The Many Faces of Faith

Credit: demotix.com

Credit: demotix.com

“Don’t you wonder sometimes, Oudoom, about faith?”

This startles the old pastor, who puts down his beer slowly while formulating an answer.

“No disrespect, Dominee, but the thought has been bothering me for some time.” Kleinpiet’s furrowed brow speaks volumes. “I mean, over in the Middle East you have two groups of people at each other’s throats about religious differences – and now it’s spreading to the rest of the world. Surely one group must be wrong…but who?”

“And that’s not all. In Christianity there are 41,000 different denominations, each claiming to be representing the true faith. These days it is even popular to start up your own house-church because you differ from the conventional approach to religious matters.” Vetfaan joins the conversation. He ia standing up, of course, after his recent altercation with the surprised caracal. “And then there are other beliefs, too, complicating the situation even further.”

“Well, faith is an universal thing.” Abstaining from the subject is unthinkable for Gertruida, who has specific opinions about everything. “As far as history goes back, mankind has always revered some form of deity or other. It’s as if we were wired to accept the concept of a Higher Being, but only given enough data to process the basic idea – and not the full knowledge of what, exactly, happens after death. So people have solved the problem by falling back on belief. I believe this…you believe that, that sort of thing. The Bible contains the writings of men who struggled to describe heaven, for instance. Ezekiel tried to convey the glory of heaven by telling us about wheels of fire; while St John was more practical and gave us a vision of earthly riches in Paradise. I understand Kleinpiet’s confusion, but my only point of reference remains the Bible.”

“Faith,” Oudoom says gravely, “is one of the most complicated and yet simple things we have to deal with in this life. Complicated, because we tend to dissect our beliefs to the point where we simply cannot answer the questions. Simple, because we’re not supposed to.

“You see: Gertruida is right – as usual. We can, indeed, grasp the basics of who and what God is. He’s the Creator, the Planner, the Final Judge. All religions – in varying ways and different forms – agree on that. There’s no culture on earth that doesn’t have a story of how it all began – and, not surprisingly, these stories overlap to a remarkable degree. Everybody agrees that everything was created by a Superior Being. Equally, it is common consensus that there are such concepts of Good and Evil, Sin and Salvation.

“But after that, we as humans start complicating matters by wanting to explain everything. We want to analyze the Bible, God, our faith…and explain what happens to our souls once we die. We even imagine we know what it takes to be accepted in Heaven, or rejected in Hell. Fundamental extremists hold on to the most amazing ideas concerning this, and become fanatic about their absolute impression of what they are destined or commanded to do in this world. And don’t think I’m talking about any specific religion or faith here – it’s as true for us as Christians as it is for others. Remember the mass suicide at Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Guyana in 1978?

“So.” Oudoom sits back, satisfied that he’s made his point. “The bottom line of faith – by whatever name you call it – is Love. Loveless faith is an oxymoron. If the religion you follow isn’t characterised by Love and Kindness, I’m afraid that you are on the wrong track. We, as Christians, believe that Jesus was – or is – the epitome of loving kindness. Thats why we preach forgiveness. And moreover, our religion dictates that every word, every action, should be weighed against these two things – and that the way we interact with others, should leave reflect our faith. That’s how, in the end, our lives will be judged.

“Actually, this isn’t just about faith. It’s about common sense. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out at all: if your life is characterised by your kindness towards your fellow man, surely that leads to harmony. And harmony is the basis of Love, is it not? Harmony is the flipside of conflict, as much as Love is the opposite of hate.”

“But then, Oudoom, it means that killing each other in the name of religion is wrong? I mean, what do I do if a heathen threatens to destroy my way of life?”

“Good question. But let me ask you another. Is it right to defend your faith?”

“Gee, of course!” Kleinpiet slams down a fist. “Nobody has the right to attack me because I believe in a certain way!”

“Read your Bible, Kleinpiet. And then think about the message of Love. Take a step down from your high perch and consider why you might be a target because of your faith. If you lived a kind and forgiving life, caring for your neighbour and looking after your own – would that not avoid conflict? Does living in harmony not tell the world who you are and what you believe in?”

“That’s easy to say, Dominee.” The flush in Kleinpiet’s neck spreads to his cheeks. “But that’s all just theory. Look at what’s happening in the world? How do we forgive those that trespass against us if these trespasses involve murder and rape and wanton aggression?”

Oudoom shakes his head. “That’s why I agree with Gertruida. We don’t know everything…but we do know right from wrong. The fact that others – according to our belief – are doing wrong, doesn’t justify us going down the wrong path as well. So…we forgive. Like Jesus did. The judgment isn’t our concern. Not at all. The Bible tells us to try to talk to such people, and if we are unsuccessful, to avoid them.”

