Tag Archives: faith

Happy Wind #8

Riemvasmaak Accommodation, Business & Tourism Portal‘Imagine the scene, guys.’ Gertruida closes her eyes to see the picture in her mind. ‘Oupa’s village was situated near a fountain, not too far from where Riemvasmaak is today. That area, like you know, had been home to the Khomani people for as long as they can remember. Of course, they preferred to be called Riemvasmakers, because of the history. Originally the group moved there from South West Africa, so in reality they weren’t necessarily San people, but more like the Damara lineage.’


Way back, in the early 1900’s, some of the people living near the fountain lived through a period of drought. The only way to feed the group, was to steal some cattle – which was exactly what they did. Unfortunately they were caught and, well, severely reprimanded. In the end they were tied to some rocks with rieme – strips of animal hide, like thongs. The next day, when the rest of the group came looking for the thieves, they only found the thongs. Ever since then, the group was known as the ‘people that were tied by thongs’ – Riemvasmakers.


of BechuanalandFor once, Gertruida wasn’t one hundred percent right. The Riemvasmakers were a diverse group – a minor rainbow nation, comprised of Khomani, Nama, Xhosa, Coloured and Herero people, as well as the Damaras. Although they called themselves Riemvasmakers as a collective term, the individual groups retained their cultures and oral histories. Oupa’s group was a minority. The Khomani once lived in scattered groups in the Northern Cape, South West Africa and Bechuanaland Protectorate. Quite a number of them settled in the Mier area, where their culture was preserved to some degree.

Oupa knew all this, of course. During little CJ’s sojourn amongst Oupa’s people, he heard the stories of the hardships the tribe had lived through. Their escape from German oppression in South West Africa to the Northern Cape was followed by more disruption when the Kalahari Gemsbokpark was established in 1935.

‘It’s the story of Africa,’ Geel translated. ‘People moved, settled, were displaced. Maybe it’s the story of the world, as well. The Vikings and the Romans and the Israelites – I cannot think of a single nation that wasn’t – at some stage or other – involved in a territorial dispute. My father says it was hard to move this way and that. For a while he was angry. But then he had to make a very important decision: was his life in the hands of the past, or of the future? If he chose to allow the past to dominate his future, his future was doomed. Because nobody can change the past, the past is cast in stone. The future, however, is yours to change at will – be it for good or evil’

CJ Jnr  listened and learned. The village took good care of him and took time to teach the boy about nature. Trips to a nearby waterhole became classrooms of the veld. Reading spoor, understanding the habits of birds and other animals and learning about the very delicate balance between nature and human behavior were only a few things CJ gained in the months he spent in the Kalahari.

It changed his life forever.


Meanwhile, Francina was forced to work as a gardener in the prison grounds. While her sentence included the dreaded term of ‘hard labour‘ then head of the prison, Konrad Geldenhuys, took pity on the kind-hearted prisoner. It was also known that CJ Snr was MIA in North Africa.

Francina also knew what had happened to her son. The bush telegraph of messengers, delivery men, cleaners and other workers associated with the prison and the warders, brought weekly updates about the boy in the Kalahari. Francina’s anger still burned white-hot, though. She would never forgive the government for the death of her husband.

When at last she received news that CJ Snr was alive and being treated in England, she was overcome by emotion. A few days later, a letter arrived at the prison. It broke her heart.

To be continued…



There is no excuse. None at all…


Leslie and May Lemke

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

And feel just a tad ashamed about his constant moaning…

When Pointing Religious Fingers becomes Dangerous

Credit: spiegel.de

Credit: spiegel.de

“Look at this,” Gertruida says as she points to her laptop screen. She’s just acquired a dongle – upsetting Servaas very much. However, once the term was explained to him, he did relax a bit. As an astute guardian of the town’s morals, he takes no chances. “They’re saying that Germanwings crash is Germany’s own 9/11.”

She reads the report stating that the copilot was a recent convert to Islam and that he deliberately ploughed into the mountain, killing all on board. “Apparently this man, Andreas Lubitz, locked the captain out of the cockpit and flew the plane to destruction on purpose. If the suggestion that there is a link between his religion and the crash is true, it is a sad day for people of all faiths. I mean, would God command such a thing? No matter what you believe Him to be, surely killing innocent people, including babies, should be regarded as a sin. All life, after all, is sacred.”

“Ja, you’ll get two responses from government agencies in the next few days.” Kleinpiet loves urban legends – he says living in South Africa provides fertile ground for far-fetched ideas to grow. Lately he’s said a lot about how the officials remain silent about the 4000 jobs they’re cutting at PetroSa, the state refinery. He says the most dangerous tactic of any government is to say nothing. “Either they’ll do it the old-fashioned way and blame it on human error. You know: the co-pilot had a blackout, fell asleep or was mentally unstable. There must be a thousand ways to blame the crash on something unforeseen happening to the poor man. And the public would have no choice but to accept the official findings, because who can prove anything else? The only people to know what really happened, were those on board.

