Category Archives: Kalahari

There’s a grave waiting…

images.jpgThe cemetery at the foot of Bokkop – outside the small town of Rolbos – is a rather lonely spot. Bearing in mind the handful of people living in town, one can understand that the cemetery cannot be compared to those in larger places like Loeriesfontein or Lekkersing. Why, the bustling community of Riemvasmaak sees far more of the extremes of human life than our little hovel in the Kalahari.

One of the most recent graves belongs to Siena, old Servaas’s sadly-departed wife. He finds solace in the memories of many years of marriage to the soft-spoken lady, as well as in the cold beers Boggel serves in the little bar. He says the one sustains the past while the other props up the present, The future? Servaas says it’s far too dark to contemplate at all..

Still, despite the relative freshness of Servaas’s loss, there is a new mound of red sand at the edge of the cemetery – just a oblong heap is sand with no cross or any other form of marking. And, because the place is visited so rarely, it is quite likely that the soft night winds will flatten the surface again before anybody should visit the grave of a departed loved one.

Now, the good people of Rolbos are not superstitious and they do not harbour gullible thoughts on irrational subjects. No, they will always find the most logical answers to the most difficult questions, like the time Gertruida questioned the decision-making prowess or our government. It was Vetfaan who reminded her that we – indeed – do not have a government in the classic sense of the word, but that we have been reduced to insignificance by a group of megalomaniacs. Good governance, he said, was an oxymoron, just like effective policing or, more recently, the term ‘public protector’.

So, should one of the Rolbossers notice the freshest grave in their burial place, he (or she) would want to know why he (or she) missed such an important event and why he (or she) didn’t have the opportunity to question Oudoom on the Church’s approach to thorny social issues. But, being summer and unbearably hot, the townsfolk spend their time in the most logical (and comfortable) place, enjoying a few cold beers and sensibly avoiding the scorching heat outside.

But it’s out there, on the plains of the vast desert, that death finally had the last say and the noble existence that once lived proudly, ceased to be. It simply had no fight left, no desire to compete against the odds that were becoming more and more unfavourable every day. Life is like that, not so? The risk of death increases with every passing minute, every hour of life that speeds by. Like a playful puppy, it keeps on crawling nearer, no matter how hard we try to ignore the inevitable.

The neglected mound next to the rusting fence is the last resting place for a pair of twins, in fact.  The inseparable Siamese siblings, Truth and Integrity rest here in eternal peace after a life-long struggle to impress upon the country the essence of their existence. Through the years they have been battered into submission – first by the Church, then by the media and finally by a succession of political leaders. Although sick, diseased, fatigued and in dire straits, the twins battled on bravely. They refused to succumb to the ever-increasing tide of scorn and lies levelled at them, prepared to fight to the last.

And they did. They fought bravely, making sure that the facts of so many lies and corrupt dealings got to the right people  at the right time; using newspapers, TV and common men and women to expose the greed and corruption eating away at the fabric of our society.

And then came the final blow; the act that killed the twins in such a cowardly manner that generations to come will hang their heads in shame. Professors in Political Science will tell the story for as long as there are students that listen, while others who had followed the liberation movement in the past, will stare at the pages of history books in shame.

Truth and Integrity might have stood a chance of survival under different circumstances. Had the country had a government of honour, the twins would have been with us still. But, with State Capture nearing completion, the final blow came with the appointment of a man to parliament who has no respect for the twins. He killed them with his tears, his lies and his desire to serve not the country, but the man who has shown a singular  and progressive lack of political insight over the past few years.

But, one must admit, the nature of Life is a strange phenomenon.Yes, the little mound of red earth will flatten as the winds caress the fine granules of red Kalahari sand away to the open plains. And yes, for a while people will forget the twins ever lived.

But…

How strange then, the fact that people forget so easily? That the odds of dying increases with every breath? And just like Truth and Integrity aren’t real people but still have died, so there are others that will have to succumb to the inevitabilities we all have to live (and die) with. Nothing remains hidden forever, just as nothing lives forever.

So, Mister President, the blood of the twins is on your hands – and those of your current favourite little friend, he of the crocodile tears and the many questions of his role in load shedding. Enjoy your season in the sun – for time marches on and Deceit and Corruption will have to die as well. The risk of that happening increases with every passing minute, Mister Commander in Chief. And when they, at last, cease to be – as they must – your family and the rest of the country will remember.

They’ll remember.

Everything.

With limitless shame.

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The Charmer, Vetfaan’s Gout and Immortality

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Paul Trouillebert: The naked snake charmer

Whenever Vetfaan is asked about the sexy girl he had met that fateful summer’s day, he blushes, stutters and tells you to mind your own business. Should you persist, a rather unpleasant exchange of a more physical nature is sure to follow.

The problem involves the fact that this waif of a girl – somewhere between mid-thirty and menopause – had the body of an athlete and the ageless wisdom some women seem to possess.

