Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Fatal Flaw of Fundamentalism

Parabuthus transvaalicus

Parabuthus transvaalicus

Thou shalt not insert thy foot into thy footwear without properly shaking out the same. 

That, of course, is the eleventh commandment in the Kalahari. It should be obeyed every day for as long as you live. Should be. Unless you have a hangover and need your early-morning coffee urgently. Then you might forget…and pay the price.

Which is what happens to Servaas when his headache and thirst forces him to sit up. He feels for his slippers with his feet in preparation of the hesitant, shuffling advance to the kitchen. More than most days, he needs his usual caffeine rush to get going today. That’s the moment the pain in his left big toe overwhelms the old man to such a degree that his former symptoms do not bother him any longer.

It is a well known fact that there is no better cure for a hangover than a scorpion sting – its pain is so intense that all other forms of discomfort simply fade into insignificance. Servaas doesn’t appreciate this sudden change in his perception of what the word ‘pain’ implies as he starts doing a weird, one-footed dance while testing the maximum decibels he is capable of..

Gertruida knows a lot about scorpions. She’ll tell you that scorpions roamed the waters of the earth some 200 million years before the dinosaurs started scaring the other living creatures. At first a purely aquatic animal, it started off with gills and large eyes (the better to see with, of course). In those early days some of these frightful creatures were a metre in length, but they became smaller when they became terrestrial and had to adapt to their new environment. Nowadays most scorpions are smallish, and the inverse relationship between the venom and the size of the pincers is well known.

When at last Servaas settles down, he shakes out his boot to see what kind of scorpion decided to camp in there for the night. The very large sting and the small frontal parts confirm his suspicion – this is a Transvaalicus, its name immune to the fickle political efforts rename every reminder of a ‘white’ past. Servaas’s indignant stream of foul language is almost lost on the deaf animal, but the very sensitive sensory hairs on the exoskeleton pick up the vibrations and translates the message to the small brain behind the median eyes.

This scorpion, it seems, at first thought about what Servaas is saying before deciding to rather scamper away to a crack in the floor. When the angry boot thuds down on the spot it occupied seconds ago, the scorpion is already relaxing comfortably under the floorboards a few metres away.

The escape of the scorpion upsets Servaas. It isn’t because he wanted revenge (well, maybe that’s not entirely true), but he still believes the old myth. To alleviate the pain, you have to catch the scorpion, burn it, and then apply its ashes to sting. With no scorpion to burn, Servaas has no antidote.

 Parabuthus transvaalicus, Servaas knows, is particularly venomous. It is even fatal at times. He has to get help, and get help fast. With no time to lose, he hobbles down Voortrekker Weg to Precilla’s little pharmacy.

Rolbos, like we all know, is a town where many unusual events take place. The townsfolk tend to live through these with a distracted acceptance, knowing that most storms will pass all on their own. But, when something really weird happens, they do manage to work themselves up into an excited state. So; when Servaas hops down the street on his one foot, clutching the other with both hands and howling so loud that Vrede seeks refuge behind the church; the bedroom curtains parted, faces peeked out…and the peals of laughter rolled through the town. Poor Servaas! Like the rest of the Rolbossers, he sleeps with the minimum of clothes. Unlike the usual custom, however, he hasn’t changed his attire for this somewhat unplanned trip to Precilla’s.

Gertruida is the first to react as she rushes out with a large towel to drape over the less tanned bits of Servaas’s anatomy. Once the old man is covered up in a more acceptable fashion, she hears the tale of woe. She leads to poor victim to the bench on Boggel’s veranda and bends down to inspect the wound.

“Tell me again what happened, Servaas?” The mischievous twinkle in her eyes should have warned Servaas.

“I put my foot into my damn slipper. The scorpion stung me.” Anger at the stupid question.

“And then you found the scorpion?”

Light dawns. Uncertainty. “Y-ye-e-e-s…”

“In your boot?”

“Um…”

“So the scorpion quickly switched its hiding place in the forlorn hope that you’d not find it? That, Servaas, is a sign of a much advanced scorpion. Must be the cleverest and most active scorpion ever, seeing they spend 95% of their time doing nothing. I should write an article for Nature. Or even National Geographic.

“But…”

“Let’s go and have a look at the slipper, shall we?”

***

They find the toothpick in the slipper. Despite Servaas’s explicit pleas, Gertruida recounts the episode with glee in Boggel’s Place. Servaas, with no other option, can only smile shyly from where he sits with the bandaid on his toe.

***

“That’s the problem with assumptions,” Gertruida says later. “You make a deduction and create a false reality.” She can get rather academic about even the most mundane events. “It isn’t that Servaas was stupid, or anything like that. He simply added two and two together and got an answer. Sure, his analysis proved to be wrong in the end, but until he realised his mistake, he firmly believed he had been stung by a scorpion. When he hopped down the street, he believed his life might be over.

“That’s the way some of the religious fundamentalists go about their lives.” Gertruida switches the subject so suddenly, even Servaas looks up in surprise. “They take a small bit of their faith and then go storming down Life’s main street, assuming they have not only the right answer – but also the only answer That’s the fundamental flaw.”

“Ja. They should consider all the options,” Vetfaan says dryly. “Look in the boot and the slipper. Distinguish between the scorpion and the toothpick.”

“And, please, dress properly when they go howling through the streets. Nightdresses don’t do it for me.”  Precilla stares pointedly at Servaas. “On the other hand, fundamentalists would be more recognisable if they dressed like Servaas did. We’d know who to avoid…”

The Curious Case of the Toothpick Scorpion will be the source of many a joke in Boggel’s Place for a while. This is sad, because poor old Servaas will have no choice but to grin and bear it. It’s not that the old man has no sense of humour; it’s just that he wishes the townsfolk would have taken Gertruida’s lecture to heart.

If only all members of all faiths took the time to admit that there are boots and slippers in this world and that wild assumptions don’t always stand up to scrutiny – then there’d be more tolerance amongst mankind. Sadly, Servaas thinks, society is just too prone to go off at a tangent, not questioning the basis of their beliefs.

There is a difference between Servaas’s assumption that morning and the fundamentalism that rocks the world these days. Servaas’s hangover was cured. The world’s headache is getting worse.

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The Scent of Wet Kalahari Sand. (A conversation in Boggel’s Place)

IMG_1985 a“Intoxicating.” Servaas murmurs as he sniffs the air while suppressing the little shiver that threatens to crawl down his spine. Precilla has just walked past, neat a freshly shorn prize ewe in her tight fitting jeans and white T-shirt, and smelling like spring (Vetfaan’s thought).

Vetfaan glances around to make sure they’re alone before nodding. Yes, indeedy!

“That perfume should be sprayed all over the world. We’d have a global Woodstock with flowers and music….and love, of course.”

“But,” Boggel interjects, “it’s artificial, chaps. Fake. Phoney. Unnatural. Women – as well as men, for that matter – were never supposed to smell like that. We’re earthy creatures, reeking of sweat and dust. Now, don’t get me wrong? Precilla sure smells nice, but it comes out of a little, expensive bottle. She’s saying: sniff the air, boys, I’m woman with a capital W. But it remains the oldest trick in the book to advertise your femininity. It’s not real.”

His two comanions on the veranda stare at him in horror.

“Gee, Boggel! Had a bad dream last night? Any tick bites on your legs? You can be such a wet rag when you set your mind to it.”

The bent little barman blushes at the rebuke. “Slept like a rock, I’ll have you know.  But…I’m simply stating a fact. Why should a mixture of plant oils and alcohol make a woman seem more attractive? My point is this: perfume is all good and well, but the real allure of a lady should be her mind, not her scent.”

Of course he gets nods of complete agreement. No, they never implied that the feminine mind wasn’t important. Golly gosh! The outward appearance and the aroma surrounding a curvy figure only serve to attract the bees to the flower – but it is only a superficial allure. The real connection is a mental one, just like Boggel said. Especially if the said woman happened to wear a miniskirt and high heels. Then the mental attraction is irresistible.

Of course! 

Boggel goes pffffft! at this lie and goes out to get a fresh crate of beer.

***

“Another borehole dried up yesterday.” Vetfaan sits down heavily and snaps his fingers impatiently to order a beer. “I’ll have to start selling some sheep. I simply don’t have enough water for my flock.”

IMG_2751The  Kalahari is perhaps the healthiest place on earth to live. The bloody conflicts in the rest of the world are far away, crime is almost nonexistent, cellphone connections are patchy and – best of all – people still care about each other. There is a downside, however: the area is prone to regular droughts. Not droughts like in a few months without rain – real, championship droughts that last for years and years. And, even worse, when the rain comes, often only a few drops splatter down before the clouds evaporate before the unforgiving sun.

“Oudoom is planning a prayer service on Sunday.” Boggel pushes over the beer. “For rain,” he adds unnecessarily.

“I’ll be there,” Vetfaan’s determined frown doesn’t lessen when he downs the ale.

***

“Politicians,” Servaas remarks, “are just like women. They create an image, a promise, you’dd like to believe in, and then they leave you high and dry.”

“Clouds that don’t rain.” With his glass empty, Vetfaan signals for another. “People do that, too.”

“Yes, I remember how the prez promised jobs and houses and electricity in every home.” Servaas gathers his brows in an angry line above his eyes. “Now we have loadshedding every day and Number One says it’s Apartheid’s fault. Twenty-one years later he still blames the whites. I mean, the way he drove out Jan van Riebeeck’s spirit the other day was simply atrocious!”

