Stories hold within them the ability to transform situations, recall lessons and share knowledge. It is through the power of storytelling that we are able to find light in life’s experiences.
The last Thursday of the month is storytelling night at Lebo’s backpackers in Soweto. The entertainment area opens up for an evening of storytelling around the fire and elders and ordinary community members share their insights and experiences, past and present, of life in South Africa.
The evening starts off with dinner and drinks before gathering around the fire. I attended April’s storytelling night which was Freedom Month and listened to turbulent stories from a woman who moved to Johannesburg during Apartheid and her experience living in the White City women’s hostels.
In a jovial, yet factual manner, she shared how she first moved to Johannesburg when to do so required a dompass. She wasn’t born in Johannesburg and so didn’t have the correct stamp in her pass. This meant she had to work as a domestic worker even though she had experience as a bookkeeper.
Many people get turned off by events where you speak about the past and the times of Apartheid. They think they have heard all stories and it will be like another documentary but this is not the case. Every individual carries their own stories and there is always room to learn something new, gain perspective and take the time to hear another voice and point of you. It was from her that we heard the story of “kies ‘n hoed.”
All the single men and women had a place to live in the hostels but if you wanted to get a house and hadn’t found ‘the one’ your next option was to “kies ‘n hoed” (choose a hat) at Home Affairs. Men working away from home would leave their hats on a hook on a wall at the Department of Home Affairs.
Single ladies would go to office and with no other information, choose a hat off the wall. The hat would correspond with details in the office and *boom* you’re Mr & Mrs by the end of the day. A type of arranged marriage? We had a good laugh over a discussion about a good a strategy to make the right choice…“what does your hat say about you?”
Many stories remain untold and there’s definitely room to hear more.
The backpackers is situated at 10823A Pooe Street, Orlando West and Storytelling Thursdays is the last Thursday on the month at 7pm (Cash bar). If you are keen for more, they also do bike tour around Soweto.