The Diary (#5)

Credit: multiverses.wikia.com

Credit: multiverses.wikia.com

I had a dream last night. A very vivid one, the details of which remain imprinted on my mind as if I had lived through every moment of it.

I felt that I was a spectator of the first moment of time. Initially there was only darkness, but then a spectacular array of light – green, yellow, blue, red – exploded and millions and millions  fragments of light scattered into the darkness. One of these fragments enlarged and became the Earth, And then it, in turn, exploded and formed many Earths. I couldn’t count them, but they sort of drifted away from each other before merging again.

Well, ‘merging’ isn’t the right word. Those worlds came together, but stayed apart. I don’t know how to explain it… It was like a herd of Springboks – while they move as one, graze together and basically act as a single group, they still remain individuals forming a larger whole. Something like that happened when the different Earths came together. There were many different Earths, but they formed one single entity. And then the dream drew me closer and I was standing on Kubu Island. In  my dream I looked out at the salt pan, and it ceased to be a barren place: it became a sea….a sea of faces, and all of them were mine. 

I couldn’t understand, so I asked the sea why all the faces were me? And then the different faces – all of them me – they all answered…and the answers were different for every face.

When I woke up, I was covered in sweat. I felt more confused than ever. And then I remembered the three Kubu Islands the old man drew in the sand. And it clicked.

We live on Earth. Our Earth. But out there, or in here, there are many other Earths. And each of them are made up of everybody and anybody that lives or ever lived. On this Earth, I am me. On the other Earths, there are many more of me. It doesn’t make sense, does it? But like there are many Kubus, there are many Earths and each Earth has a me, and everybody else.

The reason, I realised, why the old man wiped out Kubu in one of his drawings, is that things are different on the different Earths. Why? Obviously Nature is a relatively constant phenomenon. Weather patterns follow an unwritten set of rules. The Earth’s crust is subjected to changes which have scientific bases. So the way the Earth develops, is maybe similar on all the Earths.

But people, now… There are no rules for people, are there? Even small decisions or seemingly insignificant discoveries may change the world a lot. If, for instance, antibiotics had been discovered a hundred years before that doctor did tests on the piece of rotting bread, then thousands – if not millions – of people would have lived longer and contributed to society’s progress or downfall. What would have happened if Hitler lived in the 1700’s? Or if Lincoln died as a baby?

Sooo…if there are more than one Earth, there’d be as many histories as there are human whims…

Despite the terrible fatigue, I called the old man over. I drew his pictures in the sand, wiped out one, and nodded to show him I understand. He smiled. Then he redrew the Kubu I wiped out and pointed at me. He proceeded to take the little bag of herbs from his quiver, looked at me in a questioning way and spoke at length. Of course I couldn’t understand. He took to his drawings again, and sketched two stick-men in the sand. He pointed at them and pointed at the two of us. Yes, I got that: the two men on the sand represented the two of us. He drew the herb’s bag, then made the one stick-man hand it to the other. He then wiped out one, leaving a solitary stick-man in the sand. He pointed at this one, then pointed at himself.

I felt strange at that point. Strange and tired and excited all at once. The old man wanted me to take the last dose of herbs, but obviously something will happen to me. This time, his drawing was telling me, I wasn’t coming back. Why would I do that? 

Right then, the young woman joined us on the sand. Her eyes were bright and she spoke in an excited tone with the old man. His replies were calm and soothing, but he obviously agreed to something she asked. Without another word, she led me to their shelter. 

***

multiverse2“Gosh!” Gertruida takes a deep breath. “This is about parallel universes, the multiverse and other dimensions. Even time travel. Most astounding, I’d say.”

“Most deranged, I you asked me.” Vetfaan slugged back some peach brandy. “Mad people can be very convincing, you know? And they experience stuff – completely irrational stuff – as real. They sort of create their own reality and will be so convinced about it, that they’d be absolutely sure the rest of the world is crazy for not believing it. I don’t for one moment think he was normal when he wrote this.”

Gertruida puts on a Mona Lisa smile when she lays the diary on the counter. “Maybe you’re right, Vetfaan. But you remember how this diary was found, don’t you?”

“Of course. Some warden found it.”

“So we were told by the man that brought the diary here. So, I checked.” Her lips now form a thin, straight line. “There are no wardens at Kubu, Vetfaan. Only a type of overseer-caretaker from the local community. and he knows absolutely nothing about a book being found there.”

“But the guy who brought the book?”

“Yes. Him. The chap who initialled the receipt J.V. Oldish guy, grey hair, weatherbeaten face. With the same initials as Jakobus Visagie, known as Koos or, otherwise, Spook…”

“Oh, hogwash, Gertruida! You think it was Spook, himself? Not even a fertile brain such as yours can explain why he brought it to us, then!”

