Category Archives: smalltown short stories

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 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

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.

Vetfaan’s Caracal

images (1)“How’s Vetfaan?” A worried frown wrinkles Kleinpiet’s brow. “It’s been…what?…three days now? Should be coming home soon, I hope.”

Boggel slides a beer over the counter with a sympathetic smile. Kleiniet hates drinking alone, and – to be honest – the atmosphere in Boggel’s Place certainly took a nosedive ever since the ambulance came to fetch the burly farmer.

“I phoned this morning, Kleinpiet. They’re sending him back today, but I don’t think he’ll be joining us for a drink for a while. His backside….”

Kleinpiet winces, nods, and swallows a mouthful of beer. “Poor chap. He shouldn’t have…”

***

The tragedy started when Vetfaan checked on his sheep two weeks ago. That’s when he found three of his best ewes missing. After a prolonged search of the area, he eventually  discovered the three carcasses close to each other with several bite marks on their necks.

“That was a lynx,” Servaas said when Vetfaan complained about it that night. “Nasty cats. they are. One of them gets amongst a flock of sheep, and they go crazy. Bite, bite, bite – that’s what they do. They don’t settle down for dinner after killing a single prey – for them it’s the joy of hunting and killing that does the trick. I know Ben Bitterbrak lost twenty sheep in a single night due to one of them.”

“Oh Servaas!” Gertruida’s irritation bubbled to the surface. “We don’t have any of the lynx species in Africa. I’ll have you know there are four subspecies of lynx: the Eurasian, Canadian, Iberian, and the North American Bobcat. Over here, we have the caracal – which is far more vicious than the lynx family. You should have known that.”

“Well, I’m going to shoot that bastard, no matter what you call it. I can’t afford to lose any more of my flock. Lamb season is almost here…” The grim expression on Vetfaan’s face hadn’t softened, despite the peach brandy.

Vetfaan returned to Boggel’s Place three days later, looking haggard and even grimmer. “That cat! Dammit, man – I wait for it here, and it kills over there. My farm is just too big for me to cover the whole area. And I can’t keep my sheep herded together every night – it’s impossible.” That, of course, is true. Farming with sheep in such an arid area means that the sheep have to graze over extensive tracts of land,

Kleinpiet then – two more rounds of peach brandy later – suggested that they establish COSATU – Caracal Observation, Strategy and Terminating Union. “We’ll all join you to eliminate that cat. We’ll start tonight.”

For the next four nights Boggel did no business – except for selling a few beers to the ladies of the town. Fortunately, the men had the foresight to stock up during the day – reminding each other of the desert chill at night. It’s not that they want to drink peach brandy during the vigil, it’s only to ward off the cold, understand?

Their strategy was simple: spreading out on the higher parts of the farm and armed with powerful spotlights and a variety of guns (Servaas insisting on the old Mauser his great-grandfather used in the war against the British), they waited. And waited. And felt the freezing wind. And partook – cautiously at first but later with considerable enthusiasm – of the peach brandy which they then dubbed ‘Antifreeze.”

Perhaps that’s why, on Night Four, Servaas accidently (so he claimed), discharged his gun, killing hundreds of completely innocent termites in a cat-shaped ant heap a hundred yards away. By then, the lack of sleep and the peach brandy had so fatigued the members of COSATU that they were reduced to mumbling idiots. The next day they discussed the issue, and created the New Union of Modern Stalking Activists – an entirely novel approach to the threat to Vetfaan’s sheep.

Perhaps a little explanation will help to understand what happened next. One must remember that the combination of peach brandy and sleep deprivation does not enhance intelligent thought. The plan formulated by the group in the bar that day, serves to emphasise that fact.

“You have to think like a caracal to catch a caracal.” Kleinpiet only slurred the words ever so slightly. “We’re thinking like real people here, and that won’t do. That cat has it’s own way – and last night he proved it by killing two more sheep while we were waiting at the wrong place.” (They had all fallen asleep, of course, but nobody thought it wise to correct Kleinpiet’s version of events.) “By now Vertfaan has lost ten sheep – if we don’t change our strategy, he’ll lose everything.