It was a particularly hot day, with heat shimmers rising and warping the scenery of the Kalahari. The distorted surroundings often create a surrealistic symptoms-of-gout-in-the-toe.jpgatmosphere, especially if the traveller is new to the area. Vetfaan, being a born-and-bred son of the region, simply failed to notice the visual impact of the heatwaves. His attention was focussed on the joint where his big toe joined his foot.

Now, anybody who has had some experience with gout, will understand the degree of pain and discomfort poor Vetfaan endured that morning. He had already eaten a handful of black cherries, drank two litres of water, ate three lemons and packed his foot in ice. Nothing helped. The throbbing, red, painful joint insisted on swelling up even more, forcing Vetfaan to take off his boot while driving to Upington, where he hoped to see the new doctor he had heard so much about.

Well, heat waves may have escaped his attention…the girl in the middle of the road did not. No Kalahari-man will ever drive past a stranded woman. Especially if she’s beautiful. Or wears a revealing, short skirt. Or stands  in the middle of the road, aiming a short-barrelled  .38 at you. In this case, the woman in question had ticked all these boxes, and Vetfaan did, indeed, stop.

She was unapologetic about the gun, saying a girl could never be sure who would stop to offer help.

“Listen, I’ve been around. I’m a woman. You’re a man. It all adds up.”

“What does?” Vetfaan didn’t understand.

She ignored his question, picked up her bag and got in. “Drive slowly and don’t make an accident. I’ve had enough trouble in my life.”

“What’s wrong with your vehicle?”

She eyed him for a full minute before answering. “Mam doesn’t like the smell of petrol. Neither do I, for that matter.”

“Mam?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. “Mam. My snake. Short for mamba.”

To recount the disjointed conversation that followed, would involve many pages of blank looks and horrid stares and still-born sentences. The short version: Mimi – she of no fixed abode and rather limited means – made a living as a snake charmer. She also treated various  health conditions, communicated with departed family members and had once sat as a model for a famous artist.

“That’s immortality, understand? Paintings don’t grow old and die. Oh, the paint the artist used, might get a bit flakey,but the picture? It remains as beautiful as the day the brush touched the canvas.”

By the time they reached Upington, Vetfaan was completely confused.  His passenger was either completely mad, or perhaps the most interesting woman he had ever met. Fascinated by the possibilities, he asked her to join him for coffee before his appointment with the doctor.

“Doctor? What for?”

He explained. She suggested moxibustion. Vetfaan said the people in the Northern Cape frowned on polygamy. She laughed.

japanese-moxibustion.jpg“No, it’s not that, silly man! I burn a herb on your toe, and you feel better. Moxi-bustion…the burning of mugwort.  It’s an old Chinese trick. see? Mugwort, that’s the herb – is what you need. I’ve got some.”

Vetfaan claims to be the first man in the Kalahari to have undergone moxibustion. There, on the front seat of his old Land Rover, his strange passenger rolled a few mugwort fibres into a little ball and placed it on his swollen toe. He watched, horrified, as she lit the potion with a small gas lighter and was amazed that he felt no pain.

“The swelling will go down now,” she said, “but I must go. Mam needs something to eat and you’re too nice. And…I must still find my two friends. I’ll just keep on looking, even if it takes forever. So, thank you and bye-bye.”

Vetfaan watched, dumbfounded,  as she sauntered down the street, swinging her bag casually as she strode along. He ran a hand over his still-bare foot and sighed with relief when he noticed how much better it felt. By the time he had his sock and boot back on, Mimi was nowhere to be seen.

On his way back to Rolbos, Vetfaan stopped at her abandoned vehicle. On the back seat he found an old shoe-box with a dead rat in it. Mam’s supper?  In the boot, another box – a lot bigger, containing three pieces of art.

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It was Gertruida who told Vetfaan about the girls and the great portrait artist, Paul Désiré Trouillebert. “The Young Girl, the Harem Girl and the Snake Charmer were all painted by the same man, Vetfaan. Remember, Trouillebert was a landscape artist – he abandoned his attempts at portrait works because he fell in love with the girls in his painting – like all artists do. The real, flesh-and-blood subjects were admired for their beauty, but the paintings became the loves of his life – because they were immortal. Time would not decay their beauty, neither would the lovely faces and bodies sag and become wrinkled.”

“Immortal? Really? Are you saying that I…?”

“Either that, Vetfaan, or you’ve lost your mind.” Gertruida shrugged. “I don’t know which is worse…”

‘Survivor’ in the Kalahari?

survivor-logo.jpg“We need tourism.”

Gertruida’s remark makes them all sit up. While they are used to her coming up with some very strange ideas, this one strikes them as particularly odd. When Servaas – rather cautiously – reminds her that they have chosen to live in Rolbos especially, to escape the madness other people accept as ‘civilisation’ (at the same time reminding her of the dangers posed by foreigners like ISIS and Trump), Gertruida simply shrugged.

