Weekly Photo Challenge: Life in Harmony

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

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

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

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

 

The Scorpion that didn’t die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course!

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

 

 

Listening to Silence – a Forgotten Art.

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Credit: psychicdonut.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: State of Mind.

I believe that moods, though universal, are more pronounced in Africa. Here you won’t find the stiff upper lip or diplomatic smile. Pretence, the way so many individuals ply the art of  make-believe to present themselves to others, has no place on a continent that forces you to be honest. This is evident not only in the turmoil we live with every day, but also in the people living here as well as Nature.

Literature is a treasure of wisdom. It says so much of our continent and…our times.

“When we want mood experiences, we go to concerts or museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the storyteller.” ― Robert McKee, Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwritingb5

“Music is energy. A mood, atmosphere. Feeling.” ― Kurt Cobainb6

“I suppose one must be serious sometimes.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian GrayIMG_4986

“A performance must capture or communicate with the mood and feelings of that very moment.” ― Unarine RamaruPetro 9

“The first few moments of the day are some of the most important as they can determine the mood for the rest of the day.” ― Daniel Willeyj6

Modern, ancient, animal, man and nature: state of mind always directs us toward an uncertain future. But, as Voltaire summed it up so nicely: “When life is a shipwreck, we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats….”Trip 2012 306

Vetfaan’s SONA

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North West University. Credit: enca

“Is it,” Vetfaan muses, “a privilege or a right to study?”

Gertruida sits back, deep in thought. Then: “It is one of the most difficult questions you’ve asked in all these years, Vetfaan. “Privilege” involves exclusion of some to the benefit of others. “Right” implies the opposite. I’ve often thought there should be something in between, like ‘a rightful privilege’ or something.”

“What I don’t understand,” Vetfaan continues, “is that students are burning down universities – while they’re there to study. It makes no sense at all.”

“That, my friend, is smoke and mirrors. Have you heard the president admonish the students? Has the government made an unequivocal statement, condemning the destruction, the torching and the disruption happening on campuses?” She hesitates before answering herself. “No! The government is worried like never before. They’re going to take a whipping when the municipal elections come about later this year. They simply cannot afford to alienate the youth of the country.”

“Afford? Afford? My foot, Gertruida. That means we have to foot the bill with our tax money.Can I afford it – that’s the question?”

burning-train.jpg“I wonder,” Servaas lets the words dangle in the air before completing the sentence, “what these protests cost us every day. I mean: the prez says they’ll host fewer parties in the coming year, and that’s great. But in the meantime the country is burning. Busses, trains, libraries, municipal offices…you name it and the vandals are there with petrol and matches. This isn’t a mere Nkandla we’re talking about – the totals must be staggering billions, not millions.”

“It’s the old story, Servaas. Remember the saying:You become your parents? How you were brought up will determine who and what you’ll be as an adult. If you see your parents and leaders acting in a certain way, you naturally assume that’s  the accepted norm. Look at our political leadership – and then ask yourself whether the youth, alone – are to blame.

wpid-s_africa_protest_0723“Whenever some political parties hold marches, destruction follows. It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. What is worse, is that politicians create expectations with promises they know they’ll never deliver upon. The destruction we should be talking about, isn’t about buildings, roads and vehicles – it’s about lives being wrecked by the absence of proper leadership.” Gertrida sighs. “I so wish the politicians realised that.”

“Okay, then I’ll make the State of the Nation Address I would have liked to hear.” Vetfaan gets up, tries to laugh like the prez, and adjusts his imagined glasses with his middle finger. “Compatriots, fellow South Africans and countrymen. Today I’m going to tell it like it is.

“Hehehe…destruction of property is unlawful. It’s a criminal act. No matter how angry you are, two wrongs don’t make a right. By burning down universities, you are not creating a better future, are you? From now on, all individuals who cause damage of any sort to property – governmental or private – will be liable to compensate for that loss. Let me remind you that we have laws in place for exactly that. The fact that I’ve been reluctant to prosecute perpetrators in this regard, is shameful to say the least! In fact, it was downright stupid to allow the situation to deteriorate to this level, and I take full responsibility for the lack of proper leadership and discipline.

