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Energy, Zulu traditional doctors, Kirby vacuums

Today is my second full day of not-teaching (till mid-August), and I feel as though I’m on intravenous Life Force. I went for a walk this morning, and I could feel energy surging through me like electric voltage. I think it’s related to a concept I learned from Zulu traditional doctors, about which I’ll say more beneath the line. Meanwhile, as I was finishing off my course, Manko and Kendra started training for a new job. At first they thought they were training to be telephone consumer service reps, and later they realized they were training to be Kirby vacuum cleaner salespeople.

What I read in the link to Kirby (above) really worries me, as does the deceptiveness with which Manko and Kendra were lured into this. They thought they were applying for jobs at something called “Bargain Network,” and that they would work in cubicles, answering telephone queries about how to operate various appliances. When did they turn into door-to-door vacuum cleaner salespeople? Manko and Kendra are excited about their new jobs. The sales team does a lot of hooting and clapping and carrying on for each other, which seems to be building their confidence. Maybe there’s some good in this. I’m trying to be supportive, and we’re practicing letting her make her own decisions, so I’m biting my tongue. Maybe this can lead to other kinds of (more legitimate) sales jobs. I want to encourage her. But it’s worrying. They’ve promised her $1950 a month, payable at the end of the month, regardless of whether she sells any vacuum cleaners or not. I have fears this $1950 will never materialize. Meanwhile, as part of the “training,” all the people in her sales group were asked on Thursday to come up with six friends who don’t live in apartments who they could visit on Saturday, presumably just to practice their sales pitch. No pressure. Just practice. Then late on Friday night, after a motivational meeting, the trainers told them they could make as much as an $800 bonus on Saturday, in addition to the “guaranteed” $1950 at the end of the month. Right. No pressure.

I gave Manko a list of all my friends’ phone numbers, but she could only find one able to see her on such short notice. She also called on a former boyfriend’s family. So she had two contacts, not six. She sold vacuums to both contacts. Two for two. But in each case, the buyers got numerous “discounts,” all of which came out of the promised bonus to Manko, so she ended up with a promise of $100 on the first sale and $25 on the second. I’m thinking: how does $800 become $25? Kendra sold one vacuum to an aunt, but I haven’t heard what Kendra’s “bonus” for that sale is supposed to be. I’m sure it’s not $800. I’m noticing that while the buyers have put money down for the vacuums, the salespeople don’t see any money till the end of the month. I’m wondering if there will be some creative math done before any checks are cut. But both Manko and Kendra are excited, and Manko says she really needs me to believe in her. “I know what I’m doing,” she says. Right. I make an effort to uncrease my forehead. I did show her the website, but she said, “That’s just one of those internet-bashing sites. People will bash anything.” She says I need to trust her judgment. I said I have complete faith in HER; it’s Kirby Vacuums I don’t trust. She waved her hand in the air. Shut up, mom.

Back to the subject of Zulu doctors: isangoma (singular), izangoma (plural). I worked with, befriended, and studied Zulu izangoma in South Africa from January, 1995-November, 1998. Most were open-hearted and generous with me. Some spoke English. M’e Mpho, who speaks eight southern African languages, including Zulu, was living with me at the time, and she was also interested to know more, so she worked with me and served as translator when we worked with izangoma who didn’t speak English. We heard each other’s stories. I provided rides, clothing, school fees for some of their children, photographs of them and their families, and videos of their ceremonies. They treated my family’s health issues, “read” my spirits, and provided me with an understanding of their work. Ninety-five percent of izangoma are women, and many of their ceremonies and rituals have to do with women, women’s energies, and women’s ailments.

Digression: I could write a whole article about one South African woman honors student for whom I was thesis advisor.

In 1995, the year I arrived in South Africa, this student instituted what she called the “traditional” spring ceremony honoring the Zulu goddess, Nomkhubulwane. (This fell into the broad category of performance studies, which is what I was then teaching.) I provided transportation and audio and video taping for the student and went with her to consult Zulu elders and izangoma about these ceremonies and rituals, and I watched as she applied her own morality and logic to what she heard, as she created ceremonies that were nothing like the old ceremonies, and as she championed public “virginity testing” which was a complete violation of Zulu tradition, but which she presented as a kind of Zulu patriotic activity. She was Zulu; I was not. Mostly I kept my mouth shut. Initially I was grateful to the student for introducing me to the study of Nomkhubulwane and for helping me to make initial connections with several izangoma. However she became angry with me when I hinted to her that the ceremonies she was creating were not “traditional.” A decade later, well after I had left South Africa, the government had to outlaw the practice of public virginity testing, and in an article now available on the internet, that student shows up this way:

Nomagugu Ngobese, founder of the Nomkhubulwane Culture and Youth Development Organisation, is an angry woman. One of the more prominent virginity testers, Ngobese has spent the last seven years advocating the practice, and considers herself a “professional”.

“They are trying to ban our culture, religion – but it’s not going to work. I’ll never stop; the day I stop is when they [young girls] stop coming to me,” she said.

I gather she has not stopped, but perhaps the governmental prohibitions have at least cut back on the humiliation many young women have had to endure because of very unscientific so-called “virginity testing.” End of digression.

