The Dowser of the Dunes

350x379xdosing.jpg.pagespeed.ic.U5jrWbyjaO“That man gives me the creeps.” Precilla has goosebumps all over her arms. “When he looks at you with those reddish-brown eyes…” She doesn’t have to finish the sentence.

“Ag, you know, he’s harmless.” Gertruida – who knows everything – smiles at the figure of the short man walking down Voortrekker Weg. She knows all about Frikkie Brand, the so-called Dowser of the Dunes. “His father was Dawid Brand, who used to be a shepherd for Oom Jan Tille van Niekerk, who farmed near Gamoeb. When Dawid was twelve years old, he started realising he had a special gift. After that he became famous as a water diviner all over the Northern Cape – even as far as South-west Africa. It’s only natural that his son inherited the trait from his father.”

“Oodoom says it’s sorcery.” Servaas still insists on wearing the kudu tail under his hat, making his statement sound a little wayward. “And I believe these chaps look at the rocks and the vegetation and ant heaps to guess where water may be. Charlatans, if you ask me.”

“That some dowsers may be fake, is true,” Gertruida concedes, “but there are many accounts of people – often children – who had the uncanny ability to ‘see’ water under the ground. Recently I read about Jean Parangue, aged fourteen, from Marseilles. ‘This child can see through the ground, springs and waterpipes however deep they may be. He sees water there as we see wine in a glass.’ This was way back in 1772, I may add.She loves to quote from old books and finishes the sentence with a flourish.

“There was another boy…” Vetfaan scratches his head, a puzzled frown on his forehead. “They said he had X-ray eyes…”

“You’re talking about Pieter van Jaarsveld.” Gertruida, of course. “He became quite rich back in the 50’s, asking £25 to point out the place to drill. He said he saw a beam of light on the ground where the water was – something like moonlight striking a window pane. He could follow underground water like that, even in the dark.”

“But what is Frikkie doing in town? Did somebody call him? Is anyone looking to sink a borehole?”  Feeling decidedly ill at ease, Servaas nods to tell Boggel to serve another round.

“Maybe not water.” Gertruida hasn’t finished lecturing yet. “Frikkie, like many other dowsers, claim to be able to find other lost things as well. Coins, rings, things like that. And some even suggest they can see inside bodies. It’s quite extraordinary to think a dowser can look at you and see what you had for breakfast.” She meant it as a joke, but Precilla turns green at the thought.

Frikkie pushes the swing doors open and hesitates before stepping inside Boggel’s Place. The group at the counter chorus a ‘Good morning’ and is rewarded by a shy smile in return.

Frikkie is, as always, barefoot. Gossip has it that he feels more in touch with the earth this way, and that he senses a tingling in his soles whenever he passes over underground water. He is a short man, five-foot-something, bald and slightly stooped. His eyes – those reddish-brown eyes – now sweep over the group to finally rest on Servaas.

“I’ve come far,” he says, “to find something.”

“Oh? Water?” Kleinpiet draws a little rivulet on the counter top with the foam on his glass.

“No…” Frikkie seems uncertain, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Something else. And I walked and walked – and came here. Something is lost, and I want to find it.”

“Come, sit down and have a beer. Then you can tell us all about it.” Gertruida pats an empty chair.

“No beer. Only water.” He does, however, sit down.

“Has anybody lost anything?” Sliding the glass over the counter, Boggel addresses his patrons with an arched eyebrow.

“Not you. Me. I’ve lost something. I need to find it, and I know the answer is here.”

Frikkie then tells them a sad tale of love found, love lost.

“I met this woman when I was looking for water on a farm – almost a year ago now, maybe less – and we…well, we talked. She had a daughter who was pregnant. We had plans, you see? I saw so much kindness in those two… Anyway, I had to go deep into the Kalahari to find water for another farmer. By the time I got back, she and her daughter wasn’t on the farm any more. The farmer was gone, too. Something about the redistribution of land. The place was in shambles – all the old workers had been told to go.” Frikkie shakes his head. “That’s when I started walking…and now I’m here.”

Servaas shifts uncomfortably. Is this man talking about…?

“I can’t tell you much more, I’m afraid. Her name is Fransie, and she plants herbs. Does anyone know her? Is she in town?”

Ashen-faced, Servaas opens his mouth to say something, His voice doesn’t cooperate, but he manages a nod. Sure, he knows exactly what this man is talking about.

***

Dowsers can’t explain their gift. Scientists have tried over the years to find a logical reason for their abilities, but even in this day and age, nobody has been able to conclusively say how they do it. Gertruida says it has to do with electromagnetic fields and vibrations, but that doesn’t sound right. Servaas doesn’t even try to understand. He says there are things we just have to accept.

Still, when Frikkie walks back towards Grootdrink, the silence in Boggel’s Place is deafening.

Yes, Servaas told Frikkie, he had met Fransie and her daughter. He even delivered the baby. And, he said, Fransie and Agnes were going to farm with herbs. He added that he thought Fransie would love to see him again – maybe he could show them where to dig a well?

Sometimes things happen in Boggel’s Place that leave the townsfolk completely flummoxed. It doesn’t happen often, though. The Dowser of the Dunes managed that, as did Boggel, once, a long time ago when he announced that the beer was finished. On such occasions the patrons in the bar will sit quietly, thinking deep thoughts and occasionally shaking a head.

Gertruia, as always, has the last word.

