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My mother, my father!

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By Innocent Maphalala SWAZI TIMES -08-Aug-2009

I have learned some lessons in my life – many lessons. The most important one, however, was this very important piece of advice I got from my father.

He said to me, “Son, whenever you are served some food to eat, always start with the meat.” He impressed upon me, the importance of at first ignoring the vegetables, starch (porridge, pasta or rice) and focusing all my attention on the meat.

He said this went for all types of meat too – chicken, pork, beef, impala or even fish. He emphasised that in life, we were all supposed to leave room for disappointment in whatever circumstance we found ourselves but eating your meat before everything else on your plate reduced to almost zero, your chances of being disappointed. I was only seven or eight at the time but I remember pretty well, the look on his extremely wise face as he explained that eating your vegetables was not only important but also healthy. He explained the benefits of such vitamins as A, B3, B9, C, and K, which are all found in vegetables.

Warned He said carbohydrates were important for energy and more of the same but meat contained proteins. “However, it is not only for the proteins that I suggest you should start with the meat,” he clarified back then. He said those who started with the porridge or vegetables like cabbage, spinach and beetroot invariably risked losing the meat to a new arrival. It could be a friend or a visiting distant cousin who had just alighted from the long-distance bus carrying his suitcases and a few pumpkins to give to the family as gifts.

“Your meat will be taken straight from your plate and given to this person,” he warned. He had actually seen, with his two naked eyes, many friends and relatives getting disappointed in this fashion. They all found themselves with no meat in their plates, when they had actually been looking forward to eating it throughout the meal. We all know how we, the Swazi, are so fond of meat. We would kill for it. In fact, some have killed for it.

Not only do we kill chickens, cattle and pigs for their meat but we also kill one another in fights that ensue over who got the bigger piece. Some have been killed by game rangers while trying to kill impala, wildebeest or other animals for their meat. We just love our meat. No wonder Kentucky Fried Chicken is always so packed! My father said I should immediately grab the meat and start munching away each time a plate was placed before me.

He said I should do this whether I was having the meat for breakfast, lunch or supper. I still do it – even when I am with the gents at the corner butchery, enjoying a few pieces of roasted pork and boerewors. I do it when I have lunch back at my place and when I have my last supper in the evening. I do it whether I am eating alone or with...well, visitors.

I always start with the meat – and when I do so, I think of my father. I have actually seen the disappointment on the faces of many of my friends, family members or acquaintances when an unexpected visitor showed up and grabbed the meat without even saying a word. Sometimes, especially when you are having a barbecue with your family and friends, total strangers will pass by and grab a piece of meat, then continue on their way.

Sorrowfully This is also part of Swazi culture. When you find people eating, you do not ask to be included in the feasting. You sit down and start helping them clear the plate. Where will you be then, if this happens and your meat is still there? Better safe than sorry! That was my father for you. He always had these anecdotes and analogies.

I did not remember his advice because I was eating at the time – last Sunday to be exact. I was only watching some traditional singer on my 31cm black-and-white TV screen lamenting the loss of his father. He narrated – sorrowfully - how painful it had been for him to lose his dad at a very tender age. He said each time his friends spoke about their own fathers, tears welled in his eyes. I got thinking...if grown men will have such soft spots for their dads, how about the young ones? With AIDS creating so many orphans in this kingdom and elsewhere, is it not time for us to consider reviewing the primary and secondary school curriculum?

Has the time not come for teachers to stop instructing pupils to write English Language or Siswati compositions with the title: My Father or My Mother? Think about the children, as Lucky Dube – a father who had no father himself - once advised.

But seriously...what will they write about if they have never seen their parents? My apologies to the primary school curriculum designers if I am the ignorant one and they have already done away with such topics in the syllabus. Ssssssssssiyabonga.


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