Monthly Archives: July 2015

That’s what friends are for…

2153916_130206164911_TD278-3When Vetfaan gets drunk, he sometimes becomes teary and exceptionally morose. The rest of the little crowd in Boggel’s Place know the signs: he’ll become silent, stare out of the window and then whisper: “Gunter Winkle…

This doesn’t happen often, mind you – maybe once a year or so – and for a long time they couldn’t get him to tell them who Gunter Winkle is or was. He’d only answer with a stony stare at the bottle of Schlichte on the shelf and then start humming to himself; a strange tune even Gertruida doesn’t recognise..

It all changed one evening. Vetfaan was staring at the Schlichte bottle again, humming the tune, when Gertruida said softly that she did some enquiries about Gunter Winkle. Vetfaan surprised them by stopping humming immediately as he directed his unsteady stare more or less in Gertruida’s direction.

“Wha…whadaya fin’ out?”

She shook her head. “Still listed as missing, if it’s the same person.”

Vetfaan nodded slowly. “Same person.”

“You have to tell us, Vetfaan, get it out of your system.”

And so, in bits and pieces, Vetfaan finally managed to open up. It eased the pain, even if only marginally.

***

Gunter was the only son of a farmer near Gobabis, in what we now call Namibia. At the time, South West Africa was governed by South Africa and many Suidwesters sent their sons and daughters to study in the Republic. Vetfaan met Gunter at Glen Agricultural College where they attended a course in wool classification. They developed a solid friendship during the month they spent there and kept contact (via letters back then) afterwards. Like it so often happens, the letters petered out and were replaced by a yearly Christmas card.

However, when they met again – it must have been a decade later – it seemed like no time had lapsed since their last goodbyes and they celebrated in raucous style. This was severely frowned upon, for then they were in uniform at the base in Ondangwa, fighting the insurgents from Angola. The brigadier called them in, threatened a court martial and gave them a stern warning. Any breach of discipline would be followed by the harshest possible steps. Their weekend passes were cancelled for two months. When the other troops were allowed to blow off steam in Ondangwa, the two of them would clean the officer’s offices.

Something happens to young men when they have to don a uniform and live under the constant threat of danger. When off duty, they tend to become, well, irresponsible, to say the least.  So while the other troops whooped it up in town, Vetfaan and Gunter were pushing mops and brooms in the offices of their superiors. That is, until they discovered the secret horde of Schlichte n the brigadier’s cupboard – on the first evening of their first weekend of office duty.

The result was a catastrophe. When the brigadier went to his desk on that Sunday, a routine neither of the two scolded men knew about, he found them happily singing the German ditty Gunter had taught Vetfaan during the night. They were dumped in the detention barracks without any further ado.

Monday arrived. The brigadier cooled down. A court martial involved not only other officers, but would come to the attention of headquarters in Pretoria. There might be questions about his ability to maintain discipline. He might be sent to an ‘easier’ post, away from the combat zone – which would mean – in effect – a demotion of sorts. No, he’d handle it on his own.

Kunene River. Angola on the other side.

Kunene River. Angola on the other side.

Vetfaan and Gunter (still severely hung-over) listened in subdued silence as the brigadier ranted and raved for a full half hour. Then he told them they’d be sent to a remote area on the border to keep watch on a section of the Kunene River suspected of being a point of infiltration. No weekend passes, no leave. Just the two of them and a radio. Supplies would be dropped by helicopter every two weeks.

Running an army is a huge job. The admin involves mountains of paperwork, orders and directives. And things go wrong…

The brigadier’s worst fears were realised when he was transferred a base near Kimberley – a lateral transfer which meant the end of his hopes of becoming a general. His successor arrived the day after his departure (to save himself the embarrassment of handing over the reins) and promptly started transforming the Ondangwa base into one of the most efficient in the defence force. Despite this, the two men next to the Kunene were forgotten. Maybe some documents were missing or mislaid, or maybe it was just one of those things that happened back then – it could even be that the original brigadier never set the issue down on paper – but the end result was two abandoned friends in the middle of nowhere.

