Author Archives: Amos van der Merwe

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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:

023

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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The colours of the rainbow..

Colour defines Africa. Across the world, people assume it’s a  Black/White thing, with colonialism and politics dominating the conversation at the mention of Africa’s hues. But over here, we revel in the true colours of the continent and it’s cultures.
IMG_2202

There are the red Himba people, proud traditionalists and fiercely independent. Red ochre, herbs and fat help to enhance the natural beauty of the women.

IMG_2418

And yes, there are green forests – plenty of them. The most beautiful green in the whole wide world, however, is found next to unexpected little streams in the desert.
breekyster 2010 140aBlue is for the sky. No Telephone poles, no power lines, no sign of man’s invasion. Africa’s blue heaven is a statement of her unblemished purity – a haven of peace when you leave the cities and the townships behind.

IMG_3188.

It’s not that man doesn’t add colour to the environment. In the remote bush pubs tourists and lorry drivers leave mementos to spice up the scene.

IMG_3001Yet. nothing beats the colours of a real rainbow, like this permanent one at Victoria Falls. The symbolism is there for all to see: despite the raging torrent, the cascade and the noise, the rainbow hovers quietly to assure us that beauty can be found if you view anything from the right angle.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Off Season…

When the rains have gone and the waterlevel drops, Life becomes harsh.

420The veld loses it’s vitality as the small pools dry up.
Trip 2012 305 The fishermen give up hope. The boats will wait patiently for their return.

begin 2004 114a

The elephants are the last to leave. They know the way to a hidden spring.

begin 2004 130aAt last the veld is empty. Silent. Waiting…

103_0319aBecause Nature knows: the winter will pass. The rains will come and the animals return.There is – indeed – a time for every season under heaven.

Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#3)

IMG_2578“It’s simple, really.” Stoney finally caved in and agreed to share his secret – but only after Gertruida swore she’d never breathe a word.

“Look at what’s happening in the country. All day, every day, we are bombarded with bad news. Corruption. Bribery. Farm murders. ESCOM. Strikes. Social unrests and protests. Police brutality. Municipalities going bankrupt due to inefficiency. E-tolls. Petrol prices going through the roof because the Rand is worth peanuts. Education and nursing. It’s almost as if the fabric of our society has unravelled and we are a lost nation.”

Gertruida nods. “So….?”

“What do we do about it?” He waits a second before answering his own question. “Nothing. We do nothing. We belong to a section of society that has been rendered powerless by history. No matter what you or I say, it’ll be labelled as ‘racist’ or blamed on Apartheid. And what do we do? We accept it. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned into accepting the blame for other’s mistakes. We have accepted our fate as a lost generation, just like a springbok stops running once the lion has its neck in his jaws. It’s still alive, but it knows what’ll happen next.”

“Thanks for the psychoanalysis, Stoney, but how does this tie in with your dream factory?”

“Look, there are two major opposing emotions at play here. Fear…and ecstasy. Poles apart, the outer borders of being an intelligent being. Add to that the power of suggestion.”

0 (1)Gertruida knows a lot about suggestion. Subliminal suggestion is why we follow – mindlessly so – the adverts we are bombarded with in the media every day. We get sensitised to believe certain products, and we get desensitised about other aspects of life. The trick is, she knows, to convey a message confidently and repeatedly – eventually the individual will follow the lead of whoever expresses a certain view. Advertising agencies and governments take full advantage of this simple fact and lulls the populace into buying certain products or accepting certain policies. The more aggressive the proponent and the less questioning the audience…and the more the message will be driven home with devastating accuracy.

“So, every time before you went to sleep, we had a good chat about what you could expect. Suggestion. Your brain now gears itself to think along those lines and it helps you to dream specific stuff. But that’s only the add-on. The real stuff is in the chocolate.”

By now, Gertruida cannot contain herself any longer. “Ye-e-e-s…?”

“Look, I’ve had a lot of time to look after my sheep. If they graze near the river, the flock is restless at night. However, when they feed on the stunted bushes near the hill, they are as content as our president when the Speaker silences the opposition. Now, that set me thinking. There must be something they eat that controls their moods.”

“So you found new herbs?”