“Or, they’ll remain tight-lipped, feeding the public only enough to confuse the situation. Can you imagine the backlash in Germany – and the world – if Islam gets blamed? No government would encourage such instability within its borders.”

Facebook-page-in-support-of-Andreas-Lubitz“That may be true, Kleinpiet. But it also says here that the Islamic State is lauding Lubitz as a hero. That is enough to incite hatred already. I certainly hope it’s not true.”

“Ja,” Oudoom sighs, “beheading people and kidnapping westerners aren’t clever ways to promote the values of faith. If that crash has religious undertones, it could spark a lot of negativism towards Muslims who are sincere in their faith. Religious intolerance is a horrible thing. It’s caused wars in the past.”

“True, Oudoom. Most wars seem to have a religious or ideological basis. The Arab Conquests (632-732), the Crusades (1097-1291), the  Reformation Wars of the 16th century, Hitler’s stance against Jews…the list goes on. But…” and here Gertruida pauses dramatically, “the cause of war isn’t religion. It’s people. Neither the Quran nor the Bible commands us to kill each other. We may differ in our views, but in both doctrines there are more than enough to promote tolerance.

“The problem arises when some individuals start interpreting certain passages in a way to promote their own goals. That’s where the danger lies. It’s a matter of opinion – skewed as it might be – as opposed to religion, which directs us to harmony, not destruction.”

Vetfaan stares dolefully at the counter. “I like our isolation, Gertruida. Ever since you brought that dongle into our lives, we’ve been fed on a diet of bad news and conflict. I don’t want to be reminded of religious fanatics, social unrest and rising petrol prices. I want to talk about the drought and sheep. So, please, would you mind terribly much to keep that laptop at home?”

“Keeping the laptop at home won’t change what’s happening in the world, Vetfaan.” Her tone is soft, almost apologetic. “Events in the Alps do have an influence on us, even if it is indirectly. We can’t play ostrich all our lives.”

Oudoom holds up a hand. “Let’s not argue about the necessity of news – or not. Let’s think about the families and friends of the passengers who boarded that flight. We can’t change the world and neither can our arguments in this bar solve the question of why the plane crashed. But we can sympathise with the people who are directly involved.

“Blaming religion won’t solve the problem. The question to ask ourselves is: why would a normal, rational man be led astray to such an extent that he starts killing others? Why did radicalism seem so preferable? And the answer is simple: because people stopped caring about each other. Personal gain and personal glory are the matches to light that fire. If, in your quest, you happen to step on others, then that’s just too bad.

“So, a finger points back at the rest of humanity, as well. What are we doing to reflect the virtues of a kind and loving religion? Or has the world become so egocentric, so uncaring, that religion is something we fall back to only when we need something? What, my friends, do we do to live our faith?”

They fall silent after that. Copilot Lubitz may have crashed the plane on purpose, but – they realise – he might be only a symptom. If that is true, the disease is far too frightening to contemplate.

To eternity…and back

Credit: marybreath.com

Credit: marybreath.com

Servaas was sweeping the floor of his little cottage when the attack came. At first it was only a dizzy spell, but he soon had to sit down to avoid falling down. Oh, he’s had similar incidents in the past, especially after that new batch of Kleinpiet’s peach brandy was served in Boggel’s Place, but this was more severe, less ignorable and the headache didn’t wait for the next day – it was there immediately.

He tried to think, realising he needed help, but the more he tried to grab at thoughts – any thoughts – the less he was able to formulate a logical response. Yes, he knew he had to call out…or something. Maybe crawl to the door? Bang on the floor? Get something to make a noise with…?

And then the darkness started approaching. This, he could understand. The darkness would come and creep closer and closer until it seeped into every little crack in the floor. Then it would rise, grow bigger and stronger…and then there would be a bright tunnel of light. This was quite all right, he knew. It had to happen sometime, hadn’t it? And now, with this inevitability established, he felt a wave of resigned peace wash over him. Let it go…let it go…

At once he became aware of Siena. Not Siena the way she looked when she was in hospital after her stroke, no…Siena was young and vibrant and…beautiful.  Yes, he remembered that dress – the white, frilly one with the little flowers around the hemline. And oh! The inviting smile! She was just standing there, waiting with a hand raised, waiting for him to ask her to the dance in Sarel Rooidam’s barn on Saturday. He was trembling, fumbling for words…

“You may ask me,” she said with that familiar smile.


He remembered that moment. Amongst the jumble of racing thoughts cruising through his brain right then, that moment froze, focussed, became startlingly clear. He couldn’t back then, neither can he now, bring himself to ask her to accompany him to Sarel’s barn.

“I know it’s hard to take that step, Servaas. So much uncertainty! So much to risk – what if she says ‘no’?. ”

Hey, wait! Siena didn’t say that? Who did? It’s a different, more commanding voice. Servaas tried to look around, but his glasses had fallen off during the dizzy spell. Everything is so…unfocussed. Yet, he could make out the outline of …somebody?