“We had a wonderful time there,” Vetfaan told the group, slurring the words. “The radio was dead – no new batteries. The local Himbas were quite friendly and supplied us with goat’s milk and sometimes meat. We fished and cooked bird’s eggs. Gunter’s singing intrigued the Himbas and they often came to listen to his German songs – bringing more supplies when they did so.

“Of course we guessed what had happened – being forgotten and all that – but we had no means to get back to Ondangwa. Truth be told – we didn’t want to, either. Still, when the three-month period neared it’s end, we realised we’d have to walk back to civilisation. The Himbas provided us with enough information to do this. On the day before we were planning to start the journey, Gunter stepped on a landmine.”

Zuzu

Zuzu

Gunter was lucky. Although he sustained severe injures to his one leg and face, he survived – just. The Himbas carried him to their kraal, where they helped nurse him back to health. This is where Gunter met Zuzu, the beautiful Himba girl he fell in love with. His recovery was slow and painful, but after a month he was able to walk if aided.

That’s when he told Vetfaan to go back.

“I’m a disfigured man, Vetfaan. I can hardly walk and can see very little. Farming is out of the question. No, my future is here with Zuzu. I can help here. Start a school. Teach them things. Be useful… I owe them that, at least.”

***

“So you returned to your unit, told them Gunter was missing…and never breathed a word?” Gertruida’s incredulous tone interrupted Vetfaan’s story.

The interjection stopped Vetfaan’s recounting of what had happened so many years ago. He simply stared at her, sighed, and nodded. “I gave my word.”

“But what about his parents, his family?”

Vetfaan started humming softly to himself. Didn’t want  to tell them the rest. How he paid a clandestine visit to the Winkles on their farm and explained everything. How Gunter’s mother wept with joy and his father embraced him. And how, every six months or so, the Winkles liked to spend time up in the North of Namibia, holidaying next to the Kunene.

Or how he missed singing old German songs with one of the best friends he ever had.

No, he’d rather have another Schlichte. Anyway, he’d told them too much already.

Heute hier, morgen dort, bin kaum da, muß ich fort;
hab’ mich niemals deswegen beklagt.
Hab’ es selbst so gewählt, nie die Jahre gezählt,
nie nach gestern und morgen gefragt.

Manchmal träume ich schwer
und dann denk ich, es wär,
Zeit zu bleiben und nun
was ganz and’res zu tun.
So vergeht Jahr um Jahr
und es ist mir längst klar,
dass nichts bleibt, dass nichts bleibt, wie es war.

Dass man mich kaum vermißt, schon nach Tagen vergißt,
wenn ich längst wieder anderswo bin,
stört und kümmert mich nicht. Vielleicht bleibt mein Gesicht
doch dem einen oder and’ren im Sinn.

Manchmal träume ich schwer
und dann denk ich, es wär,
Zeit zu bleiben und nun
was ganz and’res zu tun.
So vergeht Jahr um Jahr
und es ist mir längst klar,
dass nichts bleibt, dass nichts bleibt, wie es war.

Fragt mich einer, warum ich so bin, bleib ich stumm,
denn die Antwort darauf fällt mir schwer.
denn was neu ist wird alt und was gestern noch galt,
stimmt schon heut’ oder morgen nicht mehr.

Manchmal träume ich schwer
und dann denk ich, es wär,
Zeit zu bleiben und nun
was ganz and’res zu tun.
So vergeht Jahr um Jahr
und es ist mir längst klar,
dass nichts bleibt, dass nichts bleibt, wie es war.

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The problem with Servaas’s English.

To continue with the story:

048After his rescue from the barren mountains of the Richtersveld (still without the parasol), Servaas had to be carried back to Vioolsdrift. Mr Jacobs – as the town’s undertaker – was the only man around with a smidgin of knowledge about sickness and death, so it was only logical that the search party carried the severely disorientated rugby player to his residence. 

Dehydration and sunstroke aren’t simple maladies. People die from less severe insults to their health, like snake bites or gunshots. To say that Servaas was not quite his old, perky self, is a slight understatement. Semiconscious, incoherent and burnt to an unflattering red hue, he drifted in and out of a state of delirium for a full day. To quote Charles Dickens: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Worst, because he almost died. Best, because he had the most amazing visions of Mathilda for a full 24 hours. To go into graphic detail would be socially unacceptable (although all young men experience similar daydreams on occasion, Servaas might be considered the father of the 3-D dream and was able to focus on – er – um – rather intimate aspects of Mathilda’s attributes for a considerable period of time).