“Frikkie is known to be able to follow things, find things. This time, it’s his heart. Such a pity that this gift is given to so few…”

The Return of The Kalahari Biker

cropped-boggel-se-plek1By the time Servaas sputters the old Enfield down Voortrekker Weg, he is tired, bone-sore and as dry as the rocks on Bokkop. He has spent a full day on the motorbike, leaving him with only one thought: his favourite chair in Boggel’s Place. He’s been fantasising about that chair with the comfortable cushion and the easy backrest…

bronsonHe allows the old engine to die while he kicks out the stand. Getting off is a slow and delicate task. And then he adjusts the kudu tail, rams down the hat firmly, and tries to be a  Bronson look-alike when he staggers up the steps to Boggel’s veranda.

Yes, the fluffy hairs above his ears have grown ever so slightly and the moustache has become a bit unruly – but what he lacks in looks, he makes up in attitude. Has he not completed an epic journey, something most men in their seventies wouldn’t even vaguely consider? And has he not had adventures the others can only dream of? No, he is Servaas, The Kalahari Biker, and he’ll make a grand entrance…

Taking a deep breath, he slams open the swing doors with gusto, to see….nothing. The place is empty. Not a soul in sight, not even Vrede, who usually sleeps under the counter on Boggel’s cushion.

“Well, that’s a fine home-coming,” Servaas mutters under his breath, “a real welcome to a weary traveller.” Snorting loudly, he shuffles around the counter, selects the Cactus Jack, and pours himself a generous tot.

“Here’s to a warm reception,” he swings the glass towards the empty room, gulps down the fiery liquid and refills the glass. Then, feeling slightly better, he makes his way to the chair. Oh, for a nice rest…

The chair is not there. It’s gone. No chair…

While he gapes at the empty space, the group in the store room simply can’t contain themselves any longer. Guffawing and sniggering, they emerge to crowd around Servaas.

“Your chair, sir…” Kleinpiet and Vetfaan had hidden the chair behind the building, and now carries it back to its original place.

Smiling sheepishly, Servaas sags down with a contented sigh.

“Come on, Servaas, tell us all? What happened? How was the trip?” They all seem to be talking together.

“Ag, you know, I had some fun, but I’m glad to be home again. Got arrested, spent some time in jail, caught a baby – things like that. Nothing special, you see?”

***

Gertruida says that’s the way one should live: a bit closer to the edge. Comfort zones, she’ll tell you, are the most dangerous of all places: one must avoid these very carefully. Oh, she’ll warn you not to be stupid or anything like that, but still: complacency is the first step on the road of slow self-destruction. Once you settle in a certain groove, you’ve got to ask yourself: what’s next?

Oudoom agrees. He likes to quote Romans 8:15 from the Message: This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”

Servaas isn’t so sure. He’d like to remain in his chair for a while, thank you very much.

But…there was the discussion he had in Nieuwoudtville, where he met that friendly mechanic. What was his name again – that chap at Protea Motors? Thinus, that’s right! He said something about microlight aeroplanes, and how one could build one powered by a motorcycle engine. Now there’s a thought!

Maybe…he thinks, just maybe….

The Kalahari Biker Reflects

Servaas settles down in the large chair, sighs, and sips the ice-cold beer. He’s finally arrived in Calvinia, where he discovered – much to his surprise and joy – the Rolbos Guest House. Of course he took that as a sign and immediately stopped to enquire about a room for the night. The hospitality of his hosts was outstanding.

IMG_3500He remembers the shell of the old tortoise, and imagines how it must have been like when it was alive. That animal must have been quite old, must have seen so much…

nAnd then there was the memorable visit to Pella and all the date trees. Yes, that was quite something…

82Ce4SjOf course he’ll remember his visit to Doctor Patric in that rural clinic. That man really helped him a lot!

clinic

Servaas sighs contently as he drains the last drops from his glass. The trip has changed his life, indeed…

P4010880Shall he ever – EVER – forget his visit to the nudist camp? He still blushes at the thought…

young_old2

Then there was Madame Esmeralda. If you look carefully, you’ll see both the old woman he met, and the young lady Servaas left there…

1a

 

And yes, He’d remember that shack where he helped to deliver a baby for a long time. Surely Nature will claim it back, now that the old woman and her daughter have been employed by Agnes?

***

Mrs Rootman finds the old man fast asleep in the comfortable chair.

“Shame,” she tells the maid, “old people drift off so easily. It must be boring to have so little to do when age catches up with you.”

Smiling gently, she drapes a wooly blanket over the sleeping figure.

 

The Kalahari Biker – Midwife…

Credit: growingmychild.com

Credit: growingmychild.com

Still smiling about the splendid night he had spent with Esmeralda-who-turned-into-Agnes-again, Servaas was guiding the old Enfield through a sandy patch on the road to Omdraaisvlei (about halfway between Britstown and Prieska), when he saw the bedraggled figure waving frantically at him. Already going slow, he stopped next to her in a cloud of dust.

Servaas – also a sight for sore eyes under the layer of dust and sand – stared at the person for a while. He made out that it was a female – the ragged and torn dress suggested as much – but that was where deduction stopped and guessing started. How old was she? And…was it just a deep tan or was she San or of mixed descent? The wrinkles and lines on her face suggested a lifetime of hardship while the bare feet must have walked for many miles since the last bath.

“Morning…” Servaas said courteously.

Môre Baas.” Well, that sounded strange to Servaas. White people aren’t called Baas (Boss) anymore, not like in the 60’s and 70’s, when Apartheid herded people into unnatural layers, sedimenting some lower than others.

“I’m Servaas,” he corrected the old woman.

“You must help, Baas Servaas, my daughter…”

The toothless mouth explained – in a mixture of broken Afrikaans and English (with a few click-sounds thrown in for good measure) – that her daughter was dying in a hut nearby. When she heard the motorcycle, she ran to the road in the hope of finding help. Would the Baas please come…?

What could he do? That was no time to discuss the changed politics in the country, let alone giving the old woman a lesson in correct use of language in 2014. Following the slowly jogging woman, Servaas putt-putted along behind her to reach the wooden shack a few hundred metres into the veld.

“Come Baas, help…” She beckoned him inside.

The sight that met Servaas when he entered the gloomy interior made him blink a few times before he took off his hat and used it to cover his eyes. Yes, he’d seen naked women before…not long ago, in fact, in the nudist camp. And yes, he promised wholeheartedly never to lay eyes on such a sight again… And how unexpectedly ironic was this?

The woman in question was laying down on a threadbare mattress, as naked as the day she was born and moaning softly. A sheen of sweat covered the copper-coloured skin that stretched over the distended abdomen.

“She’s having a baby?” Servaas had to repeat the question from behind the hat.

“Yes, Baas. Since last night. I’ve burnt some herbs and danced for her, but it didn’t help. You must do something, please, Baas.”

What followed, might be described as Servaas’s worst nightmare. Peeking from behind his hat, he tried to make sense of what he saw, and quickly covered his face again.

“I…I…can’t…”

A desperate argument ensued. Realising that his ignorance and the woman’s desperation weren’t doing any good at that moment, Servaas eventually knelt down to inspect the uninspectable.

“I can see the head…,” he whispered. “It seems to be facing the wrong way.”

When Siena was giving birth to Servaasie, Oudok gave a running commentary on what was happening while Servaas cowered behind the door. He remembered how Oudok described how the head crowned, how the shoulders were released and the little body extracted. Quite clearly, Oudok described the boy’s face before the birth was complete – he said something about Siena’s nose. That meant the baby was facing…upwards? Or was that at a later stage?

Gritting his teeth, Servaas touched the head gingerly. It was warm and moist and covered with blood. And then…something extraordinary happened. It was as if the feeling, the touching, of the human infant transformed Servaas into an automated being. No longer did the sight of the naked woman have an impact on him. No longer did his mind work like an elder’s as he became unaware of his surroundings. He didn’t think about him as a male or the woman as female. The only thing that mattered, was the child – and the realisation that if he didn’t do somrthing, a life (or maybe even, two) would be lost.

The mother-to-be relaxed between the contractions. Tentatively, carefully, Servaas tried to push the little head backwards. To his utter surprise, the head did, indeed, move. The next contraction started, accompanied with a tired groan from the mother. And then, amidst a gush of fluid and blood, the head slowly progressed to eventually rest in Servaas’s trembling hands. By now he was praying loudly.

The little body followed. Shoulders, arms, torso, legs…and then the little boy lay limp and still on the mattress.

He’s dead, Servaas thought. I’ve delivered a corpse…

The old woman snatched up the baby, held it against her chest, and started crooning something that sounded like a lullaby. Still the infant remained quiet.

“Slap it!” That’s what Oudok did after Servaasie was born. Held him upside down and slapped the pink little bottom rather smartly.

The old woman looked at Servaas, not understanding what he meant. Servaas sighed, reached over with a blood-splattered hand, and whacked the baby on the bum.

It wriggled a bit.

The little chest heaved.

And it let out a mew-like whimper.

***

The two women wouldn’t let Servaas leave.

“Stay for the night, Baas. Please. Just for the night. You can leave tomorrow, but don’t leave us alone now. We may need your help…”

And so he did. The mother recovered surprisingly fast and Servaas watched – not ashamed, but in complete fascination – as the baby took the mother’s breast to suckle contently. The old woman busied herself by cooking some porridge, which Servaas truthfully declared to be the best meal he’d had in some time. Afterwards, when the mother and the baby drifted off to sleep, Servaas listened as the old woman described their life of hardship and suffering.

“We’re simple people, Baas. My daughter can do house-work, and I like to plant herbs..but that’s all. Nobody gives people like us work anymore. It’s not like the old days…”

“You mustn’t call me Baas – my name is Servaas.” Then he remembered how Agnes planned her new future. She had told him how her life as a gypsy had been a sham, and how she was going to find a patch of ground. Herbs, Servaas, she had said, that’s the future. Organic herbs. Fresh. I’m going to grow herbs and supply shops and restaurants. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be honest. I like that.

***

The next morning he said goodbye to the thankful two women.

“I’ll name him after you,” the mother said, smiling.

Servaas started the Enfield and rode off, leaving the women waving. They watched as he turned into the gravel road leading to Omdraaisvlei, then hugged each other.

“Baas Servaas.” The young mother whispered as she tickled her son’s little chin. “You’ll go far…”

The Kalahari Biker and the Gypsy

30afd318136c6aa223f6ea551aefe888Madame Esmeralda, Clairvoyant.

That’s all the sign on the side of the caravan said. Three words, but enough to make slow down, stop, and readjust the kudu ponytail protruding from under his hat.

Why did he stop? Afterwards he’d think of several reasons to explain why he – an elder in Oudoom’s church, pious and not given to superstition – felt the need to study those three words. It was true that he was tired and sore from the journey after his uncomfortable night in the makeshift jail; equally it was a fact that he was hungry and thirsty. He’d also try to convince himself that the caravan stood next to a lonely clump of trees and that he planned to camp there for the night.

But that wasn’t the real reason. It was the name: Esmeralda. Gertruida once told the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, that famous story by Victor Hugo, in Boggel’s Place. She related how this gypsy girl, a tragic and compassionate figure, tried to save Quasimodo’s life and ended up being put to death herself. Gertruida described the story of the girl’s life in such dramatic detail that everyone was sniffing loudly when she finally fell silent.

In Servaas’s mind, the character of Esmeralda had become similar to dear Siena, his departed wife, a honest and caring person who he had loved and admired so much. Siena, the once-beautiful girl who stole his heart and changed his life. It was Siena who had him say goodbye to the wild life of a young, directionless man, and had turned him into a respected postmaster and elder. And like Quasimodo, Servaas felt the void she left after her death with such intensity that he often took to wearing black suits when the dark dog of depression growled at him.

Esmeralda.

Of course he had to stop to stare at the sign. It was inevitable.

Esmeralda looked up from the book she had been reading on the steps of the caravan.

“A traveller,” she said softly. “Come, let us talk.”

Servaas took in the dilapidated caravan, the tired-looking pick-up parked to one side and the faded paint of the sign, and got off the old Enfield (slowly, with some difficulty). Esmeralda, he saw, wasn’t in a much better condition. The sandals on her feet were well worn, the dress as faded as the sign and her hair swept back under a bandanna that had seen better days. No make-up to disguise the many lines on her face. In her eyes, however, he imagined he saw a strange combination of fatigue and curiosity, like one would find in a sleepy Basset confronted with food. There was a softness in those eyes, a vulnerability that spoke to Servaas.

“Oh?”

***

Esmeralda wasn’t her real name, of course. Agnes Grove grew up in Waterkloof, that prestigious suburb in Pretoria where the white elite lived. Her father was a respected member of the Broederbond, a secret organisation that promoted white interests. He also had an important job as an advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.They had two servants (Lovemore in the garden, and Innocence inside the sprawling house).

Margate-Hotel-plus-extentionOnce a year they’d have a two-week summer holiday in the Margate Hotel, where Mr Grove drank his special KWV and her mother read the latest Heinz Konsalik or Lawrence Green. At the time, Agnes thought life couldn’t get any better. She was right.

Then she met Japie, the son of Pieter and Margeret Coetzee who owned a large farm in Northern Transvaal, on the beach in front of the hotel. It was the day before Christmas, sunny and warm – and she wore the first-ever bikini she had persuaded her parents to allow.

Japie had grown up like most young boys did in those days. He had no clue. Not about those things. Neither did she, for that matter. But Mother Nature supplied them, like she had done for all generations since forever, with a healthy dose of heady hormones and an uncalvinistic curiosity. And, if one wanted to, there were several convenient and secluded spots amongst the rocks on Margate beach where one could discover so many things your parents were loath to discuss with you…

And so, when summer turned to autumn the next year, Mr Grove and Mr Coetzee discussed the situation. Yes, Japie will do the honourable thing. And yes, Mr Grove will help set them up in a small flat in Sunnyside. And no, they wouldn’t tell the neighbours and friends, not with Mr Grove’s reputation at stake and seeing that Mr Coetzee was an elder in the church.

For a short while that was that. Life continued. The little baby was born and Japie worked hard at the job Mr Grove had organised in the National Archives – specially arranged to keep the young man confined to the basement in the Union Buildings. Here, the parents agreed, the shame of the situation would be kept from public scrutiny.

And then 1994 happened. Democracy arrived with many promises, the world applauded…and Mr Grove lost his job. The Coetzee’s didn’t do any better – their farm was one of the first to be ‘redistributed’ to a ‘previously disadvantaged’ group of people, who claimed that their ancestors lived there in 1876.  Predictably, Japie also had to leave the archives when the new government applied their quota system of employment.

***

“Esmeralda,” Servaas said slowly, savouring the sound of the name. “It’s a name with special meaning for me.” He sat down on the steps next to her.

She arched an eyebrow, shrugged and stared at her sandals with those tired eyes. “It’s just a name.”

Servaas shook his head. “No, it suggests strength, hope…and sadness.” He then proceeded (why, he could never explain) to tell her about Quasimodo and the story of Notre Dame.

“So she died? After all she did and having been misled by men? And the poor hunchback perished as well?”

“I suppose. But, she followed her heart, did her best and died a heroine. And, in the end, the love of her life – that disfigured and ugly man – remained loyal  even after death. It’s as sad as it is precious.” He sighed. “Life is like that, Esmeralda: not all stories have a happy ending.”

The tired eyes then searched Servaas’s face, an uncertain smile quivering the corners of her lips. “I’m not really a gypsy, you know?. I’m not even clairvoyant. I’m just…me. A silly girl who lost her way. Lost my husband. Lost my child. Lost everything. And now I have this caravan and I live by telling lies to people who want to hear the future will be better than the past.”

***

Japie Coetzee tried to find new employment. He really did. Day after day he trudged from office to office in the city, talking, pleading, praying. Eventually they had to leave the flat to live in a caravan in Fountains Park. The winter had been harsh that year and when their baby girl caught pneumonia the home remedies didn’t help. She died in Agnes’s arms. The next day, driven by guilt and sadness, Japie committed suicide. They were buried together. Agnes became Esmeralda after the funeral: she didn’t want  to be – couldn’t face – the helpless creature she had been forced to become.

***

Servaas listened to her story quietly, not interrupting or commenting at any stage. Then, when she fell silent, he moved closer to her to put an arm around her shoulders.

“I can’t cry any more.” Despite the statement, she wiped a tear from her cheek. “There’s nothing left.”

“Yes,” Servaas said, thinking of Siena. “We live until the sands run out, then we wait to die. Then we rage, rage against the dying light.”

She looked up suddenly, the smile now more secure. “Do not go gentle into that good night? Dylan Thiomas? Look, I’ve been reading it when you arrived?” She showed him the old book. It was Thomas’s 1952 collection In Country Sleep and other poems. 

***

Isn’t it strange how we meet people – apparently by coincidence or chance – only to discover we are all different and the same? Dylan Thomas summed it up nicely:

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Our frail deeds can, indeed, dance in a green bay, if only we cared to stop to listen to others. We need to stop and stare for a while to see how bright these deeds dance on the surface of Life. That’s why, when old Servaas heaved the sore hips onto the seat of the Enfield the next morning, Agnes cried for the first time in many years. Her tears, at last, were happy tears, thankful tears, for she had become Agnes again. Agnes, who had lost so much and had so much to live for, had come to understand that Dylan’s poem was not just about dying, but about living as well. Esmeralda had read the poem and resigned herself to defeat. Agnes, on the other hand, realised the value of fighting till the end – giving new meaning to her life.

“Will you visit me again?” Agnes dabbed her cheeks with the handkerchief Servaas had given her.

“No, my dear.” The old man’s voice was kind, soft, caring. “You’ve lost too much already.”

And she, understanding too well what he said, stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. Then the old engine rattled to life, drowning her last words. It didn’t matter, really. Servaas understood perfectly – the kiss said it all.

Humanity: a Picture of Us in Africa

Taking a photograph isn’t as easy as simply aiming the camera and pushing the button. You can do that if you like, but somehow it doesn’t always satisfy the need to capture that special moment or the specific atmosphere of a situation. Now, in Africa that challenge is even greater, for the instinct to take pictures of the landscapes and animals is almost overwhelming. And then you get the graphic images of war and bloodshed on the TV – leaving you confused: what is the true picture of Africa? That’s when you start looking at the people, and get to know the real face of Africa.

aYou meet Rosy, the game ranger in Damara Land, who knows every desert elephant in her region by name.

590Johannes, the friendly cook in Luderitz, is always ready to crack a joke. Here he is, insisting I take him along on the trip.

aAt an athletic day for the elderly, the past is forgotten when the teams do well.

Petro 6Up and coming rappers dream of making it on a greater stage. Andile (on the right) might just grace the cover of a CD in New York one day.

aTradition and culture remains, despite progress. To be really handsome, you have to file that tooth down properly…

cMeanwhile, Bright wants to tell you about the old times, the hard times, when life was…easier?

IMG_1914But still the animals rule the roost. This leopard was darted to be relocated to a safe environment. One little (sleepy) growl sent the helpers running!

Maybe it is true to say Africa isn’t a picture. Africa is much too complicated for that. Africa refuses to be confined to a 5×7 print – she wants to be alive, vibrant, in your mind…

The Kalahari Biker in Court

Credit: Leon Schuster

Credit: Leon Schuster

Catastrophe has a way of finding you, no matter how far you go to avoid trouble. History records many such instances: from people drowning in a tsunami of molasses in Boston (1919), to the B-52 that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945 (an accident, but chillingly similar to the events of 9-11). Since biblical times mankind has never been fast enough to escape the long and surprisingly sticky fingers of fate.

And Servaas – having left the nudist camp only that morning – wasn’t even going fast on the old Enfield. In fact, he was riding along at a sedate speed when the traffic cop suddenly appeared from behind the bush, one white-gloved hand held high while the other tried to button his fly

Philip Petrus de Lange had suffered from a weak bladder since childhood, causing much embarrassment and resulting in him being ridiculed in school. His initials did not improve his lot at all, either. This sad state of affairs caused Philip to avoid social contact and he grew up to be a morose individual with a huge chip on his shoulder. When he had to choose a career, he narrowed it down to either being a traffic cop or working at the local funeral parlour. Quite logically, he assumed that harassing living individuals would be much more satisfactory than burying his erstwhile tormentors (who obviously wouldn’t be aware of his actions), so he chose the former. Another factor in his decision was that he didn’t want to wait so long before having his revenge – he wanted to get even…soon!

And so Officer PP de Lange spent his days alongside the roads of the district, becoming an important source of income for the local municipality and the bane of everyone who used public roads in the area.

Servaas stopped, killed the engine, and took off his hat after making sure the kudu tail was still neatly in place.

“License.”

PP wasn’t one to waste time. Revenge might well be a dish best served cold, but in his case he liked to pounce, strike hard and leave his victims fuming. Being courteous wasn’t part of his default personality.

Servaas, feeling slightly guilty about enjoying his recent experience so much, shook his head. Perhaps, he thought, the encounter with a traffic cop (here in the middle of nowhere), was an apt punishment for his actions. Best to be honest and get it over with.

“No, I don’t have one.”

PP’s eyes lit up with unmitigated pleasure. A real catch! He’d simply throw the book at this old man – it’s been a quiet day, but this one will satisfy his daily need to get even with society.

“Then you are under arrest for driving without the necessary documentation. No license, hey? Isn’t that nice? Who do you think you are? Get in my car…now!”

Despite Servaas’s protestations, PP led the old man to the well-hidden vehicle, made him get into the back after checking the child locks, and drove off. The Enfield, PP informed him, would be Exhibit A in court and be fetched later.

***

The jail in town was as much a surprise as his arrest had been, only marginally more unpleasant. The little shed behind the municipal building – itself not a grand affair – housed a fire extinguisher, a few spades and a drum of tar. Servaas sat down on the extinguisher after the rusted door banged shut. This was, he decided, a real catastrophe.

Still, he considered his options. He could bang down the door with the extinguisher. Or dig his way out. Or light the tar and start a fire… But no! He must face his punishment with dignity. While it was true that he had no license to operate a two-wheeled motorized vehicle, it was also true that the time in the nudist camp had been most…entertaining. If he had to get punished for that, then he’d just have to face the wrath of the law and get it over with. Servaas knew about rights and wrongs – his years as elder in Oudoom’s church saw to that.

He spent a miserable night in that shed, thinking about the nudist camp, begging for forgiveness and promising that – if he could get out of jail – he’d never, ever, visit people who didn’t dress properly again. He closed his eyes, but before he drifted off to sleep, he considered the double disaster he had landed himself in. He’d lose his bike. He’d go to jail. Just before he drifted off to an uneasy slumber, the word ‘jeopardy’ lodged itself in his mind. Indeed, he thought.

The next morning Officer PP – dressed in his finest uniform, complete with the shiny buttons and the peaked cap – escorted his prisoner to the mayor’s office. Servaas was, understandably, a sight for sore eyes. Or his sight would have caused sore eyes, if one wanted to play with words. Hungry, dishevelled and dusty, he looked like a homeless vagabond.

Mayor Struwig was the town’s only lawyer, a man who made quite a decent living buying out farmers who couldn’t service their debts, holding on to the property for a year or so, and then selling it to the rich Gauteng yuppies who thought farming would supply a much-needed tax break. Of course, a year or so later, the same yuppie would beg the Honourable Mayor to find a willing buyer again. It was a game he couldn’t lose.

Struwig was a ferrety man with pointed ears and a receding jaw. Completely bald, his squint didn’t add to his appearance. Like Officer PP, he wasn’t exactly a social butterfly and used his job to inflate his ego. He was also the local magistrate. In this capacity he then faced the bedraggled old man from behind his polished desk.

Miss Agatha Droogsloot (called thus because of her little farm outside town) took the notes.

Struwig: “How do you plead?”

Servaas, hesitant: “Plead to what…sir?”

Struwig, impatient: “Driving a motorised two-wheeled vehicle without a license?”

Servaas, (pause), brightening: “Not guilty, your honour.”

Struwig, angry: “What?”

Servaas:”I have a question, your honour.”

Struwig, frustrated: “What”

Servaas, “What’s the story with double jeopardy?”

Struwig, quoting from memory: “Double jeopardy is a procedural defence that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same (or similar) charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction.”

Servaas, smiling: “Then I want the charge against me on record, your honour.”

Struwig: “It is on record, you fool!”

Servaas: “If it pleases your honour, then read it again, so I can justify my plea.”

Struwig, clearly irritated: “That you drove a motorised two-wheeled vehicle without license.”

Servaas: “That all?”

Struwig: “Dammit! Yes!!”

Servaas: “Then may I hold it to the  court that driving is something you do with motor cars and lorries, even cattle. Or you can drive people to distraction. But motorcycles? You ride them, your honour. Ride. That’s what I did. Not drive. That’s why you should dismiss the case. I’m innocent of the charge against me – I never drove a motor cycle.”

Struwig, foaming: “I’ll. Simply. Change. The. Wording. You. Old. *&%#!”

Servaas, shaking his head: “You can’t do that. First you must find me not guilty as charged, then you have to change the charge, and then – your honour – you get to that little bit of the definition you just read; which says something about the same or similar charges being brought against an innocent man.”

***

Officer PP de Lange watched as Servaas – still without a license – pushed the old Enfield out of town. He’ll follow that old man to the ends of the world, but he wasn’t going to let him get away! Getting into his patrol car, he followed the slow progress Servaas made, anticipating the glee of arresting him again – only this time, he’ll get the wording of his charge right. So maybe the old man could play the double jeopardy card again, but he’ll get him for speeding, or loitering, or something.

An hour later, his old problem acted up again. He stopped and was doing what he had to do when he heard the motor cycle roar to life.

Now, ask any man who is halfway through the process of answering a call of nature – especially when it is urgent. Stopping, buttoning up and getting back to the vehicle takes a minute or two.

By then, Servaas had taken a sharp left along a footpath, crossed the dry bed of a creek, and was heading towards some far-off hills – the kudu tail bobbing gaily up and down as he negotiated the uneven terrain.

Officer PP resigned the same day. He told Mayor Struwig that he’d prefer to work with dead people. They didn’t run away while he attended to his problem, he said. And, he added, they can’t come up with some lame defence – there’s no such thing as double jeopardy in a funeral parlour.

The Kalahari Biker meets the ANC

5The morning after Servaas left Springbok was hot and windy, causing the old man to tuck his Kudu-ponytail under his helmet and ride along at the best possible speed to cool him down. Although his shoulder still bothered him, Servaas was determined to reach Clanwilliam in good time: he wanted to camp out somewhere in the Ceder Mountains, He had heard about the scenic beauty of the remote area and wanted to enjoy peace and quiet for a few days. He had biltong, a few bottles of Cactus Jack and a sleeping bag – what more could a man ask for?

Despite the heat and a swarm of locusts, he reached the gravel road to Uitkykpas by late afternoon, turned left, and started looking for a suitable place to settle down for the night.

Isn’t it strange to witness the changes in an older man once you put him on a motorbike? Add the ponytail, the desire to get away from it all and a few swigs of Cactus, and the pious elder becomes a rebel. That’s why, bike-tired and thirsty, Servaas skidded to a halt when he saw the sign on the gate next to the road.

ANC – PRIVATE – Keep Out.

You can say a lot about Servaas, but he’s not stupid. He knew all about the ANC. Did he not read about the gravy train, the leader’s lives of luxury, the lush parties? Surely anything that has to do with the political party should involve lots of food, soft beds and free booze? Anyway, what did PRIVATE mean? They represented the government and the government belongs to the people. In theory that means nothing about the ANC can be labelled as private, not so? If the government was there to serve the people, he, Servaas, was entitled to a slice of that service.

IMG_1624And so – ever the rebel – Servaas opened the gate and put-putted down the track. By then it was dusk was setting in, changing the mountains around him into dark shapes against the purple sky. Servaas thought it was rather eerie – almost spooky – but kept going until the night claimed the last of daylight. He realised he had to camp down where he was, or risk riding over a cliff or into one of the huge boulders that were strewn around. 

 Servaas stopped, sighed, spread out the sleeping bag and opened the Cactus. He’d explore the ANC-place the next day, absolutely sure that there would be a hearty breakfast and maybe some lodgings for a few days. While he was chewing on the biltong, he imagined hearing the sounds of a party  far-off. Sound  carries far in the silence of the great Ceder Mountains, and he distinctly heard laughter and sounds of revelry. Yes, he thought, tomorrow he’ll join them…

Sleep came slowly that night. His aching body just couldn’t find a comfortable position. Later, he gathered enough grass to create a make-shift mattress and folded his clean shirt to cushion his hips. Then he closed his eyes and imagined the soft beds the government would have supplied to the ANC camp.

Dawn found the old man next to a small fire, sipping Cactus and waiting for the light to improve. Soon the sun rose above the peaks, and Servaas started up the Enfield after loading his few belongings into the box he had mounted behind his seat.

It took another two hours of slow riding to get near the ANC camp. At first he only saw a lonely spiral of smoke curling into the sky, and later he heard voices. They were certainly not as boisterous as the previous evening, but when he stopped, he heard laughter.

“They are a happy bunch,” he thought, “which will make it easier to negotiate a few favours from them.”

download (14)Still listening – and trying to figure out where the people are – Servaas heard something else. The voices weren’t African voices. He found this strange, especially after he thought he heard an American drawl. Servaas loved the spaghetti-cowboy movies and admired Clint Eastwood as a gun slinging do-gooder. There could be no doubt – there were Americans around…

Dismissing the cowboy image, Servaas decided that the ANC must have invited a few American advisers to the country and were now treating them to a much-needed break in the mountains. That would, he realised, make it easier for him. The government would have to show how well they treat all citizens in the country and be forced to accommodate him. Politics, Servaas knew, involved the art of lying to everybody. So, even if the ANC wanted to turn him away, they just wouldn’t dare. Humming happily to himself, he set off again.

As soon as he saw the camp, he realised something was dreadfully wrong. He had imagined a lodge or a collection of modern chalets, mown lawns and umbrellas. The ANC should have waiters, luxury cars and a helicopter pad. He gaped at the four tents scattered in a haphazard way under some trees next to a brook, the smoky fire and the single coolbox next to a fold-up table. 

“Wha…?”

And then he saw her,

The lady (there was no mistaking her gender) must have been about ninety years old. She was bending over the fire, stirring something in a biggish black pot. There was, Servaas thought, several things wrong with the picture. Not only was the lady white, she was also completely naked. 

Servaas had seen naked people in the past. Servaasie, when he was born. Glimpses of Siena on their honeymoon in Margate. And once, just after the Oasis Casino had opened, he sneaked into one of those movies. But this woman, whose anatomy had given up the fight against gravity a long time ago, was nothing like he had ever seen (or imagined) before. Then, while he was still staring at the woman in horrid fascination, he saw a man join her next to the fire. He was even older and dressed – if wearing a Stetson counts as being clothed.

Had the ANC gone mad? Servaas shook his head and tore his eyes from the couple. Only then did he see the minibus. An old one, with an emblem on the side. 

***

When Servaas tells this story in Boggel’s Place, he is rewarded with a gust of laughter every time. To stumble upon the group of people must have been quite something, Vetfaan will say, shaking his head. Gertruida – who knows everything – usually then says it isn’t such a strange thing: people all over the world do it. They should be left in peace, she tells them, because they are discreet and harm nobody. Oudoom will then object, muttering about the morals of the world decaying at an alarming rate.

But Servaas? He remembers the breakfast he had with the Alabama Nudist Club with a smile. They turned out to be extremely accommodating, inviting him to stay for a few days.

Did he stay? Did he go?

Servaas isn’t saying, but the glint in his eyes should tell you something. He’ll never mention the old couple’s three granddaughters, nor the way he introduced them to Cactus Jack. Bikers are like that, especially when they get older. The young ones brag about their adventures in graphic details. The older – wiser – biker will tuck his Kudu-ponytail under his helmet, smile at the memories, and tell you just enough to make you jump to your own conclusion. Sometimes that’s even better than the real thing…

 

Adventure – an Elephant’s Tale

PHOTO CHALLENGE

Adventure!

Whether your own or someone else’s, literal or figurative, take us on a photographic adventure

***

 

I don’t really have a name – not like you humans do, anyway – but I know I’m me and my family knows me. That’s good enough.  

a

That’s me, a little while back when I was really small, with Mom and my brother. Every day is an adventure over here.                                                    

dThe thing I like best, is scaring humans who come to have a look at us. I can stamp my feet, flap my ears and trumpet real loud. You should see them rush off to safety!

cAnother daily adventure is crossing the river to have lunch on the little island. Man, now that’s an excellent meal! We have to watch out for crocs, though. They’re real mean. They got a bit of my aunty’s trunk…                                                            fShe’s very shy, but we help her with feeding and drinking. In our language, we call her ‘Shorty’.                                                    bI love wrestling with my nephew. If I get a hold of his trunk, I can head-butt him! That’s great fun!                                              gOops! Here comes Dad! I have to go…he doesn’t like me talking to strangers. But I guess you got the message – my life is an adventure. I love it here….

The Kalahari Biker in a Rural Clinic

mhin91MWith the front wheel fixed, Servaas left the Klein Pella Guest Farm to continue hus journey. He wanted to get to Springbok before continuing to Hondeklipbaai, that sleepy village next to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s been years and yeas since last he saw the sea. Rolbos, is, after all, in the middle of the desert and he’d simply love to see the endless mass of cold water separating South Africa from the rest of the Western World.

