I was born and raised in a beautiful district called Mayville in Durban. Our road was named Brookleigh Place due to a little brook that ran across our properties. The road was not really a proper road, and more of an extended pathway. We had to use this pathway as our regular entrance and exit to get to the the main road, Jan Smuths Highway.
My dad had bought half an acre of property here in 1945. He built a cozy three bedroom, wood and iron home, including a study room for his part-time artwork. The foundation, the verandah and steps leading into the house were concrete and plastered. We had wooden floors inside of the house. As the family increased, my dad extended the house.
Our two toilets and a bathroom were built away from the main house. We had the bucket system, back then and twice a week the municipality removed the buckets and replaced with empty ones. We used ordinary newspaper as toilet tissue, which my dad cut up in four pieces, from each sheet,after reading. He stuck them through a long wire and hung them on a nail in the toilets. We used to read the bits of paper in the toilet.
Our bathroom just had a stool to sit on and we carried our steel bucket of water taken from the huge pot which was kept hot with an outside open fire, for bathing. We used coir from our mattress and carbolic soap to scrub and clean ourselves.
We lived a communal lifestyle with my grandmother, her three children, my parents and my eight siblings all sharing the household and housekeeping. My siblings and I were all born at home and were delivered by a midwife we called Nurse Aaya The house was never empty and everyone contributed to the upkeep and running of the day to day chores. We had to sweep, polish and shine the floors on a daily basis. We also had to sweep the yard, wash, dry and iron the clothes. We would polish brass and silverware, polish our coal stove and clean the paraffin lamps as we had no electricity.
Traditionally in the midweek, we cleaned sheeps’ heads and trotters which mum bought. We did this by using a bowela (an empty paraffin tin with holes in it to fit the iron rods) filled with burning coal. We had to burn the hair off the skin, by placing the heads and trotters directly on the flame using a grate. With flat iron rods, that were heated in the flames, we burned off any remaining fine hair. Thereafter we scrubbed them with coir, chopped them according to a method which ensured that there were no splinters in the bones. This ensured that the meat was ready for cooking, with beans, potatoes or gram dhall, into delicious curries.
My mum and aunts did all the cooking in huge pots. Our staple diet was mealie rice on weekdays, and we only ate traditional rice on Saturdays. All our meals were served in enamel plates and cups. The glass and porcelan crockery was reserved for visitors only. We sat on the wooden floor, cross legged during our meals, no seconds as we were a large family. Exchanging curries with neighbours was big those days. It was also very rude to send back bowls or pots without refilling the dish with whatever was cooked at home. This act also promoted good relationship with neighbours and friends as we had no boundaries, fences or burglar guards.
Mostly we ate vegetables, some bought from our weekly visit to the market and others from the garden. At times dried fish or a piece of fish was included in our meals. On weekends we ate meat or chicken. The chickens we ate were from our coop.
We had a huge garden which was put to good use by my parents. We grew lots of trees like lemon, bananas, mangoes, grapes, granadillas, avocado, guavas, syringe, moringa and lots more. Our kitchen and herb garden had lots of vegetables like herbs, beans, peas, celery, parsley, thyme, mint, carrots, sour herbs, pigeon peas, etc. The front of the house had a pretty garden with various flower plants and ferns.
Between school, religious classes, homework and housecleaning, we still had play time. At times we went home bleeding with bruises and cuts. My mum used to make a paste of turmeric powder, coconut oil and crushed syringe leaves and apply the mixture to the bruises and cuts. In no time our arms and legs were healed.
We never had the need to visit the doctor in our growing up years. All cures used to treat our minor ailments were home remedies. If we had toothache, we used crushed cloves, crushed ginger boiled in milk with a little turmeric powder eased our throat during flu. The juice of a lemon, an aspirin with some boiled water broke our fever, this remedy is now sold commercially as med-lemon.
We drank Kingsoup made out of tamarind juice, a couple of garlic pods, with a bit of mustard seeds, pepper corns, cumin, all heated and crushed, before being braised in a little oil with dried chillies and then steamed together with some water. This soup relieved us from the symptoms of the common cold and flu.
A dog bite was cured with a copper coin banged with a leather shoe on the wound and a bit of turmeric powder mixed with coconut paste over the wound. Then the juices of aloe vera plant was used to cure earache.
Mum used the crushed leaves of Syringa plant mixed with turmeric powder in a glass of water to relieve us during measles or small pock. She also made us lay on a bed of Syringa leaves to cool our body. She would make us eat some salt whenever we suffered from cramps. For high blood pressure my mum used to boil the leaves of the loquat plant.
There was an old Aaya from the neighbourhood that helped massage our stomachs to relieve pain. We had a regular dose of castor oil to clean our stomach, especially after festivals where we ate a lot of sweatmeats and cakes. In the event of persistent cough, the Aaya used to pull our hair on a certain part of our head for three days and miraculously, that stopped the coughing. Our ear-lobes were pieced with a lemon thorn, at very young ages, and for healed a day later.
There were many other ailments which were cured with home remedies. We never heard the word ‘Ayurveda’ and yet our parents with their limited education knew all about herbal cures. All the home remedies came from our garden and mum’s kitchen cupboards – we were generally healthy and recovered easily from common ailments.
Our childhood and upbringings were so disciplined that I have also raised my children that way.
Thereafter everything changed when the Group Area Act was introduced and we were uprooted and were force moved to Chatsworth. Our lifestyles changed suddenly and dramtically, but that is another story for another time………