Monthly Archives: September 2015

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#3)

Credit: postalmuseum.si.edu

Credit: postalmuseum.si.edu

Gertruida withdraws into herself despite the buzz in the bar. The situation just doesn’t make sense. Married to this stranger – and children, too? Visits to Singapore and accounts in tax havens?

Why?

Herman Grove is equally baffled, but he is the center of attention amongst the group at the counter. Servaas has done a good job at interrogating their visitor and everybody agrees that his story is true. Somehow – for some reason – he and Gertruida are the victims of identity theft, simply because they shared time in Kimberley hospital in 2009. It seems as if that is the only time their worlds connected in the past…

“That points a finger at the time in the hospital…or, more precisely…at the people who worked there. It’s unlikely to be one of the doctors or even the nursing staff; mostly because they were in different wards and had different nurses taking care of them. The point of confluence – in a manner of speaking – is the admissions area. That’s what I think.” Servaas has appointed himself as chief analyst, surprising even Gertruida.

“I think Bertus is exploring the possibility, Servaas.” Gertruida rejoins the group at the bar and accepts the beer Boggel pushes over to her with a grateful smile. “I must say: I’m surprised at his enthusiasm. Yes, we worked together a long time ago, but I only expected him to be mildly interested. But no! He jumped into this case, boots and all.”

“Well, I think we should at least phone the hospital and hear what they have to say.”

“And say what, Servaas? That we want a list of the admin staff in 2009? Because two patients think they did something wrong?”

Before the argument heats up, the phone rings again. This time the conversation lasts only a few seconds.

“Well, Servaas, you might be right.” Gertruida almost manages to not look embarrassed. “Bertus wants us to meet him at the hospital. In kimberley, tomorrow at noon. He says he’s on to something.”

***

Having decided that there is no longer any reason to speculate, the patrons in Boggels Place settle down to yet another round of beers. Ironically, Gertruida finds herself next to Herman, who is anxious to learn more about Rolbos in general – and Gertruida in particular. Like he says: even though the two of them aren’t married, it doesn’t mean they must remain strangers.

It is a well-known fact that alcohol is the best social lubricant ever invented by mankind. Herman turns out to be a very funny man, who regales the little crowd with the stories of his life. That’s the other thing about alcohol, of course: it is  a concentrated form of liquid self confidence. Herman, the uncertain, stuttering man that walked into Boggel’s Place a few hours ago, has changed into an eloquent story-teller. At first he seemed surprised that his audience enjoyed his humor, but as the evening drags on, he becomes more and more comfortable.

Herman even – after telling them about the farmer who thought solar energy was a Satanic invention to bring Ra into the homes of unsuspecting buyers – laughed so much that Gertruida had to reach over to help him stay on his bar stool. He then surprised them all by getting off his chair, hugging Gertruida and kissing her cheek. To prove he’s sober, he closed his eyes and stood on one foot. This time even Gertruida’s steadying hand didn’t help much as he staggered this way and that before landing in Vetfaan’s arms.

“Time to go home, chaps.” Oudoom, the least bleary-eyed of them all, holds up a hand. “We’ve got an early start tomorrow, and a good night’s rest won’t do any harm. As I see it, the newly-weds can either decide to spend their first night in each other’s arms, or Herman can come and sleep on my couch.”

Herman, of course, does the right thing…

***

And so we find the group, jammed into Vetfaan’s Land Rover, entering the grounds of Kimberley Hospital at about 11 am the next day. Herman is the only one still complaining about a hangover, while the Rolbossers all seem happy to continue where they’ve left off the previous night. The cooler box crammed between Boggel’s knees is almost empty.

Gertruida is the first to scramble out. She’s recognised Bertus Cronje sitting on a bench under a tree next to the parking lot and rushes over to greet her old friend. They share a laugh at the way the years have changed them – Bertus being twice the size he used to be and Gertruida still as trim as ever – before she introduces Bertus to the rest.

“Well, let me get straight to the point,” Bertus takes charge immediately. “I have been retained as a consultant to the new police commissioner. The government insists on appointing the most inappropriate people to high posts, then they have to shore up the person with old-timers who know the ropes. They don’t advertise this, of course, but it seems the only way to create a semblance of efficiency.

“Now, we’ve been worried about identity theft for some time now. Not any old identity theft, mind you – identity theft with an extremely worrying undertone. This I will explain in a moment.

“I’ve had several investigators going through the records here, and it seems that only two people had their details used: Gertruida and Herman. About a month after their respective discharges, two separate individuals approached Home Affairs, informing them that their identity cards got stolen. Identical stories, with police statements, docket numbers and everything. This is something Home Affairs hears every day, of course, and so new ID documents were issued in both cases, complete with the supplied photographs. The fingerprints on their cards, incidentally, are identical to the real ones. I think it was lifted off something you must have handled while you were in hospital – cutlery or a glass or something.

“The facts spoke for themselves: there were two people involved. One person had to have access to the details – and the fingerprints – in hospital; while the other had to be able to create the case dockets and be involved with the copying of the finger prints.

“The rest, like the famous detective said, was elementary, my dear friends. Oh, they were devilishly clever and carried out their dastardly plans with masterful planning. Had it not been for your help, they would maybe never have been caught. “

Bertus pauses and looks up as two burly policemen lead a middle-aged woman from the hospital.

“Ah yes,” he beams proudly, “Gertruida, I’d like you to meet Gertruida. Shake hands with your namesake, will you? It’s not often that you get to meet yourself…”

(To be continued…)

Advertisements

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#2)

ID Smart Card.websiteBeing married – according to the State – to somebody you’ve never even met, is worse than having a crooked president you didn’t vote for. That’s the consensus in Boggel’s Place, where lively debate replaced the icy silence of a while ago. Suddenly they were faced with something completely so unexpected and so strange, that they simply had to order round after round from the bent little man behind the counter while discussing what needed to be done.

“I think they should simply shack up and enjoy the experience. In fact, they’ve just saved themselves a lot of money – do you know what a wedding costs these days?”

“Ja, and what a pleasure to skip the uncertainty of that first night! Phew! They can go straight ahead to the anniversaries – that’s so much more fun.”

“Awww…shame. They missed their own honeymoon!”

Of course Gertruida isn’t amused. No matter how hard she tries to steer the conversation towards a possible solution, the others refuse to let up on their quirky remarks.

“I-I don’t want to interrupt…” Herman holds up an uncertain hand. He is surprised at the silence that follows his interjection and seems to have trouble composing his thoughts. “B-but aren’t you guys miss the point here? Me and poor Gertruida are not married at all. I don’t know her…as far as I can remember.”

“Okay.” As usual, Oudoom is the sympathetic one. “Lets get to that. Tell us about your accident and the amnesia?”

Herman accepts a beer from Boggel while he tries to remember the details. “I struck a kudu with my bakkie. On the road between Potchefstroom and Kimberley. I was a rep, you see? For a solar geyser company. Did well in those days when ESCOM started having trouble. Well, I don’t remember much after the kudu rearranged my pickup’s bonnet, but I woke up in Kimberley’s hospital not knowing who I was or how I got there. After about three months, my mind started clearing and I thought I was pretty normal. Lost my job, though. I bought a new pickup with the insurance money and started out on my own. And…here I am. Not much to tell.”

“And when was this?” Gertruida sits up sharply as she starts to realise something very important. Could there – after all – be a connection?

“W-well….it was in the beginning of 2009, in January.”

“On a Sunday?”

“Why, y-yes! I remember now. I was on my way to pick up supplies in Kimberley – for the next week’s work, you know? And…oh yes…it was the second Sunday of the year.”

Plane_crash_into_Hudson_River_(crop)“Well done, Herman!” Gertruida beams her satisfaction. This could be no coincidence! “That would make it the 11th. I remember that date for two reasons. Firstly: it was the day Captain Sullenberger made that fantastic emergency landing in the Hudson River after some birds flew into the aircraft’s engines. US Airways flight 1549. Quite a miracle, that was. Not a single life was lost.

“The second reason is more personal. I was admitted to hospital with a grumbling appendix and had an emergency op that evening.” She pauses dramatically. “…In Kimberley Hospital.”

“What?” Boggel is the first to grasp the significance.

“I don’t know, but I guess it cannot be a coincidence. At least it puts you both in the same place at the same time.” Servaas knits his bushy brows together while they all start talking together at the same time and has to wait quite a while for an opportunity to go on. “When you get admitted to hospital, they take all your details, don’t they?”

“Of course, Servaas. ID, address, medical aid, next of kin…”

“And who did you put up as next of kin?”

Gertruida shakes her head. “I didn’t. At that stage Ferdinand was gone and my parents had passed on. I left the space blank. Being there for an appendicectomy wasn’t considered a life-threatening condition, I suppose, so nobody worried about it.”

“And you, Herman? Did you have next of kin?”

“I-I  didn’t fill in any forms. Couldn’t, you see? First I was unconscious and then I couldn’t remember. They did have my driver’s licence though. Must have worked from that to figure out who I am. Anyway, I’m a loner, you see? No family to speak of. A distant cousin lives in Australia, but that’s all.”

Gertruida starts pacing the length of the counter while thinking out loud. “Two people in the same hospital on the same day. One an insignificant rep for solar geysers; the other an ex-government employee with no fixed employment. And then, six years later, they find out they’re married – according to the State. Now…either that is just another example of the current state of chaos at Home Affairs, or…not. If not…then something real strange is afoot.”

The telephone interrupts her summary of possibilities. Boggel answers, hands the phone to Gertruida and they all try to make sense of the fragmented conversation that follows.

“Yes…oh, hello Bertus.” Holding a hand over the mouthpiece, she mouths that it’s her old friend who is helping them with the dilemma. “Oh….oh my….What?….No, certainly not!! I don’t believe this…Oh my word….” She remains silent, listening to the voice telling her more. Then, in a strained voice, she says goodbye and replaces the receiver.

“Herman and I…have three children. Two boys, one girl. And, according to Bertus, we have been travelling to Singapore regularly for the last three years.” Gertruida shoots a questioning glance at Herman, who shrugs and shakes his head. “Also, Herman has bank accounts in Zurich and the Cayman Islands..apparently rather substantial accounts.”

For the first time that morning, Herman bursts out laughing. “M-Me? M-Money? You have to be joking! I get by, yes, but only just. I do have a bank account,” he says as if justifying himself, “with a little money in it – but nothing to get excited about.”

“Then, my friends, all this cannot be a coincidence or a mix up at Home Affairs. This is a classical case of identity theft.” Gertruida seems more composed now. “And….something horribly ominous is at the bottom of this. Bertus says he is waiting for more info and he’ll phone again later. I’m sure it won’t be good news…”

(To be continued…)

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#1)

4535793911_204x219Whenever you walk in to Boggel’s Place to find an icy silence, it’s best to make a sharp U-turn, take the steps down to Voortrekker Weg and go and sit on the old bench in front of the church. At least you’ll be able to enjoy a different type of quiet there and feel the sun warming up the day after a cold Kalahari night.

Today is one of those days.

Gertruida started it all by saying something about the president. Now – no matter from which side of the window you’re looking through, the view remains dismal; almost like the veld in winter. Moreover, after months and months of trying to be optimistic, the group in the bar finally gave up and chose to remain silent rather than rehashing all those previous conversations.

Realising her mistake, Gertruida sulks in her corner while the rest refuse to look in her direction. This is, as we all know, a typical Afrikaner way of going about difficult situations: if something really scratches the paint off your tractor, you either joke about it or remain silent.

Vetfaan arrives late after fixing the carburettor on his Massey Fergusson again this morning. He, too, is in a foul mood because the tractor still won’t start. He pushes open the door to Boggel’s Place, hoping to find his friends chatting happily about the weekend’s rugby. Instead, he is met with the stony silence following Gertruida’s remark. This doesn’t help to lift his mood.

