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Thomas visits the chisanyama

The other day I was walking around town. Suddenly I felt so hungry I just had to eat. But where could I find food. I walked a bit further. Then I heard the sound of music and I smelt meat cooking.

The place did not look great but I was so hungry I went inside. The shop was small and dark. The smell of burning meat was everywhere. The only people in the shop were the people behind the counter.

The tables were full of empty packets of “Johannesburg beer”. I could not think because the gumba-gumba was so loud. But they sold food and I was hungry. So I decided to stay at the ‘chisanyama’.

Before I could think what I wanted to eat, the young white man behind the counter said: “Wena lo funa lo nyama”. “I beg your pardon,?” I said. He said again, “Wena lo funa lo nyama.” I did not understand what he was saying. I was getting angry with this rude man. In the end another man asked me what I wanted — but in proper Zulu this time — not fanakalo.

I told him that I wanted pap and vleis. He gave me a plate and he asked me for R1,80. I paid, then I saw that the meat was not cooked. What kind of a shop is this, I asked myself. They give you uncooked meat and ask for R1-80 for it.

I wanted to complain. But then the man told me to go to the back room. I was so hungry I never asked why. I just went.

The back room was small — smaller than the room in the front. But there were more than 20 people in the room. Everyone was standing around a big tin with a fire in it. Every­one had a piece of wire in the fire with their meat on it. So I also put my meat in the fire.

Everyone talked like old friends while they waited for their meat. I was the only one who never had a friend. So I listened to the people around me. Most of the people talked about jobs — or the lack of jobs. Many of them wanted work.

So I opened my newspaper to see what horses were running at the weekend. A few minutes later I looked at the braai. But I did not see my meat. I looked all over (and please do not tell anyone, I even looked in my shoes) but my meat was gone.

I went and bought another piece of meat. I put it on the braai. This time I never read my newspaper. I just watched my meat. The more I looked at that meat, the hungrier I got.

Suddenly my hand became very itchy. I looked at my hand and scratched it. When I looked at the braai again, my piece of meat was gone — again. This was like magic.

Just then one man came up to me. He asked me what my problem was. I told him the story of my missing meat. I also told him that I did not have money to buy more meat. This man bought me some meat — and he braaied it for me. Angels are not only in heaven but also on the earth, I told myself.

Now I also had a friend to talk to. I asked him why he came to the chisanyama.

” Well, there are two reasons.” he said. “The first reason is that I live in a hostel and my wife is back home in Natal. I have no-one to cook for me, so I come to chisanyama to buy myself food.’

The other reason is that I meet most of my friends right here. We do not see each other often because we work in different places and we live in different hostels. So the only place we meet is here at chisanyama.”

My new friend told me about his many problems — about his boss and some people who want him. They are fighting with his family in Natal and now they are looking for him in Johannesburg. “That is the other reason that I eat here. The chisanyama is hidden. These people will never find me here.”

He is right. The chisanyama is a hidden place, not even the cops can find you there. When you are in the chisanyama, you can even forget that you do not have a dompas.

Then I looked at my watch — I was late for work. I thanked my friend and I ran. But there are some things I want to say to the owners of chisanyama shops.

Treat your customers well, do not shout at us. Speak proper Zulu or Sotho, but not fanakalo. Otherwise speak in English — most people un­derstand English. Remember, without us you cannot make any money. Also clean your shops up — they are a bit dirty for places that sell food. And, lastly, if your prices were not so high, even more people would come to your shops.

Heyta daar. See you next time.

If you want other people to know about anything, please write to me at our address.


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