Photo Challenge: Angular

An angle can imply many things. Viewing objects and people from different points of view may be as much fun as considering the various meanings of what an angle might mean.

Of course, most people prefer believing what they see. This is a no-angle approach and we all do it every day. What you see, is what you get…

IMG_3324But – very often – what we see isn’t reality. People pretend, others lie and relationships may be complicated. What you see, needs to be analyzed carefully to find out what is real.

IMG_2853You may also think of angles as geometrical, cast-in-stone objects. Although this lacks imagination, it does provide an easier passage through life.

IMG_2453But Life rarely follow easy, repeated and predictable patterns. Once we look at  - and really see – how Mother Nature treats such angles, we realise that Life isn’t a mathematical formula. It’s so much more complicated than that.

IMG_2588That’s why, in South Africa – and elsewhere, I suppose – we dream of an uncomplicated Life, where harmony directs us all towards a better future. Where what you see, is what you get…without any political angles.

IMG_3610

Adam’s Calendar…again?

Adams-Calendar-book-cover-268x300“Those guys are crazy.” Tipping the glass upside down, Vetfaan signals for another beer. “To imply that South Africa has it’s own Stonehenge is romantic and all that, but surely it’s outrageous to suggest that some aliens visited us to start our gold-mining tradition?”

He’s been browsing through Adam’s Calendar: Discovering the oldest man-made structure on Earth – 75,000 ago  by Johan Heine and Michael Tellinger, a book Gertruida donated to the church bazaar. It tells the story of  a series of ruins in Mpumalanga in which the authors describe their ideas of an ancient civilisation in that area.

Ale's Stones

Ale’s Stones

“Oh, people just love such ideas.” As usual, Gertruida has to show off her vast knowledge. “Look, there are megaliths all over the world. Most of these structures are badly eroded, for sure, but they retain a certain aura of mystery.

“How do you explain Stonehenge, or Easter Island’s Moai, or Ale’s Stones in Sweden? It is only natural that some will want to explain these as relics from a distant past as signs of a lost civilisation. There is a catch, however: why are these structures spread out all over the world? South America, England, Malta – you name virtually any country – even Russia – and you’ll find something there that science struggles to explain. So, because we don’t believe Neanderthals were capable of more intelligent thoughts than our parliamentarians, we grab at the next best thing: aliens.”

“Well, Genesis does say something about heavenly creatures who visited the daughters of man.” Servaas has never been able to explain Genesis 6, especially the ‘giants of men’ that were born afterwards. “Maybe it were those big fellows who stacked up stones everywhere.”

“And then the Flood came and wiped them out? After travelling a zillion miles across the universe, they drowned?” Shaking his head, Boggel serves another round. “I agree with Vetfaan about some explanations needing to be explained. Circles within circles, that type of thing. However much we delve into the legends of old, we still won’t understand what a pyramid means, or how it was built. Theories? Yes, there are many of them. But can we duplicate those phenomena by building similar structures with no computers and not even a sliding rule?”

Tellinger-Giant-Footprint

Credit: extraterrestrialcontact.com/

“Still, they say the Adam’s Calendar was used to predict solstices and equinoxes and plan for seasons. The other strange thing is that this so-called calendar is on the same longitudinal axis as the Giant Pyramids and Zimbabwe’s Ruins. And…” Vetfaan taps a calloused finger on the counter top, “they found a footprint.”

“Ag, Vetfaan! The fact that you only found out about these things now, doesn’t mean it’s new news. Mr Tellinger has been going on for ages about the strange finds, the gold mines, and extraordinary devices these ‘aliens’ were supposed to have used. According to him, they used river water and electrons to generate the energy to mine gold. There’s even a geneticist who supported the idea that this is where the ancient humans were genetically adapted to become superior beings.

sagancontact“But, as intriguing as these theories might be, they remain mere stories, suggestions, attempts to explain the inexplicable. The question is: why? Why bother with such things if you know very well you can’t really prove what you’re saying? Or do these ideas contain a certain fascination, some form of entertainment, that makes us forget the real issues of the day – like when you’re watching Carl Sagan’s Contact? ”  Gertruida sits back in her chair, apparently exhausted by her long speech.

“Okay, I get it.” You can count on Kleinpiet to muddle up a scientific discussion. He counts the points off on the outstretched fingers of his left hand. “First, you say primitive man erected massive buildings?” He gets a nod. “Then you maintain that these structures endured through the ages?” Another nod. “And that today, we cannot make head or tail of these things because we simply cannot explain why they were erected?” Yet another nod. “Nor do we have the faintest clue as to their function or use?” Nod, again. “And some allege that strange beings inhabited these places – possibly with the aim of digging for gold?”

A strange little smile – or is it a grimace – curls Kleinpiet’s lips upward when the group at the bar utters a prolonged and exasperated “Y-e-e-es? So what?”

P9200513

Adam’s Calendar

“Them, my friends, Adam’s Calendar isn’t unique or strange. We’ve just witnessed a similar structure being erected in modern times. It’s got all the characteristics: primitive man, no known function, inexplicable… It does have a protective wall around it and contains buildings that apparently are dwellings for a lot of people. It symbolises the solstice of the sun in the life of a single man, and now awaits the winter to come. I’ll bet it even stands on the same axis as the pyramids, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins and Adam’s Calendar – just draw that line farther south. And I predict that in a few years, that place will be as neglected as any site where you find archeologists poking around.”

Credit: timeslive.co.za

Nkandla. Credit: timeslive.co.za

They all get it immediately, of course.

“The only difference, Kleinpiet, is that with Adam’s Calendar we’re trying to explain the past.” Getruida pats Kleinpiet on the shoulder. She’s quite impressed with his analogy. “But with Nkandla, we already know what the future holds….”