“We’ll stalk that cat. Follow it and then get rid of it. That’s the only way.”

This remark caused a lot of debate. Stalking a caracal would be impossible, Servaas observed. “So you think that cat is going to sit there, watching how a man with a gun sneaks up to it? They’re not that stupid.” He was right, they all agreed. Stalking had to be done subtly, cleverly.

And two more drinks later, it was Vetfaan who proposed The Plan.

“I’ve got it! We’ll do it the Bushman way.” He waited for everybody to fall silent before continuing. “Remember that movie by Jamie Uys? The Gods must be Crazy? In the second film he had this lady…” He couldn’t remember her name until Gertruida told him it was Lena Ferugia, who played the role of Dr. Ann Taylor. “Well, with a few bushes and a long stick, she fooled the ostriches to think she was one of them. That’s what we’ll do!”

“Okay. I get it.” Sarcasm dripped from Servaas’s remark. “We give you long ears and make you go meow, then that cat thinks you’re sexy. When he asks you out for a date, you grab him and stuff him into a bag. Hey, that’s so ingenious, can’t think why Gertruida didn’t suggest it hours ago.”

“Or maybe he’s a fast one and you get to have kittens!” Precilla asked for a tissue to wipe away the tears while she laughed.

“You can laugh if you want. I’ll show you.”

And Vetfaan did. He returned just before sunset with his sheep-suit. Well, it must be said that he made quite a good job of it. After stitching two sheep skins together, he draped it over his body and kept it in place with some webbing he still had from his army days. When he got down on all fours, he received a modest applause from the group in the bar.

“Nice job, Vetfaan.” Kleinpiet sniggered. “You’ll fool that cat, for sure. And hey, you don’t have to bother about the head at all. You look like a fine sheep just as you are.”

Vetfaan took that as a compliment, told them to wait up and drove off. No, he won’t need any help, thank you. He’s got a 9mm pistol and his camouflage. The cat was about to depart to kitty heaven…

***

“At least the caracal took off. I’ve checked on Vetfaan’s farm every day, and no more killing. He’ll be glad to hear that.”

“You can’t blame that poor cat, Kleinpiet.” Servaas has managed not to giggle every time they talk about Vetfaan’s misfortune. “Imagine his surprise?”

“Give the devil his due, Servaas. I don’ think even Vetfaan expected  that the caracal would be fooled so well. I mean, when he joined that flock in the darkness, baa-ing peacefully, he must have thought it was a long shot, too. And yet…”

“Ja, shame. And he didn’t even get a shot off, either.”

“Ag, come on, Servaas. If a vicious carnivore takes a bite out of your bum, it’s difficult to think about shooting. You only do running and screaming. You think the cat was surprised? I think his prey was completely thunderstruck!”

“Hey guys!” Precilla bumps open the door to Boggel’s Place. “The ambulance is on it’s way. Now, please, please don’t say anything about his bandages when he gets here. Let’s be nice…” She want’s to add ‘for a change’, but decides against it..

When Vetfaan limps from the ambulance, he heads straight for the bar. He is thirsty and in a bad mood. He doesn’t bat an eye when Servaas said he heard that somebody made a ewe-turn, and even ignored the time when Kleinpiet stepped aside to say ‘After ewe.”

But what gets his goat – in a manner of speaking – is when Servaas asks him about the way the caracal surprised him. “Didn’t you feel a bit sheepish”

Fortunately, the ambulance hasn’t left yet. The ambulance  man says it’s not serious; if Servaas keeps the ice-pack in place, that black eye will look much better tomorrow.

Vetfaan’s Ant Heap.

IMG_2541 (2)Of course they laughed at him. The huge bandage around his head, the constant hand-behind-the-ear and the puzzled look did, indeed, paint a funny picture –  but it was the story behind Vetfaan’s deafness that made them snigger the most.

