We met several of our friends from various other boats at the security gate of the Zululand Yacht Club around 8am. Our driver was early which was a refreshing change from literally anywhere else we had been throughout the trip. He was waiting for us in a new, clean, white van. We piled in, and began our hour ride to Thula Thula game reserve. I sat next to Heinz from Australia and Dan from America. Behind us sat Jo from Sweden, Dan’s wife, and Kevin, also from the US. Lastly, my dad was riding shotgun.
The car ride passed quickly since Dan gave us a book report about The Elephant Whisperer, which the founder of the game preserve wrote. By the time we arrived, we knew all about the troublesome herd of elephants, the matriarch of the herd, the emotional connection they had with the owner of the reserve, and much more. The incredible creatures return to their owners house on the anniversary of the day he died every year, even though they were in as different part of the park when it happened.
Our anticipation grew as we got closer, passing through Zulu villages and bombarding our driver with questions. We learned that the unemployment rate in these villages hovers around 60%, you can have multiple wives, but first you have to give each one’s family 11 cows, and the round hut on every property is where they go for spiritual guidance to connect with their dead ancestors. Someone told our driver we were going to a “Sangoma” to learn our future and he laughed. He said most of them are frauds just trying to get money from tourists, but the older ones actually can be valuable.
We finally arrived and checked in at the front desk of the reserve. They told us first we would go to the nearby village to learn about local life and meet the “Sangoma”, which is a healer. Then, we would go on the game drive. I thought we were just going to look at elephants, but the Sangoma experience was worth the price of admission itself.
We approached one of the round spiritual huts, which had a pile of about 20 pairs of shoes outside, to which we added ours. When I entered, I noticed many smiling children against the wall on one side, and the Sangoma, kneeling in the center, flanked by two young apprentices with aluminum can tops strung together and worn around their ankles. The Sangoma and the apprentices all either had wigs or long hair braided with beads, it was hard to tell which. The hut was small, with a thatch roof and a smooth, concrete floor. Someone older sat next to the children with a large drum made from wood with the hide of an animal stretched across. The seven of us sat on the left side of the room with our guide and our driver sat next to the drummer.
Our guide, explained that nobody really wants to be the Sangoma because they have to get up early to go into the mountains to find healing herbs, help everyone with health and spiritual problems, and it is quite a lot of work. Fortunately for the villages, some people have a gift for it and are culturally obligated to become the Sangoma. Ours could see things before they happened. After several occurrences, the village decided she was destined to be the Sangoma. We thought it was funny and were skeptical, but decided to play along.
The Sangoma and her apprentices lit two candles and started chanting and dancing. The apprentices used the aluminum can top anklets as tambourines and were stomping and jumping around the small space. The dance was a spectacle, with the children clapping and the drum carrying the beat. Then, after the dance (to please the ancestors) was finished, the Sangoma fell to her knees and started breathing very heavily and making strange noises. Apparently, that was how they communicated with the spirits. Our guide was our translator since the Sangoma only spoke Zulu. He asked us how many in the group were couples because she prefers to tell the future to couples together, and everyone else separately. We said there was only one couple, and that was basically the extent of the personal information we gave. What she told them was unremarkable. She basically said they will be happy and currently have a good marriage, which is true, but nothing special. She added they should thank their ancestors for looking out for them. Then it started to get weird.
Kevin was next. She got very animated and said many Zulu words I didn’t understand with Sangoma thrown in a few times. The translator delivered the message that Kevin should be a Sangoma because he can communicate with spirits. She asked him if he is spiritual and said that he often sees things before they happen. She said he has the gift and it will always be a part of him. He looked shaken, and we later asked him why. He revealed that he almost became a pastor, made a lot of money trading options, and 20 minute before his dad died, he fell to his knees and said he felt his dad’s spirit go through him. Hearing that gave me chills.
Jo was told that she would find a great romance soon, and that everything bad that has happened before was meant to happen so this romance could begin. She was divorced.
Heinz was told that he needed to have a reunion with his children soon. His children are in England and Australia, although she did not know that or that he even had children. A few days later he collapsed and went to the hospital. He flew back to England to be with his children (and he thankfully is going to have a full recovery).
She continued with me. She said I really like playing sports and play many, which is fairly obvious, and accurate. Then she said I will meet many women but have to be patient and look for one that will build me a home. I don’t know if she meant that literally, but with my recent interest in real estate, she might be right.
My dad was last. The first thing she said is you see everything as black and white, there is no grey area. That is something I tell him all the time, and is completely accurate. Then she said you help many people when they are in need, which as a financial advisor, he did frequently. Also, on the last two passages we helped two other boats by giving one fuel when they were dismasted, and the other one of our spare sails when theirs ripped. She suggested he should continue helping people because people need it.
We were blown away by her wisdom. They were specific enough not to be interchangeable, and our guide as well as the Sangoma knew nothing about us. We thanked her, and left buzzing with spiritual energy. We had to ask our driver what he thought of the Sangoma, since he was a skeptic as well. He smiled and said she was real.