“If I’m right, Vetfaan, it’ll be in the diary. And then you’ll owe me an apology.” With a withering glance at Vetfaan , she silenced the burly farmer before taking up the book again.

(To be continued….)

The Diary (#4)

a1_edited-1“You know,” Gertruida says before reading any further, “this reminds me ever so much of the hypothesis of Interdimensional Realities. A lot of people dismiss this as hogwash, and maybe they’re right, but what  if it is really possible to travel to another dimension, or another parallel reality? I mean that would fit in nicely with Spook’s story.”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida! You really believe in parallel universes and such nonsense? If I told Oudoom what you just said, he’d make you mow the grass in front of the church for a year!”

“Hee hee.” Kleinpiet giggles as he nudges Vetfaan. “He wouldn’t dare! She’d smoke it…”

Gertruida goes harrumph! and starts reading again. 

***

I sat staring at the old man’s sand-pictures for a long time, trying to understand what he tried to tell me. Three pictures of Kubu Island – one as it is now, one wiped out and one more that wasn’t erased. What did it mean?

The old man returned after a while, carrying three pebbles. He placed them on the sand in front of me, sat down, and stared at them – occasionally looking up to see that I, too, was looking at the small stones. Then he pointed at the island, pointed at one stone, and grunted. Yes, I got it: the pebble was Kubu. He next took the second pebble, ground it into the sand with his thumb, pointed at Kubu and shook his head, looking extremely sad.. 

Okay…that means no more Kubu…I think.

1.1311548951.1_san-bushmen1The third pebble remained. The old man pointed at it, got up and made a small mound of earth a small distance off. Next, he fetched a smouldering piece of wood from the fire and placed it between the pebble and the mound. He walked some distance off, lay down flat on his stomach, and crept up to the mound. He seemed to be stalking, leopard-crawl style. At the mound, he slowly lifted his head to peek over the heaped sand at the pebble beyond the smoky log. Then he pointed at the pebble, laughed, got up and did a little happy-dance.

What? Kubu still there, but beyond the smoke? Why would that make him happy? What was he telling me? I shook my head and the old man stopped dancing. He was clearly frustrated that I couldn’t understand what he was telling me. He walked off, joined the other two, where they sat down in a huddle, talking softly.

The seemed to agree on something when they got up to approach me once more. The woman held up two fingers and pointed to the small skin bag that held the fire-herbs. Right, I got that. They have two more doses of the stuff. Two more….travels into the unknown? I nodded.

And so I sat down next to the fire again as they draped the karos over me and waited for the herbs to take effect.

***

“I get it!” Gertruida exclaims and stops reading. “The old man was telling Spook about three realities…”

“I’m getting something stronger,” Vetfaan says as he gets up. “Being sober doesn’t work with this story.”

“Oh shush, Vetfaan! This is getting to be hugely fascinating. Look, he describes the same sequence in the beginning and then he goes on…”.

***

This time was different. This journey was neither to the past nor the future. I simply drifted off into a big, black void towards a pinprick of light. After what seemed a very long time but maybe was only a few moments, the light started getting stronger, bigger and more compelling. The darkness disappeared and the brilliant light enveloped me completely. I think the light became part of me. I might have become the light…

Then, I saw a figure approaching. The figure drew near. The figure was…me!

“You have the power,” the figure-me told the real-me. “And you must use it. If you do, things will change.”

I stood there, completely flummoxed. 

“You won’t understand, but you must trust. Trust is the one thing that mankind lost completely. Without trust, you cannot love. And without love, the earth is doomed.”

I stared at myself, trying to make sense of it all. “Why me?” I asked.

“Because you arrived at the right time, the right place. It was all planned this way. In fact, you have no choice.”

“But what,” I  asked the figure-me, “is it that I must do?”

“You have to go back. Right to the beginning. Start over. Save Kubu.”

And with that, the figure-me receded into the light (my light?) and disappeared. I felt myself being drawn back into the dark void, returning to where I was sitting next to the fire.

And when I woke up, eventually, I was so exhausted that the efforts of the family to feed me were in vain. I knew then that I was going to die…or something…

***

“What a load of bulldust!” Vetfaan fetches the peach brandy and pours a stiff one.

Gertruida shrugs. Either they are on the verge of something so extraordinary that it defies normal thinking…or Vetfaan is right. She turns the page.

The Diary (#3)

A2_1_28_02040-1024x645Gertruida scans the next few pages.

“He goes on and on to describe the way he felt tremendously tired after his experience, and how the Bushman family cared for him, He also mentions a strange excitement – a type of yearning to relive that incident. By this time he seems to have worked out a basic way of communicating -not only through gestures and facial expressions, but  even to the point that the four of them started sharing words. It seems as if the logical thing happened: you point at a bow or a tree, repeat the correct word or term over and over, until it gets repeated by the listener. He gives a list of words here with their meanings. I won’t even try to pronounce them.