“Ja, without old Jan, he’d still be herding cattle. Now he’s stuck with Nkandla…and the 700 cases of corruption he  used his position to disappear. That’s real progress.”

“Disappearing clouds, Kleinpiet. Our parliament should have a cloud in it’s coat of arms.”

Boggel knows his customers. Once they get into politics, it fouls up the atmosphere in the bar. He has to steer the conversation away from Jacob Zuma or else they’d all go home early.

“Girls, politicians…they all use perfume to attract. And, after all the aeons of time, generation after generation falls for it. One would have thought that evolution would have sorted out the gullible amongst us, but no! We sit back and allow the sweet scent of improbable promises lure us into disappointment.. When will we ever learn?”

Suddenly, a far-off rumble causes them all to sit up. Thunder?

Thunder!!

They rush outside to watch a dark cloud building up behind Bokkop. It’s a wonderful, black cloud with a white crown. The wind around it whips up huge masses of water to obscure the sun.

Gertruida stands alone, in awed silence, as she remembers the words of that great poet, Jan F Cilliers:

Soos ’n vlokkie skuim uit die sfere se ruim
kom ’n wolkie aangesweef,
maar hy groei in die blou tot ’n stapelbou
van marmer wat krul en leef –

(Like a fleck of foam from the heavens/ a small cloud comes a-drifting/ Growing in the sky to a stacking/ of marble that curls with life)

“I can smell it!” Vetfaan’s jubilant cry causes Oudoom to rush from his study to also stare at the sky.

“It’s the scent of Life,” he breathes as he folds his hands together.

“It’s the promise of survival,” Vetfaan sighs.

“The sweet smell of truth, ” Boggel whispers in awe.

Precilla emerges from her little pharmacy to join the small crowd in the street. This time, not a single head turns her way as the first drops fall heavily into the dust at their feet.

The Silence of the Emerging Porcupine

Credit: listal.com

Credit: listal.com

“The world,” Gertruida says as she folds the newspaper, “is a mess. You have Al Qaeda running around with bombs, ISIS holding Syria at ransom, North Korea making ominous noises, and Croatia in chaos. What about this barbaric practice of beheading people – or using children as suicide bombers? And we’re not immune, either. With a woman being raped every four minutes, rhino poaching – almost three a day – and farm murders, we’re at war with crime and gangsters in every level of society. And now we have rioting around Johannesburg, with shops being burnt down and looters being shot.” She sighs, throws the newspaper on the counter and signals for a beer, “People killing people…when will it end?”

“Ja, Gertruida.” Kleinpiet draws a gallows on the counter top with a stick-man dangling from the rope. “You once told us about that beautiful animal that got angry. Remember?”

***

Once upon a time – long ago – a beautiful animal roamed the veld. Like other creatures, it had a head, a body and four legs. If anybody cared to look, such a person would have said: yes, indeed, this is an animal, just like the others around here. But then that person would have looked again, and remarked on its beauty.

You see, this animal had a face that made you smile. It seemed to be happy all the time while it was sniffing the ground and digging for a nice, fat root below the surface. Everybody agreed that the Creator must have been in an exceptionally good mood when He brought this animal forth to live on Earth.

It had the softest fur, the cutest little legs and a tail all the other animals envied. But, most striking of all, was the upward curve of the lips. Neither drought nor flood could erase that smile. In short: it was a harmless, joyful little creature that went about its business quietly.

But some of the other animals didn’t like the happy creature. They looked at it with jealous eyes and told each other that there must have been a reason why it was so happy.

“It’s got a secret stash of food somewhere,” the hyena said, “hoarding it all for himself. Look at him: he’s always got that silly smile on his fat face. We all live off the veld, so we are entitled to make him share his food with us.”

“And I can’t see why he should be happy at all.” The vulture’s scowl made him look even more acrimonious than usual. “I hate happy animals. They’re just too…” He searched for the right word, finally settling on, “…alive.”

“I believe,” the snake said,”that we have a responsibility. It is fundamentally wrong to allow that creature to continue the way it does. We must correct its ways.”

So the three of them; the hyena, the vulture and the snake; set about tormenting that beautiful, happy animal. They stole it’s food. The hyena chased it about. The vulture swooped from the sky to scare the animal they now labelled as ‘the enemy’. And one day – a most unfortunate one, indeed – the snake coiled itself around one of the animal’s young, suffocating it before inflicting a poisonous bite.

This happened over a period of time, you understand, but when the baby animal died, the beautiful, happy animal finally lost it’s smile. It shed it’s tail in anguish…and changed the soft, beautiful coat for a set of dangerous quills. No longer would it allow the others to torment it – enough was enough!

And so the animal world lost the innocent beauty of a little creature that meant no harm to them. It changed into a walking fort, an armoured fighting machine that even lions and leopards avoided. It became solitary, moving about at night with the frightful rustling of its quills warning off any imminent attack.

download (3)Hyena was its first victim. When the scavenger tried to harass it again, he got stung by so many quills, it took months to heal. Even today, you can see the spots where the scars were.

And when vulture swooped down from the sky again, he lost all his neck feathers when he crashed into those quills.

Cape-VultureEven the snake tried to kill this new animal, but try as he might, he couldn’t get his teeth  into his victim. He suffered tremendous injuries as a result of the quills, causing his face and body to be covered by scales to this day.

And so, the greed and envy of the other animals caused the disappearance of the most beautiful of all animals. They had created a formidable fighter, who relied on his impenetrable armour to ward off any threat. The other animals ignore these defences at their peril.

***

“Why do you think about that story now, Kleinpiet?” The usually small furrow between Gertruida’s brows deepen as she glances over at him.

“That fable, Gertruida, is happening all over again. Religious fanatics, political fundamentalists, despots, corrupt officials, terrorists, criminals of every description – they all are busy destroying the beauty that once existed amongst mankind. And one day – like the Parisians did recently – there’ll be a cry of enough is enough! Already we have the kangaroo courts in the townships: people simply don’t trust the drawn-out judicial system where dossiers get lost and clever lawyers allow criminals to roam free. What’s the conviction rate for burglary in South Africa? 10%? Less? And what percentage of murders get solved?” He frowns, thinks hard, and shakes his head before answering his own question. “Maybe 20%? I dunno. But it is true to say that crime pays. And that common people – you and me – are getting fed up with this lunacy. Some say there had been 80,000 farm attacks since 1994. We can’t go on like this.”

Kleinpiet’s little speech causes an uncommon silence in Boggel’s Place.

It’s a contemplative quiet, something that is happening all over the world. It’s the stillness after a lightning flash, before the rumble of thunder reaches the ears. It’s the echo of the mute rebellion – in London, Paris, Washington…and many more small communities all over the world – in which the soft fur of beauty is slowly changing into dangerously unforgiving quills.

Weekly Photo Challenge: African Travel Expressions

Yeah, we’ve got them all here, just the same as the folks in Europe or Asia or the States. Some personalities are universal – you simply can’t go anywhere without bumping into them. So let’s get off the plane at the deserted little airfield and watch the characters around us.

sealThat smug young blonde – makeup freshly applied – will eye you at the baggage carousel. Are you rich enough? Just passing through? Or maybe willing to mix business with a little…pleasure?

bok

There’s the timid young man, uncertain about the first night on safari and far too proud to admit his anxiety. Will he be able to close an eye tonight, or be hunted (and haunted) by yet another nightmare?

crocInevitably, over there, we have the lecherous old man, biding his time before making his move. His thoughts are evilly carnal, his appetite never satisfied.

lionBut wait, here’s the slick game ranger (and she’s a girl!)! Dressed in regulation tight-fitting khaki, she’ll take her time to select something…special…for tonight. Beware though: don’t slip into her tent uninvited. Staying beyond the reach of those claws (and teeth) is a very good idea.

buffelWhat? Politicians? Yes, they’re everywhere. And just like in any other country, they are unpredictable and extremely dangerous. Best sit next to the blonde, then. Or even the ranger.

dogOh, well…maybe you’ll be better off in the air-conditioned comfort of the lodge. Yes, great idea. Oh, you’ll still wish you were out there, but at least you’ll be safe. Maybe order room service for the next few days? Yeah…then you can buy some postcards to show the friends back home.

The Legend of the Woman Caught in Between

woman

“That’s a strange photo, Gertruida.” Vetfaan has been peeking over Gertruida’s shoulder while she paged through one of her old photo albums.

“I took this in a remote spot in Zambia, Vetfaan, after the locals told me about The Woman Caught in Between. The picture, like the legend, is most appropriate.”

***

There once was a woman who lived in a war torn land. Everybody – it seemed – was angry at everybody else, all the time. Towns fought against towns, districts took each other on in bloody battles and there was no peace in any of the provinces. Families were torn apart. Friendships ended in bloodshed.

One day, after the funeral of yet another of her sons, the woman sat crying alone under a big Acacia tree.

“Why,” she asked the thorny tree, “do we have to keep on fighting? Surely we should be happy – there’s enough room for everybody and the land could supply more than enough to eat and drink – provided there is peace. But no! Because we’re battling each other all the time, there are no men to cultivate the land or look after the cattle. Now we’re dying – if not from battle, then from hunger.”

The Acacia tree – used to being scorned because of its ugliness and thorns – listened quietly, understanding every word she said.

“You have to move,” it said.

“What, move to another country? Where? Are you crazy?” The woman was angry now. “This is the country of my fathers, and their fathers before them. I belong here. My children belong here.”