Maybe that’s the way this Monday would have ended, too, if a run-down pickup didn’t rattle down Voortrekker Weg at that moment. Vetfaan does the obligatory U-turn to stare at the dilapidated vehicle as it trundles to a stop next to the church. He watches as a grizzled old man gets out, scratches at his unkempt grey hair and kicks the front wheel. Preferring to take a chance with the visitor, Vetfaan walks over.

“Trouble?”

“Ja, man. I’m fed up with this old thing.” He almost misses his next kick at the front wheel, recovers his balance and smiles apologetically. “I’m Herman Grove. Came all the way from Kimberley to see a lady called Gertruida. You wouldn’t know her, would you?”

“Of course I do. Why…what…?” Vetfaan doesn’t want to pry, but his curiosity gets the better of him.

“It seems she might be related to me, see? Apparently we’re married.”

This is enough to make Vetfaan smile.  Gertruida? Married to this old geezer? Now that’s something to get Boggel’s Place buzzing again. Taking Herman by the arm, he leads the new arrival to Boggel’s Place.

“Ladi-i-e-es and gentlemen! Please welcome Mister Herman Grove, the esteemed husband of our dear Gertruida! Boggel…a round on the house, please!”

You get the same reaction in the bar when South Africa loses to Japan. Disbelief, shock, horror and a tinge of cynical suspicion that this isn’t happening. What? Gertruida married? And she never breathed a word…?

“I-I-It’s not like that. Or at least, I d-don’t know.” Herman stammers. “I-I just had to find out, that’s all.”

“Harrumph! This isn’t funny, you guys!” Gertruida, sure that somebody wants to make fun of her, glares at the group. “Of all things…”

“Y-you’re Gertruida?”

“No, you prankster, I’m Joan of Arc. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.” Even Boggel blanches at the tone of her voice.

“I-I’m sorry. But that’s what Home Affairs said when I wanted to renew my ID.  On their records they have it that we’re married. I don’t recall ever being married, you see? A few years ago I had an accident and developed a touch of amnesia – but it was a temporary thing and I thought I recovered completely. Now, Home Affairs are adamant that they’re right, so I suppose I could have forgotten. I-I’m so terribly sorry.”

For the first time in her life, Gertruida simply stands there, gaping, not knowing what to say.

“Married?”

“Yes, that’s what they told me. But I can’t remember, you see? It’s so confusing.”

Gertruida takes a deep breath, another long, good look at Herman, shakes her head and finally finds something sensible to say.

“Give me your ID, let me see.”

The new ID card with Herman’s name and details gets handed over. She stares at it for a long time.

“You’re much older than I am,” she says eventually.

“Yes…”

“But you have the same date of birth?”

And so they start to unravel the mystery. It soon transpires that they share a birthday, but that they were born a decade apart. Somehow old Herman never noticed that his ID number is wrong on the card.

“But that’s only the number, Gertruida? What about the wedding – did you forget that, too?” Vetfaan can’t stop smiling.

“They’ve bungled up the whole thing, man! Can’t you see? They gave this man the wrong ID number, and even managed to connect his number with mine, somehow.  According to them, he’s ten years younger and married – wrong on both accounts.”

“S-s-so we’re not betrothed? You sure?”

Oudoom, who has been following the conversation, starts sniggering. “I love this! If it’s of any help, I can unmarry you, Gertruida. How about it?”

It takes about an hour to sort things out. Gertruida phones Bertus Cronje, an old colleague from her days in National Intelligence, who gets hold of a senior official at Home Affairs. Yes, they’ve made a mistake. Yes, they’re sorry. They’ll send the correct ID card.

“And this nonsense of being married?” Gertruida’s relief is obvious, but she want’s to be sure.

“That…er…is more difficult.” The official tries to sound sympathetic. “We’ll have to check the records to see why this has happened, and that might take time. I’m sure we’ll set the record straight soon enough, though – but in the meantime the marriage seems to be official. However, as soon as we find out how this happened, a divorce could be arranged quite easily.”

“But. I’m. Not. Married. To. This. Man!” Despite her best efforts, Gertruida can’t keep her voice even.

“I understand your frustration, Madam. But I have to follow the correct channels. Please be patient.”

Gertruida slams down the phone and wipes an angry tear from her cheek.

“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll sort this out. T-together.”

Gertruida looks up into Herman’s kind eyes, Then she bursts out in tears.

(To be continued)

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Credit: telegraph.co.uk

Credit: telegraph.co.uk

“It takes great skill – and a lot of determination – to lose that way. I mean, it’s not any old Springbok side that’d manage that, I can tell you.”

“That might be true, Vetfaan, but really! It’s becoming a South African habit, man! At first it was only the cricket team that carried the Choker’s Badge, but now it seems endemic. While some of our swimmers and tennis stars insist on being contrary by winning, we’ve developed a wonderful knack of losing – even our soccer team is on that bandwagon now.”

“I think it’s a special talent we’ve developed – the result of years and years of practice. Once we were the most developed country in Africa and in 1994 the world praised us for doing the right thing. Then Mandela picked up the ball and started running. He passed it on to Mbeki, who stumbled a bit because the team didn’t understand the rules. And then it was Zuma’s turn. He was supposed to be the speedster who’d cut through the opposition and score a few winning tries. What happened?” Servaas pauses dramatically before going on: “History happened, that’s what.”

“There’s a difference between sport and politics, Servaas. In sport your fans have a voice. They tell you what they think. If you played badly, the press roasts you. Commentators will be scathing in their criticism, and TV crews will broadcast your failures to a public that won’t hesitate to contribute their two cent’s worth. Remember, too, that sport stars aren’t paid by your taxes – they generally earn their own way through TV rights and other income from their respective clubs and unions. And, if you don’t perform, you get the boot…simple as that.” Gertruida is lecturing again. “But government? The public pays their salaries. And if the ruling party doesn’t deliver on its promises,  it is so much worse than fifteen chaps losing a game they should have won. Sadly, being booted out of politics isn’t a common South African tradition.”

“But that is why we have more and more violent protests in the country, Gertruida,” Servaas interrupts her lecture with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Even their fans are fed up.”

12019759_10207331775882988_7528779832144092590_n“My point exactly. Even the protestors are losers. What do you manage by burning the very same buses you have to use to get to work? Or by burning a library that was supposed to help kids get through school? Or by ransacking municipal offices? I can go on, but the point is this: destroying infrastructure only serves to impoverish the people that already have so little. The losers end up losing even more.”

“I get it.” Vetfaan sits back while signalling for another beer. “You’re saying we should leave the Springboks to get on with the job, while we must find a way of constructive protesting? And if we’re not happy with the situation inside the country, we should change the government?” He purses his lips in deep thought. “Nope, that won’t work.”

He gets a “Why?” chorus as Boggel pushes a full glass towards him.

“Well, as sports fans, we live with the result and use it as motivation to do better. You wait and see. The Springboks have lost a battle, but the war is far from over. We can be gracious in defeat, but that doesn’t mean we accept that our team is now a permanent national embarrassment. Come Saturday, and we’ll all be crowded around Boggel’s radio once again, wearing green and shouting at the ref. That’s the difference: sport is for entertainment.

“But politics? It’s the lifeblood of the country. And we’ve been bleeding for a long time. My take? Enjoy the rugby, at least that’s real.

“When I say we should change the government and it won’t work, it’s because our national sport isn’t rugby or soccer. It has become the Blame Game. Nobody’s being held responsible any longer. If t isn’t Jan van Riebeeck, it’s Apartheid. And if it isn’t that, they blame some poor official, who gets a golden handshake. Rugby has rules, my friends. It is governed by strict laws and the referee has the final say. Politics isn’t like that at all.”

***

An uninformed visitor to Boggel’s Place might find the group at the bar difficult to follow. They have an uncanny knack of stringing together seemingly unrelated opinions as they pass the time in idle conversation. After all, a comparison between the Springboks and the government is illogical, to say the least.

As Vetfaan sums it up: “Eish, guys! At least the Springboks have an opportunity to set things right again…”

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Dove behind the Grid. (A short, short story)

Once upon a time (long, long ago) people lived in harmony. Kindness was considered more important than conflict. And the white dove – the sacred sign of peace – flew over the expanse of Earth, bringing a message of quiet humility to all.

d1Then Man started arguing about religion…

The end.

The Fable of the Veldfire that Caused a Great Tragedy.

An_Aerial_View_of_the_Za'atri_Refugee_Camp

Refugee camp. Credit: wikipedia

Once upon a time the veld was green and lush and pretty. The animals all enjoyed the season of plenty, grew fat, and multiplied, They had everything they could possibly wish for and told themselves how lucky they were.

But seasons change, as they are destined to do. Autumn became winter, the waterholes became places of dispute and the grass withered away to become dry, tasteless and scarce.

“We have to do something,” some animals said, “if this goes on, there won’t be enough for us.” This was, of course, not quite true. The age-old problem was that certain animals  thought they were better than others, hence they wanted it all to themselves. “We’ll herd the others up in dismal camps, then they’ll go away. We’ll be able to rule here…”

Like in all conflicts, there were no winners. Those – who thought they then ruled over the veld – continued fighting amongst themselves, while the others – cooped up in impossible conditions – could hardly survive.

And then a spark caused the dry grass to catch fire. What caused it? No-one was entirely sure. Maybe the superior group wanted more and more. Or maybe those in the camps simply had to escape. But somewhere along the line, the grass caught fire. It could have been lightning, or a neglected campfire. Who knows…?

At first, only the really observant animals started moving away from the threat. Soon, however, the fire started spreading in all directions, leaving not one of the animals of the plain safe. Some fled in the wrong direction, and died. Others chose different routes. In the end, they were all in danger of succumbing to the flames.

Most of them chose to flee to what they thought were safer places, even though it involved a terrible journey over water and mountains. Although many died during these journeys, many more survived.

And then, when they arrived at their destinations, they had to face a new problem: there were already animals there, with their own waterholes and their own pastures. Some of their hosts were – initially at least – quite prepared to share what they had; while others snorted and growled and chased them away.

And then…

The host-animals started looking at the fleeing animals rather carefully. Were they all from those horrible camps? Or were there – hidden in the throng – some of the animals that started the chaos? And the host-animals became scared, whispering amongst themselves that they had to be careful. Also, as these new arrivals were hungry and in need of shelter, they ate the grass and started sleeping in the shade of the trees formally belonging to others. And some of the hosts became angry, no longer whispering but shouting, telling the refugees to go away.

By then it was too late. “Where would we go?” They asked. “This is our new home…”

And the hosts had no answer.

Credit: namibiansun.com

Credit: namibiansun.com

The animals that caused the trouble originally, slowly gathered again. They spoke amongst themselves about the green pastures they now lived in, wondering why they should share the abundance with everyone. “No,” they said, “this cannot be. We have to make a plan…”

And they did.

Until the season changed again and the next great veldfire threatened them all. Only, this time there was nowhere to flee to…

Weekly Photo Challenge: (Dis)connected.

The world has changed. There was a time (really?) when (some) people listened to opposing viewpoints, despite radical differences. President Kruger dined with Queen Victoria. Despite the grumblings of the government, talks were held in Dakar. Some still hail the Truth and Reconciliation process as a miracle. And, who can forget the optimism of the voters in 1994, even when they anticipated radical changes?

FirstelectionsBut it seems as if the world has become an increasingly intolerant place. Somehow, the modern tendency is toward individuality. The more densely the world is populated, the more we tend to isolate ourselves.