“Oh yes…and here he goes on…”

****

I lost track of time. How long have I been here? I tried to understand their way of thinking about time, but they don’t seem to have any inkling of the concept. They’ll refer to ‘tomorrow’ or next week in the same way. Similarly, the past seems to be the past – whether it’s yesterday or the last time it rained. Also, counting isn’t something they really do, except: one, two, many. Anything more than two, is ‘many’.

At first I thought them to be dumb, but the more I observe them, the more I understand the way the do things. The most important moment in their lives, is here and now. They don’t dwell on the past, neither do they care about tomorrow. The present is their only reality.

Of course I don’t understand them properly – their language is far too complicated. But every night, the old man tells them things. I think it’s stories, but some of his talks certainly refer to me. The other two then listen with rapt attention, occasionally staring at me in wonder (of shock, or awe…I’m not quite sure which).

***

They draped me in the karos again last night. I’m so tired now, I can hardly concentrate – but, being afraid I’d forget the details, I’m forcing myself to pen down what had happened.

The initial sequence of my dream-journey (for the lack of a better word) was  similar to the first experience I had. This time, however, my impression was that I travelled to some time in the future. Or maybe it was a nightmare, I don’t know. While I was elevated above the Earth, I saw what I can only describe as a sequence of devastation. I saw smoke, people fleeing, dwellings burnt. There were armies of people at war with others. More terrifying, I saw the desert growing larger and larger, destroying life in the process. Rivers dried up. I heard strange sounds, huge booming sounds, that shook the Earth.

“What is this?” I asked, terror-stricken.

“The end,” I heard my own voice answering. “Mankind is destroying itself. In this future there is no future.”

“But…” I tried to make sense out of it all.

“Don’t interrupt. Look.” I answered myself.

And I did. Then it dawned on me that the fighting was not because people hated each other. I saw a man with strange eyes – almost Mongolian in appearance – at the back of the fighting columns. This man  was providing food to several armies of men. He stood next to a huge ship, directing the off-loading of all kinds of weaponry – most of which I’ve never seen before.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“He comes from the East,” my voice said. “He will take everything and leave nothing. He is clever and will make people destroy themselves completely before building his many houses on the plains. When he has taken what he needs, he will leave only the desert behind. Nobody will be able to stop him.”

I looked, and the scene unfolded as my voice had described. I felt tremendously sad and overwhelmed.

“Why…?”

“That’s why you are here. To observe. To learn. You have work to do.”

And then, suddenly, I was transported back to the fire.

***

Time… How long is it after my second trip? I must have slept for days – it definitely feels like it. I’m weaker than ever, but the broth the woman makes certainly helps. I am slowly recovering and feeling stronger.

I tried to talk with them about my journeys, but the visions were so complicated, I can hardly convey the basic outlines of what I had experienced. The old man has taken to sit with me fo long periods of time, drawing pictures in the sand. This morning he made me gasp.

kubu-islandFirst, he drew – rather accurately – the outline of Kubu.  He pointed at it, then at us. Next he drew the same outline, looked at me with tremendous sadness in  his eyes, and slowly erased the picture by wiping the sand smooth with his withered hand. Lastly, he drew the picture again, pointed at me, and walked away, leaving the picture to haunt me.. 

I didn’t understand. Not then. Only later.

***

“I still think he was delusional.” Vetfaan downs his beer, smacking his lips before continuing. “I mean, this story is too far-fetched to be real. Meeting stray Bushmen, travelling into the future and the past, and now strange drawings in the sand. Of course he didn’t understand. He wasn’t thinking straight at all. Poor bugger…”

“Ah, Vetfaan. Ye of small faith…” Gertruida turns the page before placing the book on the counter. “I think his descriptions are far too detailed to be mere figments of imagination. This man had an exceptional experience, and we shouldn’t discard his visions out of hand. Remember, this was 1965, fifty years ago. How could he have known about what’s happening in Africa today? That description of the man at the ship sent shivers down my spine.

“No, there’s something here. Spook, I tell you, did indeed travel to other times. Or had a prophetic vision. Or something. Maybe he skipped through other dimensions.

“Be that as it may, I think this story is far from finished. We’ll just have to read the rest.”

Little do the group at the bar know how well Gertruida summed up the situation. Boggel serves another round when she picks up the book again…

And days pass like this
Me, growing desperate
And you, you answering
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

Everytime I ask you
That when, how and where
You always reply me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

The Diary (#2)

Sowa (Sua) Pan, Makgadikgadi

Sowa (Sua) Pan, Makgadikgadi, the last remnant of the superlake that once covered Botswana.

