28 December 2013

22. - 28 Dec.: Models and billiard at Mabhoko Ndebele village

Today we start with a walking tour of the village. One of the very few men in the village (where are all the others?) takes us around and explains a bit of the history and culture. The village is made of typical Ndebele whitewashed houses painted in lively colors in geometric patterns.

After lunch I stop and talk to a few teen-agers who are wiling the afternoon away by a house, seemingly a bit bored. They are all busy chatting away with their mobile phones. Sunny is 17 years-old and he tells me about school in Johannesburg. He enjoys the city but loves to come home for the holidays. He would like to come back and make a contribution to the village one day. He is going to be a nurse and there is a need for nurses here, he says. Yes, for sure, I think, and, if not a hospital, at least a first-aid facility.

After a while bid them farewell and take a walk around the village. At the bar it's quiet but a few elder ladies are having a good time. One is actually pretty drunk and starts a dance to the tune of the two huge loudspeakers that keep pumping hard rock into the air. Soon the Italian photographer girls join her (in dancing, not drinking, not as much drinking anyway) and it is a party!


Three teenagers catch my attention as they are busy with their cell phones, chatting away. As I get closer I realize they are on Facebook! Quite happy to meet me and take pictures together, only this time the older girl (maybe 20 years-old) asks my Facebook friendship so we can share pictures! I am honestly taken aback to be asked this question here, but maybe I should not be: the mobile network has gone a long way connecting people in Africa where land lines were too expensive.

As the afternoon moves on we ask a few ladies to wear their traditional dresses for us. They seem willing to do anything within reason for some extra Rand. Maybe even something not within reason. These dresses are simple and thick blankets with wide stripes of bright colors: red, yellow and blue. Some of them also show some jewels of various kinds. Some are simple ornaments, while others are clearly more elaborate and rich ones: perhaps those that every girl gets as a gift with her coming of age.

I am highly hesitant but in the end I get myself together and ask one lady with whom I have made acquaintance about finding a model to take some pictures with ahem ...only the blanket. And nothing else. She is a big woman and immediately offers herself as my model. She asks for 300 rand. How about 200? Ok 200.

She walks me to her house. It's a brick contruction with wooden door that displays some simple artwork cut in the top panel. She is a bit shy, or pretends to be, but smiles and clearly enjoys the unexpected attention. I try to explain how I want her to pose, so as to take advantage of available sunlight and compose her body against the door decorations with the interior of the house as background. She does not understand me, so I gently use my hands to move her body until I am satisfied. She is having a great time and clearly has to make an effort not to laugh! An elderly lady (her mother?) looks on from the porch.

Model for a day
I take a few pictures and just when I am done her niece comes forward and I ask whether I can photograph her as well. No problem. It seems the aunt model was waiting for me to ask her. 150 rand? OK. The young girl is much more at ease than her auntie. She quickly undresses and moves to pose. Her complexion is fairer and her skin smooth as silk. She wears some simple necklaces and understands enough English to pose exactly as I ask her to. She seems to have done this before, but I don't think of asking her. She has a rather serious expression hen we start, but switches quickly to a benevolent smile when I ask her.

Two other elderly ladies see all of this and do not wait for me to ask. They offer to pose for me. I thank them but politely decline: it's enough for the day! I am quite happy at having taken my first ever photographs of nude models and head to the bar for a beer. here I find most of my travel mates and several Ndebele ladies (but no men: where are they?) who are sharing snack and beer. One old auntie is particularly happy and drags several Italian ladies to the yard in front of the bar for a ...let's say freestyle dancing session.

But my day is far from over. After our usual buffet dinner in the communal house, we head back to the bar for an international pool match Italy vs. South Africa. Or maybe Italy vs. Ndebele? Or just Italy vs. Mabhoko? Well, no point discussing identities. Pasquale, Gianluca and I represent the green, red and white tricolor, though Valentina will come in and help at various crucial times in the match. The African team is made of various players who alternate at the cue and I can't honestly remember any of their names. We'll play American pool, solid vs striped balls and the black number 8 ball last.

We get started in earnest and Italy wins, just, the first set, while our hosts win the second. We are interrupted by dinner, but as soon as we are done we rush back to the bar for the play-off. It is a tight game, and in the end each team pockets all its balls and it's down to the black number 8. It's Gianluca who puts it into a corner pocket for an Italian victory which our friends acknowledge with powerful hand shakes and big smiles.

After which we all head outside and I order some beers which easily find their way around. We all celebrate together, it's been a fun game and a great couple of days here. My lady mama model is here and has no qualms asking me to buy her a beer. And then another. After I buy her third beer I decide it is time to wave goodbye to all and hit the sack.

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