“Look, it’s a question of economics. We need a new borehole and the potholes in Voortrekker Weg needs filling. We have two choices: either we slash away at our budgets for sitting around in Boggel’s Place, or we get other people to pay for our amenities. I don’t know about you, Servaas, but I’d prefer the second option.”

Of course, this makes a huge lot of sense to the group at the bar. Why fork out good money when visitors would not only solve their problems with the infrastructure, but also boost Boggel’s profit…which in turn would reduce the cost per glass? Simple mathematics. They all nod.

“But how? We have a dusty little town in the middle of nowhere. Sure, we have plenty of sand and a lot of sunshine, but that would not draw tourists – for that they go to Etosha and Kgalagadi, where people get to see animals and lodge in luxury. We can’t compete with that.” Vetfaan shrugs. “Unless they want to see sheep, that is.”

“That’d only draw people from New Zealand, Vetfaan. We don’t want that after the game on Saturday.”

“No, we have to create an event. Something that’d catch the attention of people. And if we get TV-coverage, that’d generate a lot of money.” Boggel likes the idea. “Maybe a literary festival or a music show or something.”

“Yeah right! People are going to drive all the way from Prieska to read a book in Boggel’s Place? Or do you want them to listen to some old records? I’ve got one of Jim Reeves…”

“Nope. Don’t be cynical, Servaas. Boggel has the right idea, though. People plus TV equals income. More of either multiplies the result. The hottest thing on TV these days, is a reality show – something scary or gaudy or quite abnormal – like the American presidential debates or Survivor.”

Of course she has to explain the Survivor concept to the patrons in Boggel’s Place. The outlandish idea of exposing teams or perfectly normal people to completely insane conditions makes no sense to Kleinpiet.

“So – you ask people to pay money to participate, then you get them to pay for accommodation and food, then you make them suffer beyond human endurance, then the TV companies show it to some overweight couch potatoes sipping beer….and then you get paid millions?”

“Exactly, Kleinpiet. All we have to do is to write a proposal and get BBC of CNN interested. The rest is up to them. We sit back and count the money…”

Like most ideas generated after a few beers in Boggel’s Place, this one gets analysed with great care. Yes, they all agree, this is a sure thing – provided they come up with a novel concept. Their final proposal gets drafted that same evening.

“So, there we are. A nice little list of items with enough endurance and fear to make millions want to watch.” Gertruida glares – somewhat bleary-eyed – at the paper.

1. Sheep Dog Imitation: the team has to round up a flock of scattered sheep and chase the flock through a gate.

2. The Ostrich Race: grabbing eggs from the roosting ostrich on Kleinpiet’s farm.

3. The Kudu Relay Run: team loaded on Vetfaan’s Land Rover, with one runner chasing a kudu. When the runner tires, he gets on the Landy while another runner takes his place. Judging will involve both distance and time to catch up with the antelope.

4 The Great Lion Escape – this item still needs refining.

“I think it is a great proposal, but item 5 is just too scary to include, guys.We cannot really expect even the strongest of the strongest to endure so much pain. I think it’s inhumane.” She glances up to see if they all agree.

“No, I think this is the item that’ll draw the audience.” Servaas manages not to slur his words. “Look, we need to be real and convincing – viewers have to identify with, and understand what the contestants are going through. This one will make them want to cry, puke and bash their heads against any available wall. It’ll make them extremely angry and inconsolably sad. I think it’s a winner.”

“Shees, Servaas – you are not only a true cynic, you are the reincarnation of Machiavelli! Okay then, we’ll keep it.”

***

Two months goes by without a response from the TV moguls.

“I told you: it’s much too painful. We should have stuck to the first four items.” Gertruida smiles sadly. “But…we gave it a good try. In the meantime we’ll just have to swerve around the potholes.”

“Ja.” Vetfaan sighs. “Item 5: making the contestants sit through the South Africa – New Zealand game to see who can suffer through the entire match? Truth be told. I couldn’t. I don’t think anybody should live through it again. It’s like harakiri with a blunt saw.”

Nine Toes’ Penny

1010396.jpgThe day Nine Toes disappeared in the Kalahari remains shrouded in mystery. Gertruida says there has to be a logical explanation, but Servaas – in an uncharacteristic pensive way – reckons one should never dabble with superstition or magic. Vetfaan dismisses the whole episode as a myth while Boggel only smiles and reminds them that the Kalahari is a great keeper of secrets.

Nine Toes, the Bushman, used to visit Rolbos occasionally. Way back then, he’d saunter in to Boggel’s Place with a casual smile and a cheerful greeting. He did this when he had something to sell: sometimes a few strings of beads, at others something more significant like an old coin or a rusted pocket knife. He’d explain these finds by telling them about the abandoned wagons of the old Dorslandtrekkers – the Afrikaners that that tried to escape British rule by trekking to Angola through the merciless desert which killed so many of them.