Stoney smiles wryly. “No, Gertruida. I tried everything. Twigs, leaves, roots, branches. Mashed them, chewed them, cooked them…and nothing. Got diarrhoea once or twice, but that’s all. There’s something that happens in the sheep that doesn’t happen in humans. And that’s when it struck me: whatever happens, happens inside the sheep’s digestive tract…that’s where the answer lies. And whatever happens there, gets absorbed, affecting the sheep’s mood. And….some of it would be present whenever the sheep gets rid of whatever is left in its tummy.”

“Oh. My. Word!”

“Ja, Gertruida. Chocolate-coated droppings. Marvellously simple, eh? I thought it out all by myself.”

He waits until Gertruida stops gagging before offering her a double peach brandy.

“From then on, it was easy. I had the two opposing emotions: happy and scared. It’s just a question of getting the mix right. The river…er…product produced horrible nightmares. Called it Devil Drops. The hillside stuff gave the ultimate happy dream – which turns out to be rather erotic quite often. Those are Happy Crappies. More of the one and less of the other gave me a spectrum of possibilities.” He goes ‘ping’ and imitates a little lightbulb above his head. “Genius, right?”

“But, for goodness sakes, you can’t go about selling sheep droppings to people? It’s unethical, to say the very least.”

“Of course I don’t. I grind it up in a paste, boil it to get rid of parasites, en then roll it into little balls before coating it with chocolate. It’s a wonderfully simple process.” Gertruida’s horrified face makes him pause. “What…?”

“Listen, Stoney, you’re on thin ice here. If the Medical Council finds out what you’re doing – or any other authority you can think of – they’ll slap you in jail for so long, you’ll never see a single sheep again for the rest of your life. If I were you, I’d approach a pharmaceutical company and let them do some proper research. That’s the only way…”

***

Gertruida often remarks about how we live in a strange society. We have laws prescribing what food and medicine we are allowed to ingest – and even more laws prohibiting other products. But, she says, we have no laws protecting us from the bulldust we have to hear and see in the media every day. It’s not okay to take sheep droppings coated with chocolate, but political offal is fed to us without even a sugar coating.

She reckons Stoney is onto something, though. Imagine a parliament full of Happy Crappies?

She really gets angry at this from time to time. That’s when she locks her front door to take one of her precious but dwindling supply of sleepy-chocolates (as she calls them). The Rolbossers know the signs – especially when she arrives at Boggel’s Place wearing a brilliant – if tired – smile the next day…

Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#2)

e 1Gerttruida is running as fas as she can. She hears the wind roar past her ears as her legs move at maximum speed, her feet constantly slipping on the oily surface of the smooth cement. As far as she can make out, she’s in an underground passage, stretching away ahead of her. The overhead halogen lights are flickering, almost in Morse-code, as if warning her to go yet faster and faster.

She can hear the breathing behind her: untroubled, regular, calm. A total contrast to her rasping, burning gasps as she attempts to get away, away, away

Moments before, she was sitting at the desk of Neil Barnard…or was it Jacob Zuma? Or were they both there, morphed into a single person with an ominous smile and unreadable eyes? Cold eyes, calculating eyes, fixed on the big red clock against the shimmering wall with its both hands on the 12.

“You can’t get away, Gertruida. It’s too late. The clock has stopped, your time is up.” The accent is a strange combination of African and Afrikaans; the words uttered in an unearthly growl.

She doesn’t know what was too late, nor does she know why, but she knows with unwavering certainty that there is no more time. It’s finished. If she didn’t escape, she’d be devoured by the monster.

Aaah…a light! She must get to the light! Only then does she notice the firing squad kneeling behind the spotlights: men in camouflaged uniforms aiming automatic weapons straight at her face. When she skids to a halt, a million spiders descend on her, crawl up her legs and poke their long legs into her nostrils and mouth. Frozen by fear, she isn’t able to move at all. Behind her the monster closes in, folding a hairy arm around her waist. She prays for the firing squad to end it all…

“GERTRUIDA!”

Stoney’s voice is loud in her ear, and she wakes up with a start.

“Wha…”

“You asked for a nightmare, so that’s what you got. Are you convinced now?”

She shakes her head to clear the cobwebs. “Dammit, Stoney! You could have killed me!”

