Half-mens vs Willow

Amos van der Merwe:

Being busy with a time-consuming biography, I reblog this old story to keep Boggel busy behind his counter…

Originally posted on Rolbos ©:

The arid wasteland of the Kalahari contains many surprises. Fountains of clear water occur in the most unlikely places, although most of them are hidden below the sand. It requires a thorough knowledge of nature to know where to look for the life-saving little reservoir, which often will supply a mouthful of two before the water disappears at the bottom of the little well you dug. The area is home to the graceful oryx, the gentle tortoise and thousands of elegant springbuck. Here too, the spoor of last night’s lion will circle your campfire (when you discover a jackal made off with your biltong) in the morning.

Vetfaan knows all about these things, of course. He left his supplies safely locked up in his bakkie before turning in. Now, with the dawn edging out the night, he emerges from his tent to add a few sticks to the still-glowing embers…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Nature’s Power

Many, many years ago, there once was a vast lake  – an inland sea – where man and animal lived happily. And Man was instructed: “Take care of the wall I made to keep the water in bay. Make sure the lake does not find the way to the sea”.

orangeNature provided a good life for all and her abundance was proclaimed upon the rocks.

water 5Man became lazy and did not notice the trickle of water that started draining the lake.

IMG_2451The trickle became a stream…and the water gushed down from the lake.

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it found it’s way through the desert, carving ravines and washing away rocks and trees, until only the barren landscape remained.

water 3And then it reached the sea, where Nature’s anger crashed into the rocks on the shore….

water 2The message: if we don’t look after her, Nature will take revenge. Taking care of her doesn’t require much effort – but if we neglect those small duties, the consequences will be disastrous. The way things are going, Nature will leave us destitute…

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The Ant-heap Hater

IMG_2541 (2)Boggel’s Place has been eerily silent for the last week or two. After some welcome showers, the veld is green once more. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet have had to tend to their farms, leaving Gertruida  (with a stack of National Geographics) and Boggel (polishing and repolishing the glasses) alone in the small bar. Oudoom is in Upington for a church meeting.

“Anything interesting?” Boggel glances hopefully towards Gertruida, who puts down the magazine.

“Always. I learn so much from these books. Look at the beautiful photographs of ant-hills.” She holds up the glossy page.

“That’s huge!” Boggel squints. He’ll have to see that optician in Upington sometime. “But such a lot of ants must have done a lot of damage? Must have upset a framer by destroying a lot of veld.”

Gertruida rolls her eyes. “Don’t be so negative, Boggel. You sound like the politicians who try to talk away the wave of xenophobia. Ants, I’ll have you know, are vitally important to our survival. Yes, they make a living by working hard, but the are essential for the spread of seeds. They till the land, remove dead animals and plants, clean up debris. Ants are the most numerous species in the world and have survived everything Mother Nature has thrown at them. They are Nature’s best recyclers; a veritable example to us all.”

“How can you compare ant-hills with xenophobia, Gertruida? It doesn’t make sense?”

***

There once lived a man who hated ants.

“Look at them! Always scurrying this way and that, never resting. They eat my crops and destroy my stores. This ground is mine, I shall not have it colonised by foreigners. I shall have to kill them all.”

His wife put down the bucket she was carrying.

“Oh, my husband! Always complaining and complaining. All you do is to watch those ants – from dawn to dusk, all day long. How many times have I asked you to dig a furrow from the river so we can have water near the house? And why is the roof still leaking? And look at the house: it’s barely big enough for the two of us, but you refuse to build on a room for the children.” She sighed. If only her husband would do something!

The man got angry and stormed out of the house.  Taking a shovel, he started destroying the ant-hill next to the humble hut they lived in. The ants had no right to eat his meagre crop! He dug all day to try to demolish all the ant’s tunnels.

That night he sat down to his small bowl of porridge, hoping his wife would have calmed down. No such luck.