“There are wagons out there, Mister Boggel, just like the people left them. Eish! Many of them are almost worn away by the wind and the sun by now, but some things remain – if you knew where to dig in the sand. In the rusted tins and leather sacks, one may find strange things.” And with that, he’d hold out a handful of Kruger Pounds or maybe a ring or a necklace.

Nine Toes was rather aptly named. Many years ago a surprise meeting with a cobra – in the dead of the night – resulted in the snake being decapitated and a young Bushman contemplating his rapidly swelling big toe. He knew what would happen once the poison spread and did the only thing he could. When Vetfaan once said he didn’t believe a word of that story, Nine Toes produced the evidence the next time he visited Rolbos. The shrivelled up, dried-out toe silenced his critic completely.

Servaas had tried – many times – to find out where Nine Toes’ wagons were, but the man shook his head.

“Mister Servaas, leave those wagons to rest where they are. They supply me with a means to survive and they deserve to be undisturbed. There are graves there, too. Six of them. Long ago they had wooden crosses with names but now only the rocks on them tell you where they are. Four small ones, two big ones. And the spirits? They are there, too. They talk to me. They don’t want to be disturbed.”

Now that, of course, drew a sharp rebuke from Oudoom; but Nine Toes remained unfazed. He wasn’t talking about ghosts, he said, but spirits. There was a difference, he maintained.

“A ghost has a body, a face, a voice. When a ghost touches you, his fingers burn like ice. But a spirit…no body. No voice. A spirit can move right through you and you’ll never know. But take time, Mister Servaas, to sit down and talk with a spirit, and you’ll get an answer; not in words, but here.” He tapped the side of his head. “Spirits are soft, mostly kind and always ready to listen.”

Servaas scoffed, which only made Nine Toes shrug. An ignorant, sceptic old man could not be blamed for not believing him, after all. Oudoom remarked that that was the problem with the world those days: people believed in the most absurd things. No, Nine Toes countered, that was wrong.

“We must welcome the spirits, Mister Oudoom. They share this world with us. Sometimes they go away – I don’t know where – but then they return again. I’ve heard you people talking about angels – it’s the same thing, I think. Only, the spirits I know of don’t have wings and they don’t shine. They are. That’s all. Like the wind, they don’t move with feet. But just like you can feel the wind, I can feel the spirits. Eyes can’t see them, no, only your heart.”

Gertruida reckoned that one must not dismiss such arguments. Africa is a continent of superstition and myth – which may overlap remarkably with reality. “It’s a state of mind,” she said, “a way of thinking. We are, truth be told, the result of our upbringing. You grow up in a Christian home, so you never question the ideology. The same thing applies to all religions and certain philosophies: they get so ingrained in your mind that you never take time to dissect what – exactly – you believe in.” She smiled at that point and made a dismissive gesture. “Live and let live, I say. If Nine Toes believes in spirits, let him be. We’re not going to change it.”

But Nine Toes wasn’t finished. “Sometimes we house those spirits. They stay here.” He thumped his chest. “Other times, they live in animals. Snakes house bad spirits. Strong spirits prefer lions. My father is an elephant.”

That was one bridge too far. The group at the bar fell silent and stared at the ceiling. Arguing with Nine Toes would have been an exercise in futility – agreeing with him, equally unthinkable.

***

Then, yesterday morning, a strange thing happened. During the night, Vrede barked so much that Boggel had to get up. He checked his bedroom, the house, the street outside…nothing.

But that morning, a copper coin– obviously old – was found on Boggel’s veranda. Boggel picked it up and placed it on the counter. Gertruida came in a while later and gasped.

“Where on earth did you find this, Boggel?”

“Oh, on the doorstep. Somebody must have dropped it.”

“No way, Boggel! This is an 1853 penny with the bust of young Queen Victoria. Very rare. Nobody carries such coins about in their pockets! It’s a collector’s item.”

As Boggel turned the coin over, Vrede started barking again outside. Vetfaan came in and asked what was bothering the dog.

“Dunno. He’s been acting strangely since midnight. Bark, bark, bark all the time.”

“Well, he’s outside now, hair on his neck all erect, barking at the ground.”

Gertruida got up suddenly and walked out. Then she called them all over.

“Look, a print.” She pointed at the track in the sandy sidewalk. Vrede was standing a yard away, obviously annoyed at the spoor.Eyes fixed on the track, there was no mistaking what was irritating the town’s dog.

“Mmm…interesting.” Vetfaan bent down to have a better look. “It’s a brown hyena. Been a long time since last I saw one in the area.”

9 toes.jpgAnd so the group went back to the bar to have a cold one and chat about the strange coin Boggel had found.

Which is a pity.

Had they looked at the spoor a little more closely, they would have noticed a missing toe. And then, when the months went by and their favourite Bushman never showed up again, they would have understood.