“No, not your country. Your mind.” The Acacia tree tried to look aggrieved, but only managed to grow a few more thorns.

“What?” The woman didn’t understand.

“You have to move your mind, woman. Think new thoughts. Stop contemplating the wars of the past and start considering a time of peace and cooperation. It’s when you stop fighting the wrongs of yesterday – and start building with the rights of tomorrow – that your tears will dry up and the lands will groan under the burden of the harvest.”

“Oh.” The woman didn’t know what to say about the strange idea. But…could the Acacia be right?

She spent a sleepless night before returning to the tree the next day.

“I’m going to do it,” she announced. “Think differently. Move my mind.”

The Acacia was happy and sprouted a few blooms. “Remember, woman, that you have to move everybody’s minds. This is no small task, I can tell you. Look at me: I’d like to get rid of my thorns, but my family refuses. So here I am, stuck with thorns for eternity.”

The woman hugged the tree, despite the thorns. “It must be hard to live with such a history.”

“It is. But you go ahead and try. Maybe you can get rid of your thorns.”

And the woman tried. She spoke to warriors and mothers, to kings and children. And to her surprise, they all agreed: this was a brilliant idea.

When the day came for everybody to move their minds, the woman offered to go first. “I’ll show you how. After all the hardships and sorrow of such a long time, I’ll take the first step to liberate us all.”

And the woman tried. She closed her eyes and made herself deaf to the sound of clashing swords. She shouldn’t have done that. If she had realised that there were still swords dripping with blood, she might have survived. Still, she imagined a peaceful country filled with happy faces.

While she was busy moving her mind, a the fighting soldiers paused for a while. What? This woman wanted peace? How outrageous! No more war would mean they would actually have to work for a living? Exchange their swords and spears for shovels and ploughs? Work from dawn to dusk to provide food? No! That’s not the way to go at all! Yes, some do die on the battlefield, but then you simply take what used to be theirs. That is so much better than working under the hot sun all day!

And so – for a minute or two, the woman got her wish. The fighting stopped. The soldiers turned on her and grabbed her before she could finish moving her mind. The shock of it all stopped the woman, hovering halfway between war and peace.

The fighting continued.

The swords remained red.

And the woman was kept in Between forever.

***

“That’s a horrible story, Gertruida! So sad. Fortunately it’s just a story…”

“No, Vetfaan. Not a story. Not a legend. It’s the story of Africa in general…and South Africa in particular. We’re sitting next to the Tree of History – actually, the Tree of Knowledge – and we don’t understand a word it is telling us.

“We are, my friend, stuck in Between, doomed to remain there as a reminder of an impossible dream…”

A Moment to Remember

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“This tree,” Vetfaan says as he slides the photograph over the counter, “is special. It didn’t give up.”

Boggel studies the picture. He has seen it before – several times. When Vetfaan slips into one of his pensive moods, he sometimes produces the photo. It seems to give him strength to overcome his depression – a rare but not unknown occurrence

“It’s the one in Caprivi, isn’t it?”

“Yep. Grows there in the barren soil, amidst the rocks where everything else struggles to survive.”

“That’s where the ambush was.” Boggel doesn’t have to ask, he knows the story.

Vetfaan closes his eyes deliberately, as if he wants to kill the picture in his mind. He doesn’t succeed, of course. Not now.

Some moments in time get burned so deeply into the circuitry of the brain, they remain sharp and fresh for a lifetime. Nothing – not time nor age – will spontaneously fade those moments away to insignificant grey graphics; especially if the horror of those moments are nurtured by clinging to them. That’s the trick, of course: the ability to let go. It is necessary to replace the memory with the reality of the present. Unlike the yellowing photographs in an old album. these pictures retain colour, focus and even sound as long as they are allowed to torment by revisiting them. Even now, the crash of gunfire and exploding grenades reverberate in Vetfaan’s ears.

“Why did you take that picture, Vetfaan? Surely you need to forget those days,”

When Vetfaan opens his eyes, Boggel notices the incredible sadness in them.

“I went back, Boggel, many years later.” Boggel knows this, too, but like the good barman he is, he listens intently. “To see. To remember. To forget.” Vetfaan sighs heavily. “I wanted to see if the blood had washed away in the meantime. And you know? No matter how hard I tried not to see it, there was blood everywhere. Gunfire. Screams.

“So I took the photo. See that tree? The rocks didn’t stop it from growing. It gives me hope.”

Boggel slides another beer towards his friend. “It looks like the tree is lifting the rock up – breaking it in two.”

“It does, doesn’t it? And on the picture, there’s no sound, no blood. That only remains up here.” He taps his head with a calloused finger. “I so wish this picture can be there as well. Maybe if I looked at it long enough…?”