“There is a huge patch of ground next to the river. Why haven’t you tilled that? Why didn’t you plant enough corn there to see us through the winter? Why…”

He interrupted her rudely, telling her to shut up. He was the man, he’d make the decisions. And anyway, who was she to tell him how to farm? She didn’t know anything…

The man set out the next day to attack more and more ant-heaps. He forgot about his patch of corn, which withered away under the sun. Winter came. When at last springtime arrived, the man and his wife had starved to death.

Outside their small hut, the ants had resumed building their nest.

***

“That man was stupid, Gertruida. He should have cultivated his land properly and left the ants to do their job.”

“Ja, Boggel. Removing ant-heaps wasn’t the answer. Ants will survive, no matter what. The man didn’t.”

plants_antsGertruida stares out of the window as silence settles in Boggel’s Place once more. People could learn a lot from ants, she thinks. They get on with the job of living, while people are constantly blaming others for their hardship. It’s as if some people have a default setting that forces them to expect others to solve their problems – while they are content to simply complain and object to the success anybody else might have achieved.

“We’ve become a nation of ant-haters,” Boggel says as he stacks the glasses back onto their shelf. “We simply cannot cope with competition because we’re too lazy to work harder.”

Gertruida doesn’t even look up from her reading. They’ve discussed the issue many times before and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Once a nation has slipped down the slope of unproductivity, it’ll take a miracle to reverse the trend.

“I see they’re going to teach Mandarin in our schools now.” Boggel looks at the front page of yesterday’s newspaper.. “Even teach it to the police…”

“Ja, I saw that. The real ants are coming, Boggel. If we don’t – or won’t – cultivate the land next to the river, we’ll pay the price…”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life in Motion

A few years ago at the Cape Town 100-Miler, I realised that Life is like a series of 100-mile races against time.  We all start off with starry eyes, filled with abundant enthusiasm.

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Along the way, some support helps us along.

bBut, in the end, it becomes a lonely journey – it’s up to you to take the next steps. Nobody else can run your race for you.

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There’ll always be the fast ones – the winners who make it look all too easy.

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But, with enough courage and conviction, we have no choice: press on! (Even past the point where you simply feel like quitting).

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At last! The goal you’ve worked so hard for!

cTriumphantly you sag down in a chair. You’ve done it! Now for a well-deserved rest….and then the next race awaits. You’ve completed  only one step of the process we call life – and will have to keep it up until you cross that final finishing line…

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‘Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’

From, Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Who Painted the Moon Black?

MAAN 002 mod“There once was a very tall man.” Gertruida sits back, making up the story as she tells it. “Very tall. Taller than anybody else on earth. He was a soft-spoken man who cared for his family very much.”

Servaas nods to egg her on. He wants to hear another fable, a myth, a legend – anything – to make him forget the way things are in the country.

“He was a good hunter and  an even better farmer. His family ate well every day. But…like his family, he was afraid of the dark. In those days, the nights were black with only a few stars to light up the sky. His family, because of their fear, collected firewood every day so that the flames could drive the darkness away once the sun had set. This made the tall man very happy.”

By now, everybody in Rolbos is listening with rapt attention. Gertruida’s fables aren’t stories to ignore; they all have a moral hidden somewhere.

“But one day he tracked an Eland and he ventured too far away from his home to return to the family’s fire. The sun set. It became dark. And the man was afraid once more.

“Getting up carefully, he stretched a hand into the darkness and to his surprise he touched something. Up there, in the black of the sky, he felt an object nobody had ever seen before. It was the moon. The man sat down and thought about his discovery. If only he could make the moon bright, he’d never have to fear the night again.

“He went home the next day and told everybody what he had found, but nobody believed him. They laughed and told him he must have dreamt it, nothing can exist in such blackness. No, they said, only a few stars could live in the dark, and they weren’t things to touch, anyway. Did everybody not know that those pinpricks of light were holes in the blanket that covers the sky at night? They laughed at the tall man and he felt much ashamed.

