Thomas Moore (02/07/2015)
I think that eating not knowing where the taste in your mouth comes from is probably the purest form of understanding how to eat. I have grown through a great many taste experiences and a variety of cuisines but I will always remember a night which grew from a brutal morning and ended in a night in a Township where 50 rand made you a rich man.
I had been driven to school day after day in Durban by my mother and every morning we would stop at the traffic lights or robots as they are commonly called in South Africa and I would hand over whatever I had found in the fridge, meat or vegetables, wrapped in a cosy loaf of bread, to my steetchild friend Tulani.
He was my age, and I had seen him every day for four years. He lived in the bushes that bordered the golf course where my father played. He aspired to be a caddy. My father gave him his clubs to clean.
In Durban the cuisines of the white population and the black population did not cross over much. Bread, curry gravy, the leftovers from our fridges, all imparted an artificial familiarity to our eating lives, but fresh was never replaced by second hand.
So it started, for Tulani and I. We would joke and chat about our lives and when I asked how he was he would always reply 'Sharp sharp boss'. It was strange to be handing a sandwich through a window, or a half eaten chocolate bar, and be called boss, aged ten.
I began to bring Tulani items that were not strictly leftovers, and my South African father's eyes, which had always stayed front facing would turn now, and greet my morning companion, who never complained and always looked cheerfull.
One morning we pulled up opposite the Country Club. Tulani was on the grass verge between the oncoming traffic and us. He literally was on the grass wearing the shoes I had worn and given him when my feet grew too big, and the t shirt I had loved until the year before when my ribcage expanded too far to make it comfy.
He was being kicked by a pair of policemen. They were trying to drag him into the back of their vehicle and he was resisting. As they dragged him one of his, or my shoes came off and as the back of his head hit the dirt, he looked up through the dust at me.
I realised then that the policemen were emptying out his precious tupperware container. My mother had given it to him and as they upended it out poured the left over crisps from the week before, a koeksister, a sweet pastry smothered in sugar syrup and a piece of the lamb we had eaten for Sunday lunch.
That was the first time I had ever really felt shame, there on the verge on a hot South African day in January as my friend fought for the remants of meals I had forgotten days before.
I opened my door and realised that tears were pouring down my cheeks. My mother was crying next to me. Tulani was in the cage in the back of the police van, his food and his shoe were on the ground. My mother dropped me at school and my English teacher soothed me by explaining that my tears meant I could still feel and that was a wonderful thing.
My mother drove to the police station and showed her press card, her English number plate and took him to our house. When I got home, there he was with both shoes, and we took him home to his family two days later. We chewed on sugar cane burnt in the fields and ate Chakalaka and shishinyama in his township and danced and that night I realised that there were many bridges between the haves and the have nots. We had no idea what we were eating but it was a celebration of his culture, and never have chopped tomatoes and corn meal, with tripe and beef skirt tasted so good.
I realised that food was a universal language, that the white people around me at school might not have all the answers and that life can be celebrated in many ways most of them not involving money or possessions. It is a lesson I will always remember and that humbles me daily.
Author: Thomas Moore Email: