Monthly Archives: March 2016

Weekly Photo Challenge – Half-light…

The Challenge: Share a  half-light photo inspired by a poem, verse, song lyric or story.

 

Okay: here’s the Rolbos entry, titled: Zuma Sunset.

zuma sunset_edited-2

It is the evening of the day,
I sit and watch the children play.
Smiling faces I can see
But not for me,
I sit and watch as tears go by.                                                    M Faithful

 

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Moody Blues and the Gupta Gallop

Moodys+XXX“So…you were right all along?” Servaas lifts his glass in a silent salute to Gertruida. “Must say, I’m not surprised. The writing on the wall was there for everybody to see.”

“Yep. Our prez has dropped us in the doodoo properly – but he did it slowly, like the frog in the saucepan. Only now, the water is so hot, the frog wants out.” Vetfaan never liked the analogy – frogs don’t deserve being boiled alive, anyway. “The ANC simply can’t defend his shenanigans any longer.” He frowns, shaking his head. “They’re in a Catch-22  situation. If they rally around the prez, they’re exposing themselves to future legal scrutiny – which is sure to follow. If they go against him, they’re basically saying their government has failed – they appointed the man in the first instance, didn’t they? So it implies complete incompetence.”

“So what’s new, Vetfaan? Didn’t you follow the news for the last few years? Name three…no, name one…state-run institution that is a complete success. No, my friend, they’ve dropped the ball a long time ago.”

“What worries me, is how deep the rot really runs.” Boggel serves another round as he joins the conversation. “Nene, Jonas, Vygie…I tell you, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. If somebody sits down to make a list of our ministers and politicians who have ..er….relations…with the Guptas, I think it’ll take a long time. And, of course, if the Guptas did it, there’ll be other businesses that did the same. I’ll bet that a lot of shady deals have taken place – the part of the corruption iceberg below the surface involves much more than one Indian family.”

“I think it’s a good thing. I mean, let’s get it out in the open, once and for all. For months and months we’ve been sitting here, talking about the corruption in our government. We’ve even anticipated the departure of our prez.” Pausing to take an appreciating sip, Servaas continues: “This weekend the ANC is going to gather to discuss the whole debacle; a most unfortunate situation with Moody’s being around to downgrade us to economical junk status. I’m sure sparks are going to fly. What gives me hope, is that those who spoke out against corruption – like dear Vygie – must have sufficient  support within the ANC to have spoken out like she did. Zuma is in deep trouble.”

“You’re right Servaas. The ANC is not the united party it used to be. Some have their fingers in the Gupta purse, others not. So this weekend you’ll see some serious accusations and convincing denials. Whatever happens, there’ll be new alliances  – and new life-long enemies after the weekend. This’ll hurt the ANC, no matter what they do.”

2478512_131204203756_Pretoria_01“Yep. It’s called democracy – at least that is still functioning, even if it has been crippled over the last few years. That’s the funny thing about South Africa: we’ve been through some troubled times in the past – and here we are, still doing our own thing. England tried to rule us…and they failed. So will the Guptas.” Vetfaan takes  a handful of peanuts from the Voortrekker Monument bowl, smiling at the thought of somebody being so bold (or stupid) as to think South Africans will simply accept everything they hear on the SABC.

“You want to know what’s going to happen over the weekend?” Gertruida puts on her all-knowing face. “I’ll tell you. The ANC is going to do a lot of window dressing. They’ll pretend to be very concerned and tell the nation they’ll appoint commissions of enquiry – a lot of them – hoping the taxpayers won’t realise they’re just forking out more money to cover the ANC’s blunders. Then they’ll say the matter is sub judice and they can’t comment. That’ll be the public stance. Behind the closed doors of that meeting, things are going to be super hot. Uncle Zum won’t be able to laugh a lot. They’ll tell him that they’re planning his exit in the most diplomatic way, so as to cause as little damage to the party as possible.

“On Monday a few terse press releases will try to reassure the country that the ANC is set to root out corruption and blahblah fishpaste. But the press – thank goodness for journalists – won’t give up. Guptagate, Zumagate, stalemate, get it straight before it’s too late.

“Moody’s will say they’re considering the downgrade, but nothing definite yet.

“And the Gupta-gallop will start. There’ll be more accusations as politicians try to distance themselves from the stink. It’ll be  a St Peter’s moment with those with red hands trying to deny they know the family, with others pointing fingers.

“The lid is off the can of worms, my friends. We’re in for a bumpy ride…”

Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war.

Our very own Firefrorefiddle, the ultimate Fiend…

51Z7RPtdZkL._AC_UL320_SR240,320_“Funny, isn’t it?” Gertruida, true to her nature, doesn’t elaborate for a while. She wants a response and won’t continue until she gets it.

