The Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Elephant
By Fred Owens
Mary was the first human being. She was barely four feet tall and she lived somewhere north of Lake Malawi. That is the point of this whole expedition, to meet her, or at least to commune with her remains somewhere in Malawi, where the first human being walked the earth, where we all came from. That was my quest. The house on Shottery Crescent in Bulawayo was a wonderful home in its own way, but in the plot of this story it becomes the base camp. And Precious, my bride-to-be, becomes my guide, because she was from Malawi, knew the language and the terrain, had family there. She could take us home. They have a tourist slogan in Malawi, which is Welcome to the Warm Heart of Africa, and they don't mean welcome, they mean welcome back, because this is where we all came from long, long ago. I wanted to visit my original home.
Our ancestors came from that area many thousands of years ago. Our ancestors wandered off and peopled the continents. But some people never left. They are still there near that spot where Mary stood up one day and she had a look in her eye -- that moment when she realized she was a human being and like no other. So all this story, going back to Chicago when my mother died, and I flew to Capetown, and took the bus to Bulawayo, and met and became engaged to Precious and we rented the house on Shottery Crescent -- all that story was the first part of of this journey to before the beginning of time, to meet Mary.
We are at the interlude now, so we will tell more stories about the garden and the Mataka family.
The Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Elephant
Bulawayo is the capital of Matebeleland where the spoken language is called Ndebele. It is a branch of the Zulu nation. You remember Shaka Zulu, the great Zulu warrior who organized large armies of steel weapons to conquer many neighboring tribes. His chief general in this combat was Mzilikazi Khumalo, a mighty warrior in his own right. But Shaka Zulu was a jealous man and he began to fear that Mzilikazi wanted to over throw him and become king of the Zulu empire. Shaka Zulu planned to kill Mzilikazi, as simple as that, but Mzilikazi got wind of the plot and planned his escape. He gathered his own army and fled to the north of Zululand, north across the Limpopo river to what is now Zimbabwe. There he was safe from Shaka Zulu, although this was not so good for the Shona people who actually lived there, to have thousands of Zulu warriors occupying their land. And, as things often go in Africa, Mzilikazi and his warriors decided to stay, and take over, and find wives and build houses and so that became Matebeleland, and the language of Ndbele was a dialect of Zulu, and the capital became Bulawayo, which means killing field, where the original Shona tribe members were slaughtered and conquered. That is the founding myth.
But Mr. Mataka, the grandfather of Precious, was not Ndebele although he spoke the language. He and his family were Malawi immigrants and lived according to Ndebele culture to some degree. This is where we meet Mr. and Mrs. Elephant. They were distant relatives of the Matakas. In Ndebele they would be Mr. and Mrs. Ndlovu ...... Surnames in Ndebele are often from animals, so you might meet Nkomo or Mr. Cow, or Mr. Lion or Mr. Monkey.
Mr. Ndlovu worked on highway construction. He sometimes operated the bulldozer and made lots of money doing that, but just as often there was no work and he was too poor. He had a very round shiny bald head, a very shy man who often looked at his shoes while talking, a chestnut skin tone, a warm smile, a stout figure, about forty in age. He lived with his partner, Mrs. Ndlovu. She was a harsh, scowling woman, thin figured, shattering teeth, wiry hair, muscular, resentful. She was smaller than her husband, but I think she hit him now and then, and scowled some more when there was no work and he brought home no money.
That sounds too grim. The truth is that they had been living together for 12 years and had 6 children. The affection was there, you just didn't see it.
In 1997 the government of Zimbabwe launched a program of low-interest mortgage loans to married couples. A reason to wed! Ndlovu proposed to his sweetheart. She accepted, but refused his offer of a quick trip to the Justice of the Peace. Despite her age and 6 children, she would have a proper wedding with a gown and bridesmaids, a cake, a reception and a feast.
Ndlovu bowed his head, or it was already bowed and he bowed it even lower. She would have her wedding, she would finally become Mrs. Ndlovu, or Mrs. Elephant to you.
