Monday, January 2, 2012

Merry Christmas from Soweto

We all woke up Christmas morning with massive hangovers. I also woke up to find that the dorm that I had been enjoying all to myself was suddenly filled with five snoring South Africans who had driven up the night before from the Eastern Cape for a wedding that day. My bunkmate also included the bride herself, who was in the process of getting dressed into her traditional clothing. I thought it was really funny that I had slept in the same room as the bride on the night before her wedding (better than being in the same room on the night after her wedding, right?). We shared a special bonding moment complaining about the costs of weddings these days and how sometimes we’ll just be glad to have this all over with and to be married.

As my Christmas celebration, I attended a nearby church in Soweto, the Bophelong congregation of the Phomolong Meadowlands Parish, an evangelical Lutheran church. It was pretty much like out of the movies. People were singing hymns in Zulu from memory without hymnbooks, and dancing up and down the aisle. The pastor would occasionally punctuate songs with “God is good!” and the congregation would reply with “All the time!”, and then the pastor would say a few words before being interrupted by another woman starting up a chorus and the whole congregation joining in at the next line. It seemed chaotic but there was obviously enough routine that the children could follow along. It was incredible.

After the church service, they handed out goodie bags and jack-o-lanterns (??) to the kids, and ice cream to everyone else. People were really friendly and eager to talk to us. One man even insisted that we come over to his house to visit his ninety-five-year-old grandmother, who very much wanted to meet us and take photos with us.

Timo, chatting up the church girls like a player

I decided to walk home from church with Phil and Marcus. By that point, all of Soweto had become a jumping, bumping street party. People were wandering the streets drunk at eleven in the morning. It seems here like even if a house was too poor to fix their gate, they still somehow could afford an excellent stereo system that would pump house music out into the streets. Today, it seemed like every one of them was playing the Facebook song.

Walking home from church took on the feel of club hopping: we’d only walk a few metres before occupants of the next house shouted “Merry Christmas!” and “Welcome to Soweto!” and insisted that we come over and join them, all while begging to take photos with the Chinese girl. We’d oblige, then move on to the next house, where all of this would be repeated.

We were invited to the bride’s wedding, but were given vague instructions on the location, so we piled into the car to try to find it. We drove and drove all around Soweto until I fell asleep in the car and dreamed that I understood German. When I woke up, we had accidentally arrived at a birthday party instead. We decided to head back home and keep napping on the hammock under the palm tree.

The rest of the day was spent gently nursing our Christmas hangovers and trying to beat that hot summer heat. The hostel had no Christmas CDs so we played someone’s mix CD of oldies, full of Dusty Springfield and the Shangrilas, really depressing lyrics like the way oldies songs are. From my hammock I could hear at least three different house parties from down the street. The cacophony of the different music crashing together was wild and delightful; it seemed like the essence of an African Christmas.