POTJIEKOS . Afrikaans dinner . 2009
An invitation for dinner at Juanita’s place: «Come round about 5pm” she said, “we will have a typical African meal”. Happy and with an empty stomach Norbert and I are driving to Manenberg. I have some groceries with me – I offered to arrange a big fresh green salad with the traditional meal.
We arrive in time – a wonderful reunion, we know each other for several years, where we met in Aachen and Cape Town. We see the little house, the garden surrounded by concrete walls, we take a walk around the neighbourhood – houses, shacks, a playground, only few green spots around, only few people on the streets. In some houses and gardens it is greening and flourishing immensely. In some of the houses we are introduced and welcomed – these are friends or family of Juanita; she wants us to have an idea of the environment she is living in. – We are very happy to have the chance to meet all the lovely people.
Back in Juanita’s house – we begin with the preparations for dinner. I want to know if I should start to do the salad. I brought a lot of things with me – spices, oil and vinegar, herbs, green salad and tomatoes. There are more guests arriving meanwhile, we talk, we swap stories and remembrances, we laugh. – Juanita begins to clean the iron pot that will cook right above the fire, she fills it with onions and meat, it roasts gently, putting water on top, cooking slowly; vegetables are added, more and more. Curiously I see how much layers the pot is taking – and it’s cooking and cooking. Round about 15 guests are there now – and more and more kids crowd the two little rooms, kids from the guests and from the neighbourhood. They play and they run around laughing – they bring this overwhelming life into the house.
I remember my stomach started roaring at some point – starvation! The wonderful smell of the pot, lots of talks, the swarm of kids – for a long time it is already dark outside. The salad „looks very sad“ in its bowl – no wonder, summery temperatures and 3 hours without cooling, that’s quiet a sportive challenge for the strongest leaf salad.
Finally the sharing of the meal begins – we as guests are the first to be served. I am not used to that – and I only take little. I share the salad on all the plates; everyone wants to have a little bit of it, to taste the “German salad”.
When the last dipper is given, immediately there is an incredible silence. – I will never forget this image: everyone concentrated with the food, the lots of kids sitting on the ground floor, having the paper-plates on their legs, the plastic-forks to pick the pieces; cautiously they try the strange green salad, a shining in the eyes. At the end of the meal all plates are so clean as if there never has been a tiny bit of food on it. – The pot is empty, lots of stomachs are filled, big warmth in the room, a comforting being-together.
POTJIEKOS – only this one time I experienced the cooking of this meal – the smells and sounds, the trickle away of time, the slow movements of cooking, the longing for the moment to eat – above all the evening sky and the fading of the colours around – and the kids who, in the moment of eating, enjoy quietly every single bite – it is a pin sharp image in my memories.