May 11, 2016

In Search of Sex and Languages in South Africa

Durban, South Africa, July 2006

When I visited South Africa for a conference in 2000, I met two guys.  One spoke Zulu and the other spoke Khoisan.

 My friend Doc and I returned for another conference in 2006, eager for more sex and languages.   The conference lasted for three days, but we decided to stay for eight, to give us a chance to find speakers of:

1. Zulu
2. Xhosa
3. Afrikaans
4. Tswana
5. Sotho

Tuesday: Jet-lagged.

Wednesday: Zulu

Spoken by 1.1 million people near Durban.

Your baseball bat is big: bat yakho baseball kuyinto enkulu

Ok, I've been with a Zulu guy before, but Doc hadn't.  A night at the Lounge, Durban's biggest gay bar, yielded a three-way hookup with Joseph, a biology teacher: in his 20s.

Thursday: Xhosa, a "click" language spoken by 8.2 million people in the Eastern Cape province.

I want to go home with you: ndifuna ukuya ekhaya kunye nawe

There are a lot of Xhosa speakers in Durban.  After we told Joseph about our quest, he introduced us to an ex-boyfriend, Wushi, who worked in a garage:  a gym rat in his 30s, rather hefty, with a little belly.

Friday: Afrikaans

Spoken by 7.1 million people, mostly descendants of Dutch Boer settlers.  Unfortunately, they are mostly on the west side of the country, a day's drive from Durban.

I like to eat sausages: Ek hou daarvan om wors te eet

We rented a car and drove to Johannesburg, six hours north of Durban, to the Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg, that offers courses in both Afrikaans and English.

We walked on the campus.  Nothing.

We went to the Department of Afrikaans and talked to the only professor who was there during the winter break.  He was, surprisingly, black, or what they call "Colored" in South Africa.

He told us that Afrikaans was very much a "mother tongue," spoken at home but not on the streets.

In the evening, we went to the Melville, Johannesburg's gay neighborhood, hoping to meet an Afrikaans speaker in the Factory or the REC Room.

At the REC Room, I picked out a likely looking candidate: white, shorter than me, solidly built, a little chunky.  Light brown hair, round face, nice smile.

"Ik heet Boomer," I said in what I thought was Afrikaans.  "Ik kom uit..."

"Are you from Amsterdam?"  he exclaimed.  "I would love to go there!  Is it as hot as they say?"

We didn't meet anyone who spoke Afrikaans, but English is ok, too.


Saturday: Tswana

We visited Constitution Hill and the Lion Park before driving about an hour north to Pretoria in search of Tswana, spoken by 4.4 million people in Botswana and nearby.

What is your name? Leina le gago ke mang?

This time we were smart.  We logged onto a chatroom in advance and arranged a meeting with Thabo, who worked in information technology.  He took us to dinner at an Indian restaurant and then to a gay bath house.

In his 40s, bearded, slightly hairy chest.

Sunday: Break

We visited the Vortrekker Monument, Church Square, and the Transvaal Museum, then had Chinese food and stayed in our hotel room for the night, watching Malcolm in the Middle, The Simpsons, and Family Guy.

"We're doing something wrong," Doc said.  "We're meeting lots of completely Western guys, the same that you would meet in Vienna or Amsterdam.  I want to meet tribal Africans."

"What do you mean?"  I asked.  "Grass huts and talking drums went out in the 1930s."

"Not that, but some of the old culture.  Same-sex relations that were age and gender-stratified, before the Western gay culture took over."

"So...street cruising?"

Monday: Sotho.

Spoken by 5.6 million people.

Which way is the toilet? Batekamore e kae?

We selected a likely village, Zwelisha, in the heart of the Drakenburg Mountains near the border of Lesotho.  Not much there but tin-roofed houses, a clinic, and a high school, a low yellow building.

Even though it was a cool winter day, we ran across a group of high school boys walking along the side of the road, naked except for loincloths, their bodies covered with white clay.  They made flexing body-building gestures to us.

We stopped in at the clinic to ask what was going on.

The young doctor on call -- actually a medical student from Johannesburg -- told us that it was a manhood ritual.  "They spend a week in a lodge, bragging and bonding.  They used to fight with spears, but now it's usually wrestling.  Same thing. Hoe meer dinge verander, hoe meer het hulle dieselfde, we say."

Wait -- was this guy Afrikaans?

He was.

Tuesday: Back to Durban

Four out of five languages isn't bad.

The uncensored post, with nude photos and sexual content,  is on Tales of West Hollywood.

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