One of the biggest joys of living in São Paulo is the international friendships I have made over the years. The downside of this is that many of these friendships are with expatriates or consular employees who are off to the next place after a couple of years. I have good friends now in Brussels, Beijing, Rome and Pretoria, but very little chance of seeing them any time soon.
One of the more recent friends I have made is from South Africa. A country that I had never had in my top 10 list of places to go until fortune dropped it in my lap in 2010. One of my husband's co-workers could not go to the World Cup at the invitation of a service provider, and we were invited in their place.
Folks, I fell in love. Beautiful country, wonderful people, extraordinary history. Since that first trip, we have returned twice, and will be heading back with my sons soon for their first safari. My kids tell me (and anyone else who asks) every day how excited they are to go to Africa.
Tuesday was South Africa's National Heritage Day. I was invited to a celebration of the holiday by a friend connected to the consulate. Not knowing anything about the holiday, I spent a bit of time looking it up. Though there seems to be a long and short version of how it developed, it is a holiday that originated with a Zulu king and today celebrates South Africa's multicultural heritage. And barbecue. In a Heritage Day speech, Nelson Mandela said: "When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation”.
On arrival at the party place (a beautiful building in Pinheiros), I was greeted by women in traditional dress and had three dots of white "paint" applied under my eye. I was warmly greeted by my friend and by the consul-general, who is a woman (when I told my six-year old son this later that night, he said "reallly??? Girls are taking over everything!" He meant it in a good way...)
I also met the recently arrived consular officer of Switzerland and we commiserated about how long it takes to get stuff out of customs. I chatted with a few other people until, after a short introduction, a group called Afro II came in. Loudly. Pounding drums and feathered headdresses, painted faces and chests. And extremely athletic!! I am not actually sure if the dance was traditional for South Africa but it was fun and energetic--the group was filled with enthusiasm and theatrics.
My photos of the event are not good--I had only my phone with me and it could not handle the lighting. While I was looking for photos on the web of the Afro II group, I found out some other information about them but I would like to know more. All I can find is that they are based in a neighborhood of São Paulo called Itaquera, in one of the public housing projects. One of their videos on youtube mentions that they are a socio-cultural organization.
After the show, the consul general spoke about the holiday and South Africa, and then told us about the traditional South African foods about to be served. I so wish I could remember the names of these dishes, but in the end it doesn't matter--they were all delicious. My friend told me that several of the spouses of consular officials had made the food (joking that she had just stirred the pot) so I guess having this stuff catered for my birthday is out of the question. Unfortunately, because I had to pick up my kids later at school, I did not have any of the South Africa wines or the Amarula that were offered--it was hard to hold firm when the Pinotage made the rounds. Then a delicious dessert ("melktart"? sorry, I am really not good with names) and rooibos tea to finish up.
As I walked to my car, I thought about Heritage Day. And I thought about my five years living here in São Paulo and how this city is filled with its own multicultural experiences. This is the idea of Brazil in My Eyes and how open I hope to be to learning new expressions, customs and meeting new and different people here. And not just Brazilians. I am lucky to call Scots, Australians, Germans, French, and Americans friends here. We are multicultural. Try that in Connecticut (oh dear, now I will get hate mail from all five people who live in that state, yes, yes, I was one)...
Thank you, South Africa!