“Furthermore, I realise that I’ve lied about many things – even right here in this parliament. I expected you to believe me, just as the many, many people that’ll still want to vote for us in the upcoming elections. To those faithful followers, I want to say thank you, but no thank you. Do not vote the same way you did before. That’s a sure way to destroy even more buildings and cripple the infrastructure  worse than in the past. We are on a certain road to self destruction and we have to make a sharp U-turn or face the consequences.

“Then, fellow countrymen, I have instructed the police to have no mercy with murderers, rapists, molesters, and other corrupt officials. Planning for a high security prison in the most inhospitable area of the country is in advanced stage. Prisoners will in the future have no voting rights either. Forget about medical care, nice overalls and a bed. Prison isn’t a hotel. The ablebodied will be put to work wherever we need them – twelve hour days with no minimum wage – cheap labour. If you took part in any activity that harmed society, you will be forced to contribute to society again before you are allowed back on the streets. In this way, we can maintain and service roads, railways, sewerage farms and other infrastructural elements in need of work.

“Also, my friends, we are declaring a war on rubbish and litter. How can we expect our countrymen to be proud citizens who want to protect their environment, when government never does anything to educate the masses? Throwing rubbish in the streets, scattering plastic bags all over the veld and heaping up trash everywhere is certainly not conducive to a civilised society. From now on, if you throw your KFC box out of your car’s window, you’ll be forced to help clean up the shanty towns around our cities.

“That brings me back to education. Children must be able to attend schools where they are efficiently and properly educated in not only the basics of reading, writing and maths, but where a sense of responsibility is instilled into them. They must learn that all actions have reactions. If they boycott schools, they’re the ones who suffer – and society is only the poorer for that. Ubuntu isn’t just a word, compatriots. We cannot sit here in the luxury of parliament while the children out there are being neglected. If they are disadvantaged, my fiends, we are disadvantaged, too. We’ll leave a legacy of shame if we don’t make a stand on this.

“You’ll notice that I haven’t said anything about our economy. It’s not necessary. Once we repair the fabric of our society, the economy will correct itself. What that means, is this: it’s no use making laws and promises when the average man in the street has no hope, no pride and no sense of responsibility.

“It’s about freedom, you see. Freedom doesn’t mean you are free to do anything or say anything. Freedom comes at great cost, compatriots. It’s an expensive luxury – and I’m not talking about money here. It requires us to embrace responsibility – something that’s been sadly lacking in these chambers ever since I’ve taken over the reins. And responsibility will cost everyone of us something: some will have to own up to corruption, others will maybe have to admit to lacklustre performances and still others may have to vacate their seats due to incompetence. These are harsh words, my friends, but absolutely necessary.

“And lastly, I have taken a firm decision to lead by example. In the words of the opposition, I now bid you all goodbye. I’ll retire to the nice house you’ve kindly built for me and from now on laze in the firepool or tend to my chickens. Bye bye…”

In all the years Boggel has been running the bar, he’s never heard an applause like the one that follows when Vetfaan sits down.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Seasons

IMG_5759Life starts off with promises and dreams, unlimited horizons and infinite potential.

a2This, however, is an illusion. Life is a vast and lonely place – a series of individual challenges that’ll test even the most courageous to the utmost limits.a5At last, having survived the seasons of drought and plenty, the realisation dawns: Hope, Love and Faith are choices and not guaranteed in any way. Life is, in fact, what actually happened while we were making other plans.a4And then we take note of failures and mishaps and unfortunate events – all of these steering us to abandon wild dreams and false promises.

Somewhere between the illusive mansion of expectation and the ruins of reality, contentment awaits. Satisfied with so much less but with the firm belief that the best is yet to come, we soldier on bravely.188_8855Until, with the comfort of a faithful companion, we look back at the seasons of our lives – remembering the successes and failures. It’s been quite a journey but worth every drop of sweat, every tear, along the way. This is the season too – because we finally understand  – we are able to embrace the unlimited horizons and infinite potential that were promised in the beginning.