If, for instance, Vetfaan had been an upright, honest, law-abiding citizen, he would have spared himself considerable pain and embarrassment. Or if he didn’t take up the conversation in Boggel’s Place so seriously, his medical bills would have been less. Then again, fracking had been a subject hotly debated, and who would have thought such a threat to the environment could have caused so much damage? Maybe it is only right to blame the peach brandy Boggel served that night: after all, we all know that the most difficult problems in the world are reduced to mere irritations by the time Boggel finally gets to lock the door to his bar every night.

It was Kleinpiet who started the debate about fracking. He said the price of diesel made it difficult to make ends meet. Peach brandy, he said, had not increased in cost – and nobody else wanted to use the over ripe fruit, anyway. You simply picked up whatever had fallen from the tree. So why, he asked, should oil be such a problem? Was the fruit of the tree not similar to the oil underground? You don’t go about manufacturing oil or peaches – Mother Nature does that. Therefore, if peach brandy is virtually free, why then, so should oil be.

Gertruida then launched into a long and detailed lecture on refineries and world economics – which her audience either ignored or didn’t understand. It’s been a longtime understanding in Boggel’s Place that one must at least appear to be listening to Gertruida’s speeches, but that it is permissible to have another few tots, daydream, and nod occasionally – simply to allow her to finish whatever she’s saying. It was when she concluded her dissertation on the balance of energy needs and the supply of money and oil that Kleinpiet said something about how nice it would be if the country had it’s own oil supply.

“Look,” he said, “fracking involves pumping a lot of sludge into the ground. That’s bad.” He swayed to his feet, shaking his head at the thought of the pollution that’d follow. “But…if we discovered a new way of getting oil from under the Kalahari, we’d be rich. Maybe..,” here his face lit up at the thought, “…Rolbos will expand. Can you imagine a Spar, or a Checkers or even a Woolworths in Voortrekker Weg?  Think about it: no more trips to Upington to buy shoes from PEP Stores – we’d have one right here! We’d be exporting oil – and save a lot by walking to the store and not driving halfway around the world to get to a decent shop.”

Of course his opinion received much more attention than Gertruida’s dreary lecture. Servaas wanted to start drilling immediately (at the end of Voortrekker Weg, where the road stops. In front of Boggel’s Place would be far too noisy). Oudoom agreed, dreaming of a bigger congregation and a new coat of paint on the church. The increase in business wasn’t lost on Boggel either, while Sammie could just see “Sammie’s Woolworths” in blazing neon above the entrance to his shop.

“Why drill? That’s expensive. What about using one of the dry holes we have in the district – some of them are very deep already.” (It has to be said that this was Vetfaan’s contribution, so he has only himself to blame.) “Gertruida, tell us again how the do this fracking? There must be an easier way.”

Somewhat reluctantly – for she must have had an inkling of what would follow – Gertruida explained that holes were drilled vertically, and then expanded horizontally. Then, she said, they pumped water and chemicals into the substrata, which forced gas –  and sometimes oil – to the surface.

“We can’t do that.” Vetfaan glared at his glass, which was empty again. “We’ll develop the Rolbos Method.”

This – understandably – resulted in everybody chipping in with new and brilliant (if somewhat inebriated) ideas of how one can do ‘clean’ fracking. In the end, the slurred debate subsided into a sullen silence. Getting oil to the surface proved too much for even the ingenuity of their late-night plans. Like most evenings in Boggel’s Place ends, they bade each other a sound sleep before swaying to their individual homes.

The next day Vetfaan wasn’t there when Boggel opened his bar. This does happen sometimes when he has to count his sheep or repair his tractor, so nobody was particularly worried at first. However, when two o’clock arrived and Vetfaan still didn’t show up, it was Servaas who wondered whether the burly farmer might be ill or something.

“He did have an inordinate amount of peach brandy last night,” he said, “and he could have gotten lost on his way home,”

A rescue party was hastily assembled, and armed with a bottle (‘Hair of the dog,” Kleinpiet insisted), the group traipsed down Voortrekker weg to knock on Vetfaan’s ‘dorphuis’ – the cottage he uses when he’s not on the farm (which is most of the time. – he always says his sheep do a better job of looking after themselves than he does). There, after knocking on the door for a few minutes, they opened the door (nobody locks doors in Rolbos) to find the interior in complete disarray.

“This looks like a burglary,” Sersant Dreyer eyed the mess suspiciously.

“No, he was looking for something. Look, his clothes are still in the cupboard and the radio is there, next to the bed.” Gertruida assumed that superior attitude of one who knows everything. “But he did dig into his old army holdall. See how the uniforms are scattered around? There are the boots and the socks and the…” She stared at the oversized brown underpants in horror, unable to say the word. “…and here’s the steel helmet..and the bayonet.”

“Oh. My. Word.” Kleinpiet whispered the words, his face ashen. “It’s the hand grenade.”

Kleinpiet – with a sideway glance to Sersant Dreyer – then told everybody that Vetfaan had brought back a Russian hand grenade from the border. “He showed it to me once, and then he put it back in the old coffee tin. That coffee tin,” he pointed at the empty container, ‘which now no longer has anything in it.”

Servaas caught on immediately. “Didn’t Gertruida say they used explosives to help the fracking process?”

***

Vetfaan later explained that he pulled the pin, counted to five, and dropped the grenade into the dry borehole on his farm. Gertruida had to tell him (by facial expressions and various hand movements) that there was no need for him to shout, which only served to decrease his volume to a slightly more acceptable level.

“When I got to twenty, I realised the hand grenade was dead. So I went to the house, got a torch, and looked down the hole. That’s when it went off.”

***

Of course everybody said that was the stupidest thing they’d ever heard, and for months after his hearing returned, Vetfaan endured the jibes and the snide remarks with an embarrassed grin.

One day he’ll tell them about the black stuff oozing from that borehole. That’s the borehole that was quietly filled up with cement afterwards; the one carefully disguised by the construction of a huge ant heap over it. This was done quite cleverly, understand? If you didn’t know it was man made, you’d think it’s one of the hundreds that you see every day in the Kalahari.

Vetfaan thinks it’s far better to be silent about such things. Once he’d sobered up, he realised he liked Rolbios – and the Kalahari – just the way it is, thank you.

And Sersant Dreyer? There’s no evidence, he says. Nothing to indicate any criminal activity. After all – did he not help Vetfaan build that ant heap? No, poor Vetfaan had a temporary loss of hearing, and that’s a medical problem. Policemen don’t get involved in such matters.

No, sir, not at all.

For the readers who do not understand the simple lyrics: it is an old Afrikaans folk song, describing the beauty of the Kalahari. Enjoy the pictures, sit back, and let your mind wander...

The Fading Significance of Remorse

2b6826f5af0bd50fc72475477179bda9.img“Ja, there’ll be a few sore heads in the Western Province today,” Servaas, an old Province supporter, smiles happily. “We certainly beat them fair and square.”

“Not so. No fair. One successful kick and the tables would have been turned. The Lions played their hearts out, you have to give them that.” Vetfaan, whose loyalty towards the more northern team never wavered, stares wistfully into his empty glass. “if only…”

If doesn’t count, the score board does. And it’s there for everybody to see: we won. That result is now history – fifty years from now the statisticians will look at it and nobody will worry about how it came about. Rugby isn’t for sissies, Vetfaan. You have to take what’s coming to you, like a man.”

The conversation slews this way and that, but the central theme remains the Lion’s defeat at the hands of Province. Vetfaan said something about penalties missed, opportunities that went begging.

“Ag, it’s Life, Vetfaan.” Kleinpiet puts a comforting arm around his friend’s shoulder. “Win some, lose some. No use crying over spilt milk.”