“Still, he knew there was something up there, something only he could touch. But how was he going to make the people stop laughing at him? He had to make a plan, so he went down to the river to think. He asked the water to go up there and roar like a waterfall – so the people might hear the object. The water refused, mumbling that water runs down, never up.. Then he asked the crows to fly up at night to nest on the object so they can squawk there, but they didn’t want to. They had to stay on earth to scavenge from Man, they said.

“And so he asked jackall to howl on the moon, lion to roar on the moon, hyena to laugh on the moon. They all refused. Eventually the man realised he would not be able to make the people hear the moon – he had to show it to them…but how?

“That’s when the fireflies came to him to tell him they’d go. They could fly, they said, and make light. If many of them gathered on the tall man’s moon, people would be able to see not only the moon, but also through the darkness of the night.

“The man was delighted. The next evening he gathered everybody around him and watched as the fireflies all gathered on the moon to give them light. The people were amazed and now treated the tall man with respect. They even made him their leader.

“The sun welcomed the moon in the sky and befriended the new source of light. They were very happy.

“But the tall man became old and told the people to elect a new leader – he wanted to rest, he said. So a new leader was chosen and the tall man lived out his days in peace. Once his soul left his body to join those that went before, the people soon forgot about him. Such is the nature of man, after all. Good people are much easier to forget than bad ones.”

Oudoom holds up a hand, interrupting Gertruida’s story. “That’s true, you know? History books are filled with the stories of bad men – when last did you read about something nice and uplifting in the past? It’s there, of course, but there are more Mussolini’s than Mother Teresa’s.”

Gertruida flashes a wintry smile in Oudoom’s direction – she hates interjections. “Anyway, the new leader was jealous of the tall man’s accomplishment and wondered what he could do to impress people. After much thought, he decided to make the moon black again. If his predecessor gave the people light at night, he’d give them darkness. Surely they’d respect him for that? So he went down to the river to fetch long reeds, to which he fastened some grass. He piled mud on this long brush and waited for night-time. Then he painted the moon black again. The fireflies died  and night became dark once more.

“The sun saw what had happened and grieved for his friend the tall man had created. It therefore refused to draw back the night’s blanket from then on, leaving the earth in darkness.

“The people became afraid again and cried out, but the darkness remained.”

Gertruida falls silent and asks Boggel for a beer.

“That’s it? That’s the story?” Servaas shakes his head; surely that can’t be the end?

“Well, that’s as far as the story goes, Servaas. Until another tall man comes along, the land will remain dark. So far, it hasn’t happened.”

Oudoom nods slowly. He grasped the moral. “So, we’ll just have to wait, Gertruida?”

“Yes Oudoom. It’ll remain dark until another Mandela comes along.”

The Man with the Stick

xenophobia-poster a“They tell a story,” Gertruida says after Boggel switched off the radio, “up in North Africa. About the treacherous nature of man.”

She waits, knowing they’d want to hear more. The news of the horrendous xenophobic attacks caused them all to fall silent as they searched for words to describe their feelings. Yes, the government proved once again their inability to grasp the reasons behind the attacks, failing to act timeously to the repeated warning signs over the last few years. Most of the unrest during this time coincided with the burning and looting of foreigner’s shops, a fact the authorities chose to ignore. Xenophobic tendencies were evident as far back as the Marikana incident and even before that. But, always too keen to please the masses they need to vote them in power, the government remained silent about these crimes.

“Ag, go on, Gertruida. Tell us. We know you want to.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. Although he is mildly interested, his mind dwells on the sudden nature of recent events. Why did the authorities not see this coming? Surely there should be enough ears on the ground to pick up rumblings of such impending disasters? Or is there something more sinister behind these attacks? He doesn’t believe in the so-called ‘third force theory‘ – no, somebody or something must have orchestrated these attacks to occur in such a wide-spread manner.

Oudoom nodded his encouragement. Anything to divert their thoughts from the mess in ESCOM and the national airline, the corruption in the police, the disastrous land reforms, the state of the roads, the failure of service delivery…

“Well….”

****

Once upon a time a kind man found a baby snake in the veld. He picked it up and took it home, as it quite obviously was an orphan. The snake was well-cared for and eventually grew up to be a big, healthy adult.