There is no excuse. No excuse at all. (#2)

 

 

Jean-Dominique-Bauby-01

Jean-Dominique Bauby

 

Telling us a story of a musical savant doesn’t help us all that much, Gertruida. It may be inspiring to a certain degree, but we’re still stuck with the same old problems in the country…or the world, for that matter. Playing a piano never fixed crooked politics, neither can disabilities be used to set the example for South Africa’s masses.” Servaas, after spending a restless night while contemplating the remarkable life of Leslie Lemke, is not in a good mood at all.

“On the contrary, Servaas. It’s about being disadvantaged and overcoming odds. That – I’ll have you know – is the most important and universal lesson for all of humankind. It’s of absolutely no value to sit down next to the road, complaining about the journey. We are each given a route – an individual journey – to complete during our on earth. Some get the easier paths, others not – it’s not something we can demand or change. Read it up, Servaas. (Proverbs 16:33) I suspect you know the passage…you should, actually.”

“So we are mere passengers on a runaway train, helpless to change anything? What about Revelation 20:13? Why judgement in the end if people have no choice in their actions?”

Gertruida sits back to applaud the old man’s remark. “Well done, Servaas! You’ve just proven  my point. I’m sooo proud of you!” Despite Servaas’s confusion, he has to smile at her tone. “You see, Servaas, your life will follow a certain path. That’s a given. But…what you do on that path, involves specific choices only you can make. Let me tell you about   Jean-Dominique Bauby, maybe that’ll help you understand…”

***

Jean-Dominique, or Jean-Do as his friends called him, was a young man at the pinnacle of his career. As editor of Elle, he was a know face in the French fashion crowd and a respected writer in his own right. He probably thought Life was a sweet fruit to be savoured and enjoyed – one can only imagine…

Then it all changed. At the age of 43 he suffered a massive stroke, leaving him an a coma for three weeks. He shouldn’t have woken up, but he did…in a manner of speaking. While he seemed to recognise faces and voices, he was completely paralyzed, except for his eyes; they followed movement. Despair turned to hope; maybe he’d regain more function as time went by?

But it didn’t. Things got worse. His right eye developed complications and had to be sewn shut. Then, with movement and observation restricted to his left eye, the terrible consequences of his stroke became apparent: he had Locked-in Syndrome. He could hear and see…but nothing else. He couldn’t respond in any way to external stimuli by speech or emotion. Only the movement of one single eye could possibly convey messages to the people around him.

A plan had to be made. With all the paths of communication destroyed by the stroke, only the left eye could possibly be used to reach his thoughts. Remember, this happened in 1995, before machines like Stephen Hawking uses, were available. The nursing staff did what they could, ending up with a nurse sitting next to his bed, reciting the alphabet. Over and over and over…and over. When she got to the letter he wanted, he’d blink. The letter was then written down and the selection of the next letter began. At last…he was able to communicate his thoughts to the world out there.

Then…the surprise. i-w-a-n-t-t-o-w-r-i-t-e-a-b-o-o-k.  Write a book? In his condition? Surely an impossible task?

But he did. Letter for letter, four hours a day, with the patient assistant reciting and reciting the alphabet over and over again. It took ten months, but in the end The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was published in 1997. Sadly, two days after the book appeared on the shelves, Jean-Do died from lung complications…

***

DivingBellButterflyMP“Ten years later, a film was made of the book. It won at Cannes, BAFTA, Golden Globes and was nominated for four Oscars. The story of Jean-Do inspired people long after his death. His life was maybe above average before the stroke, but afterwards it became truly remarkable. He had to lose everything – except an eye – to summit the highest point of his life. 

“So you see, Servaas, being disadvantaged isn’t fun. People have the right to complain and revolt against unfairness and injustice. But what has happened in the past, is no excuse for poor choices in the present. It is a sad fact that everything we do today, will impact on tomorrow. And that leaves us with but two choices: do we destruct or construct? That, my friend, is the Black and White we have to deal with – there is no middle way in that. Choices determine actions and words, which in turn result in consequences. If we are not building, then we are breaking down.

