The Kalahari doesn’t look the same every day. The wind constantly sculpts away at the landscape, shifting dunes, chipping away at rocks and covering areas that have been exposed for years. The unwary traveller will get lost here, especially if he tried to retrace his steps. Sometimes hours – and occasionally only minutes –are all that are needed to create a completely different scene to the one crossed so recently.
Vetfaan is talking about how he tried to locate the spot where they camped with !Ka not so long ago, and how the dunes simply managed to hide it from him.
“You’d think I know the place…but when I tried to line up the dunes in the way we saw it back then, I got…nothing. It’s as if the place never existed.”
“Ja, I’ve had the same experience,” Servaas nods, “and not so far from here, either. You know those rocks at the other side of Bokkop? Well, there was a place where Siena and I used to sit and talk about life. The other day I went looking for it. I think I got the same rocks, but the picture was wrong. I felt so disappointed.”
Kleinpiet scoffs. “Har! Last week I got lost looking for the KFC in Upington – and I’m sure all the buildings are still exactly where they were all the time.” He lifts his glass to inspect the froth on his beer. “Maybe they moved the KFC? Or they ran out of chickens. Who knows?”
Gertruida doesn’t participate in the idle chatter. Sometimes the men can go on for hours about which wood is best for braaiing, or how often they skip their vehicle’s services. (Vetfaan’s pickup, for instance, still runs with the original oil in the sump – he merely tops it up from time to time.) As far as she is concerned, such talk is a complete waste of time. Now, if they were to discuss the origins of words, they’d all learn something new. Talking about the changing features of the Kalahari is rather senseless.
Boggel’s contribution makes her sit up, however. “You know, guys, the desert out there is much like Life. Just when you think you know your way around, things change. And sometimes, while aiming to do something really good, you get the worst opposition to sidetrack you completely. Again, thinking about what Servaas said: when you try to remember the sweetest moments of your life, you often only realise how much everything changed.”
“Gosh, Boggel, that’s the only bit of sense you men have spoken all afternoon. I didn’t know you had it in you.” She lifts her glass in a mock salute before going on. “It’s mostly about remembering correctly; so many steps this way, so many that way. But we only tend to remember the destinations, don’t we? And we mostly forget the journey that took us there.
“Remember when you were small, and your parents took you on a wonderful holiday to some exotic place – like Kanon Eiland or Pella, for instance? You remember the tent, the camp fire, the games, don’t you? But can you remember the route your father took to get you there?”
“It’s like they say, Gertruida: Life is about the journey, not the grave.” Even Precilla gets carried away with the conversation. “Look at me and Kleinpiet. We wouldn’t have been so happy now if we didn’t live through such hard times before. Sure, our destination is sweet and wonderful, but only so much more so because of our past histories.”
“So, you’re saying I must be glad I couldn’t find !Ka’s tree?” Vetfaan shakes his head. Women can be so superficial! How can you be glad to get lost in the Kalahari? Really!
“Yes, Vetfaan. Nothing worth cherishing is easy. The things you appreciate most, are the things that came about with a bit of blood, sweat and tears. Especially tears.” She stares at the ceiling while trying to remember. “I read a poem about tears by Lord Byron the other day, but I can only recall the beginning:
When Friendship or Love
Our sympathies move;
When Truth, in a glance, should appear,
The lips may beguile,
With a dimple or smile,
But the test of affection’s a Tear:
Too oft is a smile
But the hypocrite’s wile,
To mask detestation, or fear;
Give me the soft sigh,
Whilst the soultelling eye
Is dimm’d, for a time, with a Tear…
“We all get lost sometimes. We all cry silent tears from time to time. And we will keep on journeying through the ever-changing landscape of Life, trying to get to a place of peace and joy…”
“Oh, Gertruida! Come on man!” Vetfaan interrupts Gertruida rather rudely; much to the amusement of Boggel, who has been wondering how long the big man will endure her sermon. “I was only saying the desert isn’t a place for strangers.”
She doesn’t seem to mind. She flashes him a brilliant smile. “On this road, Vetfaan, we are all strangers…”
Outside, the soft wind moves the huge dunes – one kernel of sand at a time. Slowly. Silently.
Tomorrow, the Kalahari won’t look the same.
Just like life.
And like Vetfaan, Servaas and Kleinpiet, we’ll tend to get lost out there sometimes; whilst the soultelling eye Is dimm’d, for a time, with a Tear…