Following closely on from St Helena day is Africa Day; probably less well known in the northern hemisphere than here on St Helena, with its very strong connections to South Africa and in particular Cape Town.
I would hazard a guess to say this is because of the Ship’s connection through the many years of tooing and froing between here and Cape Town. Loved ones have settled in Cape Town, any medical situation which cannot be fixed here will be sent to Cape Town and more poignantly, may die there or on the journey. Much of our regular supplies come from Cape Town and its one of the first ports of call for Saints to go on Holiday, other than the UK of course.
St Helena currently has quite a large proportion of the population either originating from South Africa or who work here and still live over there. Basil Read, the contractor for the airport has had as many as 400 persons working here from all over the continent.
So what is Africa Day? Well over here it’s a day when all Africans take the opportunity to celebrate their nationality and to enjoy festivities, foods and company with their fellow citizens.
Officially its origins started to honour the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). On this day in 1963, 30 leaders of the 32 independent African states signed a founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which later led to the current organisation known as the African Union.
I was invited to the home of Julia Benjamin, my colleague and friend who hosted an Africa Day celebration at her home.
The guests did all the cooking and what a feast it was and how proud each cook was of his/her dishes; woe betide anyone who didn’t try everything. Countries represented at Julia’s included: Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
There was Brai (Barbecue to anyone in the west), Braised beans, rice cooked with peanut butter, slow cooked pigs trotters, greens cooked with onions, “Fat Cook or Vetkoek” which is a sort of savoury doughnut, Pap, which is a maize dish similar to grits or polenta and potjiekos (stew) made from oxtail.
Malva pudding was the grand finale, a dense rich sugary sponge pudding containing Apricot jam and served with custard of a similar mass.
Dancing followed on from the copious quantities of food, everyone was expected to participate and participate we did.
The atmosphere throughout the day and evening was uplifting and exceptionally open and friendly. I have attended parties (as I am sure we all have) where people group into cliques and no one mixes. This was the opposite. Although we all hailed from a huge variety of backgrounds, ages and countries we celebrated together as friends who had known each other for years. The fabulous food and openness of all to try new things set the stage as did the keenness to celebrate Africa.
I went home thinking how fortunate I am to have experienced such an uplifting event and how powerful food and dining together with strangers can be. Something to remember in our dysfunctional society and perhaps something which could be considered in situations which are overheated, whether at family or country level.