“My gosh!” Gertruida takes off her reading glasses to stare at the ceiling. “He’s had an out of body experience!”

“What? They took him to the abattoir?”

She glances at Vetfaan, sees the twinkle in his eyes and ignores him. “Let me read to you what he says here…”

***

The feeling I got was completely foreign to me. I’ve never used drugs or anything like that, so maybe it was just the smoking herbs on the embers. However, while a second before I still felt embarrassed and shy, I suddenly found myself relaxing. The night’s sounds faded away. The glowing coals of the fire seemed to enlarge and envelop me with a peculiar warmth – a sensation so comforting and relaxing that even the faces surrounding me disappeared.

Then, slowly, a new face stared at me. It took a second to realise it was me, looking at me. This didn’t bother me at all – in fact, it felt like the most natural thing ever. I could see myself smiling. Then I opened my mouth and spoke to myself.

“You are here for a specific reason, Koos. And these wonderful people saved you, because that’s the way it had to be. They have an important message for you.”

“What,” I asked myself?

“Listen to them….”

The face disappeared. The next thing I knew, was that I looked down at myself, sitting there under the karos next to the fire. Once again, this didn’t cause any problem – it simply felt…right. I went higher and higher up in the sky until I could look down on Earth. It was beautiful, peaceful. I saw seasons change, animals migrate, rivers flow. Somehow I realised I was looking into the past – until eventually the desert changed into a sea. I saw boats on the waters and an island where a harbour bustled with activity.

‘This is what was,’ I heard a voice say – it could have been my own. It sounded like me, anyway.

9[PHO]AMy view became sharper, clearer, as I neared the island. I could see men in long, purple robes strutting about. There were slaves attending the boats, while others patrolled the beach around it, armed with bows and arrows. Off to one side I saw a tented town, where women in white garments prepared meals and looked after children.

“This was the stronghold of Kubu. These men and women came from far away, worked hard and supplied the Kingdom,” my voice said. I sounded calm and in control.

“Which kingdom,” I asked.

My voice sounded tired when it answered. “It is far away. It no longer exists.”

“But why,” I eventually asked, “am I here?”

“To see, to observe, to learn.”

“What?” I asked.

“To know what you have to know.”

Suddenly I was elevated again to a high spot, from where I once again saw the Earth change. The sea disappeared and the desert formed. Seasons changed. 

And I woke up – or whatever one can call it – in the smoky haze next to my fire with my saviours staring at me.

***

“Man, he went on a proper trip, that guy. Shew! Drugged beyond recognition, I’ll say!” Vetfaan laughs at the idea. “I’d love Boggel to start serving that stuff!”

Tsodilo

Bushman geometric pattern, Tsodilo Hills.

“The herbs certainly had something to do with it, I’m sure. The old San shamans used herbs to put them in a trance. That’s the explanation for many of their weird paintings, according toe researchers. Those geometric patterns are similar to the ones the Incas did, as well. You get the same patterns repeated in Europe, Egypt and wherever ancient witchdoctors understood trance-like states.

“But then you get strange things, as well, like the whale at Tsodilo Hills – where no known sea existed.” Gertruida thinks for a moment before adding, “Except for Spook’s inland sea where only the salt plains remains – the Makgadikgadi Superlake, of course.”

“Yeah, right!” Vetfaan snorts and signals for a new round. “He was whacked out of his little mind, I tell you. Dehydration and disorientation does that. Add to that the death of his nephew and the obsession to find out what really had happened to cause the suicide, and you have the perfect example of stress aggravating a post-traumatic disorder. Spook had a post-suggestion hallucination, that’s all.”

“I don’t think so,” Gertruida says haughtily, “not if you read the rest of the diary, anyway. Something very, very unusual happened to Spook. And I’m not at all sure you’re going to understand half of it, Vetfaan. Listen…”

(To be continued…)

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…?

Danger at the Waterhole

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Inspiration.”

IMG_5383a

Early morning. Suddenly the sound of thundering hooves. Water! They need water…

IMG_5385a

But wait…. Thirsty as the Wildebeest are, they hesitate at the water’s edge…

IMG_5467a

With good reason. They know he’s there…

IMG_5378a

And so, thirsty but cautious and patient, they’ll keep their distance. Made later?  The day becomes unbearably hot…will the lion leave?

IMG_5503a

I returned at sunset.