“Yes, Servaas, it’s me. You often wondered, didn’t you? Well, no you know.”

An image of Oudoom’s church now flashed through his mind.

“Oh, I know you tried, Servaas. All of you did, even Oudoom – as you call him. But you know? You guys were only scratching at the surface of Truth. You created a man-made religion with man-made rules.” Did he hear a chuckle in the voice? “It’s funny, actually. I mean: how you pieced together the puzzle and got the completely wrong picture. So, so many wrong pictures, to be exact.”

A thought gelled at last. “Am I dying?”

“Everybody’s dying, Servaas, you just choose to ignore it. Nobody lives forever down here on earth.”

“Will I…will I go to…heaven?”

This time the chuckle is unmistakable. “It depends on whether you want to sing in a choir for eternity, or prefer living in a suburb with pearly gates and golden streets. Then, I’m afraid, the answer is ‘No!’. But, if you wanted to find Peace and Love at last, then I’d say you have a very good chance.”

“But…where am I going now?”

The image faded a little, the silhouette becoming hazy. “To hospital, Servaas. They’re going to make you better.”

The last image Servaas became aware of, is Siena waving a cheery goodbye, her dress held down by a shy hand as the wind threatened to expose a knee. Almost a Marilyn Monroe picture, he’ll recall later.



Precilla wipes the sweaty brow with a damp cloth while she whispers his name over and over again. When did she become so fond of the cantankerous old man? Why, he’s forever being obtuse and garrulous, and yet here she is, next to his bed in Upington’s hospital, feeling so sad she could cry for days.

Doctor Welman – who treated him before – told her old Servaas had had a minor stroke but that nobody could predict the outcome. He may be paralyzed, lose some words or parts of memory, even be blind or deaf – who knows? Only time will tell.

There is the faintest suggestion that the frown on the forehead deepened slightly.



Siena returned for the last time.

“You’re not ready yet, Servaas.” This time the dress was loose, faintly suggestive as a thin strap slipped from her left shoulder. She’s still smiling that inviting smile, her eyes sparkling with some inner humour. “Don’t worry, I’m waiting for you. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Wha…what is this?” He was thoroughly confused.

“Ag, Servaas!” A slight note of exasperation crept into her voice, like it always did when he asked a stupid question. “This is Life, Servaas. Different, but the same. Here, but everywhere.”

“”I don’t understand…”

She sighed, pulled back the strap. “I didn’t either, when I was still trapped in a body. Shame, man! I know it doesn’t make sense right now. But here’s what I can tell you: you’re living only a fraction of the life you have. You know a little bit of something so big, it’ll blow your mind to know more. You must tell Oudoom that.”

He remained silent, digesting what she had said.

“Listen, Servaas: when you get out of hospital, you must really try to be more…religious.”

This time, it was Servaas who rebelled. “Siena, you know me. Head elder. Upholder of morals. I sit with Oudoom every week to work out his sermion….”

She… giggled…? It was hard to tell, for she had hidden her lips behind a demure hand. “Oh, my old sweetheart!” Yes, there was definitely laughter in her voice. “I know you try so hard. But really, Servaas, do you think that is what it’s all about? Religion is so much more than a sermon or the desire to criticize. No, what I’m telling you to do, is to practice compassion and kindness. Religion isn’t about wearing black suits and white ties and sitting in the front pew. You have to live your religion – every hour of every day. Make people experience what you believe in by the way you act, the words you speak, the  smile to the stranger.” She took a step closer, but stopped suddenly as if she realised there was a barrier between them. “Reading the Bible and praying is good, Servaas, and please don’t stop. But, my dear, those are things you do by yourself and for yourself. That’s a teeny bit of what your religion should be all about. Your religion, Servaas, should be a beacon of light to others, not a series of selfish acts to soothe your conscience. It must be apparent to your friends, your family, the cashier at the till, the newspaper vendor on the street corner. It’s not about knowing which verse to quote under the right circumstances, it’s about living compassion.”


“Living…compassion.” Servaas’s eyes flicker open for a second.

“Hey, guys, Servaas is back! He sounds a bit confused, though.” Precilla motions the group at the door to gather around the bed.

“What did you say, Servaas?”


“Yep, he’s confused, alright! Doctor Welman said it might happen.” Vetfaan stares down at the gray-haired patient. “At least he can talk.”

“I can…do…more. I…must…do more.”

“Yeah, yeah, Servaas. One step at a time, will you? Relax now, everything is just dandy.”

“No…it isn’t. It never was…”

When Servaas slips back into the peaceful void, the little crowd around his bed exchange worried glances. Their old friend seems to be so very vague, so extremely abstruse…

They are so very wrong.

(To be continued…)

The Many Faces of Faith

Credit: demotix.com

Credit: demotix.com

“Don’t you wonder sometimes, Oudoom, about faith?”

This startles the old pastor, who puts down his beer slowly while formulating an answer.

“No disrespect, Dominee, but the thought has been bothering me for some time.” Kleinpiet’s furrowed brow speaks volumes. “I mean, over in the Middle East you have two groups of people at each other’s throats about religious differences – and now it’s spreading to the rest of the world. Surely one group must be wrong…but who?”

“And that’s not all. In Christianity there are 41,000 different denominations, each claiming to be representing the true faith. These days it is even popular to start up your own house-church because you differ from the conventional approach to religious matters.” Vetfaan joins the conversation. He ia standing up, of course, after his recent altercation with the surprised caracal. “And then there are other beliefs, too, complicating the situation even further.”

“Well, faith is an universal thing.” Abstaining from the subject is unthinkable for Gertruida, who has specific opinions about everything. “As far as history goes back, mankind has always revered some form of deity or other. It’s as if we were wired to accept the concept of a Higher Being, but only given enough data to process the basic idea – and not the full knowledge of what, exactly, happens after death. So people have solved the problem by falling back on belief. I believe this…you believe that, that sort of thing. The Bible contains the writings of men who struggled to describe heaven, for instance. Ezekiel tried to convey the glory of heaven by telling us about wheels of fire; while St John was more practical and gave us a vision of earthly riches in Paradise. I understand Kleinpiet’s confusion, but my only point of reference remains the Bible.”

“Faith,” Oudoom says gravely, “is one of the most complicated and yet simple things we have to deal with in this life. Complicated, because we tend to dissect our beliefs to the point where we simply cannot answer the questions. Simple, because we’re not supposed to.

“You see: Gertruida is right – as usual. We can, indeed, grasp the basics of who and what God is. He’s the Creator, the Planner, the Final Judge. All religions – in varying ways and different forms – agree on that. There’s no culture on earth that doesn’t have a story of how it all began – and, not surprisingly, these stories overlap to a remarkable degree. Everybody agrees that everything was created by a Superior Being. Equally, it is common consensus that there are such concepts of Good and Evil, Sin and Salvation.

“But after that, we as humans start complicating matters by wanting to explain everything. We want to analyze the Bible, God, our faith…and explain what happens to our souls once we die. We even imagine we know what it takes to be accepted in Heaven, or rejected in Hell. Fundamental extremists hold on to the most amazing ideas concerning this, and become fanatic about their absolute impression of what they are destined or commanded to do in this world. And don’t think I’m talking about any specific religion or faith here – it’s as true for us as Christians as it is for others. Remember the mass suicide at Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Guyana in 1978?

“So.” Oudoom sits back, satisfied that he’s made his point. “The bottom line of faith – by whatever name you call it – is Love. Loveless faith is an oxymoron. If the religion you follow isn’t characterised by Love and Kindness, I’m afraid that you are on the wrong track. We, as Christians, believe that Jesus was – or is – the epitome of loving kindness. Thats why we preach forgiveness. And moreover, our religion dictates that every word, every action, should be weighed against these two things – and that the way we interact with others, should leave reflect our faith. That’s how, in the end, our lives will be judged.

“Actually, this isn’t just about faith. It’s about common sense. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out at all: if your life is characterised by your kindness towards your fellow man, surely that leads to harmony. And harmony is the basis of Love, is it not? Harmony is the flipside of conflict, as much as Love is the opposite of hate.”

“But then, Oudoom, it means that killing each other in the name of religion is wrong? I mean, what do I do if a heathen threatens to destroy my way of life?”

“Good question. But let me ask you another. Is it right to defend your faith?”

“Gee, of course!” Kleinpiet slams down a fist. “Nobody has the right to attack me because I believe in a certain way!”

“Read your Bible, Kleinpiet. And then think about the message of Love. Take a step down from your high perch and consider why you might be a target because of your faith. If you lived a kind and forgiving life, caring for your neighbour and looking after your own – would that not avoid conflict? Does living in harmony not tell the world who you are and what you believe in?”

“That’s easy to say, Dominee.” The flush in Kleinpiet’s neck spreads to his cheeks. “But that’s all just theory. Look at what’s happening in the world? How do we forgive those that trespass against us if these trespasses involve murder and rape and wanton aggression?”

Oudoom shakes his head. “That’s why I agree with Gertruida. We don’t know everything…but we do know right from wrong. The fact that others – according to our belief – are doing wrong, doesn’t justify us going down the wrong path as well. So…we forgive. Like Jesus did. The judgment isn’t our concern. Not at all. The Bible tells us to try to talk to such people, and if we are unsuccessful, to avoid them.”

“It’s an ageless conundrum, Oudoom.” Gertruida’s voice is soft, making her seem particularly vulnerable. “The world is threatened by Evil, and only through Faith will we find everlasting joy.”

“But that’s my question: which faith? Everybody can’t be right?”

“True, Kleinpiet, But look at your faith carefully. Is it Kind? Is it Loving? I’m not talking about Mills and Boon love here – I’m talking about Love with a capital ‘L‘.  Are you a believer in harmony? Do you acknowledge God? If you can answer affirmatively, you are – at least – on the right track.”

“But that means the world is filled with men and women who aren’t.”

“Indeed, my friend. That’s the tragic reality – has been like that since the beginning of time, will be thus until the end, unless you show people another way. Your job isn’t to convert the world to the one true faith – it’s to show the world what it means to be humble and kind. You can be a president or a king or even a nobody – but if you don’t start with these simple things, the world will never change.”


“No buts, Kleinpiet. The churches of the world have made faith wear many coats, show many faces. That’s wrong. Stick to the basics, the things we understand, the things we can do. The rest like they say, will be history.”

It’s one of those discussions that’ll never reach a satisfactory conclusion. For everything Oudoom says, Kleinpiet and the others will have an answer and even more questions. In the end, Gertruida holds up a tired hand, motioning them all to sit down. “Let’s just agree on this: in your heart of hearts you know what you believe. We believe in Christian way of life – and this means we have a responsibility to live our faith. It implies many things, some of which we find particularly hard to do. But you know what? When the final whistle blows, God isn’t going to ask us to present Him with a scoreboard. He’s going to ask us if we played the game properly, Faith isn’t about winning, It’s about loving. You’re asking the wrong question, Kleinpiet. The question is: does faith prod you towards Love or not? That, my friend, is the only answer you should concern yourself with.”

Surprisingly, her statement is met with worried stares.

When the Black Dog Gets You

_65927423_cingulumcloseupx1Gertruida, as we all realise, knows everything. She is opinionated, passionate about the truth, and seldom hesitates to respond to the most impossible situations. This, Servaas says, is both a blessing and a curse, and maybe he’s right. After all, when Gertruida started staying at home while they all partied at Boggel’s Place, they all knew something was terribly wrong. And later, after Precilla said that  she had seen Gertruida walking up and down Voortrekker Weg at 3 am (she was closing the window because of the cold), it was Oudoom who remarked about the sleep disturbances you get with depression.

Servaas, of course, blames himself. Before he went on his memorable road trip, is had been he, Servaas, who wore black and was cynical about everything. At that time it didn’t bother him in the least that the townsfolk joked about his morose nature – in fact, he rather relished the attention he received as a result of his dark moods and comments. But now, after enjoying the time on the old Enfield so much – and having met such wonderful people – Servaas simply loves being called The Kalahari Biker. Men of all ages admit (some under duress) to a strange phenomenon: if you manage to astound your peers, you get a weird sensation of superiority. It’s a primitive, childish reaction, yet this is exactly the stupid reason why men climb mountains, participate in drinking competitions or go to parliament.

And who can deny that the Servaas who came back from that trip, is a completely changed man? The bushy eyebrows no longer gather in disapproval, the kudu-ponytail bobs up and down when he laughs, and the dark suit seems to be a thing of the past. Oudoom says the change is a miracle, while Mevrou occasionally pokes fun at the much shorter church council meetings – Servaas seems completely happy with the sermons these days. In short: the cantankerous old man has become the life and soul of the parties in Boggel’s Place.

And this new-found happiness has had a devastating effect on Gertruida. Somehow she seemed to have found solace in his depressed state in the past – as if his dark moods were confirmation that somebody else in town was worse off than she was. With both of them being single, she could always point out that Servaas was more lonely, more obtuse and more depressed. But now, with Servaas regaling them with stories of his adventures, Gertruida has had to face the fact that her life is empty and dull. Sure, she has this vast knowledge and can contribute to any intellectual discussion…but where is the fun, the adventure, the joy? Servaas has broken out of the prison of self-pity and solitude, explored the wide world out there, and came back as a new man – while she, Gertruida, still has to read the National Geographic to kill her many lonely hours.


“We have to do something,” Vetfaan says when Oudoom sits down with a contented sigh. It’s Monday and he’s already worked out the next Sunday’s sermon. Servaas actually suggested the theme of ‘Joy’, and supplied several verses which turned out to be most helpful.

“About Gertruida?”

“Yes, Dominee. She doesn’t join us here anymore, rarely leaves her house and refuses to answer the doorbell. Precilla tried to talk to her, but Gertruida slammed the door in her face.”

Oudoom sits back, laces his fingers behind his head and stares at the ceiling.

“I think,” he says after Boggel pushed a beer over the counter, “that she’s depressed because we’re too happy. And, because she knows everything, she realises the problem isn’t the fun we’re having – but the lack thereof in her own life.” Quite accurately, the clergyman sums up that the change in Servaas’s demeanour precipitated the plunge in Gertruida’s mood.