Oh, he loved that snake! It kept the rodents away from the corn and scared off the rabbits that eyed the vegetable garden. But the snake watched his kind master and wondered…

Then, one day, the snake wrapped itself around the man’s neck. Just like that, out of the blue. “You say you’re a kind man, and yes, you’ve fed me well. But in reality you are ungrateful and selfish. You raised me to serve you, not because you were compassionate. I shall kill you for that.”

“Oh, no!” The man cried. “Of course I’m grateful. Ask the ox.”

The ox chewed it’s cud and thought about the whip that drives him to pull the plough. “No, you’re not.”

The man panicked. “Well, the ox isn’t a clever animal. Ask the cow. Go on, ask her…she’ll tell you.”

The cow cast her big, brown eyes on the man and moo-ed softly. “That man pulls my udder and takes my milk – every day. For my whole life, he’ll just steal my milk. And when I run dry, he’ll kill me and eat me. No, man is ungrateful and selfish.”

Desperate, the man told the snake to ask the tree.

The tree didn’t hesitate. While it rustled it’s leaves, it whispered: “Man isn’t grateful. He eats my fruit and sits in my shade. One day he’ll chop me down and burn me for cooking his meals. Grateful? Oh please….”

The man’s wife had been standing outside the door, listening. Knowing that the snake will kill her husband, she went in and started making the snake’s favourite dish with cream and porridge.  The snake hesitated at first, but then let go of the man to eat the meal the woman had placed on the floor. 

“Quick, now is your chance!” The woman handed a stick to her husband, who hit the snake repeatedly until it died.

****

“Gee, Gertruida, is that it? The whole story?” Kleinpiet shakes his head. What a horrible story!

“That’s the way they tell it in Kenya, Kleinpiet. It’s typical of the stories you find up north – they leave you to complete the narrative after the storyteller falls silent.” Gertruida smiles her all-knowing, superior smile; always keen to show off her vast knowledge. “In this case the story leads you to examine the concept of kindness and gratitude while it exposes the greed of man. The ox, the cow and the tree gave unselfishly, but in the end man will destroy them, too.  It also makes one realise that we have to examine our actions carefully – we have to look at ourselves as others see us. You may think you are such a hero, but in reality your motivation may be selfish greed.”

“I still think it’s sad. Why kill the snake?”

“Because the snake asked the wrong question, Kleinpiet. Because the snake looked and saw how lazy the man was. The man was simply using everything around him to do his work and to enrich himself. You know what? The man became so embarrassed when he realised the snake was right, he killed it. A dead snake can’t spread the word…”

“But the word was spread. You’ve just told the story?”

“Yes, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida suddenly looks old and tired. “The story will always escape, no matter how hard you try to kill it. That’s what the news was all about.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Birds in the Animal Kingdom

As dawn approaches the mountain on wings of clouds, it is time for Nature to start a new day.

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An early meerkat caught unawares – for the moment! He’s up unusually early, scouting for scraps…

a He’s lucky to have escaped the serval, who slept a bit later today.

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An industrious mole pokes the last sand out of his tunnel. Time to go to bed…tonight he’ll continue mining for roots.6a

Down in the valley, the hippos don’t care much about such small things. They have water and food. In an hour or so, they’ll sunbathe before returning to their pool.

abfClever Mr Jackall busy soaking up a bit of heat. The nights are getting to be quite cold in autumn, and hunting has been slow. But today? Today he’ll find something to still that gnawing hunger.

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Ah, yes, the start of another day in Africa… Will they all survive when the sun sets?

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Only time will tell…

Thou Shalt have no Statues

Credit: iol.co.za

Credit: iol.co.za

“First Rhodes, now they’ve defaced Gandhi as well.” Gertruida sighs as she folds the newspaper. “Called him a racist, and poured paint over the statue. I know he used the maligned K-word, but so did the rest of the world in the 20’s. I’m not saying it’s right, but context is important. There is no question that racism was the norm in earlier times – it is not logical to apply today’s norms to the years when the world still struggled with the concept of equality.”