“It’s an ageless conundrum, Oudoom.” Gertruida’s voice is soft, making her seem particularly vulnerable. “The world is threatened by Evil, and only through Faith will we find everlasting joy.”

“But that’s my question: which faith? Everybody can’t be right?”

“True, Kleinpiet, But look at your faith carefully. Is it Kind? Is it Loving? I’m not talking about Mills and Boon love here – I’m talking about Love with a capital ‘L‘.  Are you a believer in harmony? Do you acknowledge God? If you can answer affirmatively, you are – at least – on the right track.”

“But that means the world is filled with men and women who aren’t.”

“Indeed, my friend. That’s the tragic reality – has been like that since the beginning of time, will be thus until the end, unless you show people another way. Your job isn’t to convert the world to the one true faith – it’s to show the world what it means to be humble and kind. You can be a president or a king or even a nobody – but if you don’t start with these simple things, the world will never change.”

“But…”

“No buts, Kleinpiet. The churches of the world have made faith wear many coats, show many faces. That’s wrong. Stick to the basics, the things we understand, the things we can do. The rest like they say, will be history.”

It’s one of those discussions that’ll never reach a satisfactory conclusion. For everything Oudoom says, Kleinpiet and the others will have an answer and even more questions. In the end, Gertruida holds up a tired hand, motioning them all to sit down. “Let’s just agree on this: in your heart of hearts you know what you believe. We believe in Christian way of life – and this means we have a responsibility to live our faith. It implies many things, some of which we find particularly hard to do. But you know what? When the final whistle blows, God isn’t going to ask us to present Him with a scoreboard. He’s going to ask us if we played the game properly, Faith isn’t about winning, It’s about loving. You’re asking the wrong question, Kleinpiet. The question is: does faith prod you towards Love or not? That, my friend, is the only answer you should concern yourself with.”

Surprisingly, her statement is met with worried stares.

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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: a Minimalistic Fairy Tale.

There’s a story in every picture – and sometimes even the tiniest object holds the key to a tale of hardship, adventure…or love. Take for instance, the tragically beautiful deserted town of Kolmanskop – once a thriving community in the Namib desert. When the diamonds ran out, the town died. And today, only the spirit of a time gone by remains. Take a walk into a deserted house – let’s imagine what had happened here…

IMG_3048 Who stayed here? And what dreams were dreamt in the little house next to the track? Did he whoop it up at night – or was he a quiet introvert, working hard to make a living?

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Did he stare out of this window, thinking about a special somebody far, far away?

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And if he did, why did he leave his ink pot behind…or did the desert lure him into the wilderness, where he lost his way?

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But wait – he owned a rifle, at least. He wouldn’t have gone into the arid wasteland without it. Too many dangers there. A seasoned prospector would have been able to protect himself. So…maybe he survived the perils of the dunes?

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Ah….let’s be optimistic! He came home to find somebody waiting on the porch. A very, very special somebody from far, far away.

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Of course they celebrated! But first – the luxury of a long, warm bath in this waterless region. They spent a foamy, happy hour here while he told her of his big find.

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“Let’s go,” he said, “and live a life of luxury.”

And she nodded happily, telling him to leave everything behind. “We’ve got enough now. We don’t need more than you…and me…and that wonderful gem you found.”

So they did.

IMG_3356The desert, having given up it’s riches, then took back their house. They didn’t mind at all – they lived happily ever after.

The End

The Doggy in Boggel’s Place

(Daily prompt: allow a non-verbal subject to address your audience.)

IMG_3608My name is Vrede, and I’m the guardian and pride of Rolbos. Guardian? Sure, there hasn’t been a single burglary while I’ve stayed here. (Okay, neither before, but that’s irrelevant.) I’m an ex-police dog, a sniffer who can tell drugs a mile off. I’ve also made an in depth study of human scents, which has helped me apprehend a number of criminals, including a police commissioner.

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Click to buy. Arf, arf..

I tell some of my stories in a book, so I’ll not repeat them here. Suffice to say that these stories have spread my fame all over the world, and that I’ve received fan mail from Europe, America and even Gauteng. It’s not something I brag about, mind? Just barking the breeze, understand?

I love the cushion under the counter, here in Boggel’s Place. I get to hear all the gossip first-hand, get rewarded by treats whenever I sit up and beg, and can snooze away the hours while the townsfolk dream up stupid schemes to pass the time.

Was I born and raised here? In a manner of speaking, I suppose. According to the stories on the blog, I arrived here after exposing a corrupt official in the police force. But, if I had to be honest, I wasn’t really born. Not in the usual manner. I was, however, created; which is something completely different.

How did this happen, you ask? Well, you only have to park a writer in front of a keyboard, add a bit of writer’s block, and stir in a warped imagination. Go on, do it! Voila, you’ve got a doggy of your own. You can name him – or her – anything you want. We feed on virtual bones and titbits, never embarrass our owners and are loyal forever.

See, dogs like me can’t die. We just don’t do that. Oh, it’s nice to live in the computer like I do, but once your story is in a book, you’re immortal. (Which is more than real people and dogs can say.) This makes me a perfect pet, for I’ll entertain untold generations with my wit and wisdom. And what’s a dog if he can’t curl up in your mind and make you wonder about what it means to live a virtual dog’s life?

So, to those of you who received the gift of imagination, I’d like you to create more of us. Go on, try? While the real world is becoming overcrowded, there’s no such problem in the virtual one. We don’t bark when you want to sleep. We don’t whine when we’re hungry. We don’t go about humping important guest’s legs or stuff like that. Oh, we’ll accompany you to work occasionally, and even make you smile while you’re filling in your tax returns – but we’d never, never bother you.

So there. Now you know about me. You won’t ever feel lonely again. Ever.

Bark-bark-arf. (That means goodbye for now.)

The Most Honourable Rolbos Parliament

Whenever the patrons in Boggel’s Place get bored of taklking about the drought – which is often – they love talking about less serious matters, like the parliament, for instance. It is here, they all agree, that people have fun and relax – a veritable example to the masses of hard working folks  who  have no sense of balance in their lives. Gertruida says people die of heart attacks because they bottle up stress, try to do the impossible by making ends meet and by paying their taxes regularly. This, she maintains, is a mentality of self-destruction. To live a full and happy life, one should let off steam occasionally, be transparently honest, and deserve the respect of your peers.

After Vetfaan’s experiment to generate electricity, the group in the bar reverted to parliament mode – just to show the burly farmer how much they appreciated his efforts. After all, the dream of making Rolbos independent of ESCOM’s efforts to deprive the country of lights at night (which Servaas believes is driven by the diligence of South Africa’s booming crime industry) is a honourable endeavour and something one should encourage, not to make fun of.

“I say, Honourable Vetfaan, you certainly made that fan turn at a tremendous  speed. Quite laudable, I’d reckon. A fine effort.”

Kleinpiet doesn’t address this statement to Vetfaan, of course. That would be unthinkable in a parliamentary setting. No, under these circumstances, the statement is vaguely addressed to the Speaker, who is none other than the inimitable Gertruida. Like our esteemed Speaker in the House, she knows everything.

“Thank you, Honourable Kleinpiet. Do I have a second for that motion?” Gertruida wears a powdered wig, something Boggel insisted on after following the Oscar trial. She has donned her glasses for the occasion to convey the gravity of being in charge of parliament. Servaas actually laughed out loud when she took her seat behind the counter, an effort the others agreed fitted in well with the conduct of a seasoned parliamentarian.

“Honourable Speaker, I would like to second the motion by Honourable Kleinpiet about the fantastic achievements by Honourable Vetfaan. Although his experiment failed dismally, I can think of several precedents in government that was lauded in a similar manner for similar results.”

Several grunts of ‘Aye’. ‘Yesss’ and ‘Eissh!’ followed this statement, much like the ‘hallelujahs’ during a charismatic sermon.

“I object, my Honourable Lady. When you consider the result, there wasn’t much honourable in what Honourable Vetfaan did.” It is Precilla’s turn to play the role of the opposition. She’s wearing a blue T-shirt and does a rather convincing little toyi-toyi dance to emphasise her point. “I demand a commission of inquiry to investigate the waste of money associated with the events surrounding the experiment. A fan was dismantled, a dynamo destroyed and I calculate that 40 litres of petrol was wasted. Petrol, Honourable Speaker, we have to pay for….”

She doesn’t get any  further as the Speaker rules her out of order. “Honourable Precilla! Please retract that statement!”

“May I remind you, Honourable Lady, that there is only honour amongst thieves?”

“Order! Order!!” Gertruida bangs the empty peach brandy bottle on the counter.  “Retract the statement, Honourable member.”

Kleinpiet sniggers at this, muttering that there’s nothing honourable about his member.

“Well, Honourable Speaker, then I’ll quote Socrates to you: “The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” Sooo…I’ll pretend to retract the statement, which makes me honourable.”

Getruida doesn’t even flinch. “You dare to throw quotes at me, Honourable Precilla? Well, in my position, I simply lo-o-ve the honour associated with it. Let me quote you Shakespeare:”…I love the name of honour more than I fear death.” So, my dear Honourable Precilla, you shall leave the house and return with an appropriate apology.”

To be chased out of the Rolbos parliament like this, is no disgrace. Like in the institution in Cape Town, all the words and all the posturing are merely symbolic, and designed not to humiliate, but to amuse. When Precilla returns with a freshly baked milk tart (made the old-fashioned way), she receives a standing ovation.

“I don’t feel so honourable any more,” she says, batting her eyes at Kleinpiet. “I move that we ajourn this session and get on with real life.”

“And I certainly second that.” Kleinpiet hugs the honourable member of the opposition. “We have more…pressing matters to attend to.”

***

The occasional Rolbos Parliament, just like the real one, may seem a bit chaotic if you didn’t know the protocol. In fact, concerning both these houses,  Fiodor  Dostoevsky  worded it masterfully in Crime and Punishment when he wrote “Everything which is of use to mankind is honourable.”  Gertruida reminds the group at the bar of these famous words as they finish the milk tart.

“We use our parliament for laughs, you guys, and that makes it a honourable thing. After all, your beliefs don’t tell the world who you are, your behaviour does. So, as long as those chaps in Cape Town keep us in stitches, it makes them useful. How honourable is that?”

***

Disclaimer: Boggel denies any resemblance with the REAL parliament, saying no adult would ever descend to such low levels like we find in Boggel’s Place. He’s still arguing with Gertruida as you read  this. Fortunately, they have a goodly supply of peach brandy, which will see them hugging at the end of the evening. And that, you’ll have to agree, is completely unparliamentary.

The True Value of Art

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Giacometti’s Chariot

“The world is going mad,” Servaas said quietly as he folded the Upington Post. He’s been reading the newspaper on Boggel’s veranda while they wait for the bar to open.

Of course, nobody pays attention. The concept of a sane world is, after all, as foreign to Rolbos as a thunderstorm in winter. The townsfolk are in complete agreement that the balance of reason shifted seriously south in the past few years. Take the gay issue, for instance. Why is it, Oudoom once asked, that suddenly you have same-sex parades, Gay Day, and a world-wide excitement about marriages between men (or women)…but nobody celebrates a single Straight Day? Where’s the Straight Parade, he asked? Oh, it’s wonderful that people fall in love and all that, but shouldn’t we include all relationships when we honour love?

Frustrated at not drawing attention to his remark, Servaas tries again.

ROGER~10“Somebody paid a 101 million Dollars for a tiny sculpture. Dollars! That’s a billion Rands! Look at the photograph: it looks like one of those wire-cars we built when we were small. Gee, man, I had a whole fleet of them. If I had the sense to keep them, I’d be a multibillionaire today.”

“Oh no, Servaas! That sculpture is a bronze cast by Alberto Giacometti, made in 1951. His work is pure art, I’ll tell you. Collectors buy these things as an investment, selling it a few years later at a handsome profit.” Gertruida pinches her nose, apparently thinking hard. “If I remember correctly, Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche did even better than his chariot, selling for 104 million.”

Gertruida – true to her nature – just can’t help herself when it comes to showing off her brilliant mind.

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L’Homme qui marche 2

“Alberto became famous as a Swiss sculptor, but he dabbled with all forms of art. He experimented a lot with cubism but it’s his surreal work that drew the worlds attention. See, he liked to sculpt figures the way he saw them, not the way they appeared in real life. What made his technique unique, was the way he stretched and elongated the limbs of his figures. He started off with tiny figurines, but his later works became larger and larger – and the bigger they were, the thinner they became.”

“He should have worn contacts,” Servaas decides. “Then he could have been a better artist.”

Gertruida sighs as she stares at Servaas. “Contact lenses, I’ll tell you, only received FDA approval in America in 1971, five years after Giacometti’s death. But that’s not the point: Giacometti showed people how they really are. Long legs, because we’re never happy where we are. Long arms because we’re so greedy. A thin body suggesting eternal hunger. And the heads? They’re small and somehow resemble something alien, like we imagine extraterrestrials to be these days. I think he tried to say something with that, as well. While we imagine ourselves to be exceedingly clever, our ideas and thoughts are really without substance. People live to satisfy their desires, which is really an empty way of living. Giacometti didn’t just create art – he delivered a profound statement on humanity.”

“Well, that makes him an extremely unhappy camper. You make it sound as if his surrealism is real.”