“Um?” Vetfaan gives her the obligatory quizzing look.

“Life runs around us in circles, Vetfaan. What goes up, must come down. Today’s losers are tomorrow’s winners. History repeats itself over and over again.” She busies herself with her beer, knowing she’s done enough to pique interest. She gets it with the second “Um…?”

“The world has been oscillating between Radical and Conservative,” she goes on. “Ever since the beginning of time, the real war on earth has been between the aggressors and the pacifists. Then, of course, the pacifists become the aggressors and everything goes up in flames for a while. After a suitable period of time, the pot gets taken from the stove, everything settles down…and then we do it all over again.”

“Depressing, Gertruida. That’s all I can say about that. Talk about something nice for a change.”

Gertruida stares at the ceiling for a full minute before saying anything. “You think life is a musical, Vetfaan? Dancing girls and happy endings? Well, wake up, will you?” Suddenly feeling a bit guilty about her rebuke, she continues in a kinder note. “Have you heard about Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell?”

***

It wasn’t Lloyd Webber who created Gus, the theatre cat, but T.S. Elliot, who described the old cat in  Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Gus, originally called Asparagus, used to be a great actor once. Now, old, decrepit and no longer the darling of the stage, poor Gus is left with the memories of his previous successes.

His best ever performance, he remembers well, was when he played the role of Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell. That scoundrel cat broke into every house and stole everything he wanted. He used to be so good, Gus recalls, that he thought he could never be caught.

And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,
Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.
But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,
Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.

Gus used to have what is called the gift of the gab. He could talk in a way his audience simply couldn’t ignore.

“I have played,” so he says, “every possible part,
And I used to know seventy speeches by heart.
I’d extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag,
And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag.
I knew how to act with my back and my tail;
With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail.
I’d a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts,
Whether I took the lead, or in character parts.

Now, his fiery performances are a thing of the past, and Gus – the Theatre Cat – can only dream about his glory days. The younger generation is taking over, something Gus finds a bit unacceptable.

“Well, the Theatre’s certainly not what it was.
These modern productions are all very well,
But there’s nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,
That moment of mystery
When I made history
As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.”

***

“That’s much better, Gertruida. I like it when you talk about something different for a change.” Vetfaan winks, sips his beer and then suddenly looks up. “So, what happened to Firefrorefiddle?”

Gertruida smiles – he’s put his foot right in the trap.

“You see, Vetfaan, life has a way of turning the wheel. Firefrorefiddle tried one last daring heist. He  broke into the bank and opened the safe. And then, while he was staring at the stacks of gold that soon would be his, his admiration for his own special abilities made him drop his guard. He didn’t see the security guards approaching. And that was the end of his thieving ways, much to the relief of the people of the Fell.”

“Firefrorefiddle brought about his own downfall? His ego got in the way?”

“That’s right, Vetfaan.”

Vetfaan sighs. He’s been tricked again. Gertruida’s story wasn’t about T.S. Elliot after all. He should have known better.

“Did Eliot really create that story? I mean the one about the bank and the safe?”

Gertruida flashes him a condescending smile. “No, Vetfaan, he only invented Gus. The ending is the South African version by our very own president.”

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”                                                                                                       T.S. Eliot.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life in Harmony

“Every event in Nature has a unique harmony and rhythm.” ― Joseph Rain.

Harmony fills the residual vacuum after emotion is removed from a situation – if we’re lucky. When only the facts of a matter is considered, one is left with one of two possible outcomes. Anger and acceptance cannot coexist in the same space, after all.

Harmony – the holy grail so lacking in society – has proven to be an extremely illusive goal. In my search for harmony, I have found some striking pointers in nature to chart the way into the unknown.

IMG_4302.JPGIt seems as if the younger members of most species are quite prepared to be unafraid and to share whatever they have. We, on the other hand, thrive on fear (why else do we listen to the politicians?) and tend to hoard. Innocence lost, indeed…IMG_4353.JPGTenacity…we’ve lost the will to persist. If at first we don’t succeed, we give up. Harmony so often requires a sustained effort  – and then rewards us with grace.IMG_3619.JPGHarmony is a reflection of the state of mind. It is the product of the past. In the tranquility of acceptance, we can reach for the sky.IMG_4753.JPGHarmony is the balance between sun and shade. Once we allow the sun to shine on others, we are often surprised at the response. Individuals who are also striving towards joy and beauty will respond in kind – even though they are rare. But…we’ll never know who they are until we reach out, will we?IMG_4881.JPGHarmony has always been there, waiting patiently. It is there, even now. The turmoil burdening the journey to contentment, frequently only exists in the eye of the beholder. A favourite quote attributed to Paulo Coelho: ‘Everything will be okay in the end. And if it isn’t okay, it’s not the end…yet.IMG_5490.JPGSadly, harmony sometimes only reveals itself in the later stages of life. When the day is done, the sword safely back in the scabbard and tranquility finally is allowed to surface – that’s when, at last, we discover the liberating joy of dancing to the rhythm of Life.

 

The Scorpion that didn’t die.

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Sagittarius_and_Corona_Australis,_Microscopium,_and_TelescopiumThe latest rumours (or are they more than that?) have so upset Vetfaan that he took to the dunes again. He does this from time to time; to create distance between himself and the dark reality of South Africa, to clear his mind….and to seek encouragement from his old friend, !Kung. Truth be told, !Kung has the strangest way of putting things into a new perspective, despite the fact that he never reads a paper, still believes that there are small people trapped inside the TV (he just might be right on that score!) and has never heard our president speak. This last attribute also could be seen as a point in his favour.Or maybe he’s just fortunate..

Vetfaan finds the wizened old man waiting patiently in the shade of the camelthorn tree near the big red dune. Vetfaan is never sure whether !Kung always stays in the vicinity or only comes when he knows Vetfaan’s visit is imminent. When he asked him about it once, !Kung simply smiled and told Vetfaan that there are many things he’d never understand and therefore wouldn’t believe. “The problem with Outside People is they ask too many questions,” !Kung said quietly, and left it at that. Outside People, in !Kung’s language, is anybody that lives beyond the shifting dunes of the Kalahari.

After their customary greeting, lighting the fire and sharing the comfortable silence between them, Vetfaan gets up, fetches the Kudu liver he had brought along and roasts it on the glowing embers.

“You are much troubled,” Kung says eventually, running his small hand over the white stubbles of his remaining hair.

How do you explain the chaos in the country to somebody who has never even voted? Doesn’t read, cannot write and is unable to understand the term ‘corruption’? Who can simply not understand  that senior officials are involved in criminal activities; smuggling everything from cigarettes to rhino horn, raping the treasury and consider lying as part of their job descriptions? !Kung has never even heard of ambassadors, nor of the ‘doctor’ we have in Japan or the embarrassment of our emissary in the United States.

“There are hyenas in the country, !Kung. They are eating our people.” Vetfaan stares into the flames, knowing this is enough. !Kung will hear all the things he hasn’t said.

The old man nods. “The drought has come.”

Vetfaan waits. He knows there is more. !Kung gets up to fetch the calabash of honey beer, which he offers to Vetfaan before drinking himself.

“When the grass is this high,” he lifts his hand above his head, “there is enough for the oryx and the kudu and the hare. Some eat of the trees, some of the grass. When there is plenty, everybody is fat. But sometimes there are too many of the one, more than the other. And then the trees can’t make leaves fast enough and the bigger animals will start feeding on the grass the hare needs to eat. Hare will not be happy.

“‘Now look here, Kudu and Oryx, you are eating my grass,'” Hare will say. “‘You have to stop.'”

“‘But we can’t, can you not see? We have bigger bodies than you – we need the grass. Anyway, we are much stronger, so go away.'”

“But, Mister Vetfaan, Hare doesn’t want to. Where can he go? The drought is everywhere, remember? Also, this is his home, his place. And so Hare sits down to think about how the bigger animals are trying to cheat him out of his food.”

!Kung falls silent again, gathering his thoughts. Why can Vetfaan not work it out himself? It is so simple…

“Hare then does what he does best. He starts digging a hole. A big one. And he gets Baboon to cover it with branches and twigs. And he puts some nice, green grass on the other side of the hole and then he sits down to wait.”

!Kung gets up, stretches, and starts scooping out a hollow in the sand. At his age, his hips tend to be painful at night. To get a good night’s sleep, he must prepare his bed carefully.

“And…” Vetfaan arches an eyebrow. “What happened?”

!Kung looks up, surprised at Vetfaan’s question.

“What must happen, Mister Vetfaan. That’s what.”

They sit in silence for a while before turning in. Overhead the stars glitter against the cold black of the sky. Vetfaan identifies Sagittarius, the mythical archer, with his arrow aimed at Scorpius’s heart. The arrow, however, never gets to be released, will never hit its mark. The real victor, Vetfaan realises, is the scorpion.

Yes, he thinks before drifting off to sleep. !Kung is one hundred percent right.

Of course!

“…. see a bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way…”

 

 

Listening to Silence – a Forgotten Art.

Integrity1

Credit: psychicdonut.com

“It’s crazy season,” Gertruida says when Boggel returns with a new crate of beer. “The Americans have strange candidates for their future president, there’s a cease-fire-war in the Middle East, Putin is a hero and a villain according to the newspapers, and Zuma says people actually like him. The only way to make sense out of all this, is to stay right here and enjoy the silence.”