IMG_5415a

Yes, they did get to the water…at a price…

That’s what friends are for…

2153916_130206164911_TD278-3When Vetfaan gets drunk, he sometimes becomes teary and exceptionally morose. The rest of the little crowd in Boggel’s Place know the signs: he’ll become silent, stare out of the window and then whisper: “Gunter Winkle…

This doesn’t happen often, mind you – maybe once a year or so – and for a long time they couldn’t get him to tell them who Gunter Winkle is or was. He’d only answer with a stony stare at the bottle of Schlichte on the shelf and then start humming to himself; a strange tune even Gertruida doesn’t recognise..

It all changed one evening. Vetfaan was staring at the Schlichte bottle again, humming the tune, when Gertruida said softly that she did some enquiries about Gunter Winkle. Vetfaan surprised them by stopping humming immediately as he directed his unsteady stare more or less in Gertruida’s direction.

“Wha…whadaya fin’ out?”

She shook her head. “Still listed as missing, if it’s the same person.”

Vetfaan nodded slowly. “Same person.”

“You have to tell us, Vetfaan, get it out of your system.”

And so, in bits and pieces, Vetfaan finally managed to open up. It eased the pain, even if only marginally.

***

Gunter was the only son of a farmer near Gobabis, in what we now call Namibia. At the time, South West Africa was governed by South Africa and many Suidwesters sent their sons and daughters to study in the Republic. Vetfaan met Gunter at Glen Agricultural College where they attended a course in wool classification. They developed a solid friendship during the month they spent there and kept contact (via letters back then) afterwards. Like it so often happens, the letters petered out and were replaced by a yearly Christmas card.

However, when they met again – it must have been a decade later – it seemed like no time had lapsed since their last goodbyes and they celebrated in raucous style. This was severely frowned upon, for then they were in uniform at the base in Ondangwa, fighting the insurgents from Angola. The brigadier called them in, threatened a court martial and gave them a stern warning. Any breach of discipline would be followed by the harshest possible steps. Their weekend passes were cancelled for two months. When the other troops were allowed to blow off steam in Ondangwa, the two of them would clean the officer’s offices.

Something happens to young men when they have to don a uniform and live under the constant threat of danger. When off duty, they tend to become, well, irresponsible, to say the least.  So while the other troops whooped it up in town, Vetfaan and Gunter were pushing mops and brooms in the offices of their superiors. That is, until they discovered the secret horde of Schlichte n the brigadier’s cupboard – on the first evening of their first weekend of office duty.

The result was a catastrophe. When the brigadier went to his desk on that Sunday, a routine neither of the two scolded men knew about, he found them happily singing the German ditty Gunter had taught Vetfaan during the night. They were dumped in the detention barracks without any further ado.

Monday arrived. The brigadier cooled down. A court martial involved not only other officers, but would come to the attention of headquarters in Pretoria. There might be questions about his ability to maintain discipline. He might be sent to an ‘easier’ post, away from the combat zone – which would mean – in effect – a demotion of sorts. No, he’d handle it on his own.

Kunene River. Angola on the other side.

Kunene River. Angola on the other side.

Vetfaan and Gunter (still severely hung-over) listened in subdued silence as the brigadier ranted and raved for a full half hour. Then he told them they’d be sent to a remote area on the border to keep watch on a section of the Kunene River suspected of being a point of infiltration. No weekend passes, no leave. Just the two of them and a radio. Supplies would be dropped by helicopter every two weeks.

Running an army is a huge job. The admin involves mountains of paperwork, orders and directives. And things go wrong…

The brigadier’s worst fears were realised when he was transferred a base near Kimberley – a lateral transfer which meant the end of his hopes of becoming a general. His successor arrived the day after his departure (to save himself the embarrassment of handing over the reins) and promptly started transforming the Ondangwa base into one of the most efficient in the defence force. Despite this, the two men next to the Kunene were forgotten. Maybe some documents were missing or mislaid, or maybe it was just one of those things that happened back then – it could even be that the original brigadier never set the issue down on paper – but the end result was two abandoned friends in the middle of nowhere.

“We had a wonderful time there,” Vetfaan told the group, slurring the words. “The radio was dead – no new batteries. The local Himbas were quite friendly and supplied us with goat’s milk and sometimes meat. We fished and cooked bird’s eggs. Gunter’s singing intrigued the Himbas and they often came to listen to his German songs – bringing more supplies when they did so.

“Of course we guessed what had happened – being forgotten and all that – but we had no means to get back to Ondangwa. Truth be told – we didn’t want to, either. Still, when the three-month period neared it’s end, we realised we’d have to walk back to civilisation. The Himbas provided us with enough information to do this. On the day before we were planning to start the journey, Gunter stepped on a landmine.”

Zuzu

Zuzu

Gunter was lucky. Although he sustained severe injures to his one leg and face, he survived – just. The Himbas carried him to their kraal, where they helped nurse him back to health. This is where Gunter met Zuzu, the beautiful Himba girl he fell in love with. His recovery was slow and painful, but after a month he was able to walk if aided.