“All forms of art reflect the artist’s comment on society, Servaas. Whether you listen to Beethoven or the Beatles, read Dahl or Dickens, or visit the Louvre or the National Gallery of Art – wherever you find art, you’ll find an analysis of Life. And let me tell you: even if you don’t get it, it influences the way you think. That’s the wonder of art.”

Servaas shakes his head. No, that’s not true. He, the astute elder of Oudoom’s church, won’t ever be swayed but such trivialities. It is absurd to think that a picture or a book can make him think differently. No, it’s not possible.

“But it is, Servaas. Every word you read, every picture you see – even the songs you hear – these things worm their way to your subconscious. And don’t think those impressions just lie there, doing nothing. Your mind is a living computer, constantly sifting through data and storing information.” She glances up as Boggel approaches with the keys. “Art, my friend, makes us think. That’s why it’s so valuable.”

Boggel hesitates before unlocking the door, stares down at the newspaper and whistles softly.

“What’s that silly wire-thingy on the front page, Servaas?”

“It is, ” Servaas bunches his brows together, “an enlightened commentary of the state of the nation, Boggel. It says the gravy train has left the station and that us common folk will now have to rely on simpler forms of transport. And that, Boggel, is a metaphor for reality. Transport, in this sense, implies getting by from day to day. The thin wheels suggest the fragility of our efforts. And the fact that the  chariot is driven by an emaciated figure, is a commentary on the way the country is being governed.” He gets up slowly, massaging his creaking knees. “But I didn’t expect you to see that. Not at all. It takes a true appreciation of art to realise the value of such a sculpture. It is, in effect, priceless…”

***

Gertruida once said something about one of Oudoom’s sermons. She reckons we only hear the bits we want to hear, and ignore the rest. Well, she said at the time, that’s Life, isn’t it?

Like Giacometti, she was right, of course.

The Irony of Success

Icarus -

Icarus – from abretelibro.com

Irony,” Gertruida says – because she knows so much – “is just a series of disasters held together by a string of good intentions. It happens all the time, especially when you consider ESCOM, the e-Toll fiasco and  the value of the Rand. Then, of course, there is the striking example of Blackie Swart, the white accountant working for the African Parliamentarian Association for Regional Tactics, the body to promote local, ethnic-based, entrepreneurs’ participation in various tender processes. But that leans more towards satire than irony, come to think of it.”

“Irony?” Vetfaan shrugs. “That’s part and parcel of everyday life in our country. Twenty years down the line we should all be rolling with laughter. What happened to the dreams we had when we voted for democracy in 1994? Man, everybody smiled when they drew that cross; but now that very same cross has caused more trouble that goodwill. We have become a living irony, a veritable parody of hope and despair.”

“Just like Herman Grobler.” Boggel makes them all sit up. They know the story all too well, and – out of respect – they observe a moment of silence.

***

 They all knew Herman, the fastest wing on the rugby field in the Northern Cape. Or at least, they knew about him. Only a select handful of girls could claim to really have had anything to do with the handsome boy – the rest tried to make their friends jealous by pretending they had gone out with him. We all had such ‘friends’ in school: the dashing, clever, athletic chaps that can do no wrong. They’re popular. They can pick and choose. And, almost invariably, they lose their way in later life to become one of the nothing-people nobody wants to talk to. While that devolution may be a source of immense – if secret – joy to the hardworking, average boy with pimples and holed soles, the tragedy is obvious and exceedingly sad.

This is exactly what happened to Herman…

A rugby scout spotted him in Standard 10, after which he was earmarked to play for the largest Afrikaans university south of the Orange River. He tried out, was selected, and in his very first year of studies scored the winning try in the finals. With his reputation firmly established, he went on to be the star student in his class (Applied Mathematics) and had a huge problem to select the most beautiful girl as a date every weekend.

This was no mean feat, mind you. Girls, young women and even some older ones wrote long and romantic letters, some including revealing photographs or (for the more shy) sketches or poems. On more than one occasion he’d return to his hostel to find a voluptuous surprise waiting to welcome him to her arms.

Of course his male fellow students were jealous. Of course they wanted to share his good fortune. And of course some tried to be his friend. But, between his sport and his studies, he spent the little time he had free with some beauty – which only served to distance him from his male counterparts.

Two very important things occured in his final year while studying for his Master’s degree. He met Shirley Allgood, the American exchange student…and was introduced to her father. Shirley was one of those easy-going young ladies one would expect to adorn the middle pages of a glossy magazine while covering up the barest necessities. Her father, however, was something quite different.

