Tag Archives: Bible

The Wings of War

Credit: Pinterest

Credit: Pinterest

Precilla received this email. How – in heaven’s name – did Manuel manage to find the address? Precilla, after all, only runs a little pharmacy in Rolbos – an extremely small enterprise which supplies Oudoom’s blood pressure medication and the pills Servaas needs when his gout acts up. This necessitates prolonged and frustrating communications with the medical aid companies, which is why Precilla had to get connected to the Internet.

Be that as it may, the letter remains proof of how small our world has become. It also serves to remind us how important it is to tell our stories with honesty and kindness.

(To understand these letters, please refer to the previous post.)

***

Dear Sir

I no write good English, sorry. I ask my son to help. He in school and has a smartphone. He reads many stories in WordPress – he say it makes his English better. 

I much sepru seprised when he read about Manuel in story. Manuel story is my story. I tell more, yes?

Nossa! When soldiers catch me, I very much afraid. Beeg trouble. But I good soldier, I tell nothing. Many days they ask me cue kwes question, I say nothing. No eat. No drink. Much pain. Then orderly come, he take me away. He hide me. Give naif knife. He say I must go back to farm.

Manuel, he walked back to Angola. Many days he walk. I get much tired a lot. I no know how long. Later, I get to my farm.

You see, I only poor farmer. One day, man with unyphorm uniphorm he come. Say all mans in the distric must go army. I say no, my place need my hands. The man hit me, hit my wife. Then I go. That is how I became soldier. Now, when I get back to farm, I say: no more soldier. 

My wife, she’s very good. Bonito, I say. She go soldier. Say I die in bush and she berry bury me. No mare Manuel, she say. They hit her again. Why? I don’t know.

Many months I hide, help on farm. Then one day the war is finished. No more soldiers. I go home to live with wife. 

Why I write this? Beeg kwes question, no? 

I say obrigado.Thank you. For war, for soldier, for man who made me escai escape. Why? Manuel learn many things in war. He see how war make enemys. Many enemys. Before war, no enemys. During war, many enemys. After war, no enemys. Manuel wonder about this, then decide: enemy only made by war. War made by hombres in Luanda and other places far away. War not made by Manuel’s farm or village. So, Manuel thinks, better to stay on farm. Manuel work hard. Make farm nice. Send son to school. (He write this)

Now, that orderly, he save my life. My enemy, he make me think we are all same. People all same. Have family, maybe a son, like me. Want to love wife and work hard – no? That hombre make beeg risk to help Manuel, but Manuel no forget. Every night Manuel, he pray for man who give Manuel life. And say thank you, Jesus.

So. Manuel say goodbye.

Manuel.

Precilla read the email with tears in her eyes,  How happy Kleinpiet would be when she tells him about the letter! She was about to print it out, when the ping of the computer announced the arrival of more mail.

Hi there.

I’m Manuel’s son, a teacher at our local school. I have sent my father’s letter as he wrote it, simply because I couldn’t have said it better. I think his rough draft conveys his appreciation far better than a formal letter of thanks. 

I have to tell you that he often tells us about the way he escaped. It has become a family and a village legend. I also use the story in class when I want to make my pupils aware of the horror of war – and how a single act of kindness can influence not only an individual, but his family and local community as well. 

Because the story appeared in Rolbos (I use many of these stories in class as well), I assume the author might know the orderly involved in my father’s escape. I’d appreciate you telling him that my father is well and that he speaks highly of him. Maybe he could use my father’s story to tell people how important it is to know that we are all human. Fighting will never solve problems. Uniforms, my father says, change people. That uniform might be a suit or involve tunics and brass – but once a person wears it, he loses his identity. He stops thinking as an individual and becomes a part of a machine with no conscience. This is true for politicians, soldiers and some businessmen. 

My father says we must remain human  – and humane. He taught me to live kindly. That’s why I became a teacher. My school isn’t grand, but we have about 500 pupils. Every year about 50 of my pupils finish school and go into the world to apply what I’ve tried to teach them. They might still find mathematics difficult, but they’ll never forget the story of Manuel and the way a single enemy soldier gave him wings to change our lives.

Kind regards

Manuel Cobado (Jnr)

***

Author’s Note:

If ever you come to Rolbos, ask Kleinpiet about these letters and what they have meant to him. Also ask him to show you these emails. He won’t have it with him, of course, but he’ll gladly go home to fetch it. He keeps it – neatly folded up – in his Bible, next to the sentence he highlighted in Matthew 5:9.

The Return of The Kalahari Biker

cropped-boggel-se-plek1By the time Servaas sputters the old Enfield down Voortrekker Weg, he is tired, bone-sore and as dry as the rocks on Bokkop. He has spent a full day on the motorbike, leaving him with only one thought: his favourite chair in Boggel’s Place. He’s been fantasising about that chair with the comfortable cushion and the easy backrest…

bronsonHe allows the old engine to die while he kicks out the stand. Getting off is a slow and delicate task. And then he adjusts the kudu tail, rams down the hat firmly, and tries to be a  Bronson look-alike when he staggers up the steps to Boggel’s veranda.

Yes, the fluffy hairs above his ears have grown ever so slightly and the moustache has become a bit unruly – but what he lacks in looks, he makes up in attitude. Has he not completed an epic journey, something most men in their seventies wouldn’t even vaguely consider? And has he not had adventures the others can only dream of? No, he is Servaas, The Kalahari Biker, and he’ll make a grand entrance…

Taking a deep breath, he slams open the swing doors with gusto, to see….nothing. The place is empty. Not a soul in sight, not even Vrede, who usually sleeps under the counter on Boggel’s cushion.

“Well, that’s a fine home-coming,” Servaas mutters under his breath, “a real welcome to a weary traveller.” Snorting loudly, he shuffles around the counter, selects the Cactus Jack, and pours himself a generous tot.

“Here’s to a warm reception,” he swings the glass towards the empty room, gulps down the fiery liquid and refills the glass. Then, feeling slightly better, he makes his way to the chair. Oh, for a nice rest…

The chair is not there. It’s gone. No chair…

While he gapes at the empty space, the group in the store room simply can’t contain themselves any longer. Guffawing and sniggering, they emerge to crowd around Servaas.

“Your chair, sir…” Kleinpiet and Vetfaan had hidden the chair behind the building, and now carries it back to its original place.

Smiling sheepishly, Servaas sags down with a contented sigh.

“Come on, Servaas, tell us all? What happened? How was the trip?” They all seem to be talking together.

“Ag, you know, I had some fun, but I’m glad to be home again. Got arrested, spent some time in jail, caught a baby – things like that. Nothing special, you see?”

***

Gertruida says that’s the way one should live: a bit closer to the edge. Comfort zones, she’ll tell you, are the most dangerous of all places: one must avoid these very carefully. Oh, she’ll warn you not to be stupid or anything like that, but still: complacency is the first step on the road of slow self-destruction. Once you settle in a certain groove, you’ve got to ask yourself: what’s next?

Oudoom agrees. He likes to quote Romans 8:15 from the Message: This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”

Servaas isn’t so sure. He’d like to remain in his chair for a while, thank you very much.

But…there was the discussion he had in Nieuwoudtville, where he met that friendly mechanic. What was his name again – that chap at Protea Motors? Thinus, that’s right! He said something about microlight aeroplanes, and how one could build one powered by a motorcycle engine. Now there’s a thought!

Maybe…he thinks, just maybe….

Found in Translation

download (13)“He’s back! It’s Henk Kleingenade. He’s in the bar…” Gertruida went over to Sammie’s to tell Vetfaan, who had been talking to the shop owner about ordering a new battery for his Massey Ferguson.

“Is he…?”

“Yes, The usual. Sits in the corner, drinking coffee and reading that Bible.”

Hendrik Malherbe is a quiet man who farms with goats (he’s got a contract to supply goat’s milk to some baby-food company) on Kleingenade, not far from Grootdrink. His visits to Rolbos are rare; usually he pops in for coffee, before he has a chat with Oudoom. Then he’d get into his old Ford 100, and the townsfolk wouldn’t see him again for extended periods of time. Like so many of the farmers in the district, he lives an isolated life, not bothering others and relying on himself – and Mother Nature – to get by.

His infrequent visits are – of course – ample fuel for discussion. Why does he come here? What is this thing he has for talking to Oudoom? And why – oh why? – does he only drink coffee? Everybody knows Boggel’s coffee tastes like donkey droppings without Amarula, yet there the man sits, sipping the stuff with that faraway look on his suntanned face.

***

May 1986, Somewhere in southern Angola.

The young soldier was frightened. Not scared like the youths of today when they watch Nightmare on Elm Street or a stupid movie about sharks or chainsaw murders…really, really frightened like in soil-yourself-while-praying-scared. There was nothing virtual or unrealistic about his surroundings, no pause-button to push and no way to stop the carnage around him.

His patrol had simple orders: survey the countryside around the little village at the confluence of the Cuzizi and the Lomba Rivers – a hovel with a few goats and chickens and some old people. These civilians were, like so often happens, unfortunate victims of war. Operation Modular was about to start and the South African forces planned to engage the combined forces of FAPLA, FNLA and some Cubans in this region. The object? To strengthen the only allies Pretoria had in Angola – Savimbi’s UNITA.

Although the young soldier’s patrol reconnoitred an outlying fringe of the planned operation, they were nevertheless in confirmed enemy territory and very well aware of the danger. They planned well. With enough food and ammunition, they should have been able to face almost any opposition and slink away into the bush.

Should have.

But they were not to know about the light armoured vehicle  travelling to the same little village with the same object. War is like that: all generals will want to know about the terrain, the roads, the infrastructure. And, after FAPLA’s losses during Operation Iron Fist the previous year, it was only logical for the Cubans and Russians to do their homework after they received news of the South African build-up just south of the border.

The South African patrol entered the village confidently. The latest intel-report stated that the people there supported Savimbi; so after chatting with an old woman they found on the track leading to the village, they were quite happy to follow her there. She’d introduce them to the local chief, enabling them to check and gather more information.

And, while they sat under the branches of a large acacia tree, the armoured vehicle appeared. Who was more surprised? It’s hard to tell. For a few seconds the scene in the village froze. Everybody simply stopped what they were doing, standing and sitting stock-still, hardly remembering to breathe. Then all hell broke loose.

To describe what followed, defy the rules of writing. No amount of words, no matter how cleverly they get strung together and irrespective of the genius of the writer, can paint the picture accurately enough for the reader to live through such carnage. The crashing of the little canon in the turret of the vehicle, the malicious crack of rapid rifle fire, the terrified screams, the awful boom of hand grenades…

The young soldier remembers these, of course. The picture in his mind doesn’t have to rely on words – he was there! And he remembers how a chicken fled in a mad dash to get away and how it simply disappeared in a explosion of feathers and blood when a stray bullet put and end to its escape.

And then, suddenly, it was over. The armoured vehicle stood burning in the clearing. There were bodies. Old ragged bodies. Young uniformed bodies. A dog lay to one side, whimpering, bleeding. A hut billowed smoke.

Silence. The dog died quietly.

The young soldier moved. His hand patted his legs, his body, his neck. Somehow, he seemed to have escaped any damage. Tentatively, carefully, he rolled over. He had to brush the sweat and dust and tears from his eyes to see.

And he saw. A man – a Cuban? – was looking at him from behind an upturned drum. not ten yards away from him. He had a streak of blood across his face. He had a Cuban uniform. He had a rifle. It was pointing at the sky.

“No more shooting, for God’s sake!” The young soldier’s voice cracked like a teenager’s.

The Cuban put down his rifle.

The next ten minutes saw them moving about, checking bodies. At first, the Cuban looked at the Cuban and black soldiers, the South African at his mates. Then they didn’t care any more and checked whoever they found.

“They’re all dead.” The young soldier said, like one would announce the score after losing a rugby match.

The Cuban muttered something that sounded like ‘muerto’.

Later, afterwards, they sat down outside the burning village, enemies united by loss. The smell of death bound them together in a quest for survival. The Afrikaner boy and the Cuban youth and the pungent scent of cordite and smoke and blood sat down next to a thorn tree. They couldn’t  speak to each other for many reasons, their different languages being the least of these.

After a while, the young soldier took the little red Bible the army had given him from his breast pocket. He paged to Psalm 23. To his surprise, the Cuban produced a small black book, glanced at the young soldier’s, and found the same psalm in his own language.

They read the psalm out loud, each in his mother tongue, sentence for sentence, listening to the strange sounds telling the same message.

And then the exchanged Bibles, shook hands, and set off in opposite directions.

***

Oudoom watches as Henk Kleingenade strolls down Voortrekker Weg. He actually enjoys these visits, rare as they are. Henk wants Oudoom to read Psalm 23 again, as usual. And while Oudoom gives life to the letters in that psalm, Henk will stumble over the strange words in the little black Bible, And they’ll do it together, marvelling that you don’t have to know all the words of all the languages to embrace David’s message.

Gert Smit’s Tomatoes (# 2)

oswa_skildery“So,” Gertruida says, “now that we’ve agreed that Gert Smit’s story is one of those you can start anywhere – as long as you get the ending right – we mustn’t forget that Hieronimus Smit was a deeply religious man. The trek of the Afrikaners from the Cape in 1838 (he was born a mere twelve years later, while his parents still travelled from district to district, searching for an ideal place to set up a homestead) was something he grew up with. Hardly an evening went by without a reading from the Old Testament, in which the plight of the Israelites, the harsh conditions in Egypt and the arrival in Canaan were likened to their own circumstances”

***

It was during the writing of the 75-page Bible on the island of St Helena that Hieronimus reminded his fellow prisoners-of-war about the strength of the mustard seed. He said they – the Afrikaners – simply lacked faith, that’s why they were losing the war. The proof he said – while condensing the gospels of Luke, Mark and Matthew – resided in the fact that these three books all refer to the mustard seed. If only, he said, we had faith the size of that seed, we would have chased the English into the sea – which wouldn’t have parted for them, either.

So, his listeners asked, how big is such a seed?

Nobody knew. Obviously a mustard seed must be big, one farmer remarked, because you can’t move a mountain with something small. No, another man said, that’s the point of the parable. It had to be small. But then, the first man countered, they were all right – and Gert Smit was right: their faith was too small to move the English from their land.

That’s when Hieronymus threw his hands in the air, told them all to shut up, and went to the makeshift kitchen. He came back with a tomato seed. This, he said as he held out his hand where a tomato seed nestled between the dirty calluses, is about as big as a mustard seed.

The Afrikaners immediately understood why they were losing the war. As a permanent reminder of their lack of faith (it must be at least as big as a mealie cob, Frans Pretorius said at the time) Hieronymus Smit pasted the tomato seed on the page with the sap of a blue gum tree. He said that’s how things start. Once you’ve got enough faith to compare with that small seed, you can start growing mealies.

***

“One has to say something about that tomato seed right at the beginning,” Gertruida says, “and mention the 75-page Bible with the seed stuck to the page. In a way, that great-great grandfather started something that ended with Gert Smit. And remember, the Great Farini loved tomatoes; so your listeners will immediately connect the trip into the Kalahari, the tomato seed-in-the-Book and the Smit-obstinacy with each other. You see, this way you create a platform for the rest of the story. Then it’s okay to skip to 1976.”

***

The day after young Gert Smit’s sixteenth birthday, he received a letter. It was the first letter he had ever received. It was in a brown envelope, had the Republic’s coat of arms on the back, and the letter was to change his life. It told him that he was now number 76246943 BA, and that he was eligible for conscription to the army on his eighteenth birthday. Failure to comply with further instructions, will result in imprisonment, the letter warned.

Now Gert, as we know, inherited a generous portion of the Smit obstinacy-genes. At that stage he was facing his first court case for possessing dagga, while the docket on his stealing the Dominee’s car (he needed wheels, he explained, to take Lettie to the drive-in), was still being processed. Dominee would most probably have been more forgiving if Gert brought back his vehicle in one piece.

Gertruida says it is okay just to mention Dominee’s car – and not go into the details. She says that in telling a story, one must stick to the main story line.

It is thus understandable that Gert bade his teary mother goodbye and hiked to Voortrekkerhoogte, where he announced  that he refused to wait two more years to be conscripted. At the infantry camp where he arrived, the corporal at the gate didn’t know what to do, This is not unusual in any army you care to mention, neither is the way the corporal handled the matter strange either. He reported it to his sergeant, who approached the lieutenant, who spoke to the captain, who mentioned it to the major.

Major Terblans was a man of particular insight. Look, he said, get rid of the boy. How, the captain asked?

Two drinks later it was decided. If the boy realised this was a grown man’s world, he’d leave all by himself.

R1rifle“Give him a R1 rifle. Take him to the range. Set up a target 400 yards away. Give him ten bullets. Tell him we can’t babysit kids who can’t handle a gun. Then send him home.”

One can’t blame the major, can one? He didn’t know about Magersfontein where old Hieronymus aimed at the kilted soldier. And he didn’t know much about genetics, either.

Gert Smit didn’t know a R1 from a bar of soap – but he (like his forebears) was no stranger to poaching. True: he was used to the old Mauser his mother gave him on his twelfth birthday – the same one that came down the generations with it’s story of Magersfontein. The Mauser was heavy and cumbersome while this new rifle felt like it was made for him. The magazine slotted in easily, the safety was pretty much a standard little switch and the single shot/automatic mode was clearly marked.

“Ready?” The corporal smirked: he’d seen this so often before. These young boys think guns are toys…until they pull the trigger, hear the blast and feel the shock. And then they stare at the target, unable to understand why the bullet went so far astray.

Gert Smit sat down, rested his left elbow on his knee, pulled the stock tight against his shoulder and fired. He fired ten times, with a second between the shots. His first shot hit the target an inch above the black spot in the center, the other nine destroyed that spot.

Terry the Lion at Fort Doppies

Terry the Lion at Fort Doppies

And that, Gertruida says, is how Gert Smit became the youngest sniper in the defence force. Oh, it took time, of course: he had to be trained, learn to read maps, become super fit, be taught about tactics, camouflage and a hundred other things – but in the end, at the age of seventeen, he became the youngest member of a small, elite group of men stationed at Fort Doppies, in the Caprivi.

Gertruida says this is a crucial part in telling Gert Smit’s story. One mustn’t elaborate too much about that army base and its tame lion. People are usually so fascinated by Terry the Lion, that they lose track of the importance of the main story. So she insists on mentioning Terry only in passing, just to spice up the tale a tad.

No, she says, one must rush through this part to get to the serious episodes of the story. Imagine, she says, how it must feel for such a young man to fall into the hands of the enemy?  Surely, she says, that’s more important than romping about with a tame lion.

As usual, Gertruida is right.

Operation ROAR (# 2)

Credit: chepkadog.com

Credit: chepkadog.com

As we all know, Vrede isn’t your run-of-the-mill-usual-town-dog. He is, in canine culture, a man of distinction, a real big spender, good-looking and real refined. There are, of course, humans who believe dogs to be ignorant when it comes to romantic relationships – but Gertruida says (and we know she knows everything) that dogs form deep bonds that can only be ascribed to love. The human-dog association has proven this over the aeons of time and is the most obvious evidence of doggy-love. But a male dog can as easily lose his heart to a femme fatale lady-dog as he can be fond of his human.

It’s not strange then, that Vrede pricks his ears, sniffs the air and sits up suddenly when Daisy escorts Miss Smellie into Boggel’s Place.

“Grrr-aaarf.” Softly, with friendly undertones.

She, being a lady of class, ignores his greeting for a second before answering: “Yeolp, arf arf,” which  means “how do you do” in Labrador.

Good manners demands that certain rituals be observed, so Vrede swaggers over to do the obligatory sniffing routine. He does this with a certain restraint, just to show her he isn’t one of those wham-bam curs who doesn’t know the first thing of respect. And she? She allows him to perform his duties like a fine lady should, before reciprocating the nose-waltz – which Vrede must admit was done with exceptional aplomb.

“Arf aaarf arf-arf.”

Daisy does a little jump with her forefeet. Yes, she’d simply love it if Vrede wanted to take her on a conducted tour of the town

***

The impact Virginia Smellie has on the town is somewhat different to the dogs’ experience. Not only does she seem absolutely ancient; she also sports a wheezy cackle-laugh, and she has a way of hesitating after every third or fourth word when she says something. On the positive side: she absorbs alcohol like a sponge and Boggel has a hard time keeping up. In Rolbos, this ability  always commands a degree of respect.

“Sooo…, Miss Smellie, tell us a bit about yourself?” Despite everything, Gertruida’s curiosity drives her to ask the question.

“Is this part…of the…competition?

“Oh no! We are waiting for the Carte Blanche team to arrive: they’ll only be here tomorrow. The competition will be tomorrow night – so you can relax. Nothing you say tonight will be held against you.”

“I ran a hos-tel.”

The group at the bar crane forward to hear the rest; but Virginia just sits there, apparently satisfied that she has said enough.

“And…?”

“I stopped.”

“Is that all? Nothing else you can say about yourself?”

“Oh. My memory…you see? Well. I danced…when I was…younger.”

It takes forever to tell her story.

***

Virginia was born on a cold winter’s day in Kaokoland, now known as the Kunene Province of Namibia. The date was 28 July 1928, and she was one of the last births in the repatriation of the Thirstland Trekkers – those that survived to come home.

The Thirstland Trek consisted mainly of Afrikaners, but a smattering of Jews and Germans, as well as the Smellie family contributed skills, labour and guts to the trek, They all wanted to get away – as far as possible – from British Colonial rule and the looming Anglo-Boer war in the near future. It was a disastrous decision: many families died during the haphazard crossing of the dry Botswana desert.

392Her father had survived the almost-aimless trek from Transvaal to Angola, arriving at their final destination in 1879. As a baby, he was extremely lucky (and strong) to be alive, which is why he was christened ‘Samson’. Angola proved to be almost everything the trekkers hoped for, and the little community thrived. But, like Paradise and so many other dreams, it didn’t last. Politics changed, South Africa became a Union and in the 1920’s the Dorslandtrekkers were assisted by the Union’s government to trek all the way back to South Africa. It was during this return-trek that Virginia was born.

***

“I was brought up…according to strict…religious guidelines.” Virginia hesitates, not sure how to continue. But – maybe as a result of the Cactus or maybe because she can tell her story to a willing audience – she decides to go on.

***

Samson and his little family settled in Kakamas, on the banks of the Orange River, where he started farming with grapes and peaches. Little Virginia attended school here, where Mr A D Collins taught the children the basics of reading and writing. It was only natural for Mr Collins to ask Samson’s advice on a peach tree growing next to the river – and they both agreed that the fruit was unique and exceptional.

The Kakamas Peach, also called the Collin’s Peach, transformed the canned fruit industry in South Africa. Samson soon had his entire small-holding producing these peaches, ensuring a comfortable life for the Smellies. This relative affluence enabled Samson to build a house in town, buy one of the first Fords in the district…and made Virginia very popular with the children in town.

Her mother was a hard-working, plain woman who lived according to the Old Testament. Her dress, her hair and her house reflected the way she saw life. While Samson wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour, his wife warned against the brazen flaunting of their wealth. Virginia, now a young teenager, observed their arguments and fights, becoming more confused as the years went by. Then World War II happened and Samson Smellie got sent to Egypt.

He never returned.

Just after her eighteenth birthday, Virginia left home for good. Her mother insisted that Samson’s death was a direct result of his pride and money – There is only one God, Virginia. Man has to choose between God and Mammon, and your father chose wrong… 

***

“I’m telling you these…things, because…that’ll help you…understand why…I’m here.” By now the patrons in the bar are getting used to  Virginia’s interrupted manner of speech.

“Go on…” Fanny prompts.

***

She arrived in Cape Town on a windy winter’s day, penniless and feeling a bit lost. First of all, she needed lodgings and a paying job. Both were hard to find.  Then she met Jake.

“He was…good to me.  Said he could…get me a job. And a place to…stay.”

Jake had a little theatre, not far from Green Market Square. As Virginia found out soon enough, the ‘shows’ involved dancing in skimpy clothes while Jake sold liquor on the side. In the conservative years after WW II, this was frowned upon by the church – but that didn’t stop the soldiers, sailors, tinkers and tailors from flocking to the popular venue.

“There was a…man. A friendly…sailor. We had…relations. You know?” She shakes her grey head sadly. “That’s why I’m…blind. My mother…was right. It’s the wages…of my sin.”

Fanny’s Surprise (# 28)

“I thought so.” Gertruida, who will never admit surprise, sits back with a knowing smile. “She had the look.”

“What look?”

“The pregnant look, Boggel. Women who are expecting, look different. And they get moody.”

“I bow, madam, to your superior knowledge.” Boggel knows her well enough not to pry any further. “And now they’re off to see Oudoom? That’d be interesting – her being Catholic and all that.”

“I don’t think Oudoom has ever managed so many problems in such a short time.” She lifts her glass in a mock salute. “But of course, he’s not the one I’m worried about. Servaas can be very narrow-minded sometimes. Even worse – he’s got his black suit on today. It spells trouble.”

***

Servaas, as head elder (and the only one) of the congregation, sits stiffly next to Oudoom. On the other side of the table, Vetfaan and Fanny share worried frowns and anxious looks. They’ve just told Oudoom about the pregnancy, and want to get married as soon as possible.

“Wait a minute.” Servaas has his brows knitted together again – it’s a bad sign. “If you’re pregnant, that means you had….sex? ” He whispers the last word. “Before marriage? Before?”

Fanny feels the muscles in Vetfaans shoulders bunch up.

“Yes, Servaas. We did that thing you can’t even say. It’s a horrible, despicable, loathable act between two people in love.” The veins on his forehead stand out as he speaks. “And you know what? It was one of the holiest moments of my life. Maybe you never loved anybody as much, and I pity you for that. And now, now you’re addressing Fanny and ignoring me – as if she did something wrong. Remember the incident when Jesus came upon the adulterous woman? The one the crowd wanted to kill?

“You’re that same crowd, Servaas. You’re standing there, stone in hand, ready to kill the sinner. Now, let me ask you…what did the crowd say or do to the man involved?” He pauses, breathing hard. “Let me tell you: he doesn’t even get a mention. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not a single word. They were ready to take the woman’s life, while the man probably bragged about his conquest in the nearest bar…”

“Now, Vetfaan, maybe…” Oudoom tries to calm the big man, but he’s not having any of it.

“No, Oudoom, I’m sorry. The Bible is full of stories about inappropriate sexual conduct. We read about so many whores – and then we read about David. The women get slandered, but David was ‘a man of God’. Men get excused, but women get blamed for sinning. And yet, one prophet was told to marry a woman of ill repute – to be a symbol of God’s union with a sinning community. Go read Hosea, Servaas.

“And don’t you ever, ever insinuate that Fanny is a whore, Servaas. By all that’s holy, I swear you’ll regret it.”

Servaas doesn’t want to back down. “Don’t you get riled up, Vetfaan. Right is right. Wrong is wrong, All I’m saying is that there’s no such thing as a small sin. And sex before marriage is a sin. Full stop.”

Vetfaan gets up to tower above the old man. Oudoom wants to intervene again, but a furious glance from Vetfaan makes him sit back. Where’s Mevrou when I need her…?

“You go get your Bible, old man. And then you show me where it says sex before marriage is wrong. The Book teaches us about fidelity, but then we read about Solomon’s vast harem. I’m not going to argue about nonsense, Servaas. I’m telling you to get off your high horse. This,” he points at Fanny, “is the woman I love. She was brought up as a Catholic and we had sex before we got a piece of paper to say we’re committed to each other. If you can’t live with that, then so be it. I’m not asking you to understand or condone anything. I’m telling you we’re getting married, and that’s it. Either Oudoom agrees to confirm our loyalty to each other, or I’ll get a magistrate to do so. Is that clear?”

Fanny tries to keep a straight face, but Vetfaan’s outburst brings back the guilt she feels about the evening with Henry Hartford III. As she bursts out in tears, her raw howl of anguish fills the room. Vetfaan swirls around to try and calm her down.

“No…Fanie…sniff!…Servaas is right. There’s something I must confess…”

***

When she stops talking, nobody says anything for a long time. Vetfaan, ashen-faced, stares at Fanny with the saddest eyes. Servaas sits back in triumph, satisfied that his opinion was vindicated. Oudoom gets up quietly to fetch the bottle of brandy he hides behind the books on the shelf.

“Now listen,” he says, still searching for words, “don’t let us get carried away here. First of all: I don’t care much about the differences we humans like to tag our faith with. Originally there was one God and one faith. Then some people started telling each other their faith – their church – is the right one. Now we have thousands and thousands of churches, faiths and religions. I wonder what God thinks of that. After all – there can only be one God, one Creator. My idea is that it is important to live your faith by showing others kindness, compassion, respect. That’s what God wants – not this plethora of churches vying for the attention of people in search of God. And you know what drives most churches? Not faith, my friends. Money. Power. That’s what. I think God cringes when He sees what we have done with His commandments.

“So, Servaas, her being a Catholic simply means she’s also looking for the answers, just like we are.” Oudoom hands out the glasses with the neat brandy, even serving a very small portion to Fanny.  “Now…as for the evening with Henry? That’s more difficult.”

“At that stage Fanny knew how much Vetfaan loved her. It was wrong. A mistake. But…don’t we all make mistakes? Henry Hartford was a troubled young man. He could manipulate his way into any situation. He used and abused people…and then he saved Fanny’s life…. by sacrificing his own. That tells me a lot – he wanted you, Fanny, to have the future he couldn’t have himself. In giving his life, he blessed the union between you and Vetfaan. I think he had  a moment of clarity and honesty, and he knew…

“So, Vetfaan, if Henry gave his life – tell me – what are you prepared to give?”

“But Dominee…” Servaas is still upset.

“No Servaas, this is not the time to come with your own preconceived ideas. The Bible teaches us about love and forgiveness. To a certain extent, the question I asked Vetfaan is the same question I direct to you. Both of you: are you brave enough to live your faith…or do you read your Bible only to get handy arguments against your fellow men and women? Select verses to feed your sick egos? Don’t, gentlemen, be hypocrites. Love. Forgive. And live in peace. You’re so busy with loving your own little egos, that loving thy neighbour means nothing to you. Quite frankly, I’m disgusted…” The speech leaves the clergyman breathless. Where did that come from?

Servaas sits back suddenly, struck by the enormity of what Oudoom has just said. The Bible is a guide to living a pure life, a kind life – and nobody is so perfect, so holy, to be able to adhere to every letter of the Book. His self-righteousness disappears in a flash.

Fanny dares not look up. Why did she tell them? She should have stayed quiet, and a lot of the anguish would have been spared. Sobbing softly, she storms from the room.

Vetfaan sinks his head into his hands and nearly misses the motions Servaas is making with his hands. Go after her, they tell him, go after her you bloody fool! Now!

Big Question… Listen to the video and then answer the question:

There are two types of crowds. The one is ready to throw stones. The other joins Rod and Amy in singing.  There’s no middle ground;  you can belong to only one of the two…the question is: which?

Boontjies

Onbeskaamd ‘steel’ ek hierdie artikel uit Desember se Bybelgenootskap se ‘Saaier’.  As ek kopiereg oortree het, vra ek omverskoning, maar die storie het my hart geraak – en gedink dit kan gesrus deur ander ook gelees word.

For those of you who prefer English: This old lady walked for six hours to attend the release of the Bible in her native language in Kenya. Without the means to raise the cash to buy a copy, she swapped what she had: a bag of beans. What would the world be if more people felt this way?

Loose translation:

On the 16th of June 2012 the first Kimbu-Kimbere Bible was made available in Kenya. It had been a long and arduous task to do the translation and to make it available to the half-a-million speakers of this local language.

Present was one person who was very aware of this long and difficult road in more ways than one. The 82 year-old Hannah Marigu Muna walked for six hours to attend the occasion. Many of us can’t imagine our parents and grandparents walking considerable distances to attend a church service, but this is precisely what she had done. Not just a few street blocks, mind you, kilometres!

As she had no money to buy a copy of the Bible, she brought along a bag of beans, in the hope that she would somehow be able to swap it for a Bible.

Beans for a Bible. This was her dream, and due to her determination she was able to leave with a precious Book in her own language.

The Word changes many lives, none more so than the life of Hannah Marigu Muna and her people.

IMG

Master and Slave – who serves who?

F Nietzsche

F Nietzsche

Oudoom has spent a long time in preparing his sermon. He knew he was taking a chance, but – on the other hand – he felt he had to make his flock think about life; especially in the times they are living in right now. It’s not about Aparheid, the country’s history, or the fact that even the Americans only opened the polls to…er…um…all people of different descent, who were forcibly taken to their continent in 1966. This made perfect sense to the clergyman. American slavery started to occur 30 years before Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape, so freedom to vote in South Africa happened 30 years after the Americans saw the light. In his mind, that made the Old America just as racist as the Old South Africa was. And, he thought, long before Obama, we had Mandela. Nothing to be ashamed of, then.

“But, Brothers and Sisters, we still live in a world where masters are masters and workers are workers.” Oudoom ignores the puzzled looks and goes on. “The Bible teaches us that masters must respect their workers, and vice versa.

“Now, I’m not sure if this is happening everywhere. In fact, I’m not sure it’s happening at all! We in Rolbos, have to take the lead in this country. We must show the world we are not backward. Here, in our little town, we must light the fire of respect and kindness, so that our light can shine all over the world.” He pauses for dramatic effect and lowers his voice to almost a whisper. “That’s why I invited the Platnees family to the service today.”

The benches creak as the congregation turns to look at the family, all dressed up in their Sunday best. Oudoom explained to the Platnees family beforehand what his sermon was all about, and they’re all smiles.

“The congregation is going to appoint one so-called master to swap places with our beloved brother, the head of the Platnees family,” Stunned silence. “It’s what the BIble teaches us, Brothers. Humility. Respect. Love. You have to die within yourself. A Christian, Brothers, can harbour no pride. It’s only by climbing into someone else’s shoes, that you can really come to understand the life he lives.” Again the pause. “Now, who will be our volunteer, our Joshua or Caleb, to enter the unknown? Who will be brave enough to go where no man has ever gone before? Who … is Christian enough to live according to the rules so clearly set out in the Bible? Come on, Brothers, it’s only for a week…?”

Boggel – remembering the little incident with the lorry driver, Vetfaan and Sersant Dreyer – and their reluctance to help him out in his hour of need – is sitting right behind Vetfaan. As usual, his back doesn’t allow him to sit up straight, so he is already bent forward, halfway towards Vetfaan. It is a simple matter of poking his finger in Vetfaan’s armpit to make the big man jump up in fright.

*

Oudoom had a brotherly talk to the two men, and urged them to act responsibly. But, he said, the project would fail if they didn’t take it seriously. Vetfaan had to move to the shack behind the barn, while Platnees occupied the house on the farm.

“A complete role-reversal, Brothers. And you will come to understand so much better. Complete, remember. No exceptions.”

Vetfaan had no argument against the theologian’s logic. He couldn’t refuse and he didn’t want to cooperate. Platnees, in contrast, couldn’t stop smiling.

*

Vetfaan carries his sleeping bag to the shack, grumbling as he does so. He, as an elder in the church! He, the farmer who worked his fingers to the bone! He, the man with the mortgage on the farm that will keep him tied down for another fifteen years. And he is the one to swap places? It might be Biblical, but it isn’t fair. To make matters worse, Oudoom had them swap names, as well!

“Hey Platnees! Where do you think you’re going with my sleeping bag? Bring it back at once!” Vetfaan doesn’t realise he’s being spoken to, and continues on his way. “ Mister Vetfaan, you’re Platnees now, remember? I’m called Vetfaan for the week.” Platnees’s tone is almost apologetic, but Vetfaan can swear he can detect a certain degree of mirth in the voice.

Gritting his teeth, Vetfaan walks back to Platnees.

“Please Mister Vetfaan, may I borrow your sleeping bag for the week?” Vetfaan grinds out the words.

That’s how it starts. Vetfaan is under church orders, obliged by holy ordinance, to keep to his word. He also knows the customers in Boggel’s Place will have a field day discussing his short temper  – and will be laying bets how long it’ll take for him to explode. Well, he’ll show them…

On Monday, Vetfaan wakes up to the sound of Platnees shouting at him.

“Platnees!!  Where’s my coffee? And remember to stir it before you bring it. And…I’ll have some bacon and eggs this morning. Two eggs. Sunny side up. And don’t burn the bloody toast like you always do. Hurry! You’ve got work to do.”

Vetfaan sinks to his knees, and promises to give up smoking if the good Lord will only make this week disappear. Of course it doesn’t. He dresses quickly and hurries to the kitchen to get the breakfast going.

Platnees reclines against the cushions after smacking his lips. “Now that’s what I call a breakfast, Platnees, you did well.”

Vetfaan is sure Platnees is enjoying the spiel more than he should, bites his tongue and remains quiet.

“Now, today, Platnees, I want you to dig up the garden. You know that patch where you put in the cabbages last year? That spot. Dig it deep, put in some fertiliser and water it. Then I want you to get some seeds form Sammie’s shop, and plant some cabbages. You know how I love cabbage.”

Vetfaan clenches his fists and turns to go.

“Platnees, Platnees, Platnees! How can you leave without taking my breakfast tray? You know you have to do the washing, first…”

Vetfaan, still under the impression of his higher calling, cleans up the kitchen.

“Can I go now, Mister Vetfaan?” He calls from the kitchen while Platnees shaves the stubble from his chin. With his shaver, nogal…

“Yes, Platnees,” Platnees calls back, “I’ll come and check in a second.”

Vetfaan walks out of the kitchen, lights a cigarette and stares at the horison.

“Mister Vetfaan?”

“Yes Platnees?”

“The spade is missing…”

And so it goes on. The garden fork is ‘broken’. The rake is ‘stolen’. The hosepipe to water the garden, doesn’t have the connection to the pipe…

“Platnees,” Platnees is furious by this time, “You have to look after these things. I can’t just buy new things every time something can’t be found. How many times must I tell you that?’

“But why?” Vetfaan has his innocent face on. “Mister Vetfaan can buy new things every time I ask. Don’t you have money, Mister Vetfaan?”

“Look, Platnees, you don’t understand. I owe the bank a whole heap of money for this farm. And the tractor broke again, just the other day. And remember, the diesel costs more every month. Don’t forget about the drought and the falling price of wool. Money doesn’t grow on my back, understand?”

The argument would have gone on forever if Oudoom didn’t arrive at that same moment.

“Ah, Brothers! I can see you are like master and slave, only the slave is the master and the master is the slave – so in the end you are the same. Equals in effort, partners in commerce. The one won’t survive without the other, and the other can’t live with the one. I think that is what Ephesians 6:5 is all about. Well done!”

Vetfaan sighs, grabs a pick, and starts digging up the patch of ground. “Mister Vetfaan,” he reminds Platnees, “you have to go to Upington to talk to the bank manager. You need to drop the interest rate on your bond, otherwise you can’t pay me at the end of the month.”

*

In the annals of Rolbos – if ever they are ever written – the Platnees/Vetfaan week will feature as the seven days that changed a lot of things. Vetfaan came to know the frustrations of a worker on his farm, while Platnees suddenly understood much more about the intricacies of owning and running a farm. Oudoom, it must be said, understood much more of the teachings in the Bible after that week.

“Brothers and Sisters,” he intones the next Sunday, “we are gathered here to witness humility. We have to celebrate brotherly love. We rejoice in forgiveness. The fact that neither elder Vetfaan, nor our esteemed brother Platnees, came to physical blows in the last week, is a testimony of what Christianity is all about.

“However, I want to thank the good Samaritans who took such good care of the worker on Vetfaan’s farm this week. I never knew such generosity in all my time as pastor to this flock. The blankets, tinned food, yea, even the new bed  –  this all now belongs to the Platnees family now, of course.

“But I urge you, kind people, to rather remain silent about the happenings in our congregation this week. The Bible teaches us not to boast; and the rest of the country – nay, the rest of the world – is not ready for this message yet.”

Kleinpiet sighs. He was hoping the project would become a national one. Then he could swap places with President Zuma, and teach him a thing or two about serving the underdogs. But then again – he would have had to take care of the six wives, and the twenty-odd children… No, not a good idea, he thinks, even Biblical truths can’t stretch that far.

*

Nowadays, Vetfaan sits on the back of his pickup when Platnees drives him to town. Oudoom thinks this is a wonderful gesture of humility and understanding, but Vetfaan reckons differently. He says the real hoipolloi always sits in the back of their limousines. It’s a sign of power and achievement.

Gertruida has a different take. She says people have been moulding the message of the Bible to suit their own needs, since the Book was assembled and compiled in the 4th century AD. “Religion encompasses much more than just reading and interpreting the words we have in that Book. It’s what is in your heart that counts.”

Vetfaan is building a proper house, there behind the barn. He wants to be better prepared if Oudoom has another of his bright ideas. He still smiles about the service on the Sunday when Oudoom declared the week a success, and ordered the two of them to assume their normal roles again. When Oudoom said ‘Amen’, Vetfaan rushed to the front door, to wait for Platnees. He wanted to settle a few things then and there. But Platnees, with new insight into Vetfaan’s personality after the week, chose to slip out by the side door. This, Vetfaan says, was a good sign. It shows you, he says; there is a time for everything under the heaven. There is a time to stand still, and a time to run.

And Platnees ran very fast, indeed…

Oudoom on the Warpath

When Oudoom rushes up the steps to the pulpit, everybody knows a storm is brewing. In a place like Rolbos, it usually doesn’t take a genius to figure out who did what wrong, and where, so all eyes swivel to Servaas and Hybie, who sit next to each other at the back. The creaking of the old benches settles down as Oudoom holds up a hand.

“Today, we’re not going to read from the scriptures. I won’t deliver a sermon. We won’t sing.” He pauses and allows the silence to make his congregation uncomfortable. “We will, of course take up an offering, as usual.” Like a good politician, he waits before he goes on.

“Today I want to talk to you about silence.” Again the pause. “Silence can be a sin, did you know that? Remaining silent about a sin, is a sin.” Now his words tumble out in a cascade of fury. He slams his fist down on the dais, and shouts: “All ye who remain silent about sin, are as guilty  as the sinners themselves! Not a single person – no man or woman – had the integrity to complain about the gross misconduct that everybody knew about. You all harboured the snake of Satan, fed it, silenced it, and lived with it.”