“Well, I like Servaas the way he is now. Wouldn’t change it for anything.” Vetfaan shrugs. “But that doesn’t solve the problem with Gertruida…”

“No, it doesn’t. We’re really stuck, aren’t we? There isn’t any eligible bachelor in the district we can ask to help, either. And she doesn’t come to church anymore, so my sermon on Joy isn’t going to be useful either.”

hjarna3Boggel shakes his head. “We will just have to be inventive, that’s all. The latest National Geographic has an article on Professor van Wedeen, a neuroscientist working in Massachusetts. It’s fascinating. They use a scanner of sorts, a huge thing, that uses enough electricity to power a submarine. They are trying to explain how the brain works, see? Now, if we can get Gertruida to talk to him, it’ll boost her morale, don’t you think?”

They gape at him.

“Sure, it won’t be easy…but it’s worth a try.”

“Are you suggesting that we phone the professor in America and ask him to be interviewed by a woman – not even a journalist – from a place that’s not even on Google Maps? What are the chances…” Vetfaan purses his lips – Boggel can be so naive…

“Well, what about a journalist phoning her for an opinion?” Clearly desperate to find an answer, Boggel shrugs as he spreads his arms wide. “What can we lose?”

It takes three rounds of peach brandies to hatch the plan. Since they know no journalists, they decide to manufacture one. If they can get Sammie to talk with two ping-pong balls stuck inside his cheeks…? Of course! Great idea…! (The logic behind this idea will confound even the esteemed professor van Wedeen, but we all know how convincing peach brandy can be after the second tot.)


“Hello (mumble-mumble-click), is that Gertruida?’

“Yes, what do you want? I’m busy.”

“Ghood. (mumble). Ah’m phoning in connection (mumble-click) with that ahrticle about van Wedeen. Ah, mmm, the phrofessoh. We nheed infohmation abaht his wohk (mumble) foh ahn ahrticle (click) foh tha Uhpingthon Phost.”

The group in the bar wait with bated breath. Will she take the bait? A long silence follows.

“Juhst youhr thoughts. (mumble-click-mumble). Youh’re the ohnly pehson who chan hhelp ush.”

For a moment they thought they had her. Then…

“Oh, for Pete’s sake! Sammie? Take your bloody balls out of your mouth and speak properly. Goodbye!”


Prof van Wedeen is most probably the world’s best researcher into the working of the human brain. Using the powerful scanner, he has mapped out the pathways thoughts travel and has formulated new theories about brain function. For this he deserves praise.

But in Rolbos – in the humble bar run by a hunchback – they’ve discovered the cure for depression. It’s not anything new, mind you. It’s called laughter.

When Gertruida stormed into Boggel’s Place after the phone call, she was spoiling for a fight. She was met by such sheepish looks and suppressed giggles, that she considered turning around and leaving the silly group to continue the party.

But then she saw Sammie, who couldn’t get the ping-pong balls out of his cheeks; looking for all the world like an overgrown chipmunk who had just robbed a chestnut warehouse.

And she found – much to her own surprise – the corners of her lips moving upward.

“If you can whistle, I’ll forgive you,” she said, forcing a straight face.”Otherwise I’ll have to kill you.”


Isn’t it strange that a single event can jeopardise a life-long friendship? Or, on the other hand, how a single giggle can defuse the most depressing situation? Still, Servaas isn’t taking any chances. He’s taken to wearing his black suit again, and tucks the kudu-tail under his hat when Gertruida is near. He’d rather fake a black mood than face Gertruida’s black dog. Still, although he tries to hide his new-found sense of adventure, he can’t disguise the glint in his eye.

Oudoom did give his sermon on Joy that Sunday – a powerful message of faith if ever there was one – and concluded that joy is a most fragile commodity.

“Joy, brothers and sisters, is a state of mind. It is the source of contentment, of acceptance, of the will to go on. Without it, faith – even life or love – cannot survive. But…,” and here he paused dramatically, “it needs to be nourished. And how do we do that? I’ll tell you.

“Joy lies not in what we have experienced in the past – although we might cherish some wonderful memories – but it is in the realisation that the future is what we are destined for. We nourish joy by hope. Without hope, there can be no joy.

“So, when we find that joy has left the building, we must look at what we’ve let in.” He ticked off several points at this stage. “Dispair. Self-image. Taking ourselves too seriously. Losing faith. And what are these things, my brothers and sisters? They are self-made – they are produced up here, in our own minds.” He tapped the side of his head. “If you are not the master of your own thoughts, you will be a slave to your own self-destruction.”

Boggel reckons Oudoom can teach that professor something, but that could be the peach brandy talking. In the meantime, he keeps two ping-pong balls under the counter. He says it’s a better antidepressant than Prozac.

The Conversion

blkfrock“Hallelujah, Bothers and Sisters. Salvation – at last – reaches your fine town. Praises be, look, I am here!”

The group at the bar swivel round as one, to stare open-mouthed at the figure in the doorway. One cannot blame them for doing so. The man with the brilliant smile is dressed in a black coat with tails, a white shirt and tie, and a top hat. In his left hand he holds a silver-topped cane, while his right hand clutches a black book of considerable size.

