“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…”