The issue I’m trying to get around to is energy and its relation to work and what we might call intuition or calling; what izangoma call “listening to the spirits.” Mine. Yours. Anybody’s. I’m good at teaching. I like it. My students like it. I was even chosen “teacher of the semester” at one of our campuses this past semester. And yet my heart quit being in it years ago. I’m an actress; I put on a good show. I respect the students I teach too much to give them less than my best effort. I don’t think my students know I’m tired of this. But I know it, and the way I experience it in my body is that teaching leaves me heavily tired. Dragging-ass tired, bone-tired, lead-in-my-veins-on-Monday-morning tired.

Izangoma say that when your spirits call you to quit what you’re doing and follow them, if you don’t listen, they retaliate by taking away all your energy. The spirits, they say, don’t care about mundane concerns like how you’re going to feed yourself or your children; whether or not you have transportation; how many years you have worked to gain the skills you have, when they call you to do something different. When they call you, if at first you don’t listen, they send you headaches. If you still don’t listen, they make you sick. If you still don’t listen, they suck all the energy out of your body, so you can barely move. You become subject to fainting fits. You feel overwhelmed by sleepiness. You can’t get out of bed. And eventually, if you are so bone-headed and idiotic that you still don’t listen, they will suck the life out of you. “And then,” said Mama Ntombi Mkhulize to me one day, “how much good can you do for your children? They will have to bury you, and they will suffer too much.” (Mama Ntombi’s family was later hit by AIDS; the last I heard, her daughter, two sons, and several grandchildren had died of it, and she was nursing several orphaned great-grandchildren.) The most powerful lesson I learned from spending four years with izangoma is that “our spirits,” however we conceive those spirits to be (internal or external), are the most powerful forces in our lives. We ignore them at our peril.

I have been trying to stop teaching since 1992. I have not been sure what it is that I am being called to do instead, but I have been absolutely certain that it was time to stop teaching in formal educational institutions. However I haven’t been able to find another way to support myself and those who depend on me. In order to continue teaching, I have used any number of pharmaceuticals, talk therapy, exercise, and a few really goofy “new age” techniques, but I have continued being tired. The surge of energy through my body this morning reminds me of what Mama Ntombi taught me. I’m humming Nina Simone’s old song, “There’s a new world coming.”

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7 responses to “Energy, Zulu traditional doctors, Kirby vacuums”

  1. Sola says:

    Hi Kendall, you’ll never cease being a teacher. The essence of living is teaching, not only others, but oneself.nrBest regards

  2. Xolani says:

    Hi Kendall,

    I like your article as the are points that you raised that are important but I didnt like the way you commented about Virginty testing. I can see that yuo are like the South African goverment who like you say this must be stoped. I think you should understand the our (Zulu) tradition very well before you can make judgement.

    The world is as it is today because we have lost or changed our tradition. I understand that as a foreigner in RSA(Africa) it will be difficulty to understand our culture beside guys from overseas contries dont have traditionsor cultures that is why the level of Divorce is so high.

    Things that we do as Africans are the things that make us Africans. for Example without our culture(tradition) we are good as dead.

    Just to close everything, I would like to suggest to you that please be considerates on other people traditions and culutures and lastly Please dont try to Kill our tradition.


    Zulu for life

  3. admin says:

    I very much respect Zulu tradition, Xolani. My point is that modern virginity testing is a violation of Zulu tradition, “killing” it more effectively than the government. I was with Ngobese when she visited the elders. They told her that in the old days, virginity testing was never done in a public place, as a mass event. In each family, the gogo examined the girls, and it was private. If a girl had been raped, she could talk to the gogo about it and gain understanding. There was no such thing as hundreds of girls lining up in public to be publicly examined and publicly humiliated if the “testers” believed the girls were not virgins. THAT is a violation of African culture. It is not “Zulu.” It is a modern insult to Zulu culture, even if it is done by Zulu people. But as I say, I am not Zulu. It is up to people like you to protect the old ways from these modern violations by your own people. I leave you to it.

  4. Tumelo says:

    Dear Sir

    I am Tumelo Mofokeng From South Africa Free State I went to a doctor few day ago and told that I am HIV positive. so my ancle took to tradition healer but my ancle doesn’t about my status. and traditional healer told me that i have been whitshed The HIV that i have it is a fake. What i want to know is that if traditional hearler what he say it is true. thus this fake Hiv can affect the person maybe i can sleep with.

  5. Kathryn says:

    Dear Tumelo,
    I suggest you get another opinion from another traditional doctor. To my knowledge there is no “fake” HIV. If you do have HIV, you can pass it to anyone you have sex with, and if you have sex with someone else who is HIV, this can hasten your own illness. Please seek preventive treatment with anti-retrovirals, and please see a doctor who does not know the one you saw, who does not know the story, and who can be trusted.

  6. phumulani says:

    Hello Kendall
    Could you please help me with mama Nomagugu Ngobese’s contacts numbers.I’ll be very glad of your help.

  7. Kathryn says:

    Dear Phumulani,
    I left southern Africa at the end of 1998 and have not been in touch with her since then. I have no idea how to reach her. She lived in Pietermaritzburg the last I knew, so if you are near there you can try to find a number or address for her there. I wish you good luck.

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