“Well,howdydoody to you, too, Come on in, have a drink.” Boggel recovers first, despite the feeling of unease coursing through his mind. “I’m Boggel,” he says, extending his hand.

“Jeremiah Terblanche. My friends call me Bull. You know, Jeremiah was a bullfrog?  Well, the Bull part stuck. And no, my Brother, I shall not touch alcohol. It’s a sin, didn’t you now? No, not for me! If you have nothing else, I’d just settle down and get on with your conversion. You fine people need worry no more. From now on, this moment, you will be able to pass the threshold of ignorance. Wisdom, my friends…wisdom is at hand!”

“My word….” Gertruida whispers with that voice she uses when she is surprised. Like we all know, that doesn’t happen frequently – but today she is.

“Yes my dear Sister. The Word! I have come with it. No longer will you wonder about salvation! I have come to set you free. Aren’t you the luckiest town in the Kalahari? Wow!” The man bangs his cane on the floor, smile spreading even wider. “Come now, gather around, let me be your path to enlightenment!”

“Er…Mister Terblanche…Jeremiah…what denomination do you represent?” As elder in Oudoom’s church, Servaas feels he has the responsibility to protect the town against false prophets, Despite the man’s obvious zeal for his calling, one must be careful about these things.

“Oh no, Brother, don’t start with that! Why do people insist on denominations? This church, that church! And why? Because of Mammon, my friends. It’s the money! Church buildings cost money. Preachers must be paid. So there! Without a building or a salary, I am free to preach anywhere I like, and nobody has to pay a cent! So call me non-denominational and let’s get on with it.””

“No church? No salary? Then you are going to ask for donations.” Vetfaan doesn’t like the man or his demeanour. “Not from me, thank you. If you feel you must, then deliver your message and get on with it. We have serious issues to discuss. The drought, for instance. And my tractor. It won’t start again. ”

The man takes a deep breath. obviously fighting to keep the smile in place.

“An unbeliever! You see, Brothers and Sisters, that’s why you need me. One bad apple and the whole town is doomed….”

He is about to continue, but Kleinpiet interrupts him.

“Now wait a second, Mister! I’ll have you know that Vetfaan is a loyal supporter of the church. He donates a sheep to the bazaar every year and even helped when we fixed the roof of the vestry last summer. Call him a bad apple again, and I’ll make you eat your silly coat.”

Later, they’ll all agree that something strange happened to the man when Kleinpiet addressed him in such a rude manner. His eyes darted this way and that and for the first time they noticed the trembling lips when he forced his smile even wider. At the time, everyone in the bar thought he or she was mistaken, but when they discussed it afterwards, they all mentioned the phenomenon.

Jeremiah draws himself up to stand ramrod straight, takes a deep breath, and soldiers on. “The problem,” he whispers, “is the blindness that cloaks the world. Giving sheep won’t get you to heaven. Salvation isn’t bought by hammering nails into a rusty roof. No sir! Salvation comes from here.” He taps his chest with the black book. “Without it, you’re lost.”

“…And salvation is in here, as well.” Gertruida brings a finger up to her head. “Salvation, Mister Terblanche, involves the realisation that one must be careful with your thoughts and your words. Salvation isn’t something you give – it’s something you receive. Yes, preachers must preach and the Word is a guide…but in the end it’s a gift we receive, not something you have the power to dish out to people you know nothing about. Salvation, my friend, is the whisper directing our actions; not the shout that leads us astray.”

By now, Jeremiah Terblanche seems a bit deflated. “But,” he tries once more, “I only want to help…”

“You can help by telling us a bit more about yourself, sir.” For some reason, Precilla feels sorry for the man. Why would he barge in like this? What drives him?

“Listen, Jeremiah, come here and sit down. Let’s top the charade. Rolbos is a quiet little town and we love to hear people’s stories.” Gertruida can be extremely persuasive when she sets her mind to it. She pats an empty chair next to her. “Come on, Boggel, give him a lemonade.”

And so – in bits and pieces – they hear the sad tale of Jeremiah ‘Bull’ Terblanche. After losing his job as a clerk in Prieska’s co-op, he found out that able-bodied, middle-aged, white men have just about a zero chance of finding employment is South Africa. He tried everywhere, even to the point of applying for the job as a cleaner at the Oasis Casino. Eventually, broke and disheartened, he made a decision.

“Look, there’s one thing we all worry about: what happens after this life is over? We can fool around with words, but nobody really knows what happens next. So that was my ticket to escape my dilemma. If I could tell people to live right and be saved, I’m not harming anybody, am I?  And yes,” here he hangs his head, “I do ask for donations. The bigger the donation, the more I promise. Who’s to know whether I’m right or wrong? Anyway, it sure beats knocking on doors to ask for work you know you won’t get. In a way, I’m living my faith, see?” He’s almost pleading now.

