Sidney (the man, not the donkey) was a bit of a mystery in that, according to his first-hand-experience stories, he had to be of an age that ranged anywhere from 80 to 120 years old. With his short stature, wizened features naturally aged by the hot African sun and white hair that reportedly used to be a thick, curly black, it was impossible to come up with an accurate number and Sidney wasn’t telling.
His startling and unusual blue eyes that seemed so out of place in this little old man, might lead you to believe an exuberant and vital young 20 year old inhabited the vessel. But it was listening to his incredible history that told the real truth — 120 years of age might actually have been accurate — as hard to believe as it might seem.
Sidney was not worldly, having lived in and around the farming district of Hlatikulu his entire life, but he had an open view of things and relished having someone with whom to share spirited conversations.
He was typical of the majority of the Swaziland population who were and still are Swazi farmers, speaking a language called siSwati with the occasional second language of English thrown in — especially when the magic potion Amarula, concocted from the fermented fruit of the Marula tree, was being shared among friends. There is even an official Namibia song about this famous beverage.
When processed in home stills, Amarula is a potent liqueur that is cheap to buy and readily available at roadside stands. Local authorities tended to look the other way as this age-old tradition was part of the life in Hlatikulu and had been for even longer than the mysterious age of Sidney. Such is the way in Swaziland.
Despite Sidney’s social ways, he was a lonely man with his wife recently passed and his family busy with their own farming activities and other ventures. No time for an old man anymore, he used to think to himself as he wandered the dirt roads, seeking company.
Therefore it seemed like a good idea to Sidney to rescue a sad little donkey who was being abandoned by some illegal still-owners. They had been using him to haul stolen fruit for their backyard operation and declared the jack (titled so because the little donkey was a male) as having become totally useless.
Not knowing the jack’s history, Sidney took pity on the little guy and offered to take him off their hands. The big brown eyes and gentle nature of the animal had already won Sidney’s heart and the donkey, being of short stature as well, along with sporting a full beard of white whiskers on his elongated face, led Sidney to feel that “Jack” was quite possibly as old as he was himself. And so began a long and fruitful friendship (remember the reference to fruitful as we proceed with our story).
It didn’t take long for Sidney to discover why the illegal still-owners had declared Jack useless – apparently the little donkey had become a master at stealing his own cargo.
And he had developed a bit of a social problem. YouTube features one particular video showing various African animals, floundering about comically on the e
ffects of imbibing in the rotten fruit from the Marula tree and nursing tremendous hangovers the next day. But this display of sad yet humorous activity became evident to Sidney when he went searching for Jack one day, shortly after they had become partners for life.
The donkey was nowhere to be found one morning when Sidney woke up. He scanned the horizon calling Jack’s name and whistling loudly for his missing friend. This usually brought the donkey faithfully trotting up to Sidney — never too quickly of course as how fast can a 120 year old donkey trot anyway! But he could see nothing except what appeared to be a dust devil — a tiny, whirling tornado — in the middle of the dirt road 500 metres from where Sidney stood. This was worth investigating.
As Sidney drew closer to the dust devil, he was horrified to see occasional flashes of small, black hooves popping in and out of the whirling cloud. Loud, disgusting belches and grunts could be heard emanating from the center of the whirlwind. Good Lord, it was Jack — drunk as a skunk and spinning madly in the dirt in circles as he tried to get his footing to haul himself up onto all fours!
It took Sidney three days to dry out his drunken donkey and longer still to pay off the angry still-owners who had their cache raided by Jack in the middle of the night. From that day forward, Sidney made sure that Jack was never far from sight.
But it can be quite a job detoxing your donkey – as Sidney discovered. He needed to supply Jack with small amounts daily to keep him from trying to slip away and often showed the donkey how it could be done by sharing the rations and sampling the “African White Lightening” himself. “When you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, he would say, but it was really just to keep Jack company, you know.
The stories still linger over supper tables in Hlatikulu, of the lively old man Sidney and his sidekick Jack. But then you are never sure quite what to believe when you are in this charming little town …120 year old men and drunken donkeys? Rumour has it that they were often found wandering the roads, Sidney singing old African songs in an intelligible mix of siSwati and English, the donkey Jack braying at his side.
The stories also say they both survived many more years and left the living world together on the same day – best friends forever, Sidney lonely no more and Jack a cherished companion. Apparently the fermented fruit from the Marula tree must have its own preservation qualities. No harm in that now, is there?
“Marula Tree” courtesy of Marula Natural Products
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