Being "The One"
Umtata, South Africa
Umtata is a small city in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is not a tourist attraction or a place of retreat--unless you like normal and want to retreat to normal. The mixture of rich and poor are average for the nation, and the culture of the city is predominantly Xhosa as it stands with extremely heavy European influences as they established Umtata in1869.
Picture it, 1998....
On the sloping Sakwe Street rests a row of houses in one of which is where the missionaries lived. It was an unpainted house and fits perfectly in the well off houses of the neighborhood save the lack of color.
Picture it, 1998; I had just stepped into the new boarding. Barely getting to set my belongings down when a local member of the Umtata Branch paid a visit. I was excited, to say the least!
Andile, the member, would be my first contact with a member in my first area--by member, I mean of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; by branch, I mean a local congregation of the church; and by area, I mean a geographical area assigned to missionaries by the Mission President of the South Africa Cape Town Mission
I did not know how he looked or what was his age, but I was informed that he was a bit eccentric.
Andile's unique brand of introduction began with fellow missionary Elder Zithulele Danisa from Durban. Elder Danisa himself was a unique story, but suffice it to say, he came from a hard life and had only so left it to join the church and served a mission within a year of so doing!
Suddenly, in stumbled a beggar requesting funds for food! We had been in town long enough to know that such things could happen, but it took me half kilter regardless. Andile, with the participation of our missionary companions Elders Thompson and Streadbeck, portrayed a drunken idiot seeking food and money as many beggars do around that area.
"Two Rand for Chips Boss," Andile repeated as he staggered around the living room of the boarding. I ignored him.
I figured he was a member. I already knew about the "greenie" jokes. Greenie jokes were what the old fashion missionaries played on new missionaries to welcome them into the mission field or proselyting area. I am told they don't do that anymore, yeah right.
Andile was quite believable in his portrayal of an inebriated Xhosa man. Insomuch that when he went to "take" Elder Streadbeck's personal items Elder Danisa became charged!
"No, no no! You cannot take that," Shouted Elder Danisa.
"Put it back. You don't want fish and chips."
I wanted to proclaim to Elder Danisa that the person was just a member, and it was probably a joke, but I honestly was not sure. I suppose when I did not react to the performance Andile kept it up for Elder Danisa's benefit.
Elder Thompson was red with suppressed laughter. I shook my head as Andile continued to act--Academy Award style.
The staggering and begging would have convinced anyone unfamiliar with missionary pranks like Elder Danisa. I knew it was bogus; however, Elder Danisa was feed-up! He did have a quick temper.
Just as he was about to kick the stuffing out of Andile, Elder Streadbeck alerted Elder Danisa to the jest. I thought it was over. After laughs and conversation, Andile addressed me very seriously.
"Elder Johnson," he began, "I have something to tell you." By this time my guard was down and I suspected no jesting.
"In our tribe, we have a prophecy about the Black that would cross the waters and become the anointed one of our people."
"What," I said confused. Andile's visage appeared deathly serious, enough to scare the tar out of anyone--and by anyone I mean particularly me!
"Elder Johnson, you have fulfilled my people’s prophecy. I must tell my father and with him, we will come tonight and take you to your new home."
An eerie feeling came over me, and I became a bit disturbed. I said lightly, "You are crazy." I looked at Elder Thompson and continued. “Is this guy for real.?
"Hey, this is news to me," said Elder Thompson excusing himself to laugh about the situation I thought.
Andile continued to become more detailed about my uniqueness and my particular status. He flattered me and frightened me with his worshipful devotion to my supposed status without flinching once! His accent was that of an English poet and words flowed off of his tongue like water from fresh spring. By the time he finished he had everyone in the boarding at attention!
After about 20 minutes of this, I successfully made Andile believe I did not believe him. The truth was I did. I put on the performance of my life trying not to appear affected by Andile's words. Never once did he indicate that what he said was false or that he had invented the tale.
When he left (Take in mind, Andile at the time was a 17-year-old kid and I a 22-year-old Elder) I expressed my mind to Elder Thompson. He honestly did not know that Andile had planned this. He knew enough about Andile that he could not conger up a tale like that on a whim--in his opinion at least!
Can you imagine the night I had? Every sound killed me slowly. It was my first night in the area. All of my misconceptions about Africa were still vividly floating in my consciousness! Though logic told me otherwise, my prejudice and misunderstanding caused my heart and mind to imagine scenarios that would occur if I closed my eyes in this new place!
My fear showed my arrogance and ignorance. If I had known that South Africa was just as normal as South Georgia, I would never have lost any sleep over Andile's story.
Me, Elder Johnson
I just knew someone would remove me that night.
Since I was ignorant about Xhosa people, I was thoroughly convinced crazy people would get me any night.
I embarrassingly expressed my fears to Elder Thompson finally, who did nothing to ease my mind! He only said he did not know!
When I saw Andile at church my first Sunday, I asked him about my so call "Anointed One" status. He did not remember!
So I rehearsed laughingly the whole thing hoping he would say yea or nay to its truthfulness. I had to know because I lost sleep over this issue. I never knew if someone would steal me away and force me to be some tribal leader and do all types of tribal leader stuff that I knew would be awful!
He looked at me with the most pathetic and empathetic eyes and said, "You really believed that. I was just messing with you elder."
From that point on, I became The One.
The one Andile played all his intellectual mind games with because I was so gullible. Each time my acting became worse, and he convinced me more of some strange new thing!
Who knew a 17-year-old could be so talented at acting? He taught me what a prison my ignorance about Africa created for me emotionally and cured me of my prejudice!
© 2012 Rodric Anthony