Vetfaan’s Dung Beetles

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Credit: landcareaustralia

 “Congratulations!” Kleinpiet reaches over to shake Vetfaan’s hand. “That’ll make a considerable contribution to your retirement fund. In recognition of this exceptional feat, you may have the honour of paying for our drinks tonight.”

“Shees, you guys, am I relieved!” Vetfaan sits down, a Cheshire smile all over his face. “I almost lost hope.”

“Ja, I saw that bull a month ago – couldn’t believe it was only one animal!  That size! I’ve never seen a bull so fat.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Boggel pushes the glasses over to his customers. “What you call ‘in a good condition’?”

“The problem was,” Kleinpiet explains dramatically, “that the poor beast was in such an exceptional condition – as you call it – that he simply couldn’t perform his…er…professional duties.” He makes a suggestive gesture to help Boggel understand. “See?”

“But as I understand it, that bull was the only financially promising prospect on the farm? What are you going to do to generate income for the rest of the year?”

“That’s true, Boggel.” Vetfaan’s face shines with pleasure. “But I’m investing now. Dung beetles. It’s the hottest thing in the wild-life industry at the moment. It’s absolutely amazing what big game ranches will pay for a batch of the little creatures. I guess I can make a 50% profit on my profit from the bull.”

“Dung beetles?” Gertruida shakes her head. “Don’t know too much about those. You get endocoprid, that lay their eggs insode the dung, paracoprids with eggs below the dung, kleptocoprids that steal other beetles’ dung and telecoprid, the beetles with the rolling balls.  They navigate by the milky way and the sun and they’re all coprophages, meaning they ingest faeces…”

“Much like us and the SABC?”

“Don’t be facetious, Kleinpiet.  Anyway, they are vitally important in the ecosystem. The world would be covered with faeces if it were not for them. Can you  imagine the parasites, pests and diseases the animal world would have to deal with – not forgetting ourselves, of course – if no dung beetles axisted? They’re most effective: within 20 minutes of the dung hitting the ground, the little insects are on the job. Most marvellous creatures, if you ask me.”

“And now they’re endangered, so anybody with a supply of them is in the pound seats. Not only am I contributing to the survival of an essential creature, but I’m also providing a service to the game farmers. They desperately need to increase their beetle population to keep the environment safe  for the animals they breed. I am,” Vetfaan says importantly, “a conservationist and an entrepreneur.”

“Farming with dung beetles, eh?” Servaas raises his bushy eyebrows. “Then you’ll have to increase your dung production.”

“Done, Oom Servaas. That’s how I got my bull to lose weight.”

This remark makes even Gertruida sit up in surprise.

“Wha…?”

“Look, that bull was grossly overweight. He just had this massive appetite, see? So I had two choices: either decrease his lust for food,,,or increase his..er…output. Simple mathematics. Weightwatchers 101.”

“So you put him on a strict diet with lots of exercise? “

“Nah. Well, I tried the diet thing, but he got so depressed that I had to give him extra food. And exercise? Have you ever told a bull to start jogging?” Vetfaan smirks. “No, I put our president on him.”

Vetfaan waits for the surprised gasps to settle down.

“Look, you fight fire with fire – not so? So to get a bull to increase his natural output, you got to feed him more of the same. Bull poo in, bull poo out – like the scientists tell us. But how? I racked my brains until our prez fired the minister of finance. Then I listened to him trying to explain that the freefall  of our money had nothing to do with that – and that people overreacted to the news. He is, he said, an unfortunate victim of circumstances in which he had no role to play. He maintained that the weak Rand is purely the result of inevitable market forces and that people are politicising a normal occurrence.  To his credit: he stopped short of blaming Apartheid, which was a pleasant change.

“It struck me then. And it worked.”

“But how, Vetfaan?”

“Why, it was easy. I played the recording of the speech to the bull. Over and over again. Not only did the poor beast lose his appetite, but he increased his output dramatically. Bull poo begets bull poo, see? Simple. And now I have a mountain of the stuff and the beetles are breeding like crazy. In fact, I’m considering buying a few young bulls to keep up the feedstock; the upcoming municipal elections are going to provide plenty of speeches I can play back to them.”

***

Rolbos is such a backward little place in the middle of nowhere. If ever you should stop there, you’d find a small group of people huddled around one of the tiny tables on Boggel’s verandah. You’d probably think they’re just locals, having a beer – and maybe you’d be right.

But sometimes – just sometimes – they’re the only ones in the country who concentrate on the future and not the past.

And dung beetles? Where else would people mention the humble family of Scarabaeinae in contrast with the brilliance of a country’s leader – in the same breath? It might be funny, but it does leave a whiff of halitosis, doesn’t it?

Just goes to show: appearances can be misleading – just like politics..