Boggel serves another round before joining the conversation. “That’s the problem these days. People aren’t allowed to feel sorry anymore. It’s not fashionable to express grief. Why, whenever something goes wrong, you simply blame somebody else, the system, the legacy of the past or any lame excuse you can think of. And you know what? Then people forget about it and the next catastrophe pops up. Life, as we know it, has become a string of disasters, one following the other, and we’ve become immune to the results of such. Take e-toll, Nkandla, the Arms Deal, corrupt ministers and so many officials and administrators who erode the fabric of our society. Even worse: take the huge interest in the various court cases we hear about every day.” He is, of course, referring to the Pistorius and Dewani cases. “Do we still stop and think about these? Are we still able to distinguish between right and wrong? And do we pause for a moment to consider the men and women behind these incidents?

“No, we say it’s spilt milk, we don’t cry about it, and simply continue building little mental forts to hide in. As long as we can play ostrich-ostrich, we don’t have to think. And that, I think, is bad.

“But when we consider sport, we become changed men. We shout. We express opinions, we celebrate and we grieve. Why? Because for too many people, the only real thing they see, is sport. It’s transparent,it’s actual, and the scoreline is final. There’s no appeal, no replay. A dropped pass is a dropped pass. The kick that missed, remains a scoring opportunity gone begging. And that, I think, appeals to people because there’s discipline, logic and finality involved. Those things are sadly lacking in everyday life.”

It’s Gertruida, who knows everything, who nods. Yes, Boggel is right. Modern Man is becoming progressively impassive to unfolding events. It’s almost as if we expect failure – as if the only way to handle Life, is to become so self-centered that we shrink the world to be the thin timeline we live on.

“It is,” she says, “because we refuse remorse and grief to play a part in our everyday lives. And that’s where the Bible leads a few of us astray, Oudoom.” She watches the old Pastor’s face blanche. “No, listen to what I’m saying before you react.

“How many times have you told us not to judge? Isn’t it central to our faith? We say we mustn’t reprove.” She pauses while Oudoom takes a deep breath. “But what about forgiveness? How can you forgive, if you haven’t formed an opinion? And without an opinion – or judgement – you cannot decide that something is right or wrong. It’s fundamental to the act of forgiveness to have judged something to be improper.

“Once we can forgive, we can allow remorse, for it’s only forgiveness that sets the stage for remorse. So what happens in society? We don’t judge kindly, we don’t forgive, and thus nobody has to express remorse. We become callous and unfeeling, little armored amoebas drifting along in the sludge that surrounds us, because we don’t allow us to be honest with ourselves – and go through life as isolated as we possibly can. The concept of a sympathetic society that acts as a unit, has ceased to exist. We have become Homo Pachydermacallous, the final stage in evolution.”

All this is way too much for Kleinpiet, who enjoyed the Currie Cup Final tremendously.

“Gee, guys, do we have to psychoanalyse civilisation because the Lions lost? Can’t we just be normal and celebrate the victors – as well as commiserate with the losers.?”

“That’s the point, Kleinpiet. We need to feel – both sides. Express emotion. Laugh a little. Cry a bit. That’s the only way to experience Life as it should be. And let me remind you: such emotions are judgement calls as well. We can decide to be happy – or sad – because we’ve analysed the situation. Then, once again, we become captains of our own ships: individuals with an opinion – but members of a larger body,”

“I don’t understand what this has to do with rugby.” Servaas has lost the point in the conversation right in the beginning. He only expressed his joy at his team winning, after all.

“Rugby is much like life, Servaas. In Life, we also have a referee, a game plan and a limited time to play. Then, along the way, things go right…or wrong. When the final whistle sounds, one may have stacked up enough points to win…or lose. Somehow I don’t think it matters much whether you founded Microsoft or lived a pauper’s life on the sidewalk. What matters is how you lived the life you were given. Did you, in essence, play the game? How did you treat your fellow man? What – and how – did you say things to your neighbour? Were you kind in your judgement and what role did forgiveness play?” Despite Gertruida’s explanation, Servaas retains his puzzled look.