That’s when he told Vetfaan to go back.

“I’m a disfigured man, Vetfaan. I can hardly walk and can see very little. Farming is out of the question. No, my future is here with Zuzu. I can help here. Start a school. Teach them things. Be useful… I owe them that, at least.”

***

“So you returned to your unit, told them Gunter was missing…and never breathed a word?” Gertruida’s incredulous tone interrupted Vetfaan’s story.

The interjection stopped Vetfaan’s recounting of what had happened so many years ago. He simply stared at her, sighed, and nodded. “I gave my word.”

“But what about his parents, his family?”

Vetfaan started humming softly to himself. Didn’t want  to tell them the rest. How he paid a clandestine visit to the Winkles on their farm and explained everything. How Gunter’s mother wept with joy and his father embraced him. And how, every six months or so, the Winkles liked to spend time up in the North of Namibia, holidaying next to the Kunene.

Or how he missed singing old German songs with one of the best friends he ever had.

No, he’d rather have another Schlichte. Anyway, he’d told them too much already.

Heute hier, morgen dort, bin kaum da, muß ich fort;
hab’ mich niemals deswegen beklagt.
Hab’ es selbst so gewählt, nie die Jahre gezählt,
nie nach gestern und morgen gefragt.

Manchmal träume ich schwer
und dann denk ich, es wär,
Zeit zu bleiben und nun
was ganz and’res zu tun.
So vergeht Jahr um Jahr
und es ist mir längst klar,
dass nichts bleibt, dass nichts bleibt, wie es war.

Dass man mich kaum vermißt, schon nach Tagen vergißt,
wenn ich längst wieder anderswo bin,
stört und kümmert mich nicht. Vielleicht bleibt mein Gesicht
doch dem einen oder and’ren im Sinn.

Manchmal träume ich schwer
und dann denk ich, es wär,
Zeit zu bleiben und nun
was ganz and’res zu tun.
So vergeht Jahr um Jahr
und es ist mir längst klar,
dass nichts bleibt, dass nichts bleibt, wie es war.

Fragt mich einer, warum ich so bin, bleib ich stumm,
denn die Antwort darauf fällt mir schwer.
denn was neu ist wird alt und was gestern noch galt,
stimmt schon heut’ oder morgen nicht mehr.

Manchmal träume ich schwer
und dann denk ich, es wär,
Zeit zu bleiben und nun
was ganz and’res zu tun.
So vergeht Jahr um Jahr
und es ist mir längst klar,
dass nichts bleibt, dass nichts bleibt, wie es war.

The problem with Servaas’s English.

To continue with the story:

048After his rescue from the barren mountains of the Richtersveld (still without the parasol), Servaas had to be carried back to Vioolsdrift. Mr Jacobs – as the town’s undertaker – was the only man around with a smidgin of knowledge about sickness and death, so it was only logical that the search party carried the severely disorientated rugby player to his residence. 

Dehydration and sunstroke aren’t simple maladies. People die from less severe insults to their health, like snake bites or gunshots. To say that Servaas was not quite his old, perky self, is a slight understatement. Semiconscious, incoherent and burnt to an unflattering red hue, he drifted in and out of a state of delirium for a full day. To quote Charles Dickens: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Worst, because he almost died. Best, because he had the most amazing visions of Mathilda for a full 24 hours. To go into graphic detail would be socially unacceptable (although all young men experience similar daydreams on occasion, Servaas might be considered the father of the 3-D dream and was able to focus on – er – um – rather intimate aspects of Mathilda’s attributes for a considerable period of time).

Be that as it may, Mathilda looked after him well. Mrs Volschenk’s finishing school wisely included various difficult subjects like Chicken-keeping, Tending your Garden, Pet Care, and Ailing Men. It is true, she intoned in her faux-British accent, that men suffer more during sickness than women. This, she said, was because of the inferior construction of the male constitution. Mathilda didn’t argue, despite the fact that she actually thought the ‘male constitution’ was rather well constructed and had quite surprising abilities.

So, when at last Servaas woke up to find the subject of his dreams sitting next to him, wiping his brow and looking at him in the most peculiar way, he really believed he was dreaming. Or dead. He threw out the second possibility soon, however; right after Mathilda whispered (in a really husky voice) that she thought he had the most amazing constitution.

The norm (back in those days) was that you didn’t overdress for a rugby game. Boots were an unheard-of luxury, jerseys usually didn’t last the first half and shorts – although mandatory – were merely the oldest short pants in the drawer. Commonly, these were last year’s schoolwear; and hence a size or two too small.  Understandably Servaas realised all too soon he wasn’t dressed to fit the occasion of his first real meeting with the most beautiful girl in the entire Northern Cape. His constitution disagreed, having the fun of its life…

Servaas pulled the blanket up to his chin and tried not to show his embarrassment. 