The Last of the True Afrikaners

IMG_2534Driving from Grootdrink, a veritable bustling metropolis in comparison with Rolbos, you cross the Orange River before passing the little collection of huts where the Geel family stays. Not everybody knows that the Geels and the Kruipers are closely related, and therefore of royal blood – in the Africa sense of the word. Regop Geel, the oldest man in the family, is well known in these parts for his uncanny ability to recite, word for word, the proud history of the San people – exactly as his grandfather had told him.

About ten kilometres farther along the twisting and sandy track, one passes the locked-up homestead of Lothar de Wit, the once-wealthy farmer who – according to Gertruida – couldn’t  live with the past. Perhaps it is true to say that Lothar made his own bed, only to find it extremely uncomfortable; but that would be unkind and even rude in the modern society we live in.

Few people – according to Gertruida, at least – knew the stoic Lothar. Oh, he was a popular figure in the 80′s, being the politician he used to be. But, despite being a well recognised person, he really had no true friends. He was too superior, too supercilious and far too pretentious to bend down to the level of the common folk of the district. Lothar’s sheep were always the fattest, his car the newest and his suits cut according to the latest fashion. He also had a wonderful way with words, which was why he represented the district in  parliament as a respected and convincing orator.

But…like so often happens, he was the architect of his own little disaster, poor man. And that’s a story everybody knows…

***

“Trees,” Gertruida says, “shouldn’t grow high if they can’t stand the wind.”

“A tall tree without proper roots will topple over,” Servaas nods his agreement, “just like old Ben Bitterbrak when he has had too much. I’ve told him to get heavier boots, but he just won’t listen.”

“You can weigh that man’s feet down as much as you like, Servaas, but it won’t help. He collapses from the head downwards – his feet are on the ground already.”

“Ja, just like old Lotta.”

This remark by Kleinpiet stops the conversation. Somehow the subject of Lothar de Wit is one they avoid, simply because his fall from grace had been such a painful one. Even after all these years, Lothar – who was called Lotta behind his back – remains an uncomfortable reminder of who they don’t want to be. Lotta? Last of the True Afrikaners, according to the tongue-in-the-cheek local gossip.

“Listen, we’re all Afrikaners, man! We make mistakes just like everybody else. We live, we love, we hurt, we hope…just like anybody else. We shouldn’t joke about Lothar de Wit.”

Tuynhuys, Cape Town

Tuynhuys, Cape Town

“Shame, you’re right, Precilla. That poor man had the world at his feet, but he believed one stupid thing. I mean, he was a member of the Broederbond, represented the National Party and had a Mercedes Benz. That was as far as you could go in those days. But there was more: he had dinner with PW Botha in Tuynhuys, was an elder in the church and  had season tickets for the Blue Bulls’ games at Loftus.

“Thoroughly respected, he was. Then he started with that True Afrikaner story. Pure blood, he said, was they key to leadership. He reckoned that once you were of mixed origins, you couldn’t claim to be an Afrikaner and therefore would be unfit to lead.. He shouldn’t have said that.”

“Ja, it’s much like the ANC has this obsession about being black. It’s exactly the same mistake. If you are Pure Black, you’re seen in a different way than when you are called Coloured, or Indian, or White. I mean, Hitler proved, in the most terrifying way, that you cannot talk like that. So did the Nationalists, for that matter.” Vetfaan stares at the heatwaves shimmering on the horizon. It’s difficult to see where heaven stopped and earth began. “I don’t understand this absolute emphasis on race. And…surely: can one still claim to be of ‘pure’ blood these days? Aren’t we all carrying genes of mixed origin?”

Kleinpiet shrugs. “I met a man in Rehoboth with the same names as I have. We compared notes and found he’s a distant cousin of sorts. That makes me a Coloured, I suppose. And let me tell you: if ever they start testing the nation’s DNA, we won’t be able to talk about Whites and Blacks any longer. I think we’re all related to one another in some way.”

“Of course. Read your Bible. First Adam, then Noah – that’s where we all come from. Or, if you insist on being scientific, read up on the Origins of Man. It’s obvious either way: somewhere in the distant past we all had common ancestors.” Oudoom looks down at his hands, smiling. “We all share many features, but the opposing thumb – and the soul – separate us as unique in the animal kingdom.”

“Not so, Oudoom. There are apes with opposing thumbs, too. That, according to you, only leaves one singular characteristic for humans: we have souls. That’s all that counts.” Gertruida sits back with a knowing smile. She likes arguing with Oudoom about evolution.

“That’s the point Lothar missed – like the current government, he tried to believe that race is a defining characteristic. That’s all a bit short-sighted. Culture defines you, not colour.”

***

If you should unlock the door to Lothar de Wit’s house on the deserted farm, you’ll find nothing much of interest. A thick layer of dust covers the yellow wood floors that once were polished to a brilliant shine. The tattered curtains are still there, but that’s about all. In the porch, the wall retains the unbleached square where the framed collection of pictures of the De Wit forebears once hung. For years important visitors had to pause at  yellowed photos of the line of ancestors stretching back to Andries Pretorius, the Voortrekker leader. Of this, Lothar was particularly proud and he made a point of making his guests aware of this noble ancestry.

That is, until Regop Geel came to see the politician to discuss  independence for the San people. As can be expected of the Nationalist politician, he listened with apparent interest, promised to look into the matter, and promptly put the matter out of his mind. However, still intent on impressing his visitor, he pointed out his heritage when they passed the photos.

“Andries Pretorius? He’s your great-great-great grandfather?”

Lothar nodded proudly.

“Yes, I have some of that family’s blood too.” Regop Geel stood on tiptoe to peer at the pictures. “Catharina van Bengale, a freed slave girl, way back in the 1600′s. According to my grandfather, one of her sons became a guide to some travellers, which is how the van Bengales got taken up by our family. But that woman, Catharina…she was the great grandmother of Andries Pretorius. That, I think, makes us family.”

Ai Mieta, who worked in the kitchen at the time, overheard the conversation. She, naturally, couldn’t wait to spread the story.

***

“Poor chap. He simply packed up and left. I heard he’s farming in the Karoo now – changed his name and everything – because of the shame of having mixed blood.”