Now, as we all know, the silence of the Kalahari is unique. Well, it’s not silence, really, come to think of it. The whirr of a bird’s wings, the eventually almost inaudible screech of the cicadas,  the rustling of the wind through the dried-up bushes – even the scraping of a tortoise’s stubby legs against the warm stones on the ground… when one tunes in to the sounds of Nature, you realise that silence is a relative thing around here. It’s all in the art of listening properly.

“I suppose that’s what’s wrong,” Gertruida muses quietly, “we’ve forgotten to listen.”

“Huh?” Servaas interrupts his reverie. He’s been thinking about Siena, and how they used to listen to the old vinyl records on Saturday nights. “I’ll have you know we listened to every word. Especially when Mario Lanza sang. He was our favourite.”

Gertruida glances at the old man, knowing he isn’t anywhere near her line of thought. It must be great, she thinks, to be able to slip away into some imaginary world, to browse about in the past, and to relive some happy times. These days everybody’s faces are dunked under the muddy waters of doom and gloom by the newspapers; while those unfortunate enough to have a TV dominating their lives, have to put up with pictures of broken buildings and wrecked bodies.

“Those were the days, eh, Servaas? No newspapers, no TV and the radio played music almost the whole day. It was nice to live in that bubble of sublime ignorance.”

He shakes his head, clearing away the images. “Was no bubble, Gertruida. Was real. We had the farm, the house and ourselves. What did it matter if Cape Town had a storm, or Krakatoa exploded on some faraway island? Yes, there were catastrophes all over the world – but the question remained: what could we do about it? The answer is still the same: nothing!

“But in our little house? Now, that was an entirely different matter. Siena made supper and I changed the records on the player. We even,” Servaas blushes at the admission, “danced sometimes.” He smiles at the memory but quickly adds: “At arms length, you know – long-arm dancing. Nothing untoward.”

“Oh, come on, Servaas, don’t play coy with me! You two made a baby! Everything wasn’t at arm’s length, was it?” The smile on her face says it all.

“That, Gertruida, is none of your business.” Servaas’s indignant tone underscores his serious look. “That was our sacred duty. The Bible says so.”

“Calm down, Servaas, I’m only pulling your leg. But what you’re saying is true, of course. There was a time when we lived according to a completely different set of rules – before the TV came. We cared for our neighbours. Nobody burnt down schools. And relationships were based on trust and sometimes love.”

“Love?” Servaas has calmed down and now stares at his glass. “Yes, that was there, too. But there was more. Much more. Respect and trust and loyalty, for instance. You kept your word when you promised something – not like today where people say this today and something else tomorrow. Integrity…that’s the word I was looking for…”

Boggel, who has been silent throughout the discussion, clears his throat. “Well, I think the two of you’ve just diagnosed all the ills of the world. The problem with relationships – all relationships, be it between people or nations or man and nature – is that we’ve lost integrity. I don’t know how we’ll ever get it back.”

“The word has a Latin origin, of course.” Gertruida, in lecture mode again.”Integer. It means ‘whole’ or ‘complete’ and it was in relationship to ‘truth’. So, Boggel, the problem isn’t integrity alone – its the way we lost Truth. That, and the way we insist on being the sole custodians of the only truth.” She ignores the puzzled frowns. “In politics, you get people who believe their own truths, you see? The prez thinks Africa is the biggest continent – that’s his ‘truth’. The EFF thinks the whites living in South Africa today, stole ground from the blacks in previous centuries – that’s their ‘truth’. In the Middle East, people are fighting for their ‘truths’ they get from their holy books.

“‘Truth’ has devolved into ‘opinion’ – and we know how every individual has the right to his or her own on that score.  So: no truths plus only opinions equals no integrity and massive conflict. And that, Boggel, is the truth.”

“Ja,” Vetfaan say as he comes in. He’s been outside on the verandah, scanning the sky for a promising cloud (there wasn’t a single one), “Too much noise in the world, but nobody says anything. And we’ve stopped listening.”

Gertruida smiles at this rare gem of wisdom from the burly farmer, takes him by the hand and leads him outside once more.

“Let’s go sit on the stoep, Vetfaan. I want to listen to the silence…but with somebody, not alone. Maybe we’ll hear something nice for a change. Something meaningful, like a cricket or something.”

100_0615Once they’ve left, Servaas returns to his memories. Yes, that’s what he and Siena did, too: listened to the silence. Together. At arm’s length… He smiles at the thought. He also remembers the way silence didn’t mean the absence of words, but served to emphasise the fact that we each have two ears but only one tongue.

“Oh, listen to that windpump squeaking” Vetfaan says on the stoep.

“It’s such a significant sound, Vetfaan. Shhhh…”