Gisela’s Shanghai Steak and party lines

Making kudu fillet always reminds me of my Karoo neighbour, Gisela Kingwill. If the grapevine had a name, it would be Gisela.

A small village like Nieu-Bethesda lives on gossip. It keeps us connected and in tune with each other.

Most people think that it’s the biggest flaw of small towns, but it’s not. It isn’t malicious or scathing. It’s about staying in touch.

Living in the city, how many of your neighbours do you actually know? In Nieu-Bethesda we know all of them, even the inkommers that you’ve never met. We joke about them and the money they spent on fixing their roof. But everyone knows your comings and goings.

But when it comes to gossip no one was better than my neighbour Gisela. She knew everyone and everything that was happening in the furthest reaches of our community.

Kids today will never understand what a party line is. We had one telephone landline for three to six farms connected to each other. That was the only line available to you and your neighbours as well as your internet connection. Dial-up of course.

You would randomly pick up the phone (oh shoot, the light was on!) and stumble into a conversation between your neighbour and his mom. (Sorry, Howard!)

Our light was mostly on. Always and constantly, because we shared a line with Gisela.

To give you some context, we used to have a little farm school for grade one to four on our farm. She was the teacher to all the grades – about 20 kids – and the principal.

It was great, because she also had the power to sign your documents as she was the principal!

But, as such, she was on our farm every day, five days a week. She would drive from Ripplemead, their farm, 20 odd kilometres away, pick up all the kids on the way and teach them in the little school house on Doornberg. There are no school buses. This is rural Eastern Cape. The roads aren’t’ even paved.

But I digress.

Gisela would see my parents most days and chat endlessly and then go home in the avie and call them again, you know, just to have another hour-long chat.

And then she would call her other neighbours and family and friends and have another chat.

As a teenager in the nineties, with no cell phones and a dial-up connection, this was our only way of communicating. Unless you climbed a mountain with your brick cell phone to send a text. You know, proper texting. Pressing the 7 four times for an S. Before WhatsApp and Wi-Fi.  

But if you wanted to know anything about anyone, you called Gisela. You should also know that the conversation will take about an hour, but there was no better person to ask.

I say this in jest and love. You know, like we do in small towns. My love for Gisela ran deep. Her family and mine are intertwined as only neighbours in the Karoo can be. My sister and her son are as close as any brother and sister can be.

This story refers to her in the past because unfortunately, Gisela contracted jaundice, maybe from one of the kids in the tiny school, and she got very very sick. Her liver and kidneys had started to fail and she died a few days later.

My memories of Gisela will always be fond even though teenager-me hated that party-line. She was salt of the earth. She was memorable. She was a loving mom and a great neighbour.

She is in my thoughts today because I have a kudu fillet that I am currently marinating. Shanghai steak. Her recipe. It is delicious. And I can’t make it without thinking about her.

The school closed after Gisela passed away. There were no teachers left in the small village that could take over. But you can now book a stay there and sleep in the rambling memories of children running, the smell of chalk and Gisela telling stories.

To book your stay at Doornberg School House, visit

Oh, and if you want to make your own Shanghai steak, here is the recipe:

Shanghai Steak Stirfry

1 kg steak (beef or kudu), sliced thinly – ½ cm
25 ml soya sauce
25 ml Worcestershire sauce
25 ml oil
25 ml corn flour
Beat all the ingredients together to mix well. Marinade steak strips for 24 hours. Stir-fry in an oil/margarine mixture.

(This and other great recipes are available in the Karoo Family Favourites cookbook. Buy yours at Union Preparatory School: 049 892 3848)

2 Replies to “Gisela’s Shanghai Steak and party lines”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *