On a recent holiday in our beloved second home of Mpumalanga province, we decided to take a day-trip into the Kruger National Park. The idea was a gentle game drive up to the Skukuza day visitors’ area where we would light a fire at the communal braai area and make Jaffles.
Now, if you are anything like me before meeting Cathy, you will not know what a Jaffle is. Suffice to say for now that if food could ever be categorised as being race specific, Jaffles would have to be called pure “white food”. I mean just the name is white right? What self-respecting black person would ever refer to anything as a “Jaffle”? (This reminds me of the many work trips I took with my friend and colleague Akhona Ngcobo. Note: never refer to biltong as “billies” if you are with a black person!)
But a Jaffle is basically a toasted sandwich done on an open flame. The difference to a regular toastie (ahem…. sorry black friends!) is that they are round, not square. You put whatever you want between two slices of bread, squash it all into a round metal mould that is secured on the end of a longish, heat resistant handle, cut off the corners that are now protruding and oozing out of the sides of the mould, shove it all into the coals for about 5 minutes a side and Bob’s your aunty.
Now, imagine the scene…. two white parents plus their one black daughter set up for their lunch in the communal braai area at Skukuza. They lay down their little pile of 6 or 7 briquettes (you don’t need a big fire when Jaffle making) which they ignite with the same number of fire lighters. They then make their cheese and onion filling (which all comes out of separate little colour-coded Tupperwares), spray the hell out of the Jaffle maker with “Spray ‘n Cook”, cut off all the corners and proceed to braai their very small, round toasted sandwiches.
In the cultural nightmare I had the night before our day trip, there was much incredulity amongst the black families who were there braaiing their lunch with us (as an aside, have you ever seen white people using communal braai facilities? I haven’t. We don’t seem to braai together in public.) As they set fire to whole bags of charcoal and braaied proper amounts of nyama the questions were written all over their faces: “Why go to all the trouble of lighting a fire to make such a small sandwich?”; “Why such a very small fire – even if the sandwich is small?”; “Why no meat?”; “Why cut the corners off the sandwich – isn’t it small enough as it is?” “Why not just get a toasted sandwich from the tea room?” “You look hungry, would you like some of our meat?”
But as always, the experience of being together with people different to us was profoundly enriching. We all braaied our separate ways; we smiled and laughed, spoke about what animals we had seen and blew our coals to get the flames going. So much was the same, but much was different. And those differences are what made the experience colourful and rich and fun.
At one stage our braai neighbour commented that he had seen Jaffle makers in shops and now he knew what they were used for.
I resisted the urge to ask for a piece of his chop.