Be that as it may, Mathilda looked after him well. Mrs Volschenk’s finishing school wisely included various difficult subjects like Chicken-keeping, Tending your Garden, Pet Care, and Ailing Men. It is true, she intoned in her faux-British accent, that men suffer more during sickness than women. This, she said, was because of the inferior construction of the male constitution. Mathilda didn’t argue, despite the fact that she actually thought the ‘male constitution’ was rather well constructed and had quite surprising abilities.

So, when at last Servaas woke up to find the subject of his dreams sitting next to him, wiping his brow and looking at him in the most peculiar way, he really believed he was dreaming. Or dead. He threw out the second possibility soon, however; right after Mathilda whispered (in a really husky voice) that she thought he had the most amazing constitution.

The norm (back in those days) was that you didn’t overdress for a rugby game. Boots were an unheard-of luxury, jerseys usually didn’t last the first half and shorts – although mandatory – were merely the oldest short pants in the drawer. Commonly, these were last year’s schoolwear; and hence a size or two too small.  Understandably Servaas realised all too soon he wasn’t dressed to fit the occasion of his first real meeting with the most beautiful girl in the entire Northern Cape. His constitution disagreed, having the fun of its life…

Servaas pulled the blanket up to his chin and tried not to show his embarrassment. 

“Mrs Volschenk prepared us for such occasions,” Mathilda said importantly. “Men simply can’t help certain, er, things. It means nothing to us women who have been educated properly, Would you like some cold water?”

Maybe Servaas was still too confused to understand. Cold water? To do what with? Of course! His present condition! He nodded, feeling terribly shamed and reprimanded.

Without the need to go into detail, it is enough to say that Mathilda laughed uncontrollably when her mother asked her why she was hanging the blanket on the washing line. Calming down, she confided that Servaas was still so weak, the glass slipped from his hand.

1935-chevrolet-standard-and-master-deluxe-2Servaas’s parents, who stayed with friends during their son’s recovery, were surprised that their son was so anxious to go home. Did he not almost die trying to bring back that wonderful girl’s umbrella? And – true to their previous experience of Servaas’s exploits – would he not want to linger as long as possible in the Jacobs’s home? But no, Servaas insisted. The blankets on the wire had not even dried out in the scorching sun when Servaas stuttered his thanks, stumbled out of the bed and shuffled down the garden path towards his parents, waiting in their old Chev in the driveway..

Years later, when Servaas paged through one of Gertruida’s dictionaries (to look up the meaning of  ‘consubstantiation’) he finally realised that having a strong constitution wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. In fact, it saved his life.

By then – as was common knowledge at the time – Mathilda had turned into a cantankerous old spinster, having rejected all male advances over the years. Gossip had it that Mrs Volschenk’s students graduated with such a superior impression of themselves that only a few of them ever married. Servaas is still convinced that the finishing school finishes the chances of normal young girls having a normal life. Why, he asked once, must somebody teach girls how to place three forks and four knives (not forgetting the two spoons) at every place at the dining table? With a tablecloth and everything? A single pocket knife, one spoon and ten able fingers had been quite enough for any meal his mother had ever prepared – and served on the bare kitchen table. 

Gertruida says English is a confusing and difficult language, often leading to misunderstandings. She once bloviated that it is hardly discombobulating that Servaas tried to canoodle  with a callipygian girl after her bumbershoot blew away. However, she said,  Servaas was only a hobbledehoy at the time, and it would have been godwottery to pursue the oocephalus he admired so much. Although Mathilda might have been described as an ingenue back then, everybody knows she was always a real panjandrum at heart.

Gertruida can be such a  pettifogger!

Mrs Volschenk and the parasol

Credit: dbvictoria.blogspot.com

Credit: dbvictoria.blogspot.com

Gertruida is on full cry this morning, telling the group at the bar about the longest river in South Africa. Originating in the high mountains of Lesotho, the Orange River (Gariep) cascades down the Drakensberg, fills up dams and provides irrigation along its 2200 km course.

Servaas isn’t listening. He remembers another story about the river – something that changed his life forever.

***

005The last stretch of the Orange forms the border between South Africa and Namibia. To the north, the Namib stretches away to the horizon. To the south, the inhospitable Richtersveld. Sand on the one side, heaped mountains of rocks on the other. This is not a place to get lost in –  but Servaas did.

It is not unusual for young men to do stupid things. Some believe they can change the world, others rebel against the age-old rules of society. The more amorous (and decidedly less intelligent) believe they were placed on Earth to woo the hearts of maidens, usually ending these episodes as pathetic remnants of their old glamorous selves. After all – as all men learn eventually – being victorious in the heart-winning quest does not automatically mean a happy-ever-after. Love does not require a single moment of passion; it demands far more than that. And Servaas, dreaming about holding Mathilda’s hand while whispering the three words he hoped she’d like to hear, didn’t know that. He was seventeen – how could he?

 The problem was that Servaas grew up on a farm with too many males. Not only humans, mind you, but somehow the cattle and the sheep (even the goats) went through a few seasons of producing only rams and bulls. In that world of male dominance, it was only natural that Servaas picked up on the atmosphere surrounding the old homestead: males either fought each other, or they tried to get the odd cow or frightened ewe to share a bit of time with them.

Servaas was the flanker in Prieska’s scrum. He was fast, had a short temper and intimidated his opponents to such a degree that his team ended up in the finals of the regional rugby championship. In those days it was common knowledge that Servaas only tackled you once – after that the local doctor had to apply a splint or put in a few stitches. In the days before Superman, Servaas was Prieska’s invincible superhero.

And so the entire Prieska took to the road to witness the final against Vioolsdrift on their homeground. There was no doubt about the outcome: the framed Springbok-horns would be on the mantelpiece in Prieska’s hotel the next day.

Enter Mathilda Jacobs, the only girl in Vioolsdrift to have gone to the finishing school in Paarl, Mrs Hermiena Volschenk’s Academy for Discerning Young Ladies. Enrolling in Mrs Volschenk’s famous institution guaranteed the students everything they needed to become the most sought after young ladies in their districts. After completing the two years under the watchful eye of their headmistress, girls could darn socks, knit jerseys and recite Psalm 23. By that time, the brighter girls also had to be able to supervise servants, play bridge and be able to recognise a successful gentleman (those wearing shoes and socks).

Needless to say, Mathilda had a hard time after returning to Vioolsdrift. Using the skills Mrs Volschenk had taught her, she insisted that the would-be admirers made an appointment to spend time with her on the veranda in front of her parents’ house overlooking the Orange River. Outlandish as the idea was, the young men of the district had no choice but to accept that Mathilda – a graduate  in the finer arts of life – was then elevated to the status of royalty. No longer could they arrive in numbers to vie for her attention – if you were interested, you had to be able to converse comfortably about difficult subjects involving bookkeeping or flower arrangement. Mathilda also had the servants serve tea in real cups and saucers – a clever ploy to keep both her visitor’s hand occupied.  As such, she not only dictated the terms of courting, but wreaked havoc in many a young man’s heart. The sudden increase in pedestrian traffic past the veranda prompted her father buy Kaiser, a ferocious Doberman Pinscher.

On the day of the finals, Servaas and the other fourteen rugby players from Prieska were having their pre-match pep talk on the dusty rugby field when Mathilda and Kaiser arrived to sit down on the chair a servant placed next to the field. Dressed in a high-collared white blouse and a rather revealing skirt, she only had to snap her fingers once before the servant opened a parasol to protect her perfect complexion.

Well, in all honesty, it wasn’t a real parasol, of course. Such things didn’t exist in the Northern Cape. But Mathilda had seen the one that Mrs Volschenk had, and attached a length of lace to the rim and ribs of her father’s black umbrella he used when attending funerals. As the town’s undertaker, Mr Jacobs was much feared and respected – nobody dared to antagonise the man who’d be responsible for your last resting place. There was only one shady spot left in the cemetery at the time. No surprise then, that not a single person walked past Mathilda that day without saying how beautiful the umbrella was.