Back to the future

breekyster 2010 045A fridge, like we all know, is an essential requirement in our everyday survival. Warm beer just isn’t healthy – especially so in the Kalahari. So, when Boggel’s trusty old fridge suddenly gave up the ghost, his customers were devastated. It’d take two weeks for another cooler to arrive with Kalahari Vervoer, which means the end of civilisation as they know it. The mood in Boggel’s Place is dark, the conversation stopped and even Vrede doesn’t seem interested in the piece of biltong Sevaas chucked his way.

“I suppose this is the end of the line,” Vetfaan sighs, “there’s just no reason to go on…”

A long, depressed silence follows the remark. A life without cold beer in Boggel’s Place? Impossible!

“Ice.” Gertruida whispers the word. “We need ice! In the old days of Kolman’s Kop and Kimberley, they delivered huge blocks of ice to the house. Somebody must simply drive to Upington and get us some.” A smile lights up her face. “Simple, isn’t it? Problem solved.”

“Yes, and by the time we get back here, we’ll have a tub of water.” Vetfaan’s remark isn’t unfounded – it’s been terribly hot lately. “We won’t get back quick enough, even if my Land Rover makes good time…which it usually doesn’t.”

“Ja,” Servaas joins in. “It’s just like the situation in the country. There is enough ice in Upington, but we won’t get it back here where it’s needed.”

“How can you compare Boggel’s fridge to the country’s problems, Servaas? That fridge is much more important than the political mayhem, the bankruptcy of SAA, the wrong trains from Spain, ESCOM’s bottomless pit and the student protests combined…and you know that!”

“Jup…those are serious matters, indeed, Gertruida…and that’s my point. We have enough money in the country – what with taxes being what they are – but the real stuff doesn’t get to the people who need them. We thought Nkandla was bad, until the pres started showing interest in a new super-plane for himself. As usual, he giggled his way through questions and told everybody he knew nothing about such things.

“The point is this: it’s no use having ice in Upington, if we cannot get it here. And there are endless protests because people are cheated out of a brighter future. It’s the same thing…”

“Maybe we could drive over to Ben Bitterbrak’s place – he’s got a solar panel to keep him going. Quite a nice arrangement, if you asked me. He’s using sunshine to keep him happy…and it’s not only free, but it works!” Vetfaan eyes the case of warm beers, shudders, and goes on: “Of course, he might not want to help; stingy old bugger that he is.”

breekyster 2010 049“On my farm I haver a cooler room, guys!” Kleinpiet’s excited statement makes them look up hopefully. “You know, one of those old-fashioned rooms with the double, perforated walls and the charcoal in between. Haven’t used it for ages, but there’s plenty of space for all the beer in Boggel’s storeroom. All we have to do, is to wet the charcoal.”

“Now that,” Vetfaan says with a sardonic sneer, “is real progress for you. From nuclear power plants in the future, to damp charcoal-cooled beer. All that is left, is to start the fire, and we can have a braai.”

The group at the bar can’t wait for Kleinpiet’s return the next day. As the minutes tick by, they start speculating that the farmer might have had an accident, or maybe fell ill…or something. It is way past midday beofe Kleinpiet finally appears at the end of Voortrekker Weg – on a borrowed donkey-cart.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he says when he finally draws up the reins in front of Boggel’s Place. “The garage in Grootdrink didn’t have petrol – apparently the drivers of the tankers are striking. Nothing in Upington either, they told me. So I had to borrow Platnees’s donkey and his cart. Anyway, here I am, and the beer is cool…”

Kleinpiet is the hero of the day. Forget about the great technical advances, the wonderful convenience of modern-day appliances and the so-called progress in world-wide politics and economics – the old ways have stood the test of time. According to Gertruida, we are far too dependent on electricity, the Internet and the goodwill of our fellow men and women across the globe. She says we have become slaves to the energy companies and the concept of democracy. That’s why, she maintains, Rolbos is such a great place to live and grow old in – the place is remote, the people care more about each other than about what the newsreader on CNN tells the world, and  their only weakness is for cold beer. Oudoom is there to keep them (more or less) on the straight and narrow. And…Kleinpiet has an ancient cooling room.

Maybe, she once remarked, the world wants too much. By constantly expecting the future to be better than the past, is like expecting education and health care  to be free. Yes, it sounds like such a good idea, but only if the professors and the doctors refuse to be paid. And, she added, if you pay peanuts, you’ll  get monkeys. She called it the ‘zoo-scenario’.

“The past will be better than the future, chaps. We might as well get used to the idea.” She’s right, of course – like always.

That’s why Boggel got the townsfolk to start building a cooling room behind his bar. He says cold beer has been around for many centuries – it’s worth investing in the past.

The Diary

kubu-island-2[6] The questions surrounding the disappearance of Spook Visagie would not have been spoken about in such hushed tones, had the diary not been found. The problem is that the group in Boggel’s Place is still not sure whether it is a hoax or the real thing. Still – it had been found  amongst the rocks on Kubu Island and it might just add to the mystery.

