I do not blame you if you’ve never been to Gochas. Truthfully, I don’t. If I did not have family farming in the vicinity, I also would have had no reason to visit Gochas. To be brutally honest, I doubt that even when the ǃKharakhoen people decided to park their horse and donkey carts on the banks of the Auob river way back in 1889, did they expect Gochas to become the social hub of the Kalahari.
Yet nearly one hundred years after the arrival of the ǃKharakhoen people, I found myself – wearing borrowed, sharply pointed shoes – in the midst of the wildest New Year’s party I ever attended … in Gochas.
It was only a short distance from the front door to the bar but it took me a long time to complete. Here everyone knows everyone else, and if they do not know you, they make an effort to get to know you – and that inevitably means everyone wants to shake your hand.
Just like most others, I have been raised to believe that to greet strangers by offering them an extended right hand is not only appropriate, but also inoffensive and relatively risk-free (assuming you wash your hands once in a while off course). But not in Gochas. For never, ever – before or since – have I met so many kind folks so intent on pulverizing my hand for no reason other than to say: “Pleased to meet you”.
I am not a timid man, but I was out of my league; like a child in a grown up world. Without fail each new acquaintance carefully folded the top part of my hand over to touch the bottom. Then, once the two ends touch, they’d squeeze. Until we both heard the bones crunch. After which they would shake the crushed limb– vigorously – sending quivers up my arm and into my neck and jaw. And whilst I’d try my utmost best not to let my tongue get in the way of my cluttering teeth, they’d be pleased to meet me, or at least, that’s what they told me.
As I made my way to the bar, I also had my back slapped, my cheeks kissed and neck squeezed and survived a friendly mock effort to use my scrotal unit as a punching bag.
By the time I had finished my first drink the band had found their groove. A proud father and four tentative children, they were. The “ABC Boereorkes” and all the way from Leonardville (I know this because I read the red crinkle paper banner). By the sounds of it, they were determined to show the friendly, handshaking, bone-crushing people of Gochas a good time.
They might have been tight as a family, but as a band they were all over the place. Pa stood tall with only three chords to his name. Boeta, the first-born and Jon Bonham wanna-be, added drum rolls – seeming at will – to fill the silent spaces caused by Pa’s search for that elusive fourth chord. Little Sis fiddled with the keyboard. Using her right hand only she was like lightning; never did she strike the same note twice.
As the band members each embarked on their own individual journeys through the songs, I noticed just how skillfully the dancers adapted. Some skipped steps with little hops like apples on a conveyor belt, some waited patiently with feet frozen mid-step for a clear rhythmic pattern to emerge, whilst others still (mainly the men) resorted to ‘getting-the-sheep-in-the-kraal’.
With arms stretched to the side and waving, and rump leaning forward, they encroached on their partners, who, in turn, responded by shuffling sideways as if looking for a gap through which to escape. Not to be outdone, the shepherd followed suit. Seeing the gap closed down, the ‘sheep’ repeated the same move but in the opposite direction – only to see the shepherd following suit with a few loud “Ja! Ja! Ja’s!”
There was a lot of sweat and not a single properly tied tie in that room. Gochas was bubbling like a happy stew on a satisfied stove.
Sometime during the evening Pa approached the microphone. It was tied to an upside down steering wheel of some car, probably from an old Ford or Land Cruiser. “Dinner is about to be served!” he said, and everyone looked happy.
To my left, a thin man asked the local caterer, “So Losper, what for dinner?” Flicking his tongue over his dry lips like a Leguaan looking for prey, his answer was a proud one. “Chicken-ala-king!”
You could hear a pin drop. The air turned heavy and then somber. “What do you mean: chicken–ala king?” Even though the thin man’s English vocabulary was now depleted, he did get the meaning of ‘chicken’. “Nee, f*k man! Jy’s dan in die middel van die skaap paradys, nou kom neuk jy met hoender!
Someone ordered the band to stop making announcements and play a few more songs. In no time someone else lit the fires outside near the juskei pits. From the dark night others silently appeared with large mutton ribs already seasoned and clasped in braai grids. As if they expected something to go wrong.
There was a lot of chicken left that evening, even after I had taken some home. The microphone was used only once more, around three o’clock that morning when the exhausted band begged everyone to please go home. Leonardville clearly had enough.
I have not eaten chicken-ala-king since that night and I doubt that I would any time soon. The memories of that night are too precious.
Over the years I have learned to protect my hand and I have gotten better acquainted with most people from this story. Some have died and others have moved away. As far as I know, it was the band’s only gig. They might all be better musicians now, but I doubt it. I do believe they are still a tight family.
Sticking to the chicken theme, this week’s recipe is for a Vietnamese chicken salad with cabbage and fresh herbs. If someone from Gochas tries this and likes it, please let me know. And if you have never been to Gochas, see if you can make it this coming New Year. It’s worth it, and I might just see you there.