“No, Servaas. It’s no shame to have mixed blood at all. It is, however, unacceptable to proclaim your superiority on the basis of the amount of pigment in your skin. Lothar’s political demise was the direct result of his misplaced belief that purity of race should imply certain privileges. The shame of it all lies in the fact that Lothar was a symptom of a far-reaching, serious disease. It’s endemic to our society – and many societies in Africa and elsewhere. And until we stop thinking that race can – in this day and age – still be pure, we’ll continue to view people of different hues of pigmentation as different to ourselves.”

***

Before you drive past the Geel village, you might want to stop and have a chat with the wizened old man sitting under the lone tree in the clearing that serves as a square for the villagers. Here you’ll be able to hear one of the last oral historians tell you about the Bushman, the San and the Khoikhoi cultures. Be prepared to be patient while he elaborates on the difficult and convoluted history of their struggles for survival. And, if you were to ask, he’ll take you to his humble hut, where a large, square frame filled with old photographs hangs. Then he’ll tell you about Catharina van Bengale and how her offspring influenced events over the centuries.

( Read also about Angela van Bengale, the other slave girl who helped establish wine making in the Cape)

When the Compass Fails.

depositphotos_10579006-World-map-with-compass-showing-Africa“I remember,” Vetfaan said as he nursed his beer, “how we struggled in Angola. We had to use a map and a compass – and had to trust both completely. No GPS in those day, none at all. You sat down with your little sliding rule, looked at where the river – or mountain – was, and plotted your course.”

“I remember that,” Kleinpiet smiled. “Got lost a few times, too. And at night it was even worse: you couldn’t use a torch to study the map. The stars helped, though.”

“There was one incident…”

***

Nighttime in Africa represents a fascinating interplay of uncertainty and adventure. This is true for the modern-day camper; but it’s even worse during times of war and conflict. Today one may sit comfortably next to the fire, clinking a few ice cubes in the scotch in the glass, while listening to a hyena calling a few hundred yards away. That’s the romantic picture, the allure of the bush, the reason why so many tourists flock to this beautiful country.

But when the smell of cordite stings the nose and the thud-thud-thud of a hovering gunship helicopter seems  to be the only sound in the gloom…well. then even the bravest of soldiers finds it hard to control body and spirit. When rifle inspection is done the next day, it isn’t unusual to find so many soldiers with full clips of ammunition – they simply crept to the nearest rock to spend the night in prayer.

It was during the build-up to Cuito Cuanavale that Vetfaan lived and prayed through just such a night. The patrol of four men had almost completed a sortie of a sector and were on their way to the base camp, when it became painfully obvious that they were lost. The map didn’t make sense. The compass reading was off. Overhead, a bank of clouds threatened to release the torrents of rain so characteristic of January in the subtropics. No stars. Not even the moon.

And then a single shot rang out. One loud bang in the silence, reverberating across the veld in a promise of death.

Jackalberry tree

Jackalberry tree

They huddled together next to the trunk of a huge jackalbery tree, whispering in almost-inaudible tones.

Who the $%#@ fired that shot? Where did it come from?

I don’t know. That way? The darkness prevented the others from seeing which way the trooper was pointing.

Doesn’t matter. Somebody out there is taking potshots at somebody. We have to get out of here.

Another shot rang out. Nearer this time.

Vetfaan took out the faulty compass to study the luminous needle behind a cupped hand.

Let’s just adjust the bearing by about thirty degrees, and follow the compass. We should get to a river sometime, then we can follow it to the base. It’s upstream, if I’m correct. Let’s go.

Nobody argued. That’s the way it worked. Somebody made a decision and the rest followed. If the decision turned out to be wrong, they’d all pay the price for it. But, unless you could come up with something better, there was no other option.

About half an hour later, Vetfaan almost stumbled over the man waiting in ambush next to a faint game trail. This man – a Cuban, they later discovered – was the first in a line of nine soldiers, waiting for them to enter a killing zone that would have wiped out the entire patrol. Vetfaan didn’t think. Reacting instinctively, his huge hands found the man’s neck, choking hard to prevent the hapless soldier raising the alarm. With the man writhing desperately to loosen the grip, Vetfaan turned around and walked his patrol out of the area.

***

“Did you kill him?” Precilla’s eyes are wide with fear, her lips a thin line of disgust. War has never made any sense to her.

Vetfaan manages a wry smile. “No, I didn’t. He was a small bugger, poor chap. I dragged him to a spot where we thought we’d be safe and then made him sit down. He could speak broken English, so I told him we’d let him live if he could tell us where we were. Man, you’ve never seen a guy so happy to tell something to his enemies. So we took his gear – he had dropped his rifle when I grabbed him – and made him take off his shoes. Told him to stay right there until the sun came up.

“The funny thing was: we were all equally afraid. The darkness in Africa didn’t discriminate. Everybody couldn’t see a thing. It was as big a curse as it was a blessing….”

The group at the counter sits in silence, each lost in own thoughts as they remember the dark days of the Border War.

“Ja,” Servaas says, “it was dark in many ways. Many young men got lost there.” Vetfaan knows the old man isn’t talking in geographical terms.

“And now it’s the same for America and those guys with the Islamic State.” Gertruida, who had been deeply involved in Intelligence during the 80′s, sighs sadly. “They’re following a faulty compass…again. Imagine beheading innocent people to intimidate the rest of the world? Instead of creating sympathy for their cause, they are making it easy for Obama and Cameron to retaliate.”

“Who’s Cameron?” Servaas isn’t big on international affairs. Gertruida ignores him.

“It’s the same thing, Vetfaan. The world has heard a few random shots. They tried to ignore it, or at best, to avoid confrontation. Then IS ambushed them with these atrocious, inexcusable, inhumane acts. Avoiding conflict is no longer an option. We’re heading for a full-out war, I’m afraid.”