“So, Servaas, harping on about hardship is an entirely futile exercise. In our society it’s become the norm to be destructive. And that, I’m afraid, is determining how we will be judged by history.”

“Well,” Servaas mumbles, “at least I’m not burning buildings and busses. I’m just saying…”

“Unfortunately,” Gertruida interrupts quickly, “words do more damage than burning a library. They remain long after the broken glass have been replaced and they hurt more than rubber bullets. ‘Just saying’ is no excuse. It’s the mind behind the words that makes you say things – and only you can fix that…nobody else is going to do it for you.”

And, just like yesterday, old Servaas finds himself at loss for words. This is a good thing, Gertruida thinks, because the country is being wrecked by people ‘just saying’. If only we could get to ‘just doing’ – positively – we’d become an example for the world.

But, she realises, we’ll get the future we deserve. And for that we have no excuses. No excuses at all…

“….Mutual misunderstanding
After the fact
Sensitivity builds a prison
In the final act…”

There is no excuse. None at all…

Leslie-and-May-Lemke1

Leslie and May Lemke

“Sometimes,” Gertruida says after switching off the radio, “we are just too keen on wallowing about in self pity.” She’s been harping about this lately, especially whenever Servaas gets going about politics. “Look, we’re still living in a wonderful country. Yes, we can moan and groan about students burning art and defacing statues, but what about the real people of South Africa? Granted, we have our fair share of scoundrels, crooks and other governmental officials, but we also have good, peace loving and kind compatriots who are only trying to make things work – for all of us.”

“Blah blah blah, Gertruida.” In his usual bad mood, Servaas isn’t taking this lying down. “We’re stumbling about in the dark, hoping against hope that things will improve.”

The remark seems to stem Gertruida’s flow of thoughts.

“Stumbling about in the dark? Hope? Mmmm.”

Now everybody knows how kantankerous Gertruida gets when you disagree with her. It’s an invitation to a verbal brawl where there can be only one winner.

“Ever heard about Leslie Lemke, Servaas? Tell me, have you?” She doesn’t wait for an answer. “Of course not. Your world stops at the end of Voortrekker Weg. You live – quite happily, I might add – in your own little bubble where you only think about yourself and all the trouble surrounding you. Now, let me tell you….”

***

Leslie Lemke was born prematurely in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1952.The doctors and nurses – even his own parents – soon gave up hope for the tiny infant. As a result of his complicated birth, he was spastic and had severe retinal problems. Glaucoma developed. He was also obviously mentally challenged. And then, as was done in those days, the already blind child’s eyes were removed within the first month of his life to ease his discomfort.

His parents just couldn’t take care of him.What to do? They gave him up for adoption…

Enter May Lemke, the petite nurse in the district. After being approached, she immediately took the baby under her care. A deeply religious woman and the epitome of love and hope, she took care of the helpless boy, despite the massive obstacles in their way. While everybody expected the child to die, May fed him and stroked his neck to make him swallow. She spent hours and hours trying to get his unwilling legs to move properly, hoping he’d be able to walk one day. She sang to him, played music for him…and prayed.

Eventually it became clear that the boy could talk – but he simply repeated the sounds of the words and May wasn’t sure that he actually understood what he was saying. Feeding remained a problem, movement was arduous and hesitant, and his quality of life far below zero.

But May refused to give in. At the age of seven, she bought a piano; hoping that the sound of music would have some influence on his slow development. For seven years she plinked and plonked the notes while the blind child listened and sometimes tried to find the right note with the right sound, to follow his foster mother’s example.

Leslie turned fourteen. The years ahead stretched out with insurmountable challenges. Leslie, blind and retarded, had no future.

They watched TV at night – or rather – May did and Leslie sat there, impassively, listening. He did like music though, and one night they listened to a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no 1 , the background to a programme.