***

The Diary – a plain, hard cover exercise book – was found , wrapped in Eland skin – on the 5th May, 2015 by a warden in the newly-established Kubu Reserve. This, Gertruida says, is significant: it is exactly fifty years since Spook disappeared. The same day and month appears in the police report . She also says that the Bushman’s legends often contain elements of periodicity – like the bearded man that appears every so many years. According to Gertruida, it is not unusual in African mythology to find events recurring over and over again – just like the diary suggests.

***

The first part of the diary contains what can be described as a travelogue. Nothing special. Crossing the border at Van Zylsrus. travelling to Gaborone, describing the condition of the road, etc. He camped at Letlhakane and drove on to Kubu, where he hoped to camp for a day or two before striking out towards Gweta. He wrote briefly about the break-down, the desperate hope that somebody would find him and how he tried – unsuccessfully, to make his water supply last until help arrived. His handwriting at that stage is almost illegible.

Then, a blank page.

Then…

***

I find myself in the most extraordinary circumstances. In fact, I doubt whether I’ll be able to put into writing what I have experienced. Let me try…

When I came to, I had no idea where I was. In fact, I thought I was dead.The experience of ‘letting go’ and finding myself in a place of complete peace was just too magnifi fantas – well, it certainly defies putting it into words. I’ll need to spend a lot of time with that experience to  make some sort of sense out of it. Maybe I’ll return to that later, but first I must say something about my saviours.

AN01156698_001_lThere are three of them: an old man (very old) and what I take to be his son and his wife. Understanding them is out of the question – their words are formed by a series of clicks that is completely foreign to my ears. They are, however, very friendly and and kind – I owe them my life. They don’t have much, but what they have, they share with me. I’ve eaten  roots, chewed twigs and had some cooked meat (?rabbit). The younger man seems to know where to find water – he disappears from time to time, returning with a gourd-like sack filled with water. I think the sack is the skin of a steenbok or something. 

402-1I’ve read about Kubu, of course. A lot. Especially after reading Laurens van der Posts’s book, The Lost World of the Kalahari, I had to come see for myself – not the area where he visited, of course. That was too far north. But he said two things that made my blood run cold.

First of all, he describes an unnamed hitchhiker outside the town of Maun. This is, as we all know, not an unknown phenomenon in Africa. But then he mentions the tragedy of the man committing suicide in Harry Riley’s hotel the following evening.

How many young men did that? Ending their lives in Riley’s Hotel? The only one I knew about, was my nephew, Christiaan – Chris for short. In our family, Chris’ name is seldom mentioned, simply because his death was so unexplained. He was an adventurer, a free soul, and wanted to travel Africa from south to north – to write a book about it afterwards.

Then Van der Post continues, stating that this young fellow caused his own death, because he had a relationship with ‘one of the local ladies’ and that she had fallen pregnant. Suddenly it all fell into place. That’s why the family didn’t want to talk about him! And, seeing that Van der Post was on an extended safari to document the lives of the so-called Water Bushmen in the Okavango (people he never really met in the end), the ‘local lady’ in question was probably somebody of Bushman descent…maybe?

That’s why I’m travelling from south to north through the Bechuana Protectorate. To see for myself. Who were these Bushmen. How do they live? And….I had the inexplicable feeling that I might just find more than I sought. It was as if I simply had to heed a call of some sorts. I didn’t understand the compulsion to obey…then.

***

A few pages later:

We’re getting on rather well, my little family and I. They’ve taken me back to the vehicle to salvage some of the supplies (very excited about Bully Beef – they savour it like the best delicatesse ever!) and I ascertained that the engine had ceased completely. No way out on that vehicle!

The old man is trying hard to tell me something. He’d sit on his haunches at the fire, look me in the eye, and speak to me in the most earnest way. The multitude of clicks would have been funny if he didn’t seem so terribly serious. He tell me  (I think) the same story over and over again, emphasising certain parts while pointing at me. I’m not sure what to make of it. He seems to be telling me something about myself…but what?

***

A strange thing happened last night. The woman brought some herbs to the shelter which caused the old man to clap his hands in joy while obviously praising her. Then, as the sun began to set, they made me stand next to the fire. It was obvious they wanted to do something important. Then the woman started undressing me. I was scared and shy, but the old man held out his hand, palms towards me, making shhh-ing sounds as if placating a baby. What could I do? They’d saved my life, after all.

images (15)Then the woman ‘dusted’ me. I know of no other way to describe it. She had ashes in half an ostrich eggshell, which she proceeded rubbing into my body. In this, she was extremely gentle and avoided the parts of anatomy which could have aggravated my embarrassment. When she was done, the old man draped a karos of springbok skin around me. It was a fine garment of extremely high quality and I wondered about the craftsmanship. It looked old, but well-cared for. What was abundantly clear, however, was that some great honour was being bestowed upon me. Of course I didn’t understand.

