Clouds are gathering overhead: there will be a summer downpour tonight for sure. I am scrambling up a muddy slope, guided rock-to-wobbly-rock across slippery soil by the very patient Joanna Reynolds, already well-practiced traversing this route. Our hillside path might resemble a little river later when the rains come and I make yet another mental note to buy gumboots for any future such adventures.
It is a muggy Wednesday evening in early April. Jo and her husband Adam are taking me to see their new place on Mama Nophumzile's beautiful homestead, just up the hill from our office in Zithulele village. The couple moved from Cape Town to join Axium at the beginning of the year, but have only recently taken occupation of the newly developed homestay that will be their haven for the foreseeable future. Their relief at finally getting settled is palpable as I join them on the overland walk home, one which Adam jokes sometimes requires "4x4 Footwear".
As we climb, the couple fill me in on the long road that brought them to this footpath - a journey of aligning their circumstances with the dream of working with Axium here in the Eastern Cape. The completion of the angular rondawel appearing up ahead has been a significant part of what finally made the move possible. These sturdy walls, with a green tin roof and matching twin Jojo tanks, all built in less than 6 months, gave them a space to move to.
And it is a pretty exceptional space: a large plot bordered by healthy crops and roaming with several plump chickens, set atop a hillside overlooking undulating hills. The building has two nicely-sized rooms and a loft, with a spacious living area clearly lit through double glass doors. This zone is divided between a small in-built kitchen space and a sitting area currently featuring three green armchairs.
Axium has a longstanding relationship with the family who made their land available for this development and who will continue to benefit from rental income accrued through it. PGCE students used to stay in an older room here when they came to do their practicals with the NPC. Exploring homestay developments, where agreements are carefully formulated together with the community, offers the potential to grow our work further in future by providing quality, sustainable accommodation that also brings revenue into the village.
Together with neighboring homestays, this has been built through generous contributions from our supporters. R236 000 for the project was raised through a funding trip to the United States in November 2017, while over R100 000 more came in from local sources.
Sustainability is the idea all round and evidence of nesting is already visible in the Reynolds home. Jo points out her collection of beans and spices lined up in glass jars on shelves that Adam has built in the kitchen area, and next to the door I notice a small family of herbs beginning to grow in their motley containers, ready to be transplanted for a veggie patch soon.
Finishing touches are still underway: though the Jojo tanks and gutters are installed and collecting rainwater for the dry Wild Coast winter, piping is still being laid and an elevated tank must be raised to fully connect this water supply to the house sink and small shower house outside. Their solar panel, though already proudly powering a couple of bright bulbs, must still be secured on the roof.
But, on the distinct plus-side, the Reynolds along with their soon-to-be-neighbours, Axium colleagues Clare Acheson and David de Gruchy, certainly have one of the most fairytale compost toilets in the village, resembling a scale version of Rapunzel's fabled tower with its high windows and ceilings. In addition to this is a view that vies for top spot on Zithulele's most beautiful (though, to be fair, many are in the running).
It was with evening settling over this stunning vista that I left them to the tasks of sorting out water and charging devices, all essential while getting used to living off grid. Wandering towards my own home, I reflected on how this afternoon stroll had become an impromptu Top Billing feature and wished I had a better camera to go with better boots.
Thanks for sharing your new home Adam and Jo!