I've posted this story before.
When I lived in South Africa, I travelled a lot with a Christian missionary/humanitarian aid worker. He handled the spiritual stuff, I tended to work more with the local (mostly Xhosa) people, helping them with non-spiritual issues.
In July 2010, we went to a village in the middle of nowhere. As soon as we stepped out the truck, we knew something was wrong. We hadn't been able to contact our guy in the village all day, and there was no one around at all. Piet and I went from house to house, looking for, well, anyone, but everywhere was completely empty.
Eventually, we saw a figure run around the corner of a building on the far side of the village. It was a young woman, stark naked, running straight for us. Her arms were flailing, and she was running with like an animal, occasionally dropping to all fours, then back on her feet.
As she got closer, Piet told me to get back in the truck, then he screamed at me to get in the truck. I'd seen this guy watch a Xhosa witchdoctor burn a dozen chickens alive and not bat an eyelid, so when he lost his shit, I knew it was serious.
I closed the truck door as she reached us. She was covered in blood; there were cuts and slices all over her face, arms, and breasts; one of her ears was missing - I think, there was a lot of blood - her teeth were bloody, and she had a look in her eye of absolute, untamed rage.
The screeching sound she made is unlike anything I've heard before or since. I can still hear it so vividly in my mind. Looking into her face, seeing her wide psychotic eyes and gaping mouth as she made that unholy sound froze me in my seat.
Piet had started the truck, and already started reversing up the dirt track, but she followed. He turned the car (all the while she was scratching at the windows and metalwork) then sped off up the track. She followed us. She didn't keep up, obviously, but for a while I thought she was going to. I've never seen someone run that fast in bare feet.
The journey back to our base town was almost silent. I spent most of it concentrating on the sound of my own breathing, and the rumble of the road.
I asked Piet what that was, and what we should do. He said the girl was no doubt insane, had a psychotic break or something, but the locals would have immediately thought her possessed. If she didn't kill herself, the other villagers would within days. He suggested they had gathered in one house for safety.
I saw a lot of fucked up shit in that country.
TL;DR: the Reavers from Firefly are real, and they live in rural South Africa.
[This is the edit I made to clarify some things.]
For those of you who asked, here is some more information.
This happened in the Eastern Cape, which I would argue is the darkest, wildest, and most bizarre part of the country. Strange things happen there a lot, and often just get buried or picked up by one of the crazy tabloids like the Mercury, and subsequently ignored or written off. There are vast swathes of grassland punctuated by the odd settlement, without any adequate law enforcement. A lot of people live in these isolated settlements, and will only leave to work, or to get food. Many spend their whole lives in the village of their ancestors, as do their children, and so on.
Yes, we called the police, or rather Piet did; the officer said 'we will look into it.' We never heard about it again. South Africa has some very developed, civilised, Westernised areas (the major towns and cities, for example,) but there are enormous parts of this country which have remained almost untouched for decades. The further you go from Joburg, or Cape Town, or even East London (our nearest city,) the more 'rural' and strange things can become. I'm not saying that all of rural South Africa is like this. A lot of the villages we went to were nice, simple settlements where the people welcomed us, gave us food, gawped at us for being White and so on. Some were more sinister.
We eventually got in touch with our guy, a day later. Piet asked him if everything was alright, he said 'we had a bad presence in the village. It is now gone.' I don't know for sure what happened, but I can guess, based on what Piet said.
Piet's been back once since (without me,) and they seemed fine. He told me he didn't ask about the girl, as he didn't know what had happened, and he didn't want them to react. I don't think he wanted to know.
- This incident was by far the weirdest thing that happened to me there; the other 'fucked up shit' I mentioned didn't come close, but was just the kind of thing you wouldn't see in the West.
I mentioned the Xhosa sangoma burning chickens alive, I'd seen people breeding housefuls of dogs - literally cramming shacks full of these 'pavement specials', - I've seen young girls carry guns to school to defend themselves against rapists (there's a popular myth in SA that having sex with a virgin will make you immune to AIDS,) I've seen the Xhosa coming-of-age ritual (survival in the Bush, then circumcision,) I travelled to a village which 'preserved' some of its elders by perching their bodies in a tree just outside the town, and so on. Lots of bizarre things with witchdoctors, lots of bone-chilling stories from other aid workers in the area. Nothing matches the reaver girl, but still unusual and a bit unnerving for me.
Some of my more boring stories include twice being caught in a riptide and sucked out to sea, having to identify the body of someone I'd never met, cramming five big African mamas in my tiny bakkie for a 40km trip, seeing my Xhosa friend's 85-year-old mother-in-law physically hurl an adult goat into a carrel, and seeing my friend shoot a large fish at close range with a 30-06 rifle.
- A couple of people have told me I'm a 'horrible human being' - or words to that effect - for not helping this woman. I have a couple of reasons why I didn't do anything. The AIDS rate in SA is very high; if I touched this woman's blood, which was all over her, I could well have contracted the disease. Touching blood in Africa is a really bad idea.
Secondly, she was quite clearly psychotic - possibly rabid, someone commented. She was trying to kill us. I don't think my description did justice to the sheer ferocity of her movements. She was clawing at the windows, flailing against the door, scrabbling at the metal... She was genuinely trying to kill us with her bare hands. I was scared out of my mind. I grew up in a quiet little town in England; I'd never seen anything like this in real life. When I met Piet, I agreed to do whatever he told me when we were in the villages, for the good of my own safety.
We did what we could. We got out of there, we called the police. We are not bad people, just unwilling to be eaten alive, or contract AIDS or whatever.
I love South Africa, the Eastern Cape in particular. It is the place I love the most in the world. It's beautiful, it's fascinating, the people are generally lovely, and the food is brilliant. The mix of cultures, languages, peoples, and lifestyles is one of the most diverse in the world, and I count my time there among the greatest things I've ever done in my life.
It can be scary, but then so can anywhere.