“But the powers-that-be are going about it in a wrong way, too. I heard the overseas media tend to blame all Muslims for the situation.” Boggel pours another round before Gertruida continues. “And I don’t think that’s right. They’ll split the world down the middle by polarising Christianity and Islam. That’s like taking us back to the days of the Crusades, which I fear is happening all over again. Remember; in the first millennium Christianity was a religion of peace. It gained popularity because of this appeal. Then Pope Urban II called for a crusade against the Muslims, and that changed the history of Europe and England radically. Feudalism disappeared. Crusades were fought for heavenly rewards, but the noblemen returned home as impoverished individuals who bankrupted their estates. It established xenophobia as a ‘just’ cause, sanctioned by the Church. I can go on and on about the positives and the negatives to emerge from the Crusades, but the bottom line remains: millions were killed, countries were changed and society – and religion – didn’t escape unscathed.”

“So, once again, the moral compass is way off mark?”

“Yes, Vetfaan, it is. IS is moving in the wrong direction. The West is straying off a peaceful path by labelling all Muslims as radical – this is simply fuelling xenophobic fear. God knows how this will play out, but this time I can’t imagine a peaceful ending. You were lucky with that soldier you stumbled across; but I afraid  you won’t find a handy Cuban in the Middle East today, unfortunately.”

 

The Kalahari Hiking Trail

images (2)It’s always the same – and probably predictable, when you consider the logic behind it all. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Kleinpiet would be bored senseless, once he’s finished stoking his still (highly illegal) he keeps in the rondawel behind his house. This seasonal boredom occurs when the last peaches have ripened properly in the drum outside the door – the sugar added at the right time and the yeast doing just fine, thank you – from which they were transferred to the still, where the patient job of monitoring the process seemed to take ages.

And it is this boredom – and not the peach brandy – which resulted in the brilliant idea of doing something out of the ordinary, for a change. Surprisingly, Kleinpiet’s suggestion met with universal approval, resulting in the advertisement on page 3 of the Upington Post.

NEW!!! The world’s first trans-Kalahari hiking trail is now open to the public. Expertly planned and professionally managed, this four-day, three night walking trail will take you to some of the remotest regions of our country. \Watch glorious sunsets! See fantastic dawns! Experience Africa! Overnight in comfortable lodgings along the way, where you’ll be spoilt with excellent cuisine and Afrikaner hospitality. Book now, avoid disappointment.

Mieliepap

Mieliepap

Although Vetfaan expressed his doubt about ‘excellent cuisine’ – saying that homemade bread, grilled chops and traditional ‘pap’ was a meal, not a ‘cuisine’ – he nevertheless agreed to be one of the hosts along the hiking trail. Kleinpiet’s farm would be the stopover for the first night, with Ben Bitterbrak offering his services for the last evening.

Surprisingly, a group of people booked for the following weekend. This caused some consternation, for the patrons in Boggel’s place merely agreed to Kleinpiet’s scheme in the same spirit that our government makes decisions in parliament. It is, like we all know – quite relaxing to pass laws and then forget about them. The cellphone ban in vehicles, the licensing of firearms, the laws against corruption – we all know that these were passed as window dressing, and never intended as a honest effort to make the country more civilised. So, quite naturally, the group at the bar thought that nothing would come of the outrageous idea to let cityfolk wander around in the barren wastes of the Kalahari.

Still: necessity is the mother of desperation and desperation in turn, occasionally turns out to be the match that lights the fuse. And so, within the few days at their disposal, the Rolbossers drew up a detailed map (Gertruida, of course) and marked out the route by whitewashing prominent rocks along the way (the men, who else?). By Thursday the three farm houses that would serve as overnight stops were spotless, the pantries stocked and clean towels hung on the coathangers in the bathrooms. They were as ready as they’d ever be.

On Friday they all waited on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place, dressed in their Sunday best, waiting for the hikers to arrive. And, though they still couldn’t believe it, a ripple of excitement went through the group when they saw the minibus drive into town to deliver the group of hikers in front of the bar.

Even Gertruida was impressed. The five men seemed fit and ready. Deeply tanned and kitted out with the latest in hiking gear, they couldn’t wait to be off. Their leader – a huge man carrying a water bottle and a camera in one oversized fist – informed the Rolbossers that they didn’t need anything, thank you. “Just give us the map, we know what to do.”

So, while Kleinpiet loaded the sleeping bags and other baggage into his pickup, the hikers strode out of town, following the detailed map Gertruida had supplied.

***

DPP_0006_1

Fish River Canyon Credit: Findingafricablog

“So, who’s the man?” Kleinpiet sticks his thumbs into his armpits, strutting about like a proud rooster. “You guys thought my idea was a lame duck, didn’t you? Well, it just shows you, doesn’t it?  Once the word gets spread, the Kalahari Hiking Trail will become world famous, just like the Fish River Hike. And, let me tell you: we’re going to make oodles of money.”

Kleinpiet has to leave early, of course, to be the host for the evening on his farm. He tells the group at the bar that he’d be in town early, after waking the hikers for an early start. “Tomorrow it’s your turn, Vetfaan. I hope you’re ready…?”

Vetfaan waves him off and settles down with his beer. All this fuss about some chaps walking across a few farms? How bored must people be in cities! What is the world coming to?

True to his word, a jubilant Kleinpiet stops in front of the bar while Boggel is still having his early-morning coffee the next morning.

“Man! What a nice bunch of guys. They ate, they chatted, they had one glass of peach brandy each – and wham! Off to bed. Just like that! The easiest money we’ll ever make.”

“So, did you give them brebreakfast well, Kleinpiet?”

“Nah! They said they’ll sort themselves out. Offered to make their own coffee and maybe have a snack along the way – these guys are kitted out, man! Quite decent about it as well, I must say. So I left them to come and tell Vetfaan to make sure he’s got a bottle of the best on his farm tonight. If he dishes out a round just after sunset, he might not even have to make supper for them.” He snorts derisively. “Pfft...softies…”

***

That’s where things went wrong. Right there. But who was to know?

