After the wedding, we became typical tourists: a safari in Kruger National Park, followed by site-seeing in Cape Town and Johannesburg. A small group of us returned to Itsoseng almost two weeks later, to retrieve the luggage containing the wedding clothes which we had left there, and to celebrate the birthday of Tsholofelo’s mother, Kerileng.
After arriving in town, we visited Dinanas, who had hosted my wife Footie and me, and then Mumpahti and Onicca, who had hosted the Potticarys. Of course, they wanted to hear about our trip. They were very particularly interested, pleased, that we had visited the prison at Robin Island and seen the cell where Nelson Mandela had spent so many years: we were connecting with their experience.
To celebrate the birthday, Santu and Tsholofelo cooked dinner and invited everyone who had hosted the foreign visitors for the wedding. To a traditional South African meal of pap and grilled meat they added a pesto pasta and a salad. I noticed that Tsholo’s father and uncle declined the vegetables, sticking to their familiar meat and starch.
While waiting for dinner, we enjoyed time with the children. Here is Stephen roughhousing with the kids.
Tetlelelo, Tsholo’s nephew, was fascinated with our hair, which is of course very different from his own. He decided to make me look like a rock star. Here is the result:
It was a typical family birthday celebration. When the cake was served, they sang “Happy Birthday” familiar to all Americans, followed by the second verse, “How old are you?”. Then the guys who were out back came in, and we had repeat, with more baritones.
My favorite picture from the day is this one of the two mothers, Tepu and Kerileng, one white, one black, a Finnish American and a South African talking comfortably together, like old friends.
Race matters. One hundred and fifty years after end of slavery in America, twenty years after the end of Apartheid in South Africa, race is still a factor in daily life in both our countries. This reality lends symbolic significance to what happened at this wedding. However, for us, it was not the races that were different, but the cultures. Our cultures now have a bridge between them, a bridge built on the foundation of our shared humanity.
The next day, before we left for home, Kerileng sat down and talked with me, summing it up this way: “You are just simple people. You eat what we eat. ” In other words, we are just like them.
When my grandparents immigrated from Denmark to America, they wanted to forget the old country, to leave it behind, to wash themselves clean of everything that was Danish and to become American. Tsholofelo has chosen differently. Like so many immigrants today, she does not want to throw away her heritage, but to bring it with her into her new life in this new land. The challenge she faces is one shared by many in our world today: what can you bring from your traditional culture into the modern, post-industrial world? This wedding was a step in one family’s answer to this question, and I am blessed to have had a role in it.