When Karin arrives we decide to go to a grocery store and pick up supplies for that evening’s dinner. As we pass the meat counter, the counterperson calls out, “How are you today, sweetheart!” I am totally confused until Karin explains that no, she doesn’t know her, and yes, this a typical greeting here in Joburg. Well that’s rather nice, I think.
We buy yoghurt, berries, milk, chicken, lamb chops, and several kinds of fizzy water for me. Next door we by a six pack of beer and an African merlot.
We take the long way back to Karin’s smallholding, and I am endlessly entertained by roadside things I don’t understand. A sign advertises, “Climbing on real trees!” with a smaller assertion that this is “childcare”. We pass what I guess is a laser tag outfit, called “Laser Skirmish”. At a red light a man passes us a leaflet through the window. It is an introductory offer for Masai Gel for Men. As you might imagine, Masai Gel will change your luck, enlarge the penis (in both girth and length, so says the flyer), and remove curses or hauntings.
We arrive at Karin’s and are greeted by Diego, Nala, and Libra – the three house Rottweilers. When Karin opens the car door, they jump in and over her, rubbing drool and dusty fur in my nose and eyes. I extract myself from this orgy of affection and stand outside the car. Libra, the puppy, hops out and weaves herself around my feet, pushing herself against me in a way that reminds me of Mendoza. Diego, the lone male, makes his way around to me and shoves his head into my crotch. Nala follows suit, and thus acquainted, I am allowed through the gate.
The house is big and open, with naked beams on the ceiling and a towering brick wall. The countertops are stone, as are the floors. It’s great. There is a second story, which is where I will sleep. I lug my bags up the staircase. There is a small bed and a desk and chair with Karin’s computer. After a surreal question and answer period about wireless versus wifi which leads to the awesome discovery that Karin accesses the Internet by plugging her computer into her phone in a rigging that I have never heard of before and which turns out to be dial up, I abandon all hope of checking my email.
We drink beer and converse about the things we have in common, which at that moment includes a love of travel and a love of Francis. We drink a second beer and find that we have a few more things in common, such as the love of animals and the love of music. We drink a third beer and realize we share a love of beer. We go for a walk.
Karin’s home is on a farm owned by a man who has built houses on the property which he rents out to other people. Also nearby is a mushroom farm which to my BC-bred eyes looks like a grow op. Karin shows me the native aloe plants, which sprout these tall stalks on which clusters of flowers bloom – who knew? She also points out the kiewiet (kee-veet), a small white and tan bird picking its way along the ground near us. “Watch out for their eggs,” she says. “We are in their breeding ground.” The kiewiet suddenly takes flight, and screeching, circles us. The bird isn’t large – maybe the size of a loaf of bread – but it makes a sufficiently irritating racket that we leave.
Back at the house, Karin puts the charcoal bricks on the braai and lights them. At first they flame, looking for all the world like a satisfactory barbeque, but Karin tells me the trick is patience – and no flame. “Braai is not barbeque. You don’t want an open flame.” As we let the charcoal settle into a nice slow glow, we open the merlot, which is freaking fantastic. If I knew anything at all about wines I would tell you something about its nose and bouquet. I’d mention that it had legs and it knew how to use them.
By now the merlot has helped us realize that we have so much in common we might as well be the same person. It’s astonishing. Really, it’s evidence of the rightness of the universe that we have been brought together to celebrate the magic that is us. The capper is the discovery that the second person I am supposed to see in Johannesburg, the woman that my friend Callie put me in touch with, actually grew up down the road from Karin. They are acquainted, and the small worldism totally freaks me out.
As night falls, she puts on the meat, lamb chops first. Decades pass, and finally they are done. Next it is the chicken thighs. While these are cooking, Karin prepares her favourite thing – “Maybe even better than the meat,” she exclaims. They are, essentially, grilled cheese sandwiches filled with tomato, onion, and mustard. Finally, the food is cooked and Karin suggests we go inside “…and turn the lights off so we can eat like animals.” This woman takes the open-a-can-over-the-sink aspect of bachelorism a step further – and I like it! We sit in the dark, putting pinches of coarse salt on the very best lamb chops I have ever tasted. Then we have the chicken, which we pick off the bone with our fingers, and the sandwiches. Oh, the sandwiches. The bread has become crispy on the braai, completely containing the gooey flavour bomb inside.
Finally, at the ripe old time of 10:30 or so, we trundle off to bed with full bellies.