Imagine you are at the edge of the Wild Coast of rural South Africa, in a region called the Transkei, which is two hours by the worst roads imaginable to the nearest doctor. The view is stunning. From the rolling hilltop, you can see the mouth of a small river flowing into the Indian Ocean, with trees deeply rooted in the sand, growing up a steep hillside to the right and a colorful village of Rondavels (traditional round dwellings with cone shaped thatched roofs) dotting the landscape to the left. I am with two fellow masters students and we have traveled a full day and two flat tires to get here. This is Bulungula Eco Lodge. After a much needed night’s sleep, we wake excited for our ‘Women Power’ Tour.
Our guide Kululwa comes to gather us. She is a young vibrant woman with bright brown eyes and a smile that covers her whole face. She asks if we’re ready and we embark on our way through a winding foot path into the colorful village. Kululwa takes us to her rondavel, and first paints our faces with a traditional Xhosa mud/water mixture that is a perfect natural sunscreen. Then we go to gather firewood and carry it back like Xhosa women have forever, on our heads. This was not nearly as difficult as our next task. At least with the firewood, the varied lengths helped with balance. Fetching water was our next task, and we had small buckets, compared with Kululwa’s larger one. We also couldn’t fill it up to the top or we would spill, it was quite comical to see our inadequacy. When we made it back to the hut, Kululwa showed us how she would build a small fire under a metal tripod. She then scraped the skin off of a giant squash, showed us how to grind maize meal for ‘pap’, a traditional staple food, and made us all lunch. Throughout the day Kululwa told us about her life and we asked her lots of questions. Through questions and prompting, she told us that she was not married, which is pretty rare for a 25 year old village woman. She admitted to us that she did not want to marry and instead did these tours so that she was able pay her parents the ‘lobola’ or bride price they would have received when she married. I was surprised by her admission, and extremely touched by her bravery. I have thought of her many times and how hard it must have been for her to carry out her decision in such a small, traditional village.