyed a taste of local culture: a South African television soap opera called Scandal with an incredibly complicated plotline which Natalia attempted to explain.

"Everybody watches this," she said. "It is the best."

Luckily alternative entertainment was provided by one of Jacequeline's granddaughters, a delightful 18-month-old, who initially cried at the sight of all the strange white faces but then perked up and enjoyed the chance to show off, ending up blowing us all kisses.

Afterwards there was another soap opera but I had enjoyed enough culture for one night and wandered next door to my cool, quiet room, listened for a while to a gentle chorus of barking dogs, then drifted off to sleep.

Waking early I tip-toed out and went for a wander round the settlement.

I watched the world wake up - food being cooked, clusters of people gathering at street corners to wave down the taxi vans which make up the public transport service, children being sent off to school in their neatly pressed uniforms, cows and goats being collected - without the slightest sense of threat.

Back at the homestay Miriam had gone to huge trouble to produce a "white breakfast" with a hamburger patty and a fried egg laid out on a plate with white bread, orange cordial and delicately sliced tomato, cheese, lettuce and cucumber.

It was, as another guest remarked, "like an open hamburger" and surprisingly tasty.

When the time came to leave, even though I had only been there one night, I actually felt as though I was leaving a couple of old friends.

In between big hugs and kisses the two ladies told us to stay safe and to tell people to visit Joza. "We need more white people to stay here," said Miriam with a smile. "You are good for us."

Jim Eagles travelled to South Africa as a guest of South African Tourism.

GETTING THERE: Qantas flies several times a week from Sydney to
Johannesburg under a code-share arrangement with South African Airways. See www.qantas.co.nz.

South African Airways has regular flights from Johannesburg to Port
Elizabeth. See www.flysaa.com.

Ezethu Tours offers tours of historic Grahamstown and visits to Joza,
including local homestays and community projects. See www.ezethutours.co.za.

WHERE TO STAY: Kwa-Ndeja is on the phone at (27) 46 637 1271.

WHAT TO DO: You can find out about activities in the Grahamstown
region at www.grahamstown.co.za.

FURTHER INFORMATION: See the South African Tourism website www.southafrica.net.

- NZ Herald

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