“Look, Servaas.” Oudoom seems to have recovered from Gertruida’s remarks. “what our panel of psychoanalysts seem to say, is that we should do in Life as we do in sport. Feel, shout, celebrate, grieve…and even love. Look at you, Servaas: when that final whistle blew, you whooped with joy. Vetfaan, however, emitted a constipated groan.  Now – the question is this: why do we allow ourselves to experience sport in so many more colours than we live in every day? Why does Vetfaan feel worse about a three-point difference, than about the killing, the rape and the corruption in the country? And yes, Gertruida may be right: it’s because we stopped thinking about such things. That’s why, my friend, we need to bring back remorse and reality to our lives. If our government expressed these emotions about some of their decisions, we’d be able – at last – to judge them fairly. They’d get my vote the moment they become honest about their feelings.”

***

Sometimes, Boggel will tell you, he wishes he could write about the things they talk about in his little bar. The conversations don’t always follow a logical line, but – if you listened carefully – you’d find s few nuggets of wisdom hidden in the musings of his patrons.

But –  he says – he won’t bother putting these wisdoms to paper. People won’t read them, he says, and if they do, they’d most probably reject them as idealistic and even romantic. And, as we all know, Life is too real for fantasy.

Ask any Lion supporter if you don’t believe him.,..

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art

Selecting a cover for the book on Rolbos wasn’t easy. How do you capture the poignant but sometimes outrageous escapades of the group at the bar in Boggel’s Place? The cover had to say something about isolation and the atmosphere of the stories. Here are a few examples:

B 1But no, that didn’t do it. It had to be more human, more humane, say something about the town.

b 2Too desolate, run down. Maybe something more romantic?

c 1

Nice…but still not enough character. So here’s the one that made it to the cover. It’s a lovely image, kindly provided by my most efficient publisher, and it says it all…

Rolbos-eng

The Day a Sergeant became a General

Credit: nbcnews.com

Credit: nbcnews.com

“Those Canadians,” Vetfaan said after the third peach brandy, “are a crazy lot. Imagine doing something like this in South Africa?”

“Shooting intruders? We do that all the time. Even civilians do it, but then they somethimes have to do a bit of jail-time afterwards.”

Vetfaan glares at Kleinpiet for a second. The ignorance! The backwardness! Surely Kleinpiet, like himself, replaces the batteries in his transistor radio from time to time? Why, one must keep up with the world – and the weather.

On the other hand, he thinks, listening to the radio once a week – or even a month – is more than enough. The  circumstances surrounding Nkandla and the Arms deal have not changed in years – and neither has the weather. Maybe he shouldn’t be so hard on his friend.

“No man. I’m talking about that Vickers guy in Ottawa. At least you realised that, I know, but my point is not the shooting. It’s the rest. I can’t understand that.”

Even Gertruida – who knows everything – looks up in surprise. What is Vetfaan going on about? The news of the tragic events in Ottawa has dominated their conversations ever since Oscar’s incarceration – a welcome relief from an upsetting bit of history. Welcome? She shakes her head. No, that’s the wrong word. Nobody welcomes the news of terrorism, even if it happens on the other side of the Atlantic.

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Vetfaan.” With her brow knitted in an admonishing scowl, Gertruida  uses her lecture tone. “That man, Kevin Vickers, is a national hero in Canada. He prevented a disaster  by remaining calm, doing his duty and protecting their Prime Minister.” She turns to Servaas, who is trying to order another beer from Boggel. “Vickers is almost as old as you are, Servaas. what would you have done?”

