Is it safe to walk into town? I asked the owner of the Sabie bed and breakfast in which we were staying. And because her answer was yes, we did, my son, my daughter and I. Beyond the electric gate, we walked past other homes with high fences and barking dogs toward town.
On the main street, cars and trucks whizzed by, quickly and unpredictably. It was after 5 p.m., and people lined up outside the liquor store and the supermarket. We tried to smile as people past us on the narrow sidewalk, their eyes focused forward, unacknowledging, unseeing. We didn’t know their language.
It was dusk, and many stores were closed. Women were packing up their wares, fruit and vegetables, jewelry and carvings laid out along the road. We walked past the roundabout and found the supermarket where white women with children shopped. With bags of groceries, we headed back, stopping at the gas station’s Whimpy’s for a burger before finding the street that led us back to our gated accommodation.
After being able to greet and thank the local people in Cape Town and on the Eastern Cape where isiXhosa was the primary language, I regretted not knowing any words in the local languages of Mpumalanga where Sabie is located. According to www.southafrica.info, about 30% of the people in the South African province Mpumalanga speak Swaziland’s siSwati, 26% speak isiZulu and 12% speak isiNdebele. In the Eastern Cape, words broke the barrier; smiles and laughter broke the silence. In Mpumalanga, without words we lost our connection and remained apart. (See related post “Connecting.”)