“I hadn’t realised that it would be so great – this difference between rich and poor.”
I glance at the village and then at him, guility. It is not that I do not notice poverty anymore but it no longer seems strange. And, shamefully, it no longer bothers me that South Africa’s great tourist destinations are almost without exception positioned in rural areas of equally great deprivation. The first time I came here to the mountains I could not understand how it was possible to go on a hiking holiday in a park in which the chalets had satellite television but the people just outside walked daily to the communal pump for their water. Now however I feel self-righteous indignation because the camp is experiencing a 1 hour power cut – and I want tea now.
James is however just off the plane. He is seeing South Africa for the first time – an Africa “virgin”. And he is my younger brother. I am giving him a high speed tour of KwaZulu-Natal’s greatest hits: a night in the berg, 3 nights in the game park, a night on the beach before returning to his gracious (and supernaturally patient) wife and two children.
After our visit to the game park I take him to the hospital – it is just 20 minutes from the park gate. It has been just over 2 weeks since I left. My 20 minute quick tour proves hopelessly optimistic. At each place I take him people demand to know where I have been, when I am coming back and then take James’ hand, shake it vigorously and ask why he is taking me away.
“We don’t want him,” James replies with a grin, “you can have him.”
And they turn to me and look accusingly: “Why then are you leaving?”
We go down to the ARV clinic. Sister Sithole is brought into the room to scold me.
“Why are you just leaving? We would do juice and cake if we had known.”
“I do not like long departures,” I reply, “I prefer to slip quietly away.”
“But,” says Sister Hlabisa, “it is our culture to send you off.”
Sister Sithole turns to my brother. “You must give our regards to your mother. And you must tell her to scold him. She must scold him for leaving!” She studies James more closely. “Hauw! How are you brothers? He is thin and you are fat!”
“He must be married!” pipes in Sister Hlabisa.
“There! I told you. We tried to find Dr Moran a wife but…” Sister Hlabisa shakes her head sorrowfully.
On the way out we bump into Matron for maternity. She launches into a speech about how much they will miss me. “… and when we call Dr Moran in the night, even if he is not on call he will come. The others they say ‘Why are you calling me? I am not on call’ but Dr Moran doesn’t.” I grin amiably, absolutely certain that I have never arisen when not on call. Or maybe there was once but I complained bitterly for hours – and shouted at at least one nurse.
I do not disabuse James. He turns to me as walk away. “So what did you pay her?”
Finally we come to high care. Sister Nene is waiting. She has called down Sister Perumal. They present me with a pair of sandals and hug me as I leave. As we walk away back to the car one of the OPD nurses, the one with the powerful singing voices shouts my name. I head back. “Sister Khumalo wants you. You heard my voice? My powerful voice?!” I once told her she had the most impressive volume of any nurse I had ever met.
“Yes I did.” She grins in satisfaction.
Sister Khumalo is standing outside OPD. I have a soft spot for Sister Khumalo.
“I have something for you.” She produces a small bead and wood necklace which she fastens around neck. “It has muthi. Muthi to make people like you. We will miss you. May God bless you where you go next.”
I thank her. And walk away from Hlabisa for the last time.