Harold Allgood was a engineer at American Aerospace, the first to start planning commercial flights into space. The venture was a huge success: for half-a-million Dollars you could spend 24 hours circling the globe in absolute luxury. As a prominent shareholder in the company, Harold was what us common people would call ‘stinking rich’.

imagesDue to Harold’s influence, Herman accepted a bursary from MIT, where he proceeded to finish his PhD in record time. Time Magazine ran a leading article on the new rocket propulsion system he had invented and it was rumoured that the Nobel committee was considering his contribution to science and mathematics for their next awards.

1357770822Just after he finished his studies – and before taking up a lucrative job at American Aerospace – Herman married the lovely (if empty-headed) Shirley in the Taglyan Complex – one of the most expensive and luxurious venues in Southern California. Everybody who was anybody was there – the president, a few astronauts, top golfers and tennis players…and Gertruida, who was the only South African who kept on corresponding with  Herman after he emigrated. She, in contrast to so many others, didn’t condemn his search for excellence, knowing full well that his talents would have been overlooked in a country where skin colour had become more important than ability.

And it is in the magnificent hall – after the wedding – that Herman drew Gertruida aside to tell her about his unhappiness.

“I studied myself out of the country, Tannie Gerty.” He always called her that. “I’ve become academically disabled – there’s no way I’ll find a job back home. My qualifications won’t help me there – even the university rejected my application, saying I know too much about too little to be of use to them. I am, they said, overqualified.”

To her surprise, the handsome groom fished out a white handkerchief to dab his eyes.

“How I wish I could have married in Upington and celebrated with a braai afterwards. Now I’m stuck with this.” He swept a hand towards the hall. “There’s no escape…”

***

“Ja, I suppose he did the right thing, poor chap. Quite dumb for such a clever man.” Servaas lifts his glass in a silent salute. “Blessed are they that are satisfied with enough.”

Vetfaan stares at the dry veld outside the window, where a dust devil is making it’s way slowly across the loose sand. This is my home, he thinks, the place I belong. 

Gertruida says Herman is an example of the most horrible irony of all: when an individual gets all that he dreams of. There’s nothing so unbearable as that, she says. No, according to her, the trick in life is to distinguish between your reach and your grasp…and then settle for the latter. Kleinpiet figured it out immediately, but Herman – with his many degrees and all that – is still working out what it means.

Vetfaan’s Most Marvellous Mechanical Monster

download (2)“We can’t go on like this!” Vetfaan thumps a ham-like fist on the counter as the lights start flickering again. “First it was a silo that collapsed, now they say the pumps can’t keep up. How difficult is it to run a power station? You make a fire – that’s what the coal is for – and heat water to make the steam to turn the turbine. Voila! The lights go on! Water and coal. Two things. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out you have to make sure you’ve got enough of both to make electricity.”

“Ja, and now they want to build more nuclear plants. If they can’t run an old-fashioned coal burner, what can we expect when somebody on the nightshift has to push a plutonium rod into the reactor? Declare a National Braai Day?” Servaas ignores the disapproving glances from the rest. “Seriously, guys: we won’t need electricity anymore – we’ll all just glow in the dark.”

“We’ll just have to make our own electricity, that’s all. We’ve got lots of sun…”

“Yeah, right! Listen, Kleinpiet, that’s the problem. We need light…at night. Not during the day. Making electricity while the sun shines is stupid. Simply open the window, that’s all. But at night? Now that’s the time to worry about. That’s when ESCOM throws the switches and leaves us in the dark…”

***

And that’s how it started. A simple conversation because the light flickered. Then again, you don’t need much to create havoc in Rolbos.

Gertruida said something about wind and energy, which made them all fall silent for a moment while they thought about the chilling breeze that cools down the Kalahari nights.

“Okay,” Vetfaan said, “we’ll rig up a generator to one of the windmills, and that’s it! No more problems.”

If Gertruida hadn’t said anything to that, the conversation might have drifted to the vexing question about how many wives the president has or some such less serious matter. But, being the genius she is, she had to contribute her two cent’s worth by telling them that harvesting wind energy is no simple matter and that proper research was necessary before embarking on such an endeavour. This did cause a lull in the conversation until Vetfaan had a brilliant idea.

“Gertuida is right! We’ll build a scale model first to see how it goes. Kleinpiet, you still have that electric fan you won in the raffle at the church bazaar three years ago? The one that doesn’t work?”

Kleinpiet, the world’s ultimate hoarder, nodded.