That night May woke up to music. The Piano Concerto was playing again! At first she thought the TV must have been left on, but when she walked into the living room, she stopped dead in her tracks. There, in front of the piano, in the dark, the blind, mentally and intellectually challenged boy was giving a perfect rendition of the concerto…perfect! With every note, every nuance, of the music played exactly like they had heard before bedtime.

Amazingly, incredibly, the hands that could almost not handle eating utensils now flew over the piano’s keys in fluent movements.

That was the start of the career of one of the most amazing musicians of our time. He could play back any tune after listening to it only once. And then he started singing with the tunes – also pitch-perfect and not at all with the struggle he had while trying to speak normally.

rain-man-poster-007 (1)May was overjoyed. Local concerts led to TV appearances. Dustin Hoffman saw him play once and found inspiration for his movie, ‘Rain Man’. More concerts followed as well as tours to the rest of the USA, Scandinavia and Japan.

A favourite challenge during these concerts was to ask anybody in the audience to ‘Stump Leslie’ by naming a song he couldn’t play. The only times that happened, was when he’d never heard the tune before – then he’d make one up then and there, on the spot, lyrics and everything.

Leslie’s concerts are free. The miracle of music, he maintains, was given to him to share with others. What he had received was grace and making money out of his gift would be wrong.

***

“You see, Servaas, sometimes we are put in a situation that seems hopeless. Maybe, according to all known information, we are stupid to go on trying and the urge to surrender and walk away is overwhelming. But May Lemke showed us a different way – not by fighting in anger, but by persisting in love.

“Sure, at times we feel blind and helpless. No way forward, no way back. That’s when you have to look up, not down. Faith and love breeds hope, Servaas. Hate and anger will see us doomed. No matter what Life throws at us, we cannot ever forget that.”

When Gertruida shows him the short video on her new smartphone, he gets up to go outside. He’ll have to think about Leslie Lemke for a while.

And feel just a tad ashamed about his constant moaning…

The Fable of the Jackal and the Eagle

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Credit: enca.com

Whenever Gertruida starts telling them stories, the little group in the bar falls silent, paying close attention to what she says. Gertruida never just tells a story – she has the uncanny ability to recount fables at very strategic times; when the fable really mirrors the bit of history unfolding in the current situation.

That’s why – when she finally falls silent – that they all stare out of the window, wondering how Boggel managed to understand while they didn’t.

***

A long time ago (Gertruida says) and also in recent times (typical Gertruida), a jackal spied a rabbit in the tall grass. Now, this was exactly what Jackal felt like at the time: a nice, young, succulent rabbit, slowly roasted over a few embers and served with a few termites on the side.

The problem was that Jackal was on the one side of a river, and the rabbit was feeding on the opposite bank. Jackal, like many of his brothers, had never learnt to swim. Despite this handicap, Jackal wasn’t entirely stupid – he was even more cunning than Snake and Scorpion combined. He was also ruthless, a trait the other animals were aware of all  too clearly.

So Jackal sat down, eyed the rabbit, and imagined how much he’d enjoy his next meal. But how? How to get to that rabbit? The problem had to be solved!

He had, of course, seen other animals swim. Badger was very good at it and even Buffalo could manage. Other animals, however, had failed dismally; like Tortoise for instance. The way Tortoise drowned, made Jackal very worried. If he were to attempt – and failed – that’d mean the end of him. He wasn’t prepared for that yet.

He then thought of getting help from Owl.. As one that preferred hunting at night, Owl would be sleeping during the day and be an easy one to catch. And once he’d convinced Owl to take him across, he’d be onto Rabbit in a flash. Owl was, after all, big and strong and more than capable of carrying his weight.

Owl was, to say the least, not impressed. Jackal reminded Owl that he knew exactly where Owl’s nest was and that he’d make a point of stealing  the next batch of chicks. Owl grumbled and moaned, for he actually liked Rabbit; but because of Jackal’s threats, he gave in with a heavy heart.

“You promise to leave me alone after this, and never touch my nest?” Owl didn’t trust Jackal very much.

