Phezulu Position


Every year, Amajuba Host Family has a huge braai (barbeque in South African Jargon) to have a festive eve with visiting relatives that come as far as Gauteng.  My 19 year old host cousin claimed that I was still going to have a sleepless night and the family would rally. Even though my body does not allow all fighters (I can make it to midnight in a calm environment), turns out she was right.

2015 did not want to take the whimper route for exiting, and I spent the last hours feeling crappy. Definitely not the worst malaise I have experienced in South Africa (I was back eating amaZulu food 12 hours after this episode), but any gastrointestinal issues in the heat puts me at risk for dehydration. Which is probably why my body took its time to decide if it wanted to be ill that night.

Around 7 PM, I came out ready to party. We watched Scandal! per our evening routine, and once the next soapie came on (which I do not like) I went outside to enjoy the fresh air. That was when I started to get a headache. A light sprinkle starts and I head back to the house make sure my house is ready if the rain intensifies and to switch the lights for an illumination of the courtyard.  At 9, my host cousin comes and asks me for a plastic dish (one of the corners stores a few of Amajuba family’s supplies). I grab the dish and then go rest.

Around 10:30 PM my host sister (arguably the most vivaciously of the bunch screams repeatedly, KATE…I’ll explain why Kate has surfaced another time). I muster enough energy to meander up to the door, and explain that I am sick. She says that I am lying but lets me go back to bed. At this point my body decides that the digestive system really wants to be sick and I spent the rest of the hour curled up into my bed. It is New Years Eve and Kosi FM is blaring, so I am hearing the South Africa loudly move towards midnight in my semi-consciousness.

 The DJ exclaims, “6 minutes to Midnight” and seconds later, I hear “KATE, SIMPIWE” alternating .All three host sisters I live with are right at my bedroom window, saying that they are waiting for me. I try to explain, “Ngiyagula…I am sick” but they are not budging. My body was not going to let me sleep any time soon, and since you are never off the clock as a PCV (and me sitting in my room all night probably made me look unfriendly to the visiting family), I had nothing to loose.  I quickly wash my hands, throw on a skirt, and decide it is dark enough to be braless (which would have added another 2 minutes). I walk out the door with my bucket just in case, and the host family starts to get that I am actually sick and not trying to get out of this party for a good night’s sleep. They greet me dancing with a bunch of sticks (my first hunch was a type of braai stake that emulates amaZulu heritage) and tell me to leave the bucket on the step.

The compound was hazy with excitement and braai smoke. One of the host sisters gives me a stick which turns out to be a cardboard tube telling me, “Don’t worry it is not dangerous.” Considering the fact that I was cognitively delayed (more so than usual), surrounded by intoxicated amaZulu and children up past their bed time, there was no other way to make it more dangerous. Before I can protest, the countdown starts and after everyone says Happy New Year a visiting sister lights a match to tube. Sparks started to fly, the mystery is solved. It is a firework.

The first flashes nearly hit my host brother, and I was pulled towards open grass by the latrine. The children were not far behind, inadvertently pointing their sticks like cattle prods. The mothers were not far behind, commanding “Phezulu”/up…towards heaven. Once the children safely adjusted the fireworks, we stood and watched our tubes sent illuminating projectiles into the calm Amajuba night. My firework stick expires after a couple minutes and an aunt passes another stick. I support that stick for 30 seconds, until my cousin asks for a replacement for his dwindling stick. In the end, nothing caught on fire (though the projectiles had a few near misses with the rondavel’s thatched roof) and it was fun.

I run back to the house for my phone, take a few photos, and embrace the small energy surge that I have. Most of that energy is wasted by asking the family members not to touch me as I did not know if I was contagious. The uncles still hugged me, the aunts dragged me for a dance (I swayed my hips for 15 seconds), and my neighbors still crammed next to me for a selfie. Then my cousin offers me a plate of food for tomorrow, and that was when I reached my limit. I wish everyone a
Feliz Ano Nuevo (yes I was out of it) and  crawl back into bed  to get some rest. With a blaring radio, I managed to be half asleep with earplugs for the rest of the party.

Around 2:30, I hear my host cousin scream, “KATE.” Putting my body upright triggered the nausea so I try to pretend they are not there. If there is one talent that my host family has, it is that they are impossible to ignore. Anyways I get to the door and host cousin is completely wasted hilariously declaring she is so drunk. She apologizes for waking me and asks for several blankets (what composes most of host family’s storage corner).

Now, to get said blankets out I would have to open my burglar bars with my keys. I thought the keys were on the nightstand, and it took 10 minutes find my lanyard buried in the bedding. Once we get the blankets out the door, I watch host cousin stumbling and thinking it was a tie between which one of us was more impaired that nigh. I am sure my slow movements, groaning, and need to grab the bucket every time I bent down to search for the keys was also a site to see. I went back to bed and slept for 5 hours. The next morning, I awoke to fresh green cow crap stains on the floor (must have stepped in it while shooting fireworks) and crazy selfies on my phone that I barely remembered. I clearly do not need alcohol to have the “morning after” experience.

It was not the most ideal circumstances to celebrate 2016’s advent, but it was still a good event. When we were standing with the fireworks, all of our community was holding their fireworks piercing the Amajuba night with colorful stripes of light. As I held my stick in phezulu position, I had a steady smile. Even though I felt physically awful, by holding the firework and facilitating this beautiful view of our corner of Amajuba I was a part of the community. It did not matter what my skin color was or my isiZulu ability, if I did not live in Schnizeland that firework would not be in my hands. Moreover, my host family cared enough about this event that they made sure I was present.

When you talk to PCVs and ask what integration looks like, there is an endless stream of answers. For me it is living life like my South Africans colleagues without special treatment. Until New Year’s Eve, the closest to integration I got was being in ques and taking transport when I was in a good mood. When I am in a bad mood, I air all my American grievances privately and do not focus on appreciating the experience. That night in Amajuba, we were all celebrating life and my host family (who has told me that I am one of them several times) made me feel like a part of the community. After months of stumbling, I finally felt that I was on the right direction (in this case phezulu).

I have confidence that 2016 will continue to move phezulu from here!

Also, if future conversations require me to share my most memorable New Year’s Eve, the one in rural Amajuba will be hard to beat!



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