Bu now, there is no doubt that he is going on about Servaas, the elder in the church, and his association with Hybie, the widow of Egbert, who fell from the roof on a Sunday because Hybie told him to get up there to fix it. A man of the church, stooping so low…and getting involved

“Now I don’t have to spell out the rules of the church, do I? I don’t have to remind you of the wages of sin. You know right and wrong, Lord knows, I’ve spent my life teaching you about it. You’re about to gamble away your life in eternity and I shall not allow it! You must root out the unjust. You have a holy duty to declare you allegiance. You have no excuse! No excuse!” The fist comes down again. “I’ll give you a week. One week to sort this out. And then we’ll see…”

He stomps out, forgetting to ask somebody to take up the offering.

Outside the church the little congregation gathers in a much confused group. Servaas fled to his home, leaving Hybie to walk alone towards hers.

“Don’t you think he was talking about Boggel’s Place?” Vetfaan tries to make sense out of the sermon that wasn’t. “Remember how he objected to Boggel becoming a deacon?”

“Yes, but that was before we learnt about his regular supply of Port. You’ll recall he later preached about Paul who said a little wine is good for your health. No, there’s no prize for guessing what’s going on in his head. And I, for one, won’t do anything about it. If old Servaas is lucky enough to find a bit of company in his old age, I say we let it be.” Kleinpiet still dreams of the right one to grow old with him. He’s a romantic at heart, despite the rough exterior. “If you guys want to start complaining about things, you go ahead. I’m off to Boggels for a drink – I can sure use one right now.”

Not entirely surprisingly, the rest join him.

The atmosphere in Boggel’s Place is somber as the bent little man serves them all. It is obvious that Oudoom won’t let this one pass without some serious consequences. They all followed the romance between the two old people with a mixture of joy, jealousy and several smirks. Imagine that at that age, one can still become excited about …

“We’ll have to think of something, guys.” Life in Rolbos won’t ever be the same if Oudoom makes a stand of it, and Vetfaan knows it. “Maybe we should appoint a delegation to talk to Oudoom?”

“With him in such a mood? You’ve got to be joking. Nobody will sway him if he acts like he did this morning.” Gertruida – who is an expert on human behaviour (amongst other things) – is using her lecture voice. “No, I think we must rally in support of Servaas and Hybie. Sure, we had a nice gossip about them, but their happiness is at stake. Did you see the look on Hybie’s face when she had to go home alone? Both of them are crushed right now. They need us more than Oudoom needs somebody to come and lay a complaint. If nobody complains, he makes himself guilty of acting upon gossip. There’s something in the Bible about that, as well.”

For the rest of the week, Servaas, Hybie and Oudoom remain confined to their homes. The first two are rarely alone, however. Kleinpiet spends his days playing poker (beans as chips) with Servaas, while they talk about everything – except Hybie. Precilla and Gertruida take turns to visit Hybie, who keeps herself busy with a huge tapestry of an Eland. Nobody visits Oudoom, who can be seen peeking through the drawn curtains of the pastorie.

The talk in Boggel’s Place revolves around the question whether anybody should go to church on Sunday. Kleinpiet says they must all boycott the church, but Gertruida reckons that would be wrong. “We’re angry with Oudoom, not the Lord. Let’s go and hear what he has to say. If he starts up with Servaas and Hybie, we can all walk out and leave him shouting at the rafters. Maybe he’ll get the message then.”

Servaas visited Siena’s grave again on Friday. For once, he gets no answer. No friendly dust devil and no lonely Springbok arrive to give him a clue. He’s on his own, and he knows it.

On Saturday Boggel watches with a certain amount of trepidation as Servaas, dressed in his best, walks down the street towards Hybie’s home. Half-an-hour later he reappears and returns to his own cottage. He has the determined step of a soldier on his way to the front.

The townsfolk arrive at church on the stroke of nine on Sunday. Nobody wanted to be early for the usual chat-and-banter before the service, in case Oudoom confronts them in person. It is easier to keep the pulpit between the clergyman and the flock – it creates a safe distance which they all feel they need right now.

The Oudoom that emerge from the vestry, is a downcast and depressed-looking man. Gone is the fire and brimstone of last week; replaced with a resigned slouch of the shoulders and an almost whispered welcome to the House of the Lord.

“You know,” he starts in a soft and conversational tone, like one would expect a condemned man would use before the sergeant gives the order to fire; it is stupid and hopeless to argue at that point. “I was hoping for more integrity amongst you. After the years of preaching and teaching, I thought you had enough knowledge and wisdom to recognise the Devil.

“If one of you had the guts to complain, I could have acted. If a single voice went up in protest, I could have prevented the agent of Satan to infiltrate our midst. You’ve all seen it, right under your noses, and yet you remained silent!” He is getting angry again, and several people start eying the doors. They may have to leave soon. “But no. I tried telling Sammie you wouldn’t tolerate it. He laughed in my face. I told him you know about gambling, and that you’d complain. He said if a single one of you complained, he’d remove the Lotto machine from his shop…”

Oudoom doesn’t get to finish the sentence. Despite his anger, he sees how suddenly his congregation starts cheering and laughing.  Kleinpiet is on his feet, hugging Gertruida, who doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Vetfaan skips down the aisle to shake Boggel’s hand. And Hybie, who sits a respectable distance from Servaas, suddenly finds her hand clasped in the bony hand of the old man, while he tells her he loves her.

Once the pandemonium dies down, they circulate a petition to ask Sammie – with great respect and a promise to pay their accounts within the next week – if he would mind if they asked him nicely to remove the instrument of Satan from his shop. Let the rest of the country gamble, but the Lotto is not welcome in Rolbos, where Oudoom is right in saying gambling is wrong. The slightly overwhelmed and confused pastor says a quick prayer of thanks before he allows his flock to start to trudge out, to celebrate at Boggel’s.

“The ways of the Lord…”he whispers, shaking his head as they leave. Then he catches a glimpse of Servaas and Hybie, walking hand-in-hand through the big wooden doors that protect the sacred building. A sad smile hovers on his face. It’s such a beautiful  thing if love found it’s way back to Rolbos, he thinks, I’ll have to congratulate them, once I’ve spoken to Sammie tomorrow…