"Tea is being readied over the wood fire and we gratefully gulped the three traditional small cups. Partaking in an ageless ritual, we drink the first cup which is said to be bitter as life is, the second as sweet as love is and the third one as exquisite as death. What a mind-liberating philosophy that tradition is!"
"... what you really need to be a development worker: an inquisitiveness, a humility, an understanding of solving problems in small steps and of going out there every day, willing to learn about where you are and to do no harm through your actions, words and what you are perceived to represent. Corruption, dependency and false hope are just around the corner otherwise.
If you are a reflective, respectful, development worker, you do ponder all of this during the quiet, solitary evenings."
"Local languages mingle and mix across the Indo-Nepali border. The Nepali language predominates in the hills because it is easier to understand when shouted across valleys but Hindi is more useful in the Plains as more people understand it because of the popularity of movies made in Mumbai. The Nepali spoken in the lowlands is full of Hindi words, or words from ‘tribal’ dialects so it can be a struggle knowing even what language people are speaking. Nepali can appear imprecise too. Now never means immediately and the word for flower, phul, is also the word for egg. When one wants hens’ eggs you have to specify this, or you risk buying a bunch of flowers by mistake.
I asked someone in the market - I thought - to sell me six chicken’s eggs (kukhura ko phul).
She started to snigger. ‘Buy what, memsahib?’ She’d heard ‘dogs’ eggs’ (kukur ko phul) and exploded with merriment as dogs’ eggs could only be testicles. A little later, I was given an anatomy lesson. She pointed out a male dog and underneath his eggs and banana. Patiently she explained that this was the equipment he used to impregnate bitches. She thought me a complete idiot. After that any mention of bananas caused hilarity too – this is slang for penis. Then oranges are a euphemism for breasts and anyone called a radish is stupid. I began to feel insecure when talking about food in case I inadvertently insulted someone or made some unintended sexual proposition."
"‘Come and see Mama,’ said Rosemarie. She walked ahead of me into the house.
I hesitated and she stopped and looked back at me. ‘You don’t want to, do you?’
‘Yes,’ I lied. ‘I’d like to see Mama.’
I shouldn’t have been concerned about viewing the body of Mama, in life she was a kind and caring lady who made me welcome and fed me at every opportunity. In death it was unlikely that she would do me any harm.
I followed Rosemarie into the house where the white coffin, lined in white silk and decorated with white silk flounces, was lying in state on the dining table. Around it a mass of white gardenias gave off a sweet and heady smell.
Mama lay in her white silk bed looking peaceful and serene yet absent. Her nails had been painted, her lips were pink and she wore blue eye shadow, her hair had been crimped. In life practical Mama had been make-up free and plainly dressed, in death she looked like the chief bridesmaid at the wedding.
The dress she wore had been bought for the occasion. It was probably the most expensive dress she had ever possessed. The white frills framed her neck and wrists and there was a lace inset in the tight bodice. I wanted to utter appropriate words of comfort to Rosemarie and to her sister Ruby, who was sitting by the coffin, but when I looked down at Mama in all her finery the only phrase that came to mind was, ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead in that.’"
"The park was well tended, with lovely borders of flowers of varying colours, and huge acacia trees giving shade. The children ran towards the swings and as they did so a large Afrikaner walked towards them and motioned them to a corner, separated by a steel chain from the rest of the park. It could be equated to a room 15ft by 15ft: the corner reserved for the Blacks and Coloured was one tenth the size of that room with no swings or frames and only a bench.
The adults sat on the bench, while the park keeper stood with his back to them, with a large whip in his hand. He would frequently lash the whip perhaps at imaginary miscreants who invaded his mind.
Mala’s five-year-old little girl cried every time he did this. He clearly didn’t want them there, so they got up and wandered towards the town looking for a place to have a cup of tea. Almost all the restaurants were reserved for Whites only. The family were about to give up, but finally saw a place where two Asian men were serving and went up to the front door of this restaurant. The men spoke in a language they did not understand and gesticulated to the side of the café, to the back door.
The door was framed by a row of long nails, and from each nail there hung a tin mug of dubious cleanliness. The man gestured to them to take a mug and to stand in the queue in front of him for tea.
They could not stomach it, and kept repeating that we fed our dogs at home on similar plates and mugs. And what an insult this was."