Bicycle_dynamo“Well, I’ve got an old bicycle generator. You know, the type that clips onto the frame and supplies electricity to power the lamp? It’s a dynamo thingie or something, but it does supply energy. And I also have the lamp to go with it. Sooo…we simply remove that fan’s engine, pop in the generator, and point the fan into the wind. Bingo! We’ve got a scale model a la Rolbos,”

Gertruida went harrumph and Precilla marvelled at men who never grow up, but there was no stopping Vetfaan and Kleinpiet as they finished their beers before scooting off to get the spares.

***

Two hours later the group assembles around the Rolbos 1, the first homemade wind generator in the Kalahari. After Boggel filled up everybody’s glasses, they troop out to Voortrekker Weg to set up the machine in the main road, pointing the fan directly into the soft breeze.

And nothing happens.

“The wind’s too weak,” Gertruida says with her superior smile. “It won’t turn.” She’s right of course.

“Then,” Vetfaan grins, “we’ll make more wind.”

His plan is simple: fix the fan and the bicycle light to the top of the cab of his pickup, then drive fast enough to provide enough wind to turn the fan. The simplicity of his solution to the problem earns him a free beer from Boggel.

“You’ll have to disconnect the headlights, Vetfaan.” Servaas has his moments of brilliance, too. “Otherwise you won’t be able to see if the bicycle light works. When you drive, the fan turns, and the bicycle light shines – making headlights unnecessary, anyway.” He, too, receives a beer from the little bent barman.

***

At first, Vetfaan drove down Voortrekker Weg slowly. He didn’t need headlights in town, but couldn’t see whether the bicycle light shone at all. When the group in front of Boggel’s place made thumbs-down signs, he made a u-turn and raced back to the bar. Then, with the old speedometer hovering around 80, he watched as the spectators whooped and jumped around. The fan is turning. The dynamo is working. And…he can clearly see a weak ray of light bobbing around in the road in front of him. So excited with the success of his plan, he stomped down hard on the petrol pedal to accelerate the pickup to a faster speed. Lo and behold! The ancient bicycle lamp shone brightly as the defunct fan’s blades spun faster and faster..

Satisfied with the experiment, Vetfaan slowed down to return to Boggel’s Place. The only problem was that he was now outside town and without the aid of the single street lamp or the faint glow from the lights in the houses. The fan, quite naturally, slowed down when Vetfaan did. And, equally logically, a slower fan implied a slower dynamo…and thus a weaker light.

Now, anybody who knows anything about the road to Rolbos, knows that you can’t drive there  - at night – without the help of light. The rutted surface, the treacherous turns, the occasional jackal or kudu…there are a thousand very good reasons why no sane driver will attempt to navigate that track in darkness.

****

“I wonder when he’s coming back?” Servaas uses a finger to get to the last drops of peach brandy in the bottom of his glass, It’s way past midnight and the worried group in Boggel’s Place takes turns to sit on the stoep to watch the road. Gertruida has just taken up the vigil, leaving the rest to ask the same questions over and over again. When will he return? Is he all right? Will he have to drive until the petrol runs out? Should they go looking for him? What if he took one of the many turn-offs? 

img_2239They realise that stopping the pickup is out of the question. Too many things can go wrong if the speed falls to the point where there isn’t enough wind to turn the fan. Boggel remembers the wreck of the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer – a few years back – and how they struggled to get that vehicle out of the donga-like rut. This doesn’t help to lighten the mood one bit.

“If he’s not back by dawn, we’ll follow his tracks. That’s the best we can do.” Staring hopefully at Boggel, Servaas points to his empty glass.

***

When you visit Rolbos, you might notice the old bicycle dynamo and bicycle light on the shelf behind the till. You probably would think it strange to find something like that in a bar in the middle of nowhere, especially when you notice the long iron nails they used to hammer the assembly to that shelf – between the two empty peach brandy bottles.

Well, here’s a bit of advice. Don’t, don’t, don’t ask or say anything about it. It’ll take years for Vetfaan to live this one down.

Gertruida is very philosophical about the episode. She says the problem with ESCOM isn’t a national disaster. According to her the old paraffin lamp on the counter is quite adequate, thank you.

 

The Slave Girl, Wine and yet another Electricity Failure

cape_settlement“It is a well-known fact that women know more about wine than men.” Gertruida, who knows everything, watches the men, waiting for the inevitable challenge. Vetfaan doesn’t disappoint her.

“That’s hogwash, Gertruida. Men have been guzzling down wine since Noah planted some grapes. Monks made wine. And we drink the stuff. So there.”

It’s been a quiet afternoon in Boggel’s Place. After venting their frustration at ESCOM for – once again – failing to produce enough electricity, the patrons in the little bar had to settle for warm beer. This of course didn’t go down well and resulted in a protracted discussion about the causes for these occurrences – which Servaas hoped nobody would ever repeat, especially not in printed form. He said it might be a constitutional right to have an opinion, but that lawyer’s fees are rather expensive. To change the mood – and the subject – Gertruida started talking about wine, a subject they could explore at length without the threat of litigation.