“Ja, these dreams are extremely graphic, aren’t they? Seems all too real. But, in the end, they remain just that: dreams. The terror-dreams  are the best. It’s like you can’t escape. Mine is a lion with huge teeth.” He uses his fingers to show how long. “And I can feel his hot breath on my back as I scramble through the bush. Can even feel the thorns on the branches tearing at my skin. It’s so real, I’ve considered going to sleep with my shotgun next to me.”

“But….how do you do it?”

She arrived at Onkruidbult the previous afternoon to see what Stoney is up to. He entertained her with his stories of funny dreams, sad dreams, nightmares and happy dreams, before they sat down at his new dining table to a scrumptious dinner of leg of lamb and pumpkin cakes. Stoney avoided all her questions until at last he asked her what type of dream she’d like to have that night. She didn’t hesitate: not known as a frightened woman, she insisted on a nightmare.

Now, with dawn only minutes away, she sits up to stare bleary-eyed at Stoney. “I’ve never been so scared  in my life! Wow! It was terrible…”

“You took a long time to get to your dream, Gertruida. I sat here all night waiting for some sign that you’re dreaming, and it only started a few minutes ago. Some individuals scream and shout, but you just panted. I must say, it is very rare for somebody to request a nightmare. Mostly they want happy dreams…some even of a …er…sexual nature. Those dreams are so popular I can’t keep up with the demand. The politicians usually want victorious dreams, while artists commonly want dreams of inspiration. Those are much easier to supply.”

“But how do you do it, Stoney? This is phenomenal! Didn’t you drug me, or something? You gave me that little chocolate after dinner…”

He laughs heartily. “No, no drugs, Gertruida. You’ve seen my house – I don’t have a laboratory or anything like that. Only a kitchen. Yes, it’s the chocolate, but that’s as much as I can tell you. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my life, it is that you can’t trust anybody. Once you’ve told a secret to one individual, it’s not a secret any longer. And the next thing you know, the grannies are talking about it at the bridge club. No, I’m not telling. But tonight I’ll give you something more…delectable. You’ll enjoy it…”

They spend a lazy day on the veranda in front of the house. Gertruida still feels a little unsettled, but she brought along a stack of National Geographics. Stoney seems content to sit and doze in the sun.  When dusk arrived, Stoney cooked some chops on the fire, adding a pot-bread he prepared that afternoon. Once again he regaled her with stories of the type of dream she might encounter.

This time, the carefully wrapped chocolate was followed by a rich brew of coffee and a promise that she wouldn’t like to wake up.

In the months to follow, Gertruida will wish she could have another dream like that. She was young, voluptuous and ever so slightly drunk when the yacht dropped anchor near the deserted island. The pristine beach, the swaying palm trees and the fragrance of frangipani created an alluring invitation to swim to the shore and explore. It didn’t worry her that she was alone on the yacht – it was a minor technicality of no consequence. She didn’t guess…she knew that he would be waiting for her.

He was the nameless hunk she had dreamed about when she was sixteen. Tanned, ripped muscles, sparkling eyes and an irresistible smile. Body sculptured to perfection and a mind to match. He, the childhood (and childish) imaginary companion with the strong arms and the soft voice.

She was right, of course. He waited behind the ferns in the long grass next to the waterfall. Ahhh…he was magnificent…

This time, Stoney was kind enough not to wake her when she moaned softly. He just sat there, dozing quietly next to her bed. When she woke up at last, he left her to savour the afterglow of the experience…

“I have to know, Stoney…I have to! How do you do it?”

Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#1)

sunrise“He did it!”. Kleinpiet points at the advert in the Upington Post. “I always thought he was a bit mad, but now…”

The small advertisement under “Personal Services” is almost unremarkable between the others offering body massages, willing-to-travel-girls and the prominent one of Hot Naught who promises ‘exquisite joy and release of tension‘. Kleinpiet hastily explains that he saw the advert ‘quite by chance‘ while he was searching for a new carburettor for his pickup. Still, the little insert on the back page is responsible for a pregnant silence after the group read it.

Dreams available at bargain prices. No previous experience required. Completely organic. Contact Stoney Steenkamp, Onkruidbult.

