Last week I embarked on my first trip to Cape Town during my spring break. I was thrilled to finally see this huge city that I have heard so much about. My few days in Cape Town were amazing! The views at the top of Table Mountain and Lions Head were worth the hike and the history of Robben Island opened my eyes. But, my favorite part by far was the homestay in Tambo Village.
On our last night, we traveled twenty minutes outside the city center to stay in a Xhosa-speaking area to spend the night, where I met mama Mpumi. All fourteen of us on the trip were split up into pairs and assigned to our very own “Mama” for the time we were there. My mama was late, so as I sat in the head mama’s bright yellow living area, I started to wonder what the next twenty hours would have in store: excited, but also very anxious.
Mama barged in the door waving her arms saying “Uxolo” which I later found out means “sorry”. There she stood with her silvery grey dreadlocks, zebra-patterned shirt and long skirt, she reminded me more of a Grandmama than a mama, but I loved her energy. We picked up all of our belongings and started our walk to her house, not before stopping at the local convenience store to pick up a cold mango soda. We approached the bubblegum pink house surrounded by a tall cement wall and gate which is common throughout most of South Africa. She unlocked the gate and wooden door. I was slowly becoming more comfortable with my surroundings and feeling safer with every locked door. I walked in first, and was amazed when I saw bright teal walls on the cutest little house and chuckled because the decor reminded my of my own grandma’s house, aside from the bright walls of course.
She showed us to our room, made up with blankets and stuffed animals on the bed and she insisted we take pictures of every inch of the house so we could show everyone what a typical South African home looks like. We went back to the sitting area where she explained that she did not know we were coming until this morning so she was “Uxolo” for being behind schedule. She made us some tea and we had biscuits and some sweets, which were little chewy candies of all different flavors. As we sat in the dimly-lit house, we talked with Mama. In our first conversation, we learned we had more in common than we imagined and despite all of the obvious differences. We enjoyed each others company immensely.
Preparing supper, she already had both salads ready, so she taught us how to make papas, a maize based porridge that she NEVER puts sugar in, but many households do. While that simmered, Mama called her friend, Thembi, to let her know that dinner would be ready in thirty minutes if she wished to join us. When Thembi walked through the door, I was shocked when I saw a young woman closer to my age then Mama’s.
Mama fried up the boerewors (sausage), while we set the table. When the plates got to the table I was surprised at the incredibly large portions, even before we took any of the potato and bean salads which we were also expected to eat. She taught us how to eat with our hands and explained that, traditionally, they believe that eating with your hands makes the food taste better. All of the food was very heavy and I disappointed my mama when I could barely finish half my plate. Without hesitation, Mama served dessert: three different types of pudding, all layered on top of each other. Mama refused any help of cleaning up and insisted we chat with Thembi.
Our conversation was amazing, we talked about real things: what we thought Africa would be like and what we thought this township would be like. It opened my eyes to so many things. The conversation was so honest and Thembi gave us even more insight into what it was like to grow up in South Africa and how important global education truly is. Mama finally joined us after making sure her kitchen was spotless. This is when Mama shared with us that all four of her children passed away, all for different reasons and all at different ages, and that is why she loved being a homestay mama. Every student that walks through her doors becomes her child, she loves all of us. It amazed me how much love this woman had to give, from the first second I met her. We exchanged contact information before Thembi left and all turned in for the night.
The next morning, Mama calmly woke us up at 7am for an eventful morning before we had to be ready to leave at 9am! She made us breakfast: cereal with warm, sweetened milk poured over the top along with more boerewors and mango juice. Once we were done, she pulled out handmade, traditional Xhosa outfits and dressed us up! She has four tenants that live in the back of her house which she phoned so they could come take pictures. As our time came to an end, Mama told us to keep in touch and that she loved us and how happy she is to share her home and experiences.
Mama touched my heart. The way she takes people in, the incredible way she loves people. Mama has had it harder than most people, but you would never know. Her energy and smile is admirable. If I can take away one thing from my trip so far it would to be more like Mama, she was silly, carefree, happy and loving.
Mama, Enkosi (thank you) and Ndiyakuthanda (I love you)
Taylor Farro is the Spring 2016 CEA MOJO in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She is currently a junior at Stockton University in New Jersey.