Boggel nods patiently. One day he’ll tell Vetfaan that memories can be like that rock. Slowly, gently, the mind will grow around the agony of the past, lifting it, breaking it. The blood and gore will wash away. And, in contrast to what the mind remembers, the real, true, picture will eventually break the chains anchoring Vetfaan to the yesterdays he so desperately needs to forget.

“It takes time, Vetfaan.”

“Yes, Boggel. I’ll get there. Just like that tree. One moment at a time.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity, Africa’s Allure.

Africa. A continent of conflict, as we all know. The home of pirates, religious fanatics, despots.

But…the real Africa has another face. Non-human…even non-animal. Just beauty and space.

And serenity…

Kirstenbosch Garden, Cape Town. A lane of 100 year old trees. It is quiet here…

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In the magnificent Baviaanskloof you can hear the silence

n1

Close to Stellenbosch. Only the forlorn cry of a fish eagle to keep you company.

n2

Ahhhh….the roads through Namibia. Nobody in sight. No telephone lines, no fences…

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The beauty of Damara Land

102_0210

Rain in the Serengeti

Go Back In Time

While I’m busy with another project, it is virtually impossible to add new stories to Rolbos. This has drawn some criticism from some of my loyal readers, who accused me of abandoning them. Since quite a number of new followers were added in 2014, it mat be a solution for some to have a peek at some previous stories.

672There is, for instance, a series with The Bogenfels as a theme. For those unfamiliar with this natural wonder, it is a massive rock arch in wild and uninhabted beach of the Atlantic  in southern Namibia. The Curse of the Bogenfels  introduces //Xuiram, the Bushman, tells about Otjikoto Lake and some very mysterious events in the Sperrgebiet.

Where to find the story, you ask? Simply click on the picture. At the bottom of each episode there will be a little arrow directing you to the next segment of the story. It’s on the right, just above ‘Comments’.

And then depart on an adventure that left even Gertruida breathless.

And now for something completely different.

It’s time for a small break. Writing the stories of the patrons in Boggels Place is a whole heap of fun, often requires a bit of research, and takes up a lot of time. Living out the passion of writing is all good and well…but try buying a bread with it? (Or a bottle of wine, for that matter). The sad fact is that man cannot live by blogging alone.

So, while I’m going to busy myself in a financially productive way by finishing a novel, I leave you with several alternatives.

download (1)First of all, there’s Imagine: Africa! with myths, stories and a few surprises. I loved writing this collection of short stories, aiming the book at the intrepid traveller reading it in lamp light on his fold-up bed in the tent. Allow your imagination to take you to some wild parts and some very strange people. Close your eyes and hear the lions roar a few metres away…or listen to the soft, slithering sound of a boomslang inspecting the smelly boots you placed at the bedside.

Available for e-readers as well as in soft cover, these stories tell of Africa as it should be – a fun and adventurous place to live in, filled with some of the world’s best individuals.

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Then there’s the Afrikaans book on the life and times of right-winger, Eugene Terre’Blanche. Never having been a member of his organisation, I wanted to know how and why he thought the way he did. I expected a dictator, but found him to be a humble man, living quietly with his family after his time in prison. Instead of a radical racist, I heard him talk about his fellow prisoners (all of them black) with compassion and respect.

Oh, but the old fire was still there, burning beneath the surface. He told the stories of his youth and later career with the passionate oratory gift only he had, giving me a unique look at his life.

The book was finished and at the publisher at the time of his murder. In a way, it represents his last message to the Afrikaner nation.

download (2)Another book I found challenging to write, is ShimmerSTATE, about near-death experiences and the nature of the spirit. While I struggled to piece together who and what we are, the book wrote itself. I cannot explain where this story came from, but it started as a very lucid dream I had one night.

I had a choice: write a dry, academic-philosophical account of my insight after the dream (knowing nobody would read it), or package it as a detective/love/mystery novel. The main character embarks on a fantastic journey of discovery while in coma in hospital, where he meets others in the same condition.

This is the one book I think everybody should read. As human beings, we tend to concentrate on the physical world – but there is much, much more to living than that.

LogoAnd then – oh my! – my publisher suggested I write an erotic novel. “It’s the in thing,” she said, “sex sells.”  So I tried…and found that I simply cannot write smut.

Old Oom Servaas came to my rescue. Sure, he is lewd and he – like all older men – appreciates the beauty of youth; but will his fantasies ever materialise? In the book he is an old bachelor with no…such…experience. And then his initial fascination with a beautiful young lady drags him into a web of deceit and murder.

In 65 Shades I found my previous career extremely useful when it came to understanding the mindset of older men. Old Servaas turned out to be a combination of several patients I had treated in the past – men who never lost their zest for life, and jealously guarded their ability to spot a shapely figure.

rolbos-engThe last book to be published, is the Rolbos collection of stories. Here the setting will be familiar to the Rolbos enthusiast, with the usual crowd gathered in Boggel’s Place.

