The toy toys

Today during a meeting I received several urgent "Please call" messages on my phone from the same two teenage girls in Masi. One SMS said "Do you like toy toys?" And I started to worry. Then I received a phone call and I stepped out of my lunch meeting to take it.

Me: "Hello! Are you OK?"

Girl: "I am fine, thank you, and how are you?"

Me: "Is something wrong? What's going on?"

Girl: "Toy toys. Ifoodis. Do you know what toy toys are?"

Me: "No, not really. What is it?"

Girl: "It's like an animal. Can you come now?"

Me: "Are you OK? Is your family OK?"

Girl: "Yes. We are fine."

Owing to my limited knowledge of Xhosa, after much questioning I still wasn't sure what this girl was talking about. But I was worried. Because here in South Africa, a "toi toi" is a protester, someone going on strike, a demonstrator. I thought perhaps young people in Masi were demonstrating, and it could turn violent. So after my meeting I went straight to this girl's place in Masi. She took me to the see the toy toys.

And there it was: a tortoise. (Of course, with the Xhosa accent, it did sound an awful lot like "toy toys.")

Turns out, these girls had found and caught a 6-inch tortoise near their home in the Wetlands. In a really endearing move, they thought I would like the turtle as a gift. I didn't realize this was happening, however, and after I shared some admiring phrases ("Cool! How nice!"), they put it in a plastic bag and handed it to me. I recoiled in fright, and all the family spectators died laughing at me. If I'd known what was coming, I would have braced myself and accepted the gift politely. These girls come from very poor families, and I enjoy buying them small treats sometimes. They have never been able to give me things in return, so I was touched by their thoughtfulness in wanting to give me this tortoise.

Unfortunately, I didn't really get that at first. Once I realized what was happening, I thanked them profusely for the offer, but couldn't really rescind my initial negative attitude toward the gift. I stayed and hung out with them for a while. In the meantime, one of the mamas went and got someone else to give the tortoise to: A local sangoma, or traditional healer/witch doctor. She didn't speak very good English, but I tried to figure out what she was going to do with the tortoise.

All I got was, "[I will] give it water and cabbage."

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