They were tired of singing about Jesus after having gotten lost on the way from Philadelphia to New Jersey. Several people, myself included, had volunteered to feed and house members of the group from South Africa. If you've ever been involved in a church, you quickly learn the same people volunteer for everything, over and over, until they burn out or die. Other organizations are probably the same; this has just been my experience. So a sort of camaraderie emerges, and while we waited for the bus with updates from the manager, whose cell phone was sporadically working, we chatted about our families, who was sick or dying in the congregation, golf games with the pastor, and the cost of new renovations. We also were somewhat apprehensive since we were told the singers did not speak much English. American or British English. The hour got later and later, with no more phone calls. Since we were waiting in the youth room, a few of us played pool on a donated table.
It was dark when the bus finally arrived and we went outside to greet them. It was also very cold and not one of them wore a coat, except for the manager who was from the USA. Introductions were made, a blur of unpronounceable names from tired singers, with the exception of one man, Jonathan, who spoke "the best English" according to everyone in Thula Sizwe. He and their youngest, newest member came to my house, bringing barely anything with them. I suppose it's important to mention that I had not told my husband or sons about this until the night before, knowing my husband would not react well to me bringing two younger men home for ten days. He did not react well. To his credit, there was a fire going in the wood stove and he was polite in a smoldering kind of way as they sat drinking tea to warm up. I made some sandwiches and then more sandwiches, then pulled out a two pound package of generic Fig Newtons, which disappeared as well. When Jonathan asked if they could smoke, my husband was won over. He took them downstairs to his basement full of guy stuff and the three of them smoked for half an hour.
Back upstairs, it was getting close to midnight. Jonathan explained they needed to hand wash their costumes for the next day's performance, and also requested showers. I gave them everything necessary, showed them their adjacent rooms, then said I needed to get to sleep. They were both very grateful and said they would probably sleep "long," rubbing their bellies, almost in unison. Saying a simple good night to them, the one who hadn't spoken much, said, "We miss our women, our children, our Africa." It took great effort on his part and all I could think to say in response was, "There are more blankets in the closets." Which turned out to be the most practical response, since they used them all.
My food bill quadrupled that week, but there's something satisfying to a woman, to make large quantities of food and then watch men eat it with obvious pleasure. They didn't like pasta or cheese or "too many fruits and vegetables or fish." Breakfast was easy, dozens of eggs and loaves of bread. They both tried oranges, but declared them too much work. They were gone during the day, practicing for afternoon and night shows. For the evening meal, I cooked large portions of meat, rice, beans, more bread, and changed their minds regarding pasta.
The highlights of the week included their request to go thrift store shopping for Christmas gifts, showing them their own village on Googlemap's earth view, and watching them perform. I surprised them by fashioning a free store in my dining room, complete with coats for them, clothes and toys, books, stuffed animals, and barely worn shoes, scarves, some jewelry and hair accessories. I wish I had photographed or had my son videotape that experience, both poignant and comic. The younger, shy one apparently had two women and five children. When I delicately asked what size the women were, he laughed at my skinny question and put his hands about four feet apart. Jonathan translated, "We like our women very large. Not even one of their legs would fit in this." He held up a loose-fitting dress, labeled size 6. "But these will fit the children." They each filled two heavy duty lawn and garden sized black bags. The image that stays with me most is one of them holding a large fluffy white teddy bear with red hearts on the bottom of its feet.
The town they were from was on the lower east coast of South Africa, the name escapes me, but they loved pointing out, "This is the dirt road my son walks to school", or "This is where my aunt and my mother live", or the hopeful, "This is where we will get soccer field, maybe for the Olympics someday." Jonathan explained that the money they make while touring is what they live on for the rest of the year. Their performance at my church was electrifying and energetic, comforting as country gospel, and heartbreaking in the way opera is even though you do not understand the words. They ended with their national anthem blended with ours. Everyone was standing and crying, especially my husband.