That’s when the woman guided me to the downwind side of the fire and made me sit down in the smoke. She proceeded to sprinkle the fetched herbs on the embers.

And that’s when I had the first vision that started to make sense out of the mystery surrounding my circumstances…

(To be continued)

The Ghosts of Kubu Island.

Credit: Lonelyplanet.com

Kubu Island. Credit: Lonelyplanet.com

It’s not true that the group at the bar never talk about ghosts. They do. But when the subject gets raised, they’ll lift their glasses in a silent salute to Spook Visagie, the man at the center of one of the legends Kubu Island. He ‘visited’ the place in in 1965.

Long, long ago, the Makgadikgadi salt pan was a lake. A large one. It collected the waters of the Okavango, Chobe and Zambezi rivers, formed an inland sea and drained into the Orange river. Then the earth’s crust moved, diverting the obj148geo280pg13p28Chobe and the Zambezi eastwards on their present course. Before that, the Makgadikgadi sea provided the early Phoenicians with the route to Zimbabwe and the gold deposits they mined there.  The ‘island’ of Kubu (‘kubu’ meaning : ‘hippopotamus’) used to be a harbour for the fleet of ships carrying the precious cargo. Even today, the remnants of the ruins (resembling the building methods at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins) can still be found on the island. Of course, these ruins are much younger and not a true reflection of the early Phoenicians’ endeavour, but later efforts in the 15th century, most probably by the local population at the time.

Be that as it may, there is a story the locals whisper about around the late-night fires.

breekyster 2010 052aSpook – known by his real name of Koos at the time – happened to be on one of his camping trips back then, when the fanbelt of his vehicle broke. People will later say that it was meant to be, but at the time Koos didn’t think so. With the radiator unable to regulate the engine’s temperature, he was stranded in the overwhelming heat of the salt pans. He could have died there. Some say he did…

The remains of the car – like Spook – is still there if you’re brave enough to go looking for it.

According to the police report, Koos was found about ten days afterwards. One has to be flexible in this. The band of Bushmen who found him, spoke only their original !Kung language – understanding them relied heavily on gestures and sound, rather than interpreting the almost-impossible click-language they used. Gertruida has read the report:

…apparently Mister Koos Visagie was in a severely dehydrated state when he was found. The San people carried him to their shelter and revived him. That’s when they recognised his face.

According to their legends, a white, bearded man once ruled over Kubu Island. It was, they say, a long time ago, when the plains were filled with water and fish abounded. This man, they said, would return every (hundred? thousand?) years to herald a new period of plenty. As far as can be ascertained, the San people communicated this with Mr Visagie. It is unclear whether he understood what they told him.

Apparently Mr Visagie was taken to Kubu Island, where he ‘met the ancestors’ How this happened, was also not fully explained, but a ‘sacred fire’ was made and certain herbs and bushes were involved.  During this process or ceremony, Mr Visagie was said to have started talking in a strange voice with strange words. The San people had never heard anything like it before. Mr Visagie seemed to be conversing with an invisible person(s) in an animated way. 

When the clan woke up the next day, Mr Visagie was gone. No further information was forthcoming from the group. Although an extensive search was carried out afterwards, Mr Visagie remains on the Missing Person’s List.

Comment:  The Investigating Officer’s opinion is that Mr Visagie must have suffered mental damage due to his ordeal. If – as it seems to be the case – he had wandered off into the salt pans, the chances are that his remains will only be found by accident one day. It is suggested that the contents of this file be made known to the nomadic peoples in the area.

***

Now it is important to mention a certain Gavin Lamont. As a prospector of note, he had been exploring an area in the Tuli Block, many hundreds of kilometers to the east of Orapa.. While camping on the banks of the Limpopo River, as strange man arrived on foot. ‘Strange’, because he was dressed in a flowing white coat, a white suit and hat, and wore polished shoes. He did not at all look like a weary traveller.

After inviting the man to stay for the  night, they sat down to a dinner of Impala steaks and wine. Much to Lamont’s surprise, after the meal (which the man hadn’t touched at all) the visitor then went on to tell him that the search of diamonds in Botswana would yield rich rewards. But, he added, the really significant finds would occur at the southern end of the Makgadikgadi salt plains. While Lamont went to his tent to fetch a map, the man simply disappeared. kubu

In 1966, the year after Spook’s disappearance, the fabulously rich deposits at Letlhakane was discovered by Lamont, changing the history of Botswana.

Gertruida says they can stop looking for Spook. He went – according to her – to ‘another dimension’. The Bushmen were right: he heralded another ‘period of plenty’. Boggel always laughs at her when she says this, reminding her that most of the stories they tell in Boggel’s Place tend to be very flexible about the truth.

Still, you never know, do you…?

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!!

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”

***

lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”

***

“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.