“Mrs Volschenk prepared us for such occasions,” Mathilda said importantly. “Men simply can’t help certain, er, things. It means nothing to us women who have been educated properly, Would you like some cold water?”

Maybe Servaas was still too confused to understand. Cold water? To do what with? Of course! His present condition! He nodded, feeling terribly shamed and reprimanded.

Without the need to go into detail, it is enough to say that Mathilda laughed uncontrollably when her mother asked her why she was hanging the blanket on the washing line. Calming down, she confided that Servaas was still so weak, the glass slipped from his hand.

1935-chevrolet-standard-and-master-deluxe-2Servaas’s parents, who stayed with friends during their son’s recovery, were surprised that their son was so anxious to go home. Did he not almost die trying to bring back that wonderful girl’s umbrella? And – true to their previous experience of Servaas’s exploits – would he not want to linger as long as possible in the Jacobs’s home? But no, Servaas insisted. The blankets on the wire had not even dried out in the scorching sun when Servaas stuttered his thanks, stumbled out of the bed and shuffled down the garden path towards his parents, waiting in their old Chev in the driveway..

Years later, when Servaas paged through one of Gertruida’s dictionaries (to look up the meaning of  ‘consubstantiation’) he finally realised that having a strong constitution wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. In fact, it saved his life.

By then – as was common knowledge at the time – Mathilda had turned into a cantankerous old spinster, having rejected all male advances over the years. Gossip had it that Mrs Volschenk’s students graduated with such a superior impression of themselves that only a few of them ever married. Servaas is still convinced that the finishing school finishes the chances of normal young girls having a normal life. Why, he asked once, must somebody teach girls how to place three forks and four knives (not forgetting the two spoons) at every place at the dining table? With a tablecloth and everything? A single pocket knife, one spoon and ten able fingers had been quite enough for any meal his mother had ever prepared – and served on the bare kitchen table. 

Gertruida says English is a confusing and difficult language, often leading to misunderstandings. She once bloviated that it is hardly discombobulating that Servaas tried to canoodle  with a callipygian girl after her bumbershoot blew away. However, she said,  Servaas was only a hobbledehoy at the time, and it would have been godwottery to pursue the oocephalus he admired so much. Although Mathilda might have been described as an ingenue back then, everybody knows she was always a real panjandrum at heart.

Gertruida can be such a  pettifogger!

Mrs Volschenk and the parasol

Credit: dbvictoria.blogspot.com

Credit: dbvictoria.blogspot.com

Gertruida is on full cry this morning, telling the group at the bar about the longest river in South Africa. Originating in the high mountains of Lesotho, the Orange River (Gariep) cascades down the Drakensberg, fills up dams and provides irrigation along its 2200 km course.

Servaas isn’t listening. He remembers another story about the river – something that changed his life forever.

***

005The last stretch of the Orange forms the border between South Africa and Namibia. To the north, the Namib stretches away to the horizon. To the south, the inhospitable Richtersveld. Sand on the one side, heaped mountains of rocks on the other. This is not a place to get lost in –  but Servaas did.

It is not unusual for young men to do stupid things. Some believe they can change the world, others rebel against the age-old rules of society. The more amorous (and decidedly less intelligent) believe they were placed on Earth to woo the hearts of maidens, usually ending these episodes as pathetic remnants of their old glamorous selves. After all – as all men learn eventually – being victorious in the heart-winning quest does not automatically mean a happy-ever-after. Love does not require a single moment of passion; it demands far more than that. And Servaas, dreaming about holding Mathilda’s hand while whispering the three words he hoped she’d like to hear, didn’t know that. He was seventeen – how could he?

 The problem was that Servaas grew up on a farm with too many males. Not only humans, mind you, but somehow the cattle and the sheep (even the goats) went through a few seasons of producing only rams and bulls. In that world of male dominance, it was only natural that Servaas picked up on the atmosphere surrounding the old homestead: males either fought each other, or they tried to get the odd cow or frightened ewe to share a bit of time with them.

Servaas was the flanker in Prieska’s scrum. He was fast, had a short temper and intimidated his opponents to such a degree that his team ended up in the finals of the regional rugby championship. In those days it was common knowledge that Servaas only tackled you once – after that the local doctor had to apply a splint or put in a few stitches. In the days before Superman, Servaas was Prieska’s invincible superhero.

And so the entire Prieska took to the road to witness the final against Vioolsdrift on their homeground. There was no doubt about the outcome: the framed Springbok-horns would be on the mantelpiece in Prieska’s hotel the next day.

