October 3, 2007

Give Me Whatever He's Drinking

I brought my guitar to Itipini yesterday to teach our choir director a song or two. He is a great singer and quickly picked up “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “Down by the Riverside,” among a couple other of my favourites. It was so much fun because he could sing some beautiful harmonies and got so excited at the possibilities of combining “Swing Low” and “When the Saints.” As we were singing, we attracted a crowd of people waiting to get into the clinic and waiting for food who were interested in what was going on.

Since I can’t resist a crowd, I ambled outside and started playing, encouraging as many of the maybe 50 people to join in with me as possible. I wasn’t all that successful as most people preferred to stand and stare but a small handful of women joined in the singing and dancing and even asked me to repeat the words so they could learn them as well, which they did. As is my wont, I was dancing and jiving away.

It was very hot and I was sweating profusely, mostly due to my rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” (by the end of this year, I’m going to be putting Chuck Berry and Michael J. Fox to shame). So I asked for some water, using the Xhosa word I had only recently learned. “Amanzi,” I said and someone went to get a cup. I indicated I wanted my water bottle but the message was lost in translation and I ultimately went and got my water bottle myself.

Several of the women I had been singing and dancing with were trying to ask me a question and I finally figured out they wanted to know what I was drinking. “Coke?” they said. They used some other words I didn’t understand. “Amanzi,” I said, so pleased I knew the word, and indicated the bottle. I assumed they understood because they gave me a sort of knowing nod and then asked if they could drink out of the bottle as well. I’m democratic with my water bottle and gladly handed it over, from which they drank heartily (leaving me with only a small amount for the remaining three hours in the hot sun).

Anyway, that moment ended and I moved on to other tasks, quietly content that I had done more in that one half-hour to integrate myself into the community than I had in several previous weeks combined.

It was only as we were driving away from Itipini that one of our pre-school teachers, who speaks Xhosa and English fluently, asked me what I had been drinking and I again said, “Amanzi.” She then told that all the women were convinced I was drunk when I had been playing. They wanted to drink from my water bottle because they were convinced it had alcohol in it. That, to their minds, was the only possible explanation for my singing and dancing. I hope this obvious but it really and truly only was water in the bottle.

(In response to the pre-school teacher’s comments, I asked our Xhosa nurse, “Does Jenny treat patients who come into the clinic drunk?” “No,” she said. “But Jenny lets me come into the clinic so what does that mean?” “You’re not drunk,” said Dorothy, our nurse. Pleased with this Socratic bit of reasoning, I turned to the pre-school teacher and then heard Dorothy say, “But Jenny doesn’t treat you…”)

On the plus side, when the pre-school children see me now they start strumming an imaginary guitar and singing “O When the Saints.”


Anonymous said...

Jesse... Hello from Nome, Alaska! Its Charlene here. Glad to see you've settled in! Nothing has changed much here in Nome - we've got a few more potential volunteers. I'm finally back with NVAD of course as volunteer. Well, Cheers and take care - nice blog!

Charlene - out

Anonymous said...


In the process of putting together a small package for you. Any requests from the Gold Rush City?


mlynch said...

Hi Jesse!

Thanks for keeping up this blog - it definitely helps feel connected to you and your work. And thank you so much undertaking this ministry - I hope your work changes us half as much as it will change you and those you are working with in Mthatha. The prayers of St. Mark's in EL are with you! And it was great to meet you and see you get a good meal right before you left!

In Christ,
Meghan Lynch