Vetfaan waited on his farm from early afternoon. When it became dark, he went looking for the group. And later, when he couldn’t find them, he drove to town to mobilise a search party.

By midnight they were all frantic. Where were the hikers?

“We must have scoured every square inch of the way between our farms, Vetfaan. Not a trace. Not a track. Nothing. It’s as if they disappeared into thin air…”

They kept on searching. When the eastern sky tinged itself with the purple hue of approaching dawn, they all gathered in Kleinpiet’s kitchen. The mood was somber after the group had walked back from Vetfaan’s homestead – again.

Gertruida was just about to suggest a helicopter search (the cost made her hesitate) when a disheveled man stared through the window with bleary eyes. He mumbled a question which sounded like ‘wha day ish thish’ in a voice right out of a Hitchcock movie.

***

The Kalahari Hiking Trail is now closed.

“Never again,” Kleinpiet said as they watched the minibus drive off that Saturday afternoon. “Too many things can go wrong.”

Gertruida went harrumph!, reminding the group that it’s such bad idea to tell your guests to make their own coffee in the morning – especially if they got the water from the bottles next to your still. Servaas laughed, saying that’s why a still is called a still. If you passed out there, you tend to be very quiet for a day or so.

Precilla is perhaps the only one who didn’t complain. She’s never sold her entire stock of Grand Pa’s in a single day before.

grand-pa

The Ghosts of Halcyon Days

Sand-in-Hourglass“I sometimes wish I could go back in time and start all over again.” Kleinpiet has been complaining about his tax return ever since this morning. It turns out he owes the Revenue Service the tidy sum of R752.78, which – he says – could have bought a week’s peach brandy for all of them. Vetfaan scoffed at this, telling him he must take into account that the Rand has been steadily spiralling towards the Zimbabwean Dollar’s worth. This didn’t improve Kleinpiet’s mood.

“I should have included my travelling expenses. I mean, if I don’t drive into town to visit Boggel’s Place every day, I wouldn’t know what you guys say about the drought. As a farmer, such information is vital – and should be tax-deductible. Then the taxman would have owed me, not the other way round.”

“It’s always so easy to have 20/20 vision in retrospect, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida lays a comforting hand on his shoulder. “But we live life on a straight time-line. Going back isn’t an option – unless you happen to be a politician. Those guys are taking us back to the Bronze Age at a tremendous speed.”

“Well, if I could have started over, I’d have changed my surname to Mahlangu, bought a sunbed and claimed the Northern Cape as ancestral ground.” Boggel says the most absurd things every now and then. “Imagine suing the diamond companies for all the diamonds they stole from my land over the years. And now they plan on stealing my gas and oil as well.” He scowls angrily at the thought. “Boy! I’d be a rich man!”

“Ag, come on, Boggel! You know that’s impossible. You’d have to prove your grandfather lived here.” Vetfaan doesn’t want to remind Boggel about him being an orphan, but the point has to be made. “You’d be better off if Boggel Mahlangu got involved in a BEE deal. Then you’d be able to sit back and watch the money roll in. It’s far easier than a land claim, anyway. “

“Nah. If Boggel could start over, I think he should become a politician. Come to think of it: all barmen are politicians – they always agree with everything said to them.  And then they do what they want, anyway. And we all know how they line their pockets.” Realising what he just said, he quickly adds: “I’m talking about politicians, not honest barmen.” Servaas smiles as he gets a friendly nod from Boggel. No offence taken.

“There’s something even better, Vetfaan.” As usual, Gertruida simply has to have the final word. “You should have become a building contractor. Especially in Natal. The chaps involved with Nkandla cleaned out the Reserve Bank, that’s for sure.”

To her surprise, Servaas trumps her. “A negotiator in the Arms Deal. That’s what he should have done. We’d have had a bar in Rolbos that had a fountain of beer and a cellar full of peach brandy.”

Yes, they all agree, anything to do with government would have made Boggel a rich man, but that wouldn’t have helped Kleinpiet at all. The Revenue Service is arguably the only department in the government that deserves the ‘Service’ tag. They’re responsible that the hardworking few in the country can support the masses of unemployed, the sick, the aged and the many single-parent teenagers.

“But,” Boggel holds up a hand for silence, “one must consider what has happened in the past ten years or so, before wishing you had known what would have happened. If somebody told me back then…” And here he ticks down an outstretched finger with every point. “…that we’d have a failing economy, rampant crime, unprecedented number of murders, an AIDS epidemic, a president with multiple wives, Satanism accepted as a religion and a national icon in jail for murder while the president is suspected of massive fraud…”

“Yes, Boggel? What would you have done?”

“I’d find a quiet little place, far from the maddening crowd. I’d look for a community where I can laugh and be happy. I’d consider opening a small bar, where I can listen to people swapping stories all day. And I’ll tell Kleinpiet to remember to add his travelling expenses when he does his income tax return…”

Kleinpiet manages a lopsided grin. “Ja, Boggel, in your dreams, my friend…in your dreams…”

Weekly Photo Challenge – Achievement

Achievements, by the very nature of such events and things, tend to be personal. Talking about achievements – or capturing the moment in a photograph – might sound like bragging, which is not what the subject is about. Most achievements rest on the shoulders of others, after all.

Zambia ekspedisie 067Like going on a walking safari in North Luangwa with some very knowledgeable guides.

428Or visiting a Himba village, where one learns how precious relationships are. Big lesson here: it’s not what you have – it’s about who you are and how you cope.

IMG_2765Or realising that the most precious moments are those filled with peace and tranquility. Drifting silently on the Okavango river, contemplating the wonder of nature, must rate as one of those achievements in the top 10.

aaBut Nature hides bigger challenges, as well. Canoeing down the Upper Zambezi early one misty morning almost got me drowned (fortunately the crocs were still waiting for the day to heat up!). The achievement? Simply getting to the river bank… It sounds elementary, but the relief of safety…

IMG_2904Yes, I know. There’s a lot to look back on, a lot to be thankful for. There are the children and the grandchildren. Academic stuff and a happy career. Books that were published. Stories in magazines. But…maybe the biggest achievement is to get out there, face the challenges of Africa, and come back a little more wise, a little more complete.

