Letter from Hobeni, 12th Oct. 2014

David Kenvyn in the library

I have had my first visitor to the library.   A sunbird flew into the building.   It has a curved beak for extracting insects from trees, and its plumage is black with an orange crest, and dashes of orange under its wings.   It looks like the sun setting in an African night sky.   I opened a window, and coaxed it out.

It is not going to be so easy for people to visit the library.   Hobeni is an area that can best be described as “infrastructure-challenged”.   The road from Hobeni, via Elliotdale, to Mthatha, the nearest town of any size, is only partially tarred.   For the most part it is a dirt road with potholes to rival craters on the moon.   There is a bus service.   I know this because I have seen the occasional bus.   There is a bus station at Mqanduli, but that is a two hour drive from Hobeni.   The frequency of buses is more than somewhat erratic.   The usual mode of transport is to rely upon lifts or, more often, to walk.   Occasionally, you see people riding Nguni ponies or donkeys like a scene from another age.   The Donald Woods Foundation solves this problem by arranging transport for its staff to and from work, and we have weekly shopping expeditions to Elliotdale.

I have not seen women carrying water in pitchers on their heads.   But access to water is clearly an issue.   At the Donald Woods Foundation we rely on water tanks for our supplies.   Showers have to be time-limited (3-5 minutes) to make sure that we are not squandering our water supply.   Rain is a blessing because the water tanks fill up.   Fortunately, rain is quite frequent here and quite often at night, which means that the tanks have filled up again by morning.   There is also the added advantage that we have slept through it.   And the thunderstorms when they come are spectacular, with bolts of lightning pirouetting through the night sky.

The electricity supply is generally good, although it has gone off four or five times since I have been here, and all you can do is wait to be reconnected, which does not usually take a very long time.   Email access is good, but access to other sections of the internet can be problematic and without apparent rhyme or reason.   What works one day may not work the next.

Not that I want to give the impression that life at Hobeni is Spartan.   I can sit on the patio having breakfast in the sunshine.   I have discovered Xhosa speckled bread (maize bread with raisins) which is so remarkably similar to Bara Brith, Welsh speckled bread (wheat bread with raisins) that I suspect the influence of missionaries.   After all, the music for Nkosi Sikelel’I Afrika is an African version of the Welsh hymn tune Aberystwyth.   So you can think of me sitting here at breakfast in the sunshine, eating speckled bread and listening to the sunbirds sing.


2 thoughts on “Letter from Hobeni, 12th Oct. 2014”

  1. Hi David, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying these! One wee typo in this letter: “to make sure that we are squandering our water supply” I think there’s a “not” missing somewhere! When do you return? Best wishes, Brian Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2014 11:02:47 +0000 To: dornanbrian_joseph@hotmail.com


    1. Thanks for this Brian. I will make the necessary amendment. I do not get back to Glasgow until 22nd December. The next big task is going to be talking to a group of funders from the USA, and then taking them to the Mandela Museum in Mthatha, followed by a visit to his birthplace at Mvezo, passing the family home at Qunu on the way. The road will probably come as a big shock to them.


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