The ache in his left shoulder began an hour later. At first it was a mild twinge, but soon the discomfort became so bad, he had to let go of the handlebar and rest his left hand on his lap. Then the pain spread down the arm to his elbow, becoming more intense…

***

Patric Modise always wanted to be a doctor. When he was small, he’d be the one applying various leaves and mixtures (feathers and mud, grass and mud, ash and mud…etc) to the many cuts and bruises his childhood friends endured. In the village this was tolerated with understanding smiles, for will little Patric not (like the rest of the children) end up working for some mining company or – if he’s lucky – for a farmer? To be a labourer is about as far as one could go in that region and dreams of becoming an independent professional were completely crazy. Still, kids will talk such silly things and his parents didn’t want to kill his fantasy too soon.

Patric worked hard in school – or what passed as school in those days. Everybody had been so excited when democracy arrived and the new government promised houses, education and a chicken in every pot every Sunday. Patric’s father, Sipho, tried to tell the village that there wasn’t enough chickens around to fulfil that promise, but he still believed the housing and education promises. Well, as it turned out, nothing changed at all. They got to draw little crosses on ballot papers, which meant an extra holiday every five years; but that was all.

When he passed Standard Five, Patric persuaded his father to allow him to stay with an uncle in Upington, where he attended the Secondary School. Due to his diligence, he passed Matric at the top of his class with an average of 69%. This was a school record, causing the headmaster to predict a bright future for the industrious student.

And it all came to a grinding halt…

Patric sent letters to every university in South Africa. He was, after all, a good student, had a disadvantaged background and his family supported the ANC. Surely that was enough to make any dean of any medical faculty sit up and beg the lad to grace the university with his presence? Patric included – in every letter – some of his more successful recipes for the treatment of cuts, scorpion stings and various rashes, just to prove his serious intent to contribute to medical knowledge. When not a single letter from any university arrived, Patric tried to convince himself it was due to just another strike: either the postal workers or the railways or maybe the Typist’s Union. He then bade his family a teary goodbye and hiked to Cape Town.

 The shock of seeing so many townships filled with so many desperate people near Cape Town, caused a flutter of anxiety. And when he arrived, dusty and travel-weary, at the university one Friday afternoon, he had to plead and beg his way to the dean’s office. He never talks about that interview. At the end of it, the exasperated dean palmed him off to the matron of Tygerberg Hospital, where he was appointed to the staff as an orderly.

This story, however, is not about the time he spent in that huge complex while pushing trolleys around. Suffice to say that, after twelve frustrating months, Patric was no nearer to fulfilling his dream. He hung up his white coat one day, left the building and hiked home again.

Much to his surprise, the government had built a small clinic near his village in the meantime. It was a neat, two-room affair, with a filing cabinet and a date stamp (no ink for the pad). It was also unmanned. Patric wrote another letter, this time to the matron who appointed him a year ago, explaining his intention to apply for a job at the empty clinic. The matron, who had a secret little affair with the Minister of Health, mentioned this to the important man after a sweaty afternoon in the Mount Nelson Hotel, which resulted n the Minister proudly announcing in his next press conference that yet another clinic ‘is now fully operational in one of the country’s most remote places’.

***

And so we get to the point where Servaas, ashen-faced and whimpering with pain, saw the red cross on the sign next to the road. Help! He needed help! And how fortunate he was to stumble across a hospital here, in the middle of nowhere!

Patric was busy sweeping out ‘his’ clinic when the Enfield slowly approached the little building.

“Where’s the hospital?” Servaas could barely speak, due to the pain.

“This is the hospital,” Patric announced rather proudly.

“Are you the doctor?” The fact that Patric held a broom caused Servaas to wonder about the young man, but he did wear a white coat and he seemed bright enough.

“That’s what they call me around here,” Patric said truthfully.

“I’m having a coronary,” Servaas croaked.

Crisis! A real crisis! Patric kept his calm – but felt like dancing. Dishing out tablets to the AIDS victims in the area was hardly exciting. How he had longed for an emergency like the ones he saw being rushed hither and thither in Cape Town! Man, over there the doctors brought people back from the very brink of death! And wasn’t that his dream? To help the hopeless, cure the terminally ill?

Patric helped the old man from his bike and had him lay down on the examining couch. Haltingly, painfully, Servaas told of the pain in his left shoulder, the radiating discomfort down the upper arm and now, lately, the spreading of the pain upwards, to his neck.

What to do? Patric knew enough of medicine to know that his clinic had no facilities to sort out this problem. ARV’s were of no use in cardiac cases. The bottle of Codeine Sulphate helped for diarrhoea and coughs. He did have a big container with Vitamin B tablets, but those were for pregnant women and would certainly not help his current patient.

So Patric did what he could. Mixing some ash with mud, he applied a poultice to Servaas’ shoulder and told him to rest. Servaas suggested they have a tot of the Cactus Jack in his rucksack.

***

Servaas left the next day – a completely cured (if hung-over) patient – after Patric supplied Aspirin for them both as breakfast. The entire village had come to greet the old man as he got onto the Enfield, all of them expressing their admiration for their ‘Doctor’ Patric, who single-handedly saved the old man’s life in their most modern medical facility.  

FROZEN_SHOULDERWhen Gertruida heard about this episode, she went ‘harrumph!’, muttering that the pain had not been to a cardiac condition at all, but was simply the result of muscle fatigue in the ancient shoulder. She said something about a Rotator Cuff and  a Frozen Shoulder; but the patrons in Boggel’s Place immediately rejected that as being impossible in the heat of the Northern Cape.

Still, Servaas was extremely thankful for the help he got at Patric’s Clinic, and sent a batch of frozen chickens  from Springbok. ‘Doctor’ Patric then told his father that some of the government’s promises take a long time, but they did – at last – have a chicken for every pot on that Sunday.

Was it a coronary? Servaas still believe it was. The pain recurred from time to time while he rode on that Enfield, but by then he knew exactly what to do. Ash and mud, he says, have saved his life several times.