Achievements should do that. It fills life with wonder. And that makes one appreciate every day added to live..

IMG_3136And that is one achievement we should all strive towards…every day.

Too Many Termites in the Nkandla Woodwork

drywood_termites“The problem with the news,” Gertruida says because she knows everything,”is that you simply can’t believe it. The most believable part of any newscast is the weather report, and even that is merely an assumption. Look what happened today: they said it would be sunny and warm, and now it’s overcast and cool.”

This is true, of course. A bank of clouds suddenly formed towards late afternoon, bringing with it an unexpected chill.

“Ja, the news is as unbelievable as our politics. Look at what happened in parliament yesterday. I heard on the news that things got out of hand, the speaker left the House, and that the ANC ramrodded their report through, saying Zuma had nothing to do with the Nkandla fiasco. It’s a disgrace.”

“You must understand one thing.” Gertruida gets up to make her point. They all know: when she does this, she is deadly serious. “The ANC will desperately try to protect their own. That’s the only way they can remain in power. If they admitted their president did wrong, they’d have to face the consequences. There’d be more investigations, which would bring more corruption to the surface. Don’t think Public Works is the only department involved here. The Nkandla Project is only the tip of a very sick iceberg. Once you start unravelling the ramifications of who-did-what and who-benefitted-how, you’d probably fillet open a very corrupt carcass. Nkandla, I’ll tell you, is a symptom of a disease more deadly than Ebola – and the ANC knows that.”

“Ja, but they buried it yesterday.” Vetfaan sighs. “Now parliament has ruled on the matter – the ANC majority simply outvoted the opposition, it’s so simple – Nkandla isn’t going to be an issue any longer. They’ve hidden the controversy behind a quasi-legal barrier, allowing the president to walk away squeaky clean.”

Gertruida doesn’t get upset. Never. She doesn’t allow emotion to dictate her reason. Not ever. That’s why it’s so surprising when she flushes to a deep red, flares her nostrils and hisses at Vetfaan.

“Nkandla. Won’t. Go. Away!” Taking a deep breath, she calms down before going on. “Listen Vetfaan, only a fool will think this was the last you heard about Nkandla. Many, many presidents and ministers have tried to survive lies in the past. Nixon couldn’t do it. Clinton became an embarrassment. Look at what happened in Italy and France. No, my friends, the old saying is true: truth has faster legs than lies. You can’t lie your way out of trouble. At some stage – now, a month later, ten years later, it doesn’t matter – the truth will always overtake the lie and expose it in the harsh light of reality.

“This ANC’s effort to exonerate Zuma from any wrongdoing isn’t the end. Like Churchill said: it’s the end of the beginning. Mark my words: there are just too many termites in the woodwork. The house is still standing, but the structure is already riddled. It’s a question of time…”

download (3)“Well, we don’t have to feel too bad.” As always, Boggel tries to lift the mood in his bar. “We’re not the only country where the president’s house is an embarrassment. Casa La Palma in Mexico is also going to be the undoing of a president’s dream. It, too, boasts underground parking, elevators, a pool and gardens. And I hear it was a ‘gift’ in return for certain…favours. The termites, Gertruida, seem to be spreading..”

Servaas knits his brows together in a furious scowl. “Well, that’s it. I’ll never vote for the ANC again!”

Of course they laugh at this. It is exceedingly funny to think that Servaas ever voted for them, anyway. But the humour represents only the ears of the hippo in Servaas’s remark. He is echoing the sentiment of thousands of men and women in South Africa – men and women who stood bravely side by side in the fight for democracy. And now that this same democracy has turned into a farce, people are taking a good, hard look at the progressive failure to live up to a once-beautiful dream.

“The winds of change…” Gertruida whispers. “It’s only a breeze now. The storm will come.”

And that, they all agree, is a weather forecast you can believe. Time to close the windows and bar the doors, indeed.

Old News

bad-news2-300x225Despite the many advantages of living in Rolbos, there are a few realities the inhabitants have to face. With no TV and a rather patchy radio reception, they live in a no-news bubble – which perhaps is to their benefit, when you come to think of it. The daily cascade of disasters, the political back-stabbing, the tragedy of major court cases – these things get viewed in retrospect, when they read about last week’s news in the Upington Post which arrives with the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer.

Gertruida once said the world is in the state it’s in because the news is so immediate, making people part of the events by demanding they push personal matters aside to be up to date with who-did-what-where-and-why. She maintained that our brains are like Windows: the more programs you run, the slower the computer. This caused Servaas to draw the curtains in an effort to pay attention to what she was saying.

Despite their remoteness, some news does filter through, though. Kleinpiet whistles as he reads the article at the bottom of page 3 in the previous week’s Post.

“It says here somebody won the Powerball. Millions! 58 of them. Somebody from Brakpan. That’s obscene.” He doesn’t specify whether it’s the money or the town that upsets him.

“Shew! Imagine standing behind that person in the queue in the bank. E-one, e-two, e-three…. It’ll take forever to count out the money.”

“Get a life, Servaas. These days everything is done electronically. They push a button in Pretoria and suddenly your bank account has a lot of zeroes in it. They had to develop the technology, simply because nobody – nobody – can walk around anywhere in the country with a suitcase full of money any more. They call it redistribution of wealth. Or affirmative balancing.  Apparently it is accepted practice.”

Credit: Land Rover

Credit: Land Rover

While they chat about the problems of having so much money, a brand new Land Rover purrs down the street. Of course this caused a stir, but it’s the driver that brings about a breathless hush in the bar. The blonde, middle-twenties girl at the wheel is – and they all agree on this – absolutely gorgeous. Long-haired, wide smile, perfect skin, pert nose, full lips…the list goes on. And when she gets out in a smooth, almost feline movement, the hush turns into an admiring silence…

“It’s not possible,” Vetfaan breathes, eyeing the long legs. Can so little cover so  much?