“Of course!” Jackal said with a toothy grin. “You won’t have to worry about that. You have my word.”

Well, Owl flew Jackal across and put him down on the other side. Rabbit, however, saw him coming and hid behind a huge rock.

“The Rabbit,” he said in a squeaky, shrill voice like mouse’s, “has gone to Eagle. She’s in a foul mood. If I were you, Jackal, I’d go away.”

But Jackal would have none of that. He wanted that Rabbit and no Eagle was going to stop him. So he crept up the hill where Eagle lived and tried to see what was in her nest. And Eagle, sharp-eyed as ever – saw him coming and threw a few small stones at him. Jackal persisted and approached even closer. Then Eagle flew up high, high in the sky, and dropped a large rock on Jackal’s head. The blow was so accurate and so hard that Jackal became confused. He swore he’d get Eagle if that’s the last thing he’d do. And Eagle laughed, sprouted celebratory feathers, and flew off to her inaccessible nest on a high cliff.

“Do what you like, Jackal,” she shouted, “but by now all the animals have seen your cunning and cruelty.  Your days as a glorious hunter is over. From now on you’ll only prey on the dumb and the stupid.”

And so it was. Jackall could not go back to his home any longer – the river was too full and he still couldn’t swim. Owl laughed at him, telling im that as long as he couldn’t cross the river, he’d never be able to threaten his nest again. And Jackal looked around him, realised he couldn’t get to his old home and his hunting grounds at all, and became exceedingly angry.

***

“It didn’t help, of course. Getting angry never solved a problem.” Gertruida gets up to walk to the window. Outside, the sun was setting in a wonderful array of colours. “So Jackal, my friends, tried to steal sheep from farmers after that. Still does it to this day. But the farmers put up fences and traps and got vicious dogs to protect them. And Jackal became the most hated animal amongst the farmers and he had to flee into the wilderness to escape.”

She falls silent and turns around. The puzzled frowns on her audience’s faces pleased her tremendously.

It is Boggel who breaks the silence.

“That wasn’t a fable, Gertruida. Fables are pure fiction. This is too new, too recent, too true, to be called a fable. “

Gertruida’s smile broadened. “Yes, Eagle got him, didn’t she? Without her, Rabbit wouldn’t have survived.”

On Political Correctness, Racial Awareness and Honesty.

IMG_4985 copy“So the Emperor displayed his new clothes for all to see.” Servaas tosses the newspaper aside and signals for a drink. “Not that there was much to hear.”

“On the contrary,” Boggel smiles, “never in my entire life have I seen an obese parade with so much evidence of affluence. Did you see the size of some of them? My gosh! Our trade deficit must be huge – as a result of the yards and yards of material necessary to cover up the wobbly backsides. Maybe that’s why the prez is cutting down on catering – the cost of installing extra-outsize chairs in parliament would finally convince the rating companies that our economy deserves junk status.”

“That,” Gertruida scowls, pointing a finger at the little barman, “is not politically correct. You are in fact insinuating that some of the ladies and gentlemen in our government are fat. Now…’fat’ isn’t a word to use when describing somebody. That’s insensitive and uncalled for. It’s as bad as saying we are optically  challenged to observe the extent of their circumferences. No, it’s unkind, to say the least.”

“Like calling somebody ‘white’ or ‘black’?” The smile on Servaas’ face is without humor. “Come on, Gertruida – when something is obvious for all to see, why play the Elephant-in-the Room game? Should we now be so sensitive that we are forced into denial?”

“That’d be following the government’s footsteps, Servaas..” Boggel sighs. “They insist we’re a non-sexist, non-racial society with equal opportunities for all. The way I see it, is that they’re fooling nobody. Black empowerment isn’t an equal opportunity policy. Enrolling in an university is far more difficult for white kids than others. The only situation where the prez favours whites, is when he has to defend himself in court – then the advocate is white. Why?”

“That would be horribly politically incorrect to speculate about that, Boggel. You’re at rsik of being labeled a racist.”

