While smiles usually come standard when one fills up with fuel, Fana Sithole’s smile is a wide grin and the conversation is interesting too.
Fana has been manning the pumps at The Everything Store for 10 years.
While Fana was still at school, his parents died and he had to take on the responsibility of younger siblings. In his community, many people grew vegetables in their gardens and while it was unusual for a teenage boy, he saw how they were able to pick fresh food every day and thought he could do this too. “I didn’t care if they thought I was strange, I had food. I was lucky that my neighbours shared seeds of mealies and pumpkins with me to start.”
As gardeners know, once you taste just picked spinach, or potatoes fresh from the ground, you are spoilt for life. So, it should come as no surprise that Fana was determined to grow food in Tweedie. He loves to get his hands dirty – especially enjoying the smell of the soil after the rain.
“I like bright things,” he says, “so I painted these pots and planted seeds,” after convincing his employers, “flowers are good, but veggies are better. Now we all share the food.” These days the forecourt of the store is a rainbow of colourful concrete containers filled with chillies and chard, with beans climbing the trellises and abundant herbs.
“I believe that you can’t keep on buying everything, just buy seeds and save money to use for something else you need.” Fana’s favourite vegetable is spinach which he enjoys simply with salt and a little chilli. At home, his sister makes the best samp and beans and this year he is growing lots of Gudra beans in the garden between the R103 and petrol pumps so no doubt her dish will be even better with the inclusion of this season’s harvest. His children prefer eggs to veggies, so he hides spring onions and greens in the scrambled eggs by chopping them very finely. “They like it now,” he grins. “They are always losing their pens at school, so I have to save money for stationery and uniforms. They understand this.” At home in Estcourt he grows the plants that need a lot of space – like pumpkins and potatoes. “I want to grow mushrooms, because I love mushrooms, and other crops like cucumbers too.”
While Fana’s dreams of tertiary education were dashed by circumstance, he has created a resilient life for his family where he finds himself – with little more than his cheerfulness, warm smile and hands in the soil.