Enter Mathilda Jacobs, the only girl in Vioolsdrift to have gone to the finishing school in Paarl, Mrs Hermiena Volschenk’s Academy for Discerning Young Ladies. Enrolling in Mrs Volschenk’s famous institution guaranteed the students everything they needed to become the most sought after young ladies in their districts. After completing the two years under the watchful eye of their headmistress, girls could darn socks, knit jerseys and recite Psalm 23. By that time, the brighter girls also had to be able to supervise servants, play bridge and be able to recognise a successful gentleman (those wearing shoes and socks).

Needless to say, Mathilda had a hard time after returning to Vioolsdrift. Using the skills Mrs Volschenk had taught her, she insisted that the would-be admirers made an appointment to spend time with her on the veranda in front of her parents’ house overlooking the Orange River. Outlandish as the idea was, the young men of the district had no choice but to accept that Mathilda – a graduate  in the finer arts of life – was then elevated to the status of royalty. No longer could they arrive in numbers to vie for her attention – if you were interested, you had to be able to converse comfortably about difficult subjects involving bookkeeping or flower arrangement. Mathilda also had the servants serve tea in real cups and saucers – a clever ploy to keep both her visitor’s hand occupied.  As such, she not only dictated the terms of courting, but wreaked havoc in many a young man’s heart. The sudden increase in pedestrian traffic past the veranda prompted her father buy Kaiser, a ferocious Doberman Pinscher.

On the day of the finals, Servaas and the other fourteen rugby players from Prieska were having their pre-match pep talk on the dusty rugby field when Mathilda and Kaiser arrived to sit down on the chair a servant placed next to the field. Dressed in a high-collared white blouse and a rather revealing skirt, she only had to snap her fingers once before the servant opened a parasol to protect her perfect complexion.

Well, in all honesty, it wasn’t a real parasol, of course. Such things didn’t exist in the Northern Cape. But Mathilda had seen the one that Mrs Volschenk had, and attached a length of lace to the rim and ribs of her father’s black umbrella he used when attending funerals. As the town’s undertaker, Mr Jacobs was much feared and respected – nobody dared to antagonise the man who’d be responsible for your last resting place. There was only one shady spot left in the cemetery at the time. No surprise then, that not a single person walked past Mathilda that day without saying how beautiful the umbrella was.

Towards the end of the second half, Viooldrift’s team had been reduced to ten men, thanks to Servaas’s efforts. Still, the defence was surprisingly resilient and the scoreline only favoured Prieska by one try. This didn’t bother the Prieska team too much – a win is a win and why sweat away at piling up points when the other team surely had no chance to score? No, scrumming was much more fun – especially while Servaas was in such a destructive mood.

And then…

mg21729075.400-1_300You get these whirl winds in the Northern Cape. They appear from nowhere on a seemingly windstill day, dance around haphazardly for a while, and then usually fizzle out.  Just as the teams readied themselves for yet another scrum (and the doctor wondered whether he had brought enough bandages along), a dust devil developed in the road next to the field. It picked up momentum  – and size – and swept across the players towards the spectators.

Mathilda’s parasol was lifted high into the sky, swirling and twirling towards heaven. And Servaas, knowing who the umbrella belonged to after ogling her all afternoon, left the scrum to chase after it. If he could return the umbrella to its rightful owner, he’d surely impress her enough to guarantee an invitation to spend time with her. The rest of the Prieska team realised what their flanker was up to, and ran after Servaas as well.

The Vioolsdrifters weren’t so stupid. They knew Mathilda. No matter what you did, she’d only tilt her nose in the air and tell you it is unacceptable to decant your tea into the saucer. And there was the undefended tryline to consider…

One by one the Prieska players gave up the chase until only Servaas sped across the barren landscape towards the Richtersveld.

***

This incident had several results:

  • Servaas was found three days later by a Bushman tracker. He still hadn’t found the ‘parasol’.
  • Vioolsdrift won the championship by a record margin.
  • Mr Jacobs took to wearing wide-brimmed hats (tied down under his chin with a bootlace)
  • Mathilda realised Mrs Volschenk was wrong and that Hennie Viljee, who scored the six tries in the last five minutes of the game, didn’t have to wear socks to impress her.

The Bushman tracker managed to get Servaas to the river, where the muddy water of the Orange River saved his life. When, years later, Servaas met Siena, he stopped playing rugby – saying he’d rather chase after his Siena than die of thirst.

Anyway, he said, rugby is only a game. Love, on the other hand, is real. When Siena jokingly explained the meaning of a ‘whirlwind romance’, Servaas was not only amused, but he knew then the some events in life may have a prophetic nature. Being swept away by love is far better than chasing something you’ll never catch.

Mrs Volschenk would have applauded.