Regular readers will know how I enjoy the characters that have become personal friends over the years. They still do the stupidest things, get involved in impossible schemes, and yet still manage to convey a message of kindness and love.

It’s a book of human nature and relationships. We are, after all, created to interact – with people, animals and nature alike. History shows that we fail dismally to succeed in this quest – and that our efforts often end up on  border of  the the extremes of poignant humour.  Rolbos is an easy read, perfect for those quiet moments after a difficult day.

61YG1UGFNTLFor the serious reader, there is Facing Surgery with Christ.

This book was born because I had found that I spent too little time with my cancer patients. I simply couldn’t explain all the why’s and wherefores in the allotted time during consultations. Patients facing life-threatening disease deserve explanations. They need answers as badly as they need treatment.

Facing Surgery explores the doubt, the anxiety and the (wait for it) benefit associated with such conditions. It is not aimed at Christians only, although it contains many references to the Bible. What I tried to do, was to create a book the patient can read through a bit at a time, allowing for the anxiety and stress that follows when somebody suggests radical steps to combat disease.

vanessa_1And then there’s Vanessa. Oh, how I love this character!

On a sunny day, next to the beach, I saw a young lady (more child than adult) who commanded my interest immediately. Who was she and why did she act the way she did?

It is a single short story about a strange young lady, but writing it was a slow process. She came to me in bits and pieces, and it took some time to arrange the story properly. Is it a fun read? Yes and no. It challenged me to look beyond the obvious and the see through the facade we all tend to hide behind at times. I’d describe the story more as thought provoking, than humourous.

These books and stories are available at Amazon, but you’d find them at most on-line bookstores serving your region.

Enjoy!

The Symbolism behind “Fly Away”.

800px-South_African_Defence_Force_Memorial001Writers live in an isolated cell with high walls and a very small window. From there, they take a seemingly insignificant situation, throw in a bit of conflict and allow the characters of the story to interact with unfolding events. Nothing, like we all know, ever remains constant and therefore the characters have to adapt to create – in the end – the plot.

But where do the stories come from? It varies from writer to writer. It’s safe to say that there is always at least a smidgin of truth behind each story. It may be much, much more. And then there’s the imagination (or the Muse, if you prefer) to fill in the gaps.

Fly Away is such a story. It also contains – on purpose at times, at others, it was impossible not to submit to the natural progression of the story – a symbolism which forms the backdrop to the stage of South African society.

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Annatjie is the stereotype of the Afrikaner women who’ve lost so much during the war years. Their husbands came back (if at all) very often as changed men. The trauma of war never leaves the soldier and although he might act just the way he did before being shot at, there are many (if subtle) changes in the way he considers life, the objectivity with which he views politics and even in the way he expresses love. Too many Annatjies had to adapt to too many silences. Too many couples struggled through the aftermath of the war without proper debriefing. Too many women, even today, wonder what – exactly – happened in the bush. Like Annatjie, many women responded to these issues, trying to limit the damage. And many of them retreated from reality to create a space to survive in.

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Hendrik Meintjies? Well, there can be very few soldiers who didn’t question the purpose of the Border War at some or other stage. The White young men were told what to think and how to think. They were moulded into a super-efficient fighting force where discipline was absolute. This is quite obviously the purpose – the goal – of every army in every war ever fought. It did, however, come at a cost. (Think of Vietnam or Desert Storm and the way it affected those young men – especially afterwards.)

In South Africa, back then, young White men didn’t dare question the ideology the Church, the State and the media propagated in every conceivable way. It was the way they were brought up. Their parents were – in this regard – as effective as the government. Discipline used to be strict in schools as well as in families. That’s why, when the draft papers arrived, thousands of youths reported for duty, believing they were serving God and country in the fight against communism. There was no Je Suis Charlie back then.

Also: there never was a proper program to help the soldiers after the war. No psychological support. No post-traumatic sessions. In the end too many soldiers came home with too many memories of what they had seen and done. Many of those who didn’t die on the battlefield, had difficulty in living in suburbia afterwards.

Like Hendrik Meintjies, there were many boys with their fingers on triggers, wishing they could have done something to stop the madness. Does this make them traitors? Not at all. It is, after all, completely normal to pray for survival when the enemy is throwing bullets, bombs and mortars at you in the middle of the night. No matter how brave the youth – they all felt the cold finger of fear running down their spines.

The other aspect of Hendrik Meintjies’s life the story tells about, is the way his father viewed other races, other cultures and other policies. There was – in the 50’s and 60’s – a groundswell of Nationalism. South Africa – just like America – was grappling with the concept of the racial identity (and differences) that existed at the time. This wasn’t something that happened in 1948 when the Nationalists came to power. Racial segregation was the norm in the world during the 1800’s and the early 1900’s – and, indeed, was established here during the governance of the region by England and the Netherlands long before the Union of South Africa was established in 1910. So, old Mister Meintjies must be seen as a product of his time. While there may be no excuse for discrimination, the reality of South Africa’s development towards equal rights for all is not so dissimilar to the history of Alabama and the southern states of America. The fate of indigenous peoples in America, Africa, and Australia in the previous centuries underscores a history of discrimination that most commentators try to ignore when they report on South Africa.