In the days preceding the feast, we attended the rehearsal of the bridesmaids dancing in matching gowns. A professional photographer took photos. A wedding gown was rented. A cake was ordered. All that was left was to bring a huge amount of beef for the reception because people in Zimbabwe did not care for dainty appetizers, they wanted beef.
Ndlovu came to visit us two days before the wedding. Bowing his head, we saw the sun gleam on his golden chestnut pate, holding his hat, he wanted to ask me a favor.
"Good morning, Mr. Owens. I am happy to see you,"
"Yes, I am happy to see you too. Please come in and have some tea."
"No, I will stand here by the door because I wanted to ask you one small favor to help with our wedding plans. Because you have a truck."
"Yes, I have a strong truck."
"With your strong truck, we can drive to Kezi and pick up the beef for the wedding feast."
"Well, that will take one hour to drive to Kezi town, and pick up the beef, and drive back, so only two hours -- yes, I can do that because I am not too busy and it would be our wedding gift to you and Mrs. Ndlovu."
"But there is one more thing, Mr. Owens, we need to find the ranch because it is down some dirt track and not in the town."
"All right, we can find that ranch on the dirt track. We will ask for directions, it will only take a little longer. Then we can load the truck and come back."
"But, you see there is a small problem. You see it is a cow, it has not yet been slaughtered."
"Oh my, that will take some time, to slaughter the cow and cut up the beef, and load the trucks and drive back."
"And we need to find the cow, because it is out in the field some where," Mr. Ndlovu declared.
"That is all right. I am not too busy tomorrow. We can leave early and make the day of it, to find the cow, and lead it back to the ranch house. Then slaughter the cow and load the truck, and drive back to town."
But then Mr. Ndlovu scrunched his hat very tightly and pawed the ground with his feet, and tried to make himself smaller although he was such a big man.
"We have to pay the man." Long pause.
"You want me to pay for the cow? All of it?"
"Well, you see the money is gone after we bought the cake and the dresses for the brides maids and rented the hall and there was so much to pay, so if you help me to buy the cow .... "
I said no. That is too much. I reached into my wallet and gave him US$50 for the wedding gift. Mr. Ndlovu thanked me and left. The wedding was a success. Mrs. Ndlovu looked beautiful in her white bridal gown despite her scowl. Mr. Ndlovu looked handsome in his suit. And the brides maids danced like angels, but there was no food at the reception. Mr. Ndlovu had borrowed and begged almost everything but no one brought the beef.
That was the only time I saw Mr. Mataka get mad. He said, "How can you have a wedding without beef?"
A brief summary of global, local and family news.
Harvey Blume of Cambridge, Massachusetts, wondered if he ought to feel sympathy for virus-stricken English PM Boris Johnson. I told him he already had plenty of compassion for other people. Boris Johnson has people who actually do care about him. Senator Bernie Sanders retired from the race for President. It was an act of true bravery and humility, to take that long, last walk. And it's not over. He may never become President but his agenda has wings. And Joe Biden will have something to say -- you can count on that.
We weep for the suffering and courageous people of New York City. I cannot enjoy the quiet solitude in Santa Barbara because I cannot forget about these very strong people and their powerful leader, Andrew Cuomo. They are doing us a a big favor here in Santa Barbara, because we have been given time to get ready for the viral surge that is coming our way. Time to get ready. The public spirit is strong here, social distance has quickly become established custom and we will get through this.
Our family members, most of us, are still employed and working from home. Nobody is sick or showing symptoms. Laurie is busy right now disinfecting a shipment of InstaCart groceries from Costco. I am taking the cardboard that it comes in, taking it with gloved hands out to the trash. Then washing my hands. We are getting good at this. Plugging up the holes, as it were, knowing that we should have started sooner -- but that is like almost everybody else.
Happy Easter and Good Pesach to every one. Please email back to me and tell me if you like the story and tell me what you didn't like in the story, and tell me what you want to hear more of --- tell me anything because I would love to hear from you.