Umgenandlini- to bring a gift when visiting

Its not often we can escape the confines of the office. We get so tied up in the day to day running of Woza Moya that is it almost impossible to leave with crafters arriving to hand work in, admin chores and sourcing materials – by the time you look at your watch it’s home time. In the early days, trips to beaders’ homes were a weekly occurrence. We would often need to either deliver an important order or message or beads or to collect or find an important order – these were the days before cell phones …. things were tough then!

Once, we had to track down a bead worker, Thandi, who had taken a skirt for Durban fashion week as the designer had asked for special beading around the hem. Thandi had promised to return it in time for the fashion show three days later, but on day two and a half we started to panic. Sli, who was Woza Moyas’ first staff member, remembered that Thandis’ brother was a taxi driver so off we went to the taxi rank to find him. Eventually, after we had accosted just about every taxi driver and his sidekick we miraculously found Thandi’s brother and yes he knew where she lived! He was even kind enough to drive with us to her house which was 45 minutes away – a beautiful scenic drive through rolling green hills. We carefully avoided potholes, chickens, goats and cows, and eventually the road got so bad and I wondered at times if my little car would make it. Finally he stopped abruptly on the edge of a cliff and gestured to a small house at the bottom. Sli, the glamourous one in the relationship, was wearing completely inappropriate shoes. But even if we had had the best mountaineering shoes in the world the terrain was simply treacherous; we slid on our bottoms laughing and yowling hysterically all the way down the cliff-face only to find – no surprises here – the hut was locked! I made Sli get on my shoulders to look through the little window to see if she could see the skirt, we were that desperate!

Our odd behaviour had alerted the neighbours and the head of the neighbouring house came to interrogate us. She informed us that Thandi was at her sister’s house and that we should go there – it was only an hour and a half drive away in the opposite direction. I felt like our time was running out and our desperation was palpable. She kindly sent her daughter with us as a guide and we clambered up the hill out of breath, dusty and sweating. We eventually found the tavern where her sister worked and another family member jumped into our car and directed us to Thandi and we were so happy to see her come out the house with the fully beaded skirt – she had apparently forgotten… there is no rush in Africa, except for us! We raced back to the centre and handed over the skirt to the designer. The designer was ecstatic and had absolutely no idea of the ‘behind the scenes’ drama.

On other occasions, for example when taking Oxfam photographers out to photograph crafters at work and at home, we have had to practice the art of patience as crafters left directions like: Turn right after the big stone, left after some wavy grass, right after a green container. The operative question is, “is this the stone?”

Some crafters were very sweet and would leave a trail of relatives and friends who they knew we would recognise and they would then lead us to them. Miraculously we almost always reach our destination, whether or not it was the one originally intended.

With the advent of technology things have improved somewhat. You would think that using a pin would be helpful? Well, yes and no. Many of the roads we go on are not on any google map and the road ends and the pin is dangling in fresh air, and in front of you lies a myriad little roads leading distractingly into the wilds.
Today is really what I want to write about.

Today we went to film two bead workers who make Christmas decorations. Covid has been pretty tough on crafters and we had brainstormed an idea that we would put together three Christmas boxes that have decorations from everyone, so as many crafters as possible would benefit. We wanted to share the context of where the beadwork comes from and what Christmas means to crafters. After many wrong turns we finally reached our destination, Princess’s house. We were greeted by a whole family of children who were very excited to see us. Princess and her mom and extended family create the most beautiful Christmas decorations. Every decoration is perfectly formed and watching her bead was mesmerising and I felt so honoured to be watching and witnessing her make her beautiful art. I often say that beadwork can be painful to the Soul (yes people laugh at me) because if you look at it, really look at it, you will see such excruciating beauty. As the needle knows to pick up the right colour bead, the maker has already envisioned a complex pattern in her head, it flows through the creator so effortlessly, unconsciously but all the while the pattern is there. I often feel it is miraculous, a celebration or prayer to the universe.

The joy of our visit was palpable; the children were so excited to see Qin the photographer and showed off their incredible soccer skills, they played a match on a platform with two sides so steep that they disappeared into a misty canopy below, but these guys were experts and the ball never went over the edge.
When you visit you must bring a gift. The Zulu word for this is Umgenandlini. Our team had brought some biscuits but when we saw how many children there were, we had to get a second box.

When you are invited into a crafters’ home the welcome is huge – neighbours, friends and aunty’s come to be part of the celebration. After we had finished filming we were invited into the most beautiful Rondavel (round house) where we were served the most amazing food, and as Princess’s sister kneeled in front of me to serve me food, tears welled in my eyes – we had come here to try to create work, yet this family had chosen to share what little they had to us. In that moment I got a big lesson in kindness, sacrifice, love, community, honour and Ubuntu – I am because you are.

We drove away and all I could think about was the richness of that moment, the whole of me full -Thankful.