Towards the end of the second half, Viooldrift’s team had been reduced to ten men, thanks to Servaas’s efforts. Still, the defence was surprisingly resilient and the scoreline only favoured Prieska by one try. This didn’t bother the Prieska team too much – a win is a win and why sweat away at piling up points when the other team surely had no chance to score? No, scrumming was much more fun – especially while Servaas was in such a destructive mood.

And then…

mg21729075.400-1_300You get these whirl winds in the Northern Cape. They appear from nowhere on a seemingly windstill day, dance around haphazardly for a while, and then usually fizzle out.  Just as the teams readied themselves for yet another scrum (and the doctor wondered whether he had brought enough bandages along), a dust devil developed in the road next to the field. It picked up momentum  – and size – and swept across the players towards the spectators.

Mathilda’s parasol was lifted high into the sky, swirling and twirling towards heaven. And Servaas, knowing who the umbrella belonged to after ogling her all afternoon, left the scrum to chase after it. If he could return the umbrella to its rightful owner, he’d surely impress her enough to guarantee an invitation to spend time with her. The rest of the Prieska team realised what their flanker was up to, and ran after Servaas as well.

The Vioolsdrifters weren’t so stupid. They knew Mathilda. No matter what you did, she’d only tilt her nose in the air and tell you it is unacceptable to decant your tea into the saucer. And there was the undefended tryline to consider…

One by one the Prieska players gave up the chase until only Servaas sped across the barren landscape towards the Richtersveld.

***

This incident had several results:

  • Servaas was found three days later by a Bushman tracker. He still hadn’t found the ‘parasol’.
  • Vioolsdrift won the championship by a record margin.
  • Mr Jacobs took to wearing wide-brimmed hats (tied down under his chin with a bootlace)
  • Mathilda realised Mrs Volschenk was wrong and that Hennie Viljee, who scored the six tries in the last five minutes of the game, didn’t have to wear socks to impress her.

The Bushman tracker managed to get Servaas to the river, where the muddy water of the Orange River saved his life. When, years later, Servaas met Siena, he stopped playing rugby – saying he’d rather chase after his Siena than die of thirst.

Anyway, he said, rugby is only a game. Love, on the other hand, is real. When Siena jokingly explained the meaning of a ‘whirlwind romance’, Servaas was not only amused, but he knew then the some events in life may have a prophetic nature. Being swept away by love is far better than chasing something you’ll never catch.

Mrs Volschenk would have applauded.

Close Up Natural Facials…and naked fear

So there I was, camping in the wilderness and fascinated by the animals on the plains. What would happen – I wondered – if I asked them nicely for a few close up portraits? I had to find out.

c3Zebra didn’t mind at all, although she insisted on combing her mane first. She wanted to look her best.

c5Elephant couldn’t care less and ambled past. “You have once chance, Buddy. Then leave me alone…” The threat was unmistakable.

c2Mrs Aardwolf wasn’t interested either. Her new baby needed all her attention and left no time for cosmetics or a visit to the hair salon. “Come back in three month’s time,” she pleaded, “I’ll try to look a bit more presentable then.”

c4The young lovers were…er…busy. “Please…this is a private moment. Leave now or face the consequences. Stick around and you’ll see….”

c1That’s when I heard the roar behind me. The camera bumped against my hip as I ran back to the vehicle, snapping the shot.

Up close? Maybe not a macro, but close enough…

Fia’s Story

048Rolbos has, purely through circumstances, an overwhelmingly European population. A small one, it is true, but still. It is extremely rare for them to play host to ‘other’ races despite the fact that they view themselves as  ‘very modern and open-minded.’  The subjects of gender equality, same-sex marriages and mixed-race relationships often lead to lively debates, but the group in Boggel’s Place has long ago adopted the motto of live and let live. They’ll be equally critical of the national teams’ performances or Oudoom’s sermons, simply because these things afford ample opportunity to explore diverging views in a safe environment. The exception is the government and the president: these they don’t have to debate at all. There’s no need to overemphasise the obvious…

Credit: isnicethat.com

Typical Herero dress and headgear       Credit: isnicethat.com

Despite this, the group lapses into a surprised silence when the Herero lady enters the little bar in Voortrekker Weg on this sunny morning.

