I remember I remember the house I was born

I was born in a round mushroom shaped hut. The house was built with dagga, poles and sandwiched with long thin pruned trees that were tied against the poles using the tree bark and this was done to support the hut. The roof was elegantly thatched with a long soft dried grass, so that in summer it would be pleasantly cool for the occupants when the weather was extremely hot. The hut had two high open windows, one on each side such that at the time I was growing I could hardly reach them. I remember an incident when my elder sisters had to push me through the windows because they had locked the keys inside and my thin body was squashed to a ball so that these tiny widows would swallow me. Inside, the floor was made of strong clay soil and it was so smoothly compacted that one would think that it was made out of cement. Once every week, my mum would give another touch to the floor using a mixture of cow dung and water, and then she would stir until it becomes smooth running soft dung. The next stage I would watch her with fascinated eyes as she had to bend down on her knees and her long dress would be already tied up to her upper thighs and her right hand dipped into the cow dung mixture. Once scooped, she had to spread it smoothly on the floor while her eyes are making sure that no bumps are left. The whole process would take about ten to fifteen minutes and then she had to let it dry for one hour and half and also forbade anyone to enter the house whilst the floor was still wet. Satisfied with her work, she would ask my sisters or me to collect a bunch of very soft green leaves from the nearest bush. When we collected the leaves, she had to start chopping them up using a sharp instrument and she would only stop when she started seeing the dark green juice coming out of the leaves. Then, I would see my mum take the chopped leaves into the house and spread them on the top of the dried dung floor and blended them well such that by the time she finished the whole floor would be absolutely spectacular to watch. I wished that nobody would spoil the hard work which my mum had done but by the same basis it was hard to maintain this standard of work because on some occasions my parents would invite people for informal or formal celebrations.

African celebrations mean huge gatherings of people that would feast from your plates, accompanied by the pounding of drums, singing of merry songs and dancing that would last for a few days or a week depending how wealthy is the person. It is this time that I found the fortunate ones damaging my mum’s floor with their high-heeled shoes hence requiring another labour.  The hut had also a built-in 10 feet long, 12 inch high and 12 inch wide bench and it was on the left side of the house. The built-in benches were meant for men only and no women were allowed to sit on them regardless of their status.  As a sign of humbleness and respect, women were only permitted to sit on the floor. Before they sat down, the host had to make sure that a dried skin of a goat, sheep or of a good beast had been lain down.

There was also a wider built-in bench but its length was half that of the former bench. Its purpose was to accommodate three massive sets of clay pots with well-painted black and red zigzag necks that mum had to arrange in sequence starting with the biggest pot at the bottom and finishing with smallest on top. In between the two benches, there were also very low built-in shelves attached to the ends of the benches and their function was to store big water buckets up to twenty five litres in capacity. Storing water was and is still essential in Africa because the majority had to travel miles and miles, to fetch it from deep wells if they are fortunate enough to have them or else they had to get water from the rivers or shallow infested wells and they then had an extra step of purifying the water by boiling it before they could use it. To the far right of the house we had a nicely styled built-in carved shelf. Its beauty had appealed to a large number of women and men in the community such that they ended up copying the style or pattern to build their own. Mum would show her expertise in arranging her kitchen utensils along the walls and on the shelf, and the shelf was always shining so that you would not see any speck of dust. This kind of energy that mum had always portrayed has also been instilled in me. In the middle was the fireplace or the cooking area, and the stove was made of four bullet-shaped clay bricks thirty centimetres apart. The space was specially made for the firewood to pass through to the centre of the stove on all sides. On top of the four bricks were six strong steel bars. The bricks were arranged in a kite shaped pattern, with two steel bars arranged on top diagonally, whilst the other four bars were also on top but arranged around the sides. Overall, the top of the stove looked like a kite shape but with four holes in between giving a space for different cooking pans.

The inside of the roof was sooty. This was due to the smoke. The fire also produced carbon monoxide but fortunately it never affected our health. We only experienced a lot of smoke when the fire wood was wet and struggled to light but when it was dry it was much easier and the fire would produce a light smoke that you hardly saw with your naked eye. In a nutshell the memories of this hut had haunted me for ages so that I felt that I should release them through my writing. Unfortunately this hut was demolished when my parents built a new modern kitchen hut.

Enjoy this – your comments would be appreciated.

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