“Well,” Boggel chips in, “I read somewhere that women started making champagne?” He poses the sentence as a question, hoping that Gertruida would stop teasing the men.

“The veuve story? Yes, of course.” She reminds her little audience that ‘veuve’ is French for ‘widow’, and that famous widows like Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (née Ponsardin), Louise Pommery and Lily Bollinger used their widowed state to create new wines, new labels and new methods – resulting in the brands we still know today.

“It was in the 1850′s and 60′s that they started using the word Veuve on their labels, perhaps hoping that wine-drinkers would take pity on them. Whatever the reason, the idea was a spectacular success.”

“That’s nice, Gertruida, but we men started making wines in the Cape.” Vetfaan scowls absently at his warm beer, thinking dark thoughts about what he’d like to do with South Africa’s electricity supplier.

“Let me tell you,” Gertruida says with a superior smile, “about Angela van Bengale, also known as Mooij Angela.”

***

Way back, just after Jan van Riebeeck started the colony, a slave girl arrived in the Cape of Good Hope. This young woman had survived the hardships of the trip from Bengal and was sold to van Riebeeck by the ship’s captain, Pieter Kemp. Angela, also known as Ansiela, worked hard in the van Riebeeck home, becoming a trusted and even loved member of the household. Here she met a Khoi woman, Krotoa, who was often mentioned in van Riebeeck’s writings as ‘Eva’. It is unclear whether Krotoa was a slave or a volunteer, however, she acted as a reliable interpreter with a solid command of Dutch, Portuguese and several local dialects.

When van Riebeeck left the Cape in 1662, Angela was sold to his second-in-command, Abraham Gabbema. Gabbema must have been impressed with the young girl – she was 20 at the time – for he freed her in 1666.

Quagga“Now this Khoi woman, Krotoa, was the sister of one of the wives of Oedasoa, an important headman of a group of Khoi people living in the area we know today as Paarl. At the time, Krotoa brokered a deal between the Dutch and the Khoi, resulting in the local tribe supplying cattle and sheep to the Dutch in the Cape. Oedasoa seems to have been on good terms with van Riebeeck, and even agreed to capture ‘wild horses’ for the commander. These weren’t horses at all, but the now extinct Berg Kwagga.

“Be that as it may, poor Oedasoa unfortunately had a bit of a scrap with a lion during this escapade and was seriously injured. Van Riebeeck must have felt bad about this for he sent Angela to nurse the chief back to health – which she did. As a token of his gratitude, Oedasoa granted the right to farm on a portion of fertile land to his nurse – on a farm known as Wittenberg. Here the freed Angela started making wine, an endeavour that proved to be 153075rather successful. Apparently she married a cooper from Brussels, one Jan van As or Aschen. Their son, Jacobus van As, registered the farm in his name, where he continued producing wines of a superior quality.

“This history, you see, makes Angela van Bengale the first woman winemaker in the country. The slave girl and the roving cooper helped to establish an industry which thrived through the years. Humble beginnings, to be sure, but a proud heritage.”

***

Vetfaan still doesn’t agree with Gertruida about her statement on women and wine, but he enjoyed the story so much that he forgets to argue his point. And who can blame him after Gertruida quoted one of the most famous of the veuves, Lily Bollinger : “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it. Unless I’m thirsty.”

This, he has to concede, is unquestionably the words of an extremely wise woman. One should never argue about something as important as that. Electricity? Who needs that? Wine is essential, electricity only a convenience. It took twenty years of democracy to teach us that.

The Portefolio (so far)

The virtual family of Rolbos has slowly expanded over the years to just shy of 5000 followers. I want to thank each and every reader for taking the time to sit down for a while in Boggel’s Place to join the conversation. Revolvermaps.com tells me these readers are from 176 countries  (I didn’t even know there are so many).
While such statistics may sound flattering, I must confess a certain level of surprise (Rolbos is such a small place!) as well as a degree of anxiety (what is Boggel & Co going to do next?). The good news is that the group in the bar is very much alive and well – every time I think they can’t possibly land themselves in more trouble, they open another bottle of peach brandy…
Still, with so many customers to serve, our hunchbacked barman is worried about the stock in the little store room behind Boggel’s Place. When he mentioned this to Gertruida, she told him to advertise the only export product to originate in the little town called Rolbos. And, as we all know, you never, never argue with the woman who knows everything…
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