“Good morning,” she greets after her eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the building. “I wonder if you can help me. I seem to be lost.”

Her accent is pure English, despite the traditional dress she is wearing. Gertruida (who else?) immediately gets up to offer her help after introducing the group.

“Oh…I am Fia. I’m on my way to Namibia but I must have taken the wrong turn somewhere?”

Gertruida quickly figures out that she took the wrong turn-off at Grootdrink and explains the way back.

“We don’t get many visitors, especially not Herero’s like yourself. Please, come in and enjoy something to drink? It’ll be our pleasure and our treat?”

An opportunity to listen to a stranger – hopefully with new stories – cannot slip through their fingers. Anyway, Gertruida’s curiosity won’t allow Fia to escape without learning where she is from and where she’s going. The group listens with rapt attention as Fia tells them about her visit to America.

She promotes ethnic art, she tells them, and often travels to the far-flung corners of the globe to seek opportunities for local artists. 575349450“So this year, I went to Los Angeles to attend the World Championship of Performing Arts. Man, was I proud! I watched the  Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers dance their way to three gold medals! Not with modern dancing, mind you, but with the oldest dance form in Southern Africa. Riel dancing originated with the San people and was handed down from generation to generation. They were even asked to dance again, at the closing gala event!”

The conversation drifts to Namibia, its beauty and it’s history. Fia is a natural conversationalist and well versed in the history of her country. She tells them of the years of war – reaching back to the Herero massacres by Germany in the later 1800’s. “But now we are a free and prosperous country. Our president isn’t like yours at all. Hage Geingob is a fair man and a devout Christian. And he’s married to only one woman.”

“But what about South Africa and Germany? After all the bloodshed – don’t you hate them?”

Fia laughs. “Hate the Germans? Are you crazy? Sure there were a lot of atrocities, but that was long ago. They left infrastructure, songs and music and for many years German was the lingua franca. They did exploration, mined minerals and built many churches. Today we play host to many, many German tourists every year – making a significant contribution to our economy. ” Her gaze grows distant before she adds, “The Germans were hard taskmasters, yes, but in some ways they left more than they took.”

After she leaves, Gertruida says that’s how history should be handled: with forgiveness and tact. But even she gasps in surprise when a letter arrives a week later.

Dear Rolbossers

Thank you for your kind hospitality. I really enjoyed my little visit and would love to entertain you in my B+B in Ondangwa sometime. Feel free to visit whenever you are in the vicinity.

Love,

Sophia Kauffman.

Note: The money was raised. They went to LA…and they did it!!

Charlie’s Molybdenum Experiment

IMG_4607aThey always said that Charlie looked a little…weird, And that he should thank his lucky stars. Charlie doesn’t like this gossip (even if some of it is true), which is why the old man lives quietly on his barren patch of Kalahari sand and very seldom comes to town. Once a year, in fact, to pick up the new Landcruiser the dealership has ready for him – papers done, licence and everything. He never squabbles about the trade-in – he’s far too rich to worry about such simple trivialities.

Vetfaan recently witnessed just such a transaction and now sits at the counter in Boggel’s Place, recounting the event.

“Man, that old man didn’t even say good morning or anything. Held out his hand for the keys, sort of nodded his thanks, and drove off. Cash Banks – remember him, the dealer? –  shrugged and pocketed the cheque before heading off to the Oasis Casino to celebrate. Invited me along, saying he wished he had more customers like that.”

“To think it all started by accident,” Servaas smiles wistfully. “Just goes to show…”

***

Charlie – with his short legs, skew teeth and underdeveloped jaw – detested his nickname. Donkey isn’t exactly complimentary, after all. Boys joked about him, girls avoided him (‘Imagine being kissed! Ugh! It’d be like a rabbit working his way up your neck…’) The only good thing to come from all that, was Charlie’s determination to prove he didn’t deserve the moniker. After school, he studied chemistry at the University of Cape Town, paying his way by working on the railways (as stoker) during the holidays. These two facts determined the luxury of his later lifestyle.

Sure enough, Charlie graduated and obtained a BSc  degree – but then failed to find employment. At every job interview the employers gaped at the weak jaw and declared the position already filled.  When at last he returned to the Kalahari, he was a broken man. Donkey, indeed! Society had been right: he had no prospects.