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Then: the mission to Luanda. It is wrong to label all White South Africans as conservative, bigoted supporters of Apartheid. One must remember that Black people in America only received equal citizenship in America in 1966. Separatism was – and sadly still is – universal; if not in name, then in more subtle ways. (When 17 people die in Paris, the world’s outrage is without limits. The massacres in Nigeria should have had the same – if not more pronounced – effect.) The world’s history is riddled with racism, whether we want to acknowledge that today or not. South Africans didn’t invent slavery. Neither did they invade Khartoum or India to subject the ‘natives’ or claim the natural resources as their own.

No, South Africa’s history isn’t without blame.  All the races in the country were guilty of varying degrees of atrocities in the past. We have to live with that and build a better future. It is, however, a terrible mistake to allow the past to dictate the future. It is the present – the here and now – that affords us a chance to plan for a better tomorrow.

There are in South Africa (as everywhere else) members of society whose names will never appear in history books. Ever since the first Europeans set foot on our beautiful shores, there have been men and women who advocated peace and stability. These were often common folk, living in the far-flung rural areas and on farms. They were quiet, God-fearing people who preached justice – people like Hendrik Meintjies who rebelled against the destructive policies of the day. Sadly, history prefers to forget these men and women; they rate too low on the Sensation Scale.

But the Afrikaner is also fiercely independent. He’ll die for his cause and many of them did. It is one of those monumental coincidences in history that the National Party and the Berlin Wall crumbled within months of each other. If communism were allowed to cry Uhuru! in South Africa in the 60’s, the very real fear existed that the resultant bloodshed would have been worse than the massacres in Kenya and the Congo combined.

Hendrik Meintjies was a soldier and a rebel, which tells us something else about Afrikaners. They are a stubborn nation. They fought – and won – a war against the mighty power of England. The Republic was established despite the world’s opposition. Once the course is set, it takes a storm to divert the route. And in the period between the 60’s and the 90’s, they were buffeted by a political cyclone of an immense magnitude. Some remained loyal to the cause. Some stubbornly considered the alternatives.

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The sealed letter.  Annatjie didn’t open it in the end. She tried to keep Hennie alive by not reading his words. She didn’t want to acknowledge the reality of the past. This is true for South Africa in so many spheres. The Whites want to forget about Apartheid, but the ruling party continues to use it as a political tool. Many individuals – with some justification – look back at the time when South Africa experienced the world’s best economic growth and had a reliable rail and postal service. They remember the time when crime and murder occurred rarely and rape was unheard of. In that closed envelope, they live in denial of the reality. Time has moved on. The past, is past. Despite the horror of the current reality, this is where we have to live.

The result of Annatjie’s denial was the years she wasted in demented isolation. She tried to justify her jumbled reasoning by remembering other aircraft crashes that claimed other (famous) people. This symbolism can be applied to both Black and White people in the country (and probably in various other places around the world). In some ways, there are people who want to justify their actions, based on out-dated ideas. To scrutinise those ideas – and their origins – can be a very painful process. To them, it is better to keep the envelope closed.

***

downloadRacial identity is too often based on prejudice. (This may very well apply to religious identity as well. The events in Europe may be an example). This prejudice leads to isolation, which in turn may fester into fanaticism. Denial, one of the main themes of Fly Away, can never contribute to a better future. Breaking out of denial, facing reality, is the only way ahead. That reality challenges each of us to acknowledge that we share space with others who may look and think different to us – and that it’s okay to celebrate that diversity. The old South Africa had a slogan: Ex Unitate Vires. Sadly, it seems as if our current government seems unwilling to embrace such an outlandish concept.

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So, in a few simplistic ways, Fly Away tells the story of a  nation struggling to come to terms with the past. The story may be of little literary merit, and I accept the blame for that. But, although never intended to coincide with the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Fly Away does echo with the desire to improve the world we live in by having a critical look at our society, our past and our hopes for a better future.. After all, if nothing changes, everything remains the same. Then the promise of a better tomorrow might as well fly away on a doomed aircraft…

We’re not going to do that. Je Suis Charlie is alive and well and living in Rolbos, too. Behind the message of kindness and the occasional humour, the patrons in Boggel’s Place simply can’t shy away from addressing the very real issues confronting us every day. Neither should you…

After careful consideration, it seems appropriate to conclude the story of Annatjie and Hendrik with a special recording – and a message – by the inimitable John Denver…