IMG_3022aThe lines of communication simply don’t work that well any longer – which is absolutely ridiculous with all the modern systems at our disposal. All the technology to make it easier to talk and listen, hasn’t done much to improve the situation.

IMG_3365It’s as if we’ve lost connection with each other, as if the switches joining us as a human family, simply do not work any more.

IMG_3442We’ve divided the world up amongst ourselves to create borders. As long as something happens on the other side of these imaginary lines, we soothe ourselves by telling each other it’s not our problem. We’re not involved…they must sort it out themselves.

IMG_3025And so we isolate, separate, dissociate, detach, divide, alienate and disengage – falsely believing that the human race is an unconnected and diverse species.

IMG_3100aSadly, this can have only one result.

(Except for the election photo, the images are from Kolmanskop near Luderitz, Namibia)

When a photograph changes the world…

Credtit: Reuters

Credtit: Reuters

“I refuse to look at that,” Vetfaan says as he closes the newspaper. “It’s such a sad, sad, sad picture. Somehow it tells me how sick the world has become, and I don’t want to be reminded.”

“That’s exactly why one should look at it, Vetfaan. We need to be reminded that society can simply not go on as if nothing has happened. We have to acknowledge the tragedy taking place in the Mediterranean – it is a mirror that forces us to take a good, long, hard look at what we’ve become.”

“Yes, Gertruida, I remember that other picture of the child and the vulture. It told me more about the circumstances in Sudan than all the reports in the newspapers.”

vulture-child“Oh, the one that Kevin Carter took?” Gertruida remembers all too well the famous photograph taken by the legendary South African. “He won the Pulitzer, I think. He captured – in a split-second and a single shot – the entire tragedy of the war and the famine up there. That photograph wasn’t just a picture, it was a message to us all.”

“Ah, but do you recall the girl with the penetrating eyes? Man, that was a haunting picture as well!”

afghan“You mean the photo of the Afghan girl? Sharbat Gula? Her picture was taken in 1985 by Steve McCurry and her enigmatic look conveyed so much! In her eyes, people saw despair, pain, uncertainty, even a plea for help and support. Some saw hatred there, others saw love. 

“They found her again after 17 years and National Geographic ran the story. At least we know she survived…which is more than we can say about that poor child in Sudan. Nobody knows whether she survived – but the chances are slim.”

“The problem with these photos,” Oudoom says, “is that they capture something that has already happened. We palmer1acannot change that. And, in this age where we live in denial and find all kinds of ways to explain away our guilt, photographs are brutally honest in the way it depicts horror, shame or tragedy. Look at the furore caused by that dentist in America. If that photograph didn’t start circulating  around the world, nobody would have known…or cared.”

“The world is an ostrich, Oudoom. We’re tortoises, hiding in a shell. When something horrible happens, we simply retreat to a safe place, close our eyes, and try to ignore the obvious.”

2013_06_21_075820_6_att00038“But there’s something more.” Servaas closes his eyes  as he formulates his thoughts. “I don’t understand why some images get to be these iconic photos, while others – equally strong and powerful – get ignored completely. Why don’t the pictures of the farm murders in South Africa go viral? Or, for that matter, the decay of the government’s so-called land reforms? “

2013_06_21_075820_7_att00041“Maybe society has the ability to filter what we take note of? You know? We get bombarded with so much bad news, that we have developed a  defence mechanism to protect us. And then, every so often, a graphic picture worms it’s way through the cracks and hits us with such honesty, that we are unable to block it out. That’s why photographs are so important: instead of the subjective reporting and opinions – so often pure propaganda – we are fed every day, a photograph is an objective reminder that you cannot fool all the people, all of the time. Pictures don’t lie. They tell the story of a thousand words in a single image. They force you to acknowledge reality.”

Vetfaan opens the newspaper again, unable to block out the picture in his mind. It’s just a picture, he tells himselfof something that happened far away. Just another picture…

Gertruida leans over to offer her small, white handkerchief, but Vetfaan ignores it. He’ll need something much stronger, something much bigger, before that image fades away.

If it ever does…