“But being racially aware, doesn’t make me a racist, Gertruida! Are you suggesting that I should renounce my heritage? Of course I’m what is called European, or white, or whatever. But I was born in Africa and I have the right to be called an African.” He arches an eyebrow. “Am I American? No! Spanish, French or German? No! I am a proud citizen of South Africa and that’s who I am. I happen to have a different skin colour than the majority of the inhabitants down here, but why does that put me at a disadvantage? Because of a history I had no control over?” He lets the question hang in the silence. “And what about the rest of the world? Their histories are even more tainted by oppression, extermination and xenophobia. South Africa has had her share of these horrible things, but nowadays it is used to sway the mood of society to pro-black and anti-white. I am forced to acknowledge the fact that I am currently disadvantaged and they hold me hostage to what has happened generations ago – the government rubs my lilly-white face in it every day. Am I happy about it? No! But I have to live with it – in shame, if the ruling powers had any say in t. The very government who claims to be non-racist, is using racism to deny me equal opportunities based on performance. If I open my mouth about this, a chorus shouts:’ Racist!’, simply because of my skin colour..”

Boggel shrugs. “The government is only trying to retain their voter base, Servaas. They cannot very well say they have ruled fairly and justly over the last 20 years, can they? They have to play the race card to keep their support secure. With so many state-owned enterprises in trouble and service delivery as bad as the corruption we read about every day, they have no choice but to unite the majority of voters by emphasising race. It may not be politically correct, but it is politics. United we stand, divided we fall, remember?”

“So ‘Black’ – the word – is given special  significance? If you say something about black – like it’s a Black Friday, or black magic, or blackmail, black market, blackout,  black box, black eye – then the first thing we must think about, is race? How absurd is that? Anyway, who started calling people ‘Black’? Nobody’s ‘black’ – we’re all shades of brown and beige and cream.Moreover, we are suddenly  so sensitive about the blackface phenomenon that students get expelled for having purple faces  when they portray aliens?

“No, being proud of who you are, doesn’t make you a racist. It simply means you identify with your individuality, your identity and your culture. You’re a racist only when you put these attributes above all others. If I think white is superior to black, then, sure, I deserve the label. But if I respect somebody else’s right to be who he or she was born to be, that makes me a humanist. Racism in South Africa would have died a long time ago if the government hadn’t insisted on reviving it all the time.” Vetfaan shakes his head – it’s all so horribly wrong!

“I still think there are too many heavyweights in the parliament,” Servaas tries  to change the subject to something more humourous.

“You’re a racist, Servaas.”

They all laugh at Gertruida’s remark, but it’s the type of laugh you laugh when you get your tax assessment in the post – a despairingly sad laugh, without real humour and tinged with a dose of sadness.

“Being politically correct means you insist on living in a bubble, with no own opinion and certainly no insight. That’s the thing, isn’t it? You may think something, but saying it is wrong. That means you have to pretend all the time and you end up fooling everybody except yourself. What that means, is: you constantly have to put the sensitivities and preferences of others higher than your own. In other words, you have to view yourself as inferior to others.” Boggel spreads his arms wide. “Now that, my friends, is as bad as racism where you think you are superior to others. Thinking yourself to be inferior, is just as bad.

“Which brings me to justified reverse apartheid. The very words imply that only whites can be racists..which is certainly not the case.

“Why can’t we just be people – whether white or green or yellow or the B-word – and get on with the joy of living together? The longer we insist on pigment – or the lack thereof –  defining ability, efficiency and opportunity, the worse our society will fare. And, mark my words, pigment maketh not the man – what is needed is a deep-seated desire to contribute and build.”

Gertruida nods slowly. “You better keep that talk right here, in the bar in Rolbos, Boggel. If you dare say things like that in bigger places like Prieska or Springbok, you’ll have to see a lawyer.”

“Okay then, Gertruida. Like the rest of the country, I shall say nothing about the elephant in the room. It doesn’t exist, does it? Just a figure of speech…like ‘efficient government’ or ‘united nation’.”