“Um…let me see.You mean: there I am, an unknown man brandishes a gun and I have to stop him? Gee, I don’t know.” He pulls at one of the long hairs protruding from his left ear. “Well, I’d consider what would happen afterwards. First of all, the police will confiscate my gun and my licence, telling me I can never own a firearm again. Then they’ll arrest me for disturbing the peace, reckless handling of a gun in a public place, discharging the same at somebody I assumed was an intruder – but had no proof of the man’s intent, inciting racial unrest, and – of course – manslaughter, culpable homicide or murder…or any combination of the above. Consider, too, that I might have missed and hit one of the statues in the building – then they would have slapped a charge of the malicious damaging of public property on me as well.” The hair releases it’s hold on the ear, allowing Servaas to inspect it closely. At length, he concludes: “It’s not a trick question, is it? I would have run away as fast as my legs can carry me. I don’t need trouble at this stage of my life.”

Vetfaan rolls his eyes and sighs. “I’m not talking about the shooting, man! In Johannesburg they discharge guns at traffic lights just for the fun. Anybody can pull a trigger. What I’m talking about is, ” and here he waits a dramatic moment, “the gold!”

A stunned silence follows the silence.

“What gold?” The group’s question sounds like a well-rehearsed chorus.

“That thing the man carries around all day. What do you call it? That  club on his shoulder?”

download (1)“It is called a mace, Vetfaan. It’s a ceremonial staff that symbolises authority.” Warming to the subject, Gertruida tells them that  - originally – a mace was a club with a heavy head, used to bludgeon the enemy. “The Canadian mace looks very much like the British one, with the head consisting of four panels: the Arms of Canada, the rose of England, the harp of Ireland and the thistle of Scotland.”

“Well,” Vetfaan says with a satisfied grin – Gertruida actually strengthened his case. “It has a lot of gold in it. Can you imagine what it is worth? Must be thousands, even more.”

Kleinpiet still has a confused look. “What’s your point, Vetfaan?”

“Don’t you get it? The Canadians entrust that…mace…to a mere sergeant! It’s unthinkable! We’d never be so irresponsible in South Africa, Just stop to think about it: scrap metal is a burgeoning enterprise in our country. Cable theft halts trains and stops Johannesburg from getting water. And let me remind you: we’re talking about copper here. Not gold. No, my friends, a thing like that should be the responsibility of a general or kept locked up in a safe. If you walked down a street with that thing on your shoulder, you can be sure it’ll be melted down before the sun sets.”

***

Gertruida had to explain the system to Vetfaan, who finally understood more about the rank of Sergeant-at-Arms when he finished his eighth peach brandy.

“In Rolbos we’ll call him a General-at-Arms,” he concluded, an awed expression replacing the cynical smile, “and we would have bought that man a Bell’s. Goodness me, what a man! Gertruida, you have to write to that Prime Minister and tell him to promote that sergeant. I think he deserves it.”

vickersIn the end they decided – due to the protracted postal strike in the country – that such a letter won’t even reach Pofadder. So, if you walked in to Boggel’s Place over the weekend, you’ll see a photograph of Kevin Vickers on the shelf behind the till. Precilla has drawn four stars on the man’s shoulder. Over here, they insist on talking about General Vickers. Even Gertruida says it’s only fair.

The Rape of Religion

Credit: cbc.ca

Credit: cbc.ca

“Of all the subjects to talk about, you may choose anything…except religion. Of that you shall not speak. It is the modern-day apple in Paradise. Unless, of course, you want to go overboard and talk about racism – then you venture into really dangerous territory.”

The group in the bar has been discussing the events in Ottawa and the possible connection with ISIS, after Gertruida explained the issues in the Middle East. Servaas said something about the danger of a Jihad, prompting Oudoom to caution against prejudice.

“Look,” Oudoom says, “religion is about many things. We can talk about the creation of the universe – and the world – and marvel at the Creator. Or we can talk about the directives – in all religions – about love and tolerance. Most religions – the exception I know of is the way the Aztecs thought about time – accept that the world has a beginning and an end. And all religious teachings say something about Life after Death. Those communalities are enough for me. I’d like to accept that and then to stop thinking about the differences. Surely the concept of God is an universal one – something that calls us all to be more circumspect in our denouncement of ‘other’ religions?”

