The morning is fresh and the wind sends chills down my back; my ears feel incredibly cold as the icy breeze brushes past.
Looking up, I see the reason. The Maluti Mountains in the eastern Free State, in central South Africa, are coated by powdery white snow. Looking supreme and fantastic, it feels like the ancient gods of the many folktales we’ve heard are alive and well in the snow.
Even though I am walking to catch a taxi in this hidden homeland, what I hear inside the taxi are tales of anywhere in Africa.
As I walk to the rank, I pass women who wake at the crack of dawn to sell breakfast. Others have big dented pots out, stirring brown porridge over open fires.
As I walk to the rank, on the pavement is beef, pork and chicken feet.
After 15 minutes of waiting for a taxi, I get in. The driver looks very tired. He has a pungent ‘hang-over’ stench around him and I regret sitting in the front seat and start counting the seconds.
Although I’m sitting in front, a vigorous conversation raging behind me still reaches my curious ears. “And the Bible says this very clearly my sister, many are called but few are chosen,” says a lady of the church.
The lady next to her chirps with the occasional yes and no. I gather the woman is raging over what their church leader got up to. Apparently the leader sexually assaulted a girl in the church. “He will one day face the music and will wish he was never born.”
“Our country needs prayers… women everywhere in this country live in paralyzing fear and that makes me so sick,” she fumes.
Ten minutes later, two middle-aged women get in. They interrupt the impromptu sermon and hard-hitting rant.
The women were complaining about traditional healers who lurk at funerals, waiting for the family to leave the graveyard and then ‘steal’ soil from the grave.
One woman said she saw a ‘sangoma’ wait under a tree during a funeral, and when the family left, went straight for the grave with a small jar in hand.
After ‘stealing’ the sand, the sangoma then ‘buried a brown plastic bag’ in the grave. No one seemed to know why.
The taxi driver, with his blood-shot eyes, turned and whispered, “You women are crazy, you always have something out of the ordinary you want to tell everyone. Who cares about dead people and sand?”
Perhaps wanting to shut out the female voices, he switched on the radio. The husky-voiced presenter is talking about the attacks on tuck-shop owners from Pakistan, in nearby villages, where people believe they have stolen their jobs and women.
This depresses him further, looking defeated, the driver switches off the radio and looks ahead.
I think of what British author Jim Potts once said, “Every life is worthy of a novel.” In Africa you could gather one in a taxi ride.