“That man! I remember the first time he started experimenting with that crazy idea.” Gertruida adopts her lecturer-mode, which means you cannot even think of interrupting her. “But it is a known fact that certain foods have an influence on tryptophan and serotonin  – as well as other neurotransmitters in the brain. Cheese, chillies, and especially red meat are the prime foodstuffs that may influence the brain’s function during sleep, often causing lucid dreams in the process.

“Now, Stoney had this theory about dreams. He reckoned that something in the meat triggered the brain to conjure up certain images. That’s what his research was all about. Maybe he made a breakthrough?”

“Nah…” Vetfaan empties his glass and signals for another beer. “His ‘research’ was way too crude. Imagine! If you eat lamb, you’ll dream of green pastures and rustling brooks. And if you eat springbok, you’ll be the only man in a herd of lovely ladies – what a nightmare! I mean…that is pure bulldust, man! I tried it and it doesn’t work. Anyway, I can’t remember my dreams after I wake up…”

“Maybe that’s his secret?” Joining them at the counter, Servaas sits down with a sigh. “When you wake up, Stoney tells you what you dreamed. That way he’ll have a 100% accurate result on his prediction and you can’t prove him wrong.”

Stoney Steenkamp is one of those strange hermits you tend to find in the Northern Cape. Living alone on his farm, he turned to science to combat boredom. It is entirely true that this arid and sprawling landscape has been the source of many of South Africa’s most creative minds; a fact Gertruida ascribes to the many idle hours spent alone. People here – like in other isolated regions of the planet –  are forced to use their minds to escape the monotonous days and nights during which nothing happens. Walter Battiss, Eli Louw, Olive Schreiner, authors, songwriters and numerous clergymen attest to the creative instinct that prevented men and women  from talking to themselves all day long.

Stoney’s tendency to fall asleep while watching his sheep made him curious about the only entertainment he had – his dreams. He started keeping a dream-diary, noting what he dreamed and when. Then he tried to correlate the type of dream with environmental influences. For instance: during the cold winter nights, his imagination conjured up images of igloos and polar bears. Or when he slept through an occasional thunderstorm, he’d be storming up Amajuba to shoot at the Brits. Should the wind pick up, Stoney would be standing at the helm of a schooner, chasing a pirate across the ocean.

Of course Stoney couldn’t keep these scientific findings to himself. Whenever he arrived in Rolbos to buy sheep dip from Sammie’s Shop, he’d inform the group at the bar about his latest observations. In one of his sarcastic moods, Servaas once suggested that Stoney’s research was truly unique and that his findings should be published in one of the scientific journals or even the Huisgenoot, which only served to encourage Stoney to be more enthusiastic about his research. His need for more  information resulted in a need for more sleep, which of course had a negative impact on the size of his flock.

The last time he visited Rolbos, Gertruida told him to take note of what he ate before dropping off in yet another slumber, as this may also influence dreams. Stoney tried it the same night. The next morning he announced that peach brandy was a dream-killer. Gertruida had to tell the poor man that alcohol should not be part of his research, explaining that alcohol dissolves fat, and that fat is a major component of the brain. Stoney wrote that down in his journal, as well.

“How can he advertise dreams on demand and then have the gall to charge money for it? It’s a ridiculous idea.” Servaas knits his brows together while he concentrates to keep his bushy moustache from sinking into the froth as he downs his beer.”He should do something constructive with his time, like advising ESCOM or something. They need a few big dreams, if you asked me,”

Like with so many foolhardy ideas hatched in an around Rolbos, it would have been entirely normal for the group at the bar to have a good old laugh at such silliness before forgetting about it completely. And they would have….if Stoney didn’t rock up a week or two later to say he needed to buy some sheep to replenish his flock – with cash! 

“My dream-business has taken off! You won’t believe the orders I get, specially from politicians, artists and people in the advertising community. I’ve pushed up my price, but that doesn’t deter them…the orders just keep on flooding in.”

Now…we all know Gertruida. She hates a mystery. No-one was surprised when she announced her intention to visit Onkruidbult.This is in keeping with her natural curiosity, after all. What they didn’t expect, was her reaction on what she experienced there….

(To be continued…)