“Ja, Oudoom, that might be true. But what about terrorists acting in the name of faith?”

“That’s the oldest story ever told, Servaas. Go back in history: more wars were fought in the name of religion than anything else. The land disputes and greed of kings and rulers pale into insignificance once you add religion. Since Biblical times this hasn’t stopped. Joshua invaded Canaan. The Israelites fought the non-believers. The Muslim conquests in the 7th and 8th century were followed by the Christian Crusades. Today we have similar situations in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria…and now in Canada.

“The question, of course, is whether we must condemn the religion…or the people. My take is that people use religion to justify their means. Faith, my friends, has become a shield to hide behind when you promote certain ideals.”

Gertruida nods -yes, she knew all this – but still she frowns. “What I don’t understand, is why religion – which ostensibly preaches love and tolerance – reverts to violence? And if terrorism isn’t in line with the ideology of religion, why do people shoot at soldiers standing guard at the memorial for the Unknown Soldier?”

“Let me tell you, Gertruida, that the most dangerous thing in this world, is faith. Once you start believing everything that is preached from the pulpit, you must remember that there is a human element to such sermons. Remember how some churches justified Apartheid? And how they led a whole country astray – for purely political goals? No, we must not jump on the bandwagon and condemn all people who follow other religions. It’s not about Muslims or Christians or Shiites or Sunnis. It’s about the rape of faith, the corruption of an age-old message to live and let live. And that, my friends, has been the polarising factor in our world since the dawn of time.”

“But why then attack innocent bystanders – or wage war in Syria?”

“Money, Servaas, and power. There will always be people who are suppressed by others in the name of capitalism or politics. We live in a world where differences in ethnicity and status are defined  and accentuated by financial factors. The person who controls the purse, is the boss. So you take people who have nothing to lose, give them the blessing of their faith, and what happens? They believe a martyr’s death is the key to salvation. The’ll wage your war for you and you end up with the spoils. Do you think any religious war has ever benefitted the poor? Of course not! The poor remained poor, but the new emperor or king  - or whatever you call the leader – he’s the one who ends up sipping the champagne.”

“I’ve never understood war.” Vetfaan remembers his days in the army. “How do you convince somebody of your ideology by killing people? I mean: is it right for the side that kills the most, to come out tops? Will a thousand dead bodies convince a million live ones that the aggressor was right all along? It doesn’t make sense.”

“If I understand you right, Oudoom, you’re saying the real enemy isn’t religion, but the people who corrupt the message of faith? That the head of the snake is the problem, not the rest of the body?”

Oudoom smiles at this. Yes…ever since the Garden of Eden it has been like this. Did not the snake speak to Adam and Eve…with it’s head? And does not a snake kill with it’s fangs and not it’s body? Yes, somewhere in the world the head of the snake is hiding while we insist on being horrified by the body we can see.

“There’s the myth of Typhon, of course.” Gertruida switches to her lecture voice. “Typhon was a snake-like creature in Greek mythology – the enemy of the Greek deities. Zeus didn’t like it very much, conquered the monster, and confined it beneath the ground. Typhon rumbled and roared his displeasure, causing volcanoes to erupt. Since then  - according to mythology – Typhon is responsible for the fire and lava that erupt from mountains.” She pauses, allowing the story to sink in. “There’s a lesson in that myth: even if you drive such a creature underground, it won’t go away. Instead, it’ll cause untold misery by erupting a volcano when you least expect it – killing innocent men and women in the process.”

Oudoom sighs. “There’s no real answer to this. Religion is the road to salvation, but it also holds the seeds of destruction. The only thing any individual can do, is to be critical about his or her belief. Like St James said: your actions must tell the world what you believe in. Let’s pray that those guys with the guns and the bombs think about this before they put on their balaclavas next time…”