“It is strange,” Boggel adds, “that races have taken such a long time – centuries – to get to this point in time. Even now the system is flawed. Previously, Whites were in charge. Now the pendulum has swung the other way.”

“But why use skin colour to define identity? Look at us – we’re a mixed lot. Sammie is a Jew, with his own culture and beliefs. Mister Stevens is more English than a cup of tea, and he doesn’t know a Marino from a Dorper. The fact that he shares the same amount of pigment we have in our skins, doesn’t make him sing De la Rey all day.” Shaking his head, Vetfaan signals for another beer. “One day people will identify with their culture – not their skin. That’ll be the start of real democracy.”

“Ag, Vetfaan, then they’ll start saying the Xhosas are better than the Vendas, or the Zulus are superior to the Sothos. Culture or skin, it doesn’t matter. It is human nature to want to be at the top of the ladder. Any excuse will do…”

“So – for now – we’ll just sit back quietly while they take down all the statues? First Rhodes, but soon Paul Kruger, Botha and dear old Queen Victoria?”

01300542702710141569413260945“Well,” Gertruida puts down her glass with a thump. “The Americans can be glad they don’t have the same situation over there. Remember Abe Lincoln? He made a speech in 1858, saying: ‘I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races.‘ His statue would have no chance over here!”

“Ja,” Oudoom agrees, “Woodrow Wilson was a segregationist and Reagan supported the Apartheid regime. If you want to talk about a flawed past, America is a good place to start.”

“Don’t forget about England. Or Germany. Or China…I can go on and on. There is no country with an unblemished past” Oudoom sits down gratefully, accepting the beer Boggel slides over the counter. “You know, I think God created diversity with a purpose. Instead of creating a one-dimensional herd of humans, He made us into a multitude of many-faceted societies, so that we can build on our strengths. What do we do? We use diversity to weaken. We emphasise differences of ideology and appearance in an attempt to prove superiority. A wise man once said it’s only a fool who judges history – the wise will learn from it. We simply fail to grasp that simple fact.”

“So what do you suggest, Oudoom? That we retain the statues that are offensive to others?” Gertruida smiles – there is no correct answer to the question, is there?

“I’m saying,” Oudoom says after thinking a while, “that we should either have statues…or not. In a hundred years or so, todays heroes may be seen as villains. And the outcasts of today might very well be seen as people who stood at the forefront of progress. Who knows? The point is that history will always be a subjective subject. It depends on the individual observer. Today we have the King Shaka airport – but in the future somebody will remember that his hands weren’t clean at all. Some ascribe the worst atrocities and human rights violations to the great Zulu king. Remember the mfecane?”

“So…no more statues? No more streets and towns named after struggle heroes?”

“History is a fickle thing, Gertruida. One should never forget that it is virtually impossible to reflect all sides of all stories in the past. Yes, there have been villians. We certainly had some very bad men and women who shaped the history we have to live with. But…that’s where the point about context comes in. Only when you consider all the angles of a specific event, can you judge people like Abe Lincoln or Paul Kruger or Ghandi. And, surprisingly, not only will you find that they did what they had to do, but that they may have contrinuted in some small way to a better world.”

“So you’re saying….?”

“Let those of pure mind cast the first stone. I mean, labelling Rhodes as a colonialist, sounds a bit racist to me…”

And so the discussion goes on and on. In the end they decide, quite wisely, not to erect any statues in Rolbos. The cost of removing such monuments could be spent much more wisely over the counter of Boggel’s Place. Peach brandy and peace are surely more acceptable than fighting over a piece of bronze.

Can we revive the Rainbow….Please?

Sometimes we need to turn off the TV, stop watching the horrors of civil strife…and consider the other side of the coin. Yes, there are deaths and abductions and religious conflict; and yes, we may despair at the hopelessness of it all.

But in the mess of politics and the mud of corruption – if you looked hard enough – you find little rays of hope.