“Breathe, Vetfaan.” Boggel shakes the big farmers shoulders. “Relax and take deep breaths.”

The skirt may well be described as miniscule. The T-shirt defies description in conventional terms. And then there is the particular way her clothing (or lack thereof) displays the person underneath the scant material.

The young lady hesitates on the sidewalk for a second, staring first up and then down Voortrekker Weg. Apparently making up her mind, she shrugs and walks over to Boggel’s Place.

“Um…I’m lost,” she says after pushing open the door to the bar. She’s met with adoring stares.

“Oh.” Boggel, as a seasoned barman, is the first to say something.

“I wonder if you gentlemen can help me?” Even her voice makes Kleinpiet drool. “You see, I’ve never travelled much before, but my circumstances suddenly allows me to see a bit of the country.” Realising the men at the bar doesn’t understand, she tries again. “I started last week, see? Drove to the Drakensberg, then had a look at Bloemfontein and that big hole in Kimberley. Now I’m on my way to the Augrabies Falls, but I don’t think I’m on the right road.” She shoots a worried glance through the window. “There isn’t a river nearby, is there?”

Vetfaan points vaguely in the direction of Upington, Servaas wishes he had his glasses here and Kleinpiet fishes a handkerchief from his pocket to clean his chin. Realising that the same hanky was used when he checked the oil in his pickup last night, he quickly returns it to his pocket.

Boggel invites the newcomer to sit down at the bar so that he can draw a map with directions. She seems oblivious of the effect her sitting down on the high chair has on the rest of the patrons. The men at the counter simply can’t avoid staring at the smooth, athletic movements. Cat-like, they’ll agree afterwards.

“Oh, thank you,” she breathes when Boggel hands her the map, smiling at him. “You mean I go back to Grootdrink and turn right there? It seems easy.” She laughs coyly. “You know, us girls from Brakpan don’t travel much. But after what happened, I decided: no more miss Smalltown for me! I’m going to see the world – maybe even go as far as Cape Town. I hear there’s a nice mountain there, somewhere. And the beach! I’d love to see the sea. It’s amazing what money can do, isn’t it?”

“Um,” Servaas manages, nodding vigorously – which is more than Kleinpiet manages as he tries to close his mouth.

“Well, I’ll be off then. Toodles!” Hopping from the chair, she waves a playful finger at Boggel when she reaches the door. “Don’t give up, guys. Dreams do come true!”

They watch the Land Rover do a three-point u-turn, the driver eventually managing to point the vehicle back to Grootdrink successfully. Then, with the purr of the powerful engine, the girl from Brakpan disappears in a cloud of dust.

“What…what did she mean…dreams do come true?”  Now that she’s gone, Kleinpiet deems it safe to wipe his chin.

“She’s the winner, dummy! I tell you: that woman won the money.”  Vetfaan finds his voice again. It’s slightly hoarse, but still… “Think about it. Brakpan, new car, money…it fits.”

***

That’s the nice thing about Rolbos. For an entire week they discussed the wonderful time when a multi-millionaire blonde beauty was there, in the bar, chatting to the mere mortals in Rolbos. Although the men were gentlemanly enough not to voice their less-than-gentlemanly thoughts, the age-old flame to overwhelm and conquer burnt brightly just below the surface.

Gertruida was disgusted, of course. Men can be so shallow and inconsiderate! Look, she asked, why on earth would a bunch of older men slobber about a beautiful girl just because she dressed in a certain way, had a new car and lots of money. Isn’t that completely absurd?

This caused a momentary lapse in the conversation  - but just long enough for Boggel to serve another round.

It was only the following week, after the Upington Post arrived, that the discussion finally died down. The article on the front page did that. Catwoman strikes again. Under the heading and an identikit picture, the article tells the readers of the daring heist.

‘This is Catwoman’s third success. This time she managed to sneak into the bank after hours, open the safe, and get away with an undisclosed amount of money, Reliable sources informed this journalist that the pretty burglar took off with a brand new Land Rover the bank repossessed that very day.  The vehicle was stored in a secure parking bay behind the building, but that didn’t deter the intrepid thief. 

How does she do it? Police are following up a few leads, but this journalist has heard a rumour. Catwoman uses her charm and beauty to seduce bank officials into telling her things they shouldn’t. She plays the role of a coy, dumb blonde to perfection. Apparently her abundant charms are irresistible to especially older men, who are only too willing to fall for her act.

Be that as it may – the burglar the press dubbed ‘Catwoman’, is a dangerous and uncouth individual. During a previous robbery, she was  surprised by a security guard. This man is still recovering after she disarmed him and shot him in the leg. Police have asked the public not to approach any suspicious young female individuals resembling the identikit picture, but to report such persons to their nearest police station

***

That’s the problem with fresh news. It takes the mystery out of life by confronting the public with too many facts. There’s simply nothing to talk about once the clever presenters on CNN or BBC have discussed, debated, argued and dissected current events. In the old days society relied on opinions and speculations – things that made us talk to each other. Then, as news slowly filtered through, people had the opportunity to adapt opinions, talk some more, and formulate new insights. Nowadays, however, we are fed on a diet of digested facts, leaving the viewers with nothing to add.

Gertruida tried to convince Bogel to get one of those satellite dishes and a TV set for the bar. This was immediately vetoed by the men.

“It’s far better to drool over a girl for a week than to report a criminal to Sersant Dreyer immediately.” Coming from the ever-so-pious Servaas, the statement made Gertruida look up in shock. “Ag come on, Gertruida! If we have to choose between News and Imagination…only a fool would go for the former. No, Gertruida: News makes you feel bad, Imagination makes you smile. It’d so much more fun if we kept the Real News on the other side of the Orange River.”

For once, Gertruida had no answer.

The fish of the Kalahari return…to stay.