What could he do? He decided that his degree was a waste of time and that the only place he wouldn’t be ridiculed would be in the veld, tending a small flock of sheep. At least they didn’t care about his looks. Sheep didn’t not giggle behind his back and didn’t run away when he called them.

molybAnd so we find Charlie next to his little fire one night, staring at the small, blue flames dancing upon the embers. Why were they blue? The question bugged him until he remembered Molybdenum, the trace element one of his professors mentioned. Could it be that the heat-resistant, hard and rare metal was responsible – and was the last thing in the wood to submit to the intense heat of the embers? And if so, could it be that the hard camel thorn wood of the Kalahari contained enough Molybdenum to be a source of the rare material?

But, of course, the problem was much more complex than that. How, indeed, was he supposed to find out what caused the blue flames? He had to get a sample of the mysterious stuff and then have it analysed. Maybe he could send it to his professor? Donkey wasn’t entirely stupid: if he were to send a piece of wood t the university, he would be the laughing stock of the department (again). No, he needed to be scientific about this: a purified specimen was what he needed.

Charlie started experimenting – but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t catch a little blue flame in a bottle. Eventually he realised that whatever caused the blue flames, must be caught up in the smoke. The smoke was the answer! It surely contained the gaseous traces of whatever caused the blue colour. Okay…but how do you catch smoke?

And so Charlie set about – first with a towel, later with a large, wet sheet – to catch the hot smoke rising above his fire. He burnt a number of shirts, rags and even part of his tent before he managed to get a linen bedsheet filling up with smoke.

It is said that many scientific breakthroughs were the result of accidental findings. Antibiotics, X-rays, and falling apples contributed to this view.

Charlie was no exception.

***

“So he’s still living out there on the farm, all alone?” Kleinpiet downs his beer and signals for another.

“Oh no, my friend.” Vetfaan sighs. “He has this blonde running his business. A gorgeous thing with legs all the way to heaven and a body to die for. He met her up in Kenya, I heard. Apparently she was the one to convince him to expand. He adores her.”

“Ja, I heard she’s got some business degree. Clever girl, by all accounts.” Gertruida has to show off again. “MBA from Harvard, if I’m not mistaken. He had the idea, she had the knowledge. Formidable team.”

“Imagine that, hey?”

“There’s no telling why people get attracted to each other, Boggel. Apparently she was teaching at the university in Nairobi when Charlie went up there to see if his idea could work. They met at one of the colonial clubs, and bingo! The rest is history.”

“Well, what are the chances? A chap from the Kalahari and an American girl, teaming up to create Charlie’s Hot Air Balloon Safaris. Now they’re running one of the most lucrative businesses up there, in Malawi and Zambia. Rich tourists fork out fortunes to see Africa the CHABS way. And don’t forget: she was also the one to suggest the luxury lodges. Only royalty, celebrities and some of our politicians can afford it.”

“Goes to show,” Servaas says again. “Staring into the embers late at night is never a waste of time. It could unlock the most glorious future if you’re brave enough to dream. A bit of hot air, a brilliant idea and  blind girl.” He sighs heavily, staring out of the window. “…and no Molybdenum,”

“So what,” Vetfaan asks, “causes the blue flames?”

“Oxygen, Vetfaan. The stuff you breathe.” Gertruida, of course.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Half and Half

Every country offers the traveller something unique – something that makes you come back time and again. Namibia has it all: people, culture, comfort and wilderness. The countryside offers vast vistas of unspoilt nature where one can simply sit down and wonder about the magnificent creation around you. It’s a place filled with silence, solitude and…surprises.

For this half-and-half challenge, looking for some symmetry in the picture, the following:

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The contrast between the dry veld and the sky – with the thin line of mountains in the background – made me stop for this one.

IMG_4610Drawing nearer, the landscape changed as the sun slowly released its grip on the desert in the later afternoon.

IMG_4883aThe next day, the landscape was covered in withered grass and stunted trees – but the hills of ancient volcanic rocks formed a barrier between sand and sky.

IMG_5070aAnd here the surprise waited: a shallow pool, where two juvenile desert elephants posed for a while.

I’ll simply have to go again.