Credit: thefreedictionary.com

Credit: thefreedictionary.com

“No thanks.” Vetfaan waves the bowl of biltong away with a dismissive hand. “I’ve become vegetarian.”

This – quite naturally – causes a shocked silence. Vetfaan, burly sheep farmer and true Afrikaner, refusing biltong? And, even more astounding, becoming a vegetarian? He of the huge apetite, who’d consume several T-bones in a single sitting, now wants to live on cabbage and potatoes? No, that can’t be.

“You not feeling well? Any mosquitoes bitten you lately? Been to West Africa or something?” Kleinpiet just can’t wrap his head around this one.

413928_121026123658_DSC_0129“No, Kleinpiet. I just think it’s wrong to consume animals. I mean, what did they do to us? And yet we go about killing them so that we can have dinner. I read up about it, you know? There are millions of people all over the world who live to ripe old age with a plant-based diet.” To emphasise his point, he grabs a handful of peanuts from the old Voortrekker Monument bowl on the counter. “Live in harmony, I say. Live and let live.”

Gertruida goes harrumph! and orders another beer. “No animal products, Vetfaan? None at all?”

“None. My sheep and my chickens are safe.”

“Let me tell you about the Kalahari, then you think again.” The light in her eyes should have warned Vetfaan. There’ll be a lecture…and a lesson.

***

Ages ago, the Kalahari used to be a large lake – fed by the Chobe, Zambezi and Okavango rivers.

“This was where cichlids evolved – you know the ancestors of today’s Tilapia? Incidentally, the Scottish Zoologist Andrew Smith latinised the Tswana word for ‘fish’ – thlape – to name the genus Tilapia in 1840

Tilapia“Well, to cut a long story short, the earth’s crust moved and the lake drained. Rivers altered their flow, causing – amongst many other things – the Victoria Falls.The fishes of that great lake now started spreading to other parts of Africa. In later years, Lake Victoria held a large population of the species.

UGANDA-NILE-PERCH-WORLD-ENVIRONMENTAL-DAY“Then, along came the British, who introduced Nile Perch to the lake in the middle of the last century. The large fish was to become a major source of protein and income for the fishermen and local population – but they also posed a great threat to the Tilapia. The poor little fish had survived movements in the earths crust, millions of year of hardship, and now face near-extinction due to man’s manipulation of its environment.

“But let’s get back to the Nile Perch, which is the point of the story.”

The Lake Victoria perch is known for it’s huge fish bladder, also called a fish maw. Initially this organ was simply thrown away when the fish was gutted, but later developed a market (where else?) in the East as a delicacy.

“Then people realised how effective these bladders were in the clarification process while making beer and wine. It’s an important component in the fining process, where impurities are removed and wine and beer is allowed to ‘settle’ – which is why you can see me through your glass. They didn’t say they were using fish bladders, of course – they called it isinglass. However, the fact remains – many beers and wines you drink, are made using the once thrown-away humble fish organ of years gone by.

“So you can call yourself a vegetarian if you like, Vetfaan, but you’ll have to give up beer and wine…they contain the residue of those poor fishes.”

***

This is so typical of Gertruida. She’ll take something that started in the Kalahari many aeons ago, weave it into the present, and leave you thinking. And she’s clever about it too, for she allows you to draw your own conclusions. In this instance, she didn’t tell Vetfaan that the ‘bladder’ under discussion, was and air bladder, used to control the depth of swimming. That would have spoilt the effect. Nor did she say that the isinglass was removed when bottling the beverage. No, she sat there, telling her story and watching Vetfaan go green about the gills with the nonchalance of somebody explaining the use of corn in flour.

Gertruida then sat back, considering the mental odds of Vetfaan finishing his beer. It was an interesting study in the psychology of survival. Once colour had returned to the farmer’s face, he pushed his beer aside with a determined look. Then Servaas arrived, hot and sweaty after driving from Upington with Boggel’s beer supply for the week.

***

“Hey Boggel! Gimme a beer man. A cold one. It’s scorching out there.” Servaas sits down with a sigh, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. When Boggel slides the bottle over the counter, he takes a long, lingering sip before smacking his lips.

“Vetfaan?” He stares in horror at the glass of water in front of the new vegetarian. “Bumped your head? You know how unhealthy that stuff is? Your body excretes the stuff, man! It makes things rust. If you inhale it, you die. And it causes more burns to the skin than petrol does, especially in its gaseous form. It carries parasites, chemicals and bacteria that can kill you. It causes short-circuits in electrical systems.  It’s the most polluted substance in the world. And…” here he holds up a triumphant finger, “…they use aluminium salts when purifying water. That, my friend has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Gertruida nods. With Servaas’s point adequately made, she doesn’t elaborate on the dangers of fluoride or the leaking of Bisphenol A, or BPA, from plastic into bottled water.  

“You mean…water is bad for me?”

“Of course! Beer contains minerals and vitamins. That’s good. It is an antioxidant, increases bone density, and enhances creativity. Water can’t do that.” Gertruida winks at Servaas, who is enjoying Vetfaan’s discomfort with a huge smile.

“And you know what the French say about wine and heart disease…” Kleinpiet chips in with his two cents worth.

“And I believe beer makes you more virile. After a few, I even think Gertruida is sexy.” Servaas earns a friendly slap for the woman who knows he’s only joking.

Poor Vetfaan. No beer? No meat? No wine? And…no water? Sometimes the choices we face simply defy logical thought…

***

Today you won’t find Talapia in the Kalahari. But maybe a little bit of fish can be found in Boggel’s Place, in the glasses and bottles in front of the group in Boggel’s Place. Vetfaan is no longer a complete vegetarian – water is out and drinking beer, he found, is impossible without chewing a piece of biltong. He maintains he believes he started a new form of vegetarianism, Vegetable Enhanced Local Cow Residue Offcuts. He hopes it sticks. As far as he’s concerned, the biltong in the bowl started off as grass, and that’s good enough.