“No, you’re not.” Gertruida now uses a soothing voice to calm the man down. “Faith isn’t always something you preach, but it’s always something you do. The old saying is true: actions convey a much more convincing message than any sermon ever preached.”

“And humility gets that message across, my friend, not arrogance.” Servaas has to get in his two cent’s worth. “Religion isn’t a fancy coat or a frock. Faith doesn’t wear a white tie and a top hat. Faith’s hands, my friend, are dirty and calloused. Those hands work harder than the mouth. That’s when you know it’s genuine.”

“That means I’m finished. Completely. No work, no faith, no nothing. If I can’t even get simple people in a little village to listen to me, I have nothing left. Might as well die…”

“And then?” Servaas downs his beer. “What awaits you on the other side? And how do you think your reception will be once you get there?”

Jeremiah doesn’t answer. Without his top hat, he seems to be much smaller, almost shrunken, as he sits with his head in his hands.

And now, right at this moment, the rumbling of Kalahari Vervoer’s lorry rattles the windows of Boggel’s Place when it trundles down Voortrekker Weg, A few minutes later, the driver enters the quiet little bar to stare at the group at the counter.

“Jeremiah? Bull? Is it really you? Man, I’ve been looking all over for you!  Fists Fourie, who owns Kalahari Vervoer, has been looking all over for you. He needs somebody to do his bookkeeping after Miss Joubert had to leave so suddenly. You remember her? We used to call her Wigglebottom, because…” He stops in mid-sentence, blushes, and rushes forward to greet his friend. “Anyway, if you’ve got nothing to do, I’ll give you a lift to Upington.”


It’s funny to take step back from Life every so often to look and really see the way we are directed to live our faith. Sometimes you have to reach rock bottom to realise what faith means and how precious it is.

Take Jeremiah, for instance. He got the work as a clerk for Mister Fourie and is currently doing a correspondence course in theology. This, of course, doesn’t surprise the patrons in Boggel’s Place. What really impressed them was the rain the day after Jeremiah took that lift to Upington. That, and the way Vetfaan’s tractor started with the first try the next day.

Servaas says they should read something in that.

They’re still talking about it…

The Miracle

hare-head01plFaith and politics, Gertruida will tell you, have a lot in common. A lot of what we believe are based on promises that we choose to believe. The action following the promise, however, is a matter of personal interpretation.

Take for instance – and here Gertruida will smile knowingly – the case of Ma Roberts’ rabbits. If ever there was a club for non-believers, then Ma would have been the founding member and life president. And it wasn’t like Oudoom didn’t try either. Back then, the townsfolk would observe a full minute’s worth of silence – staring longingly at the glasses in front of them – every Wednesday afternoon as Oudoom’s old Ford huffed its way down Voortrekker Weg to pay a visit to this formidable woman.

Oudoom used to say Ma Roberts was his equivalent of Jonah’s whale, especially placed on earth to test his faith, his conviction and his commitment. To his credit: it must be said that he never wavered. Regular as clockwork, he visited the huge lady with the short temper – every Wednesday afternoon. He took his Bible along, of course; but he was careful not to overplay his hand. With Ma you had to be careful…extremely careful. She had a way of clamming up, growing red in the face while her eyes bulged ominously, before telling you what (exactly) you could go and do with yourself. This was the same for the occasional traders that visited her farm, the campaigning politicians, and poor Oudoom. He said she can move surprisingly fast, just like a hippo – which we all know is the animal responsible for most killings in Africa.

And, Gertruida will add, one must not forget that Ma was a progressive farmer. Quite successful too, if one considers her methods. She started off with chickens, which she supplied to the fried-chicken franchise in Grootdrink. It is rumoured that she made quite a fortune with this endeavour; which one can understand if you take into consideration that after two months, her neighbours didn’t have a single chicken left. These neighbours remembered what happened to Japie Mulder, the chap who had a dream of representing the district for the ANC in the town council. Oh, he can walk quite well again, even without the crutches (for short distances).  But still, one thinks about such an incident quite deeply before accusing Ma Roberts of stealing a simple thing like a chicken.

With her supply of chickens gone, Ma Roberts contemplated the prospect of a diminishing cash flow, which would have meant reducing her intake of peach brandy. That’s when she took up rabbit farming. Actually, it wasn’t rabbits she kept in that cage behind her house: they were hares. But skin a hare, marinate it ever so slightly in lemon juice, and not even an expert will tell the difference.

Gertruida says one mustn’t confuse hares with rabbits. Rabbits have a soft, succulent flesh – which is why the Belgian restaurant in Kimberley was keen to procure the real thing. But hares? They’re a lot tougher than rabbits. They occur naturally in the Kalahari, fend for themselves within an hour after birth, and do not need the fancy feeding rabbits do. As an aside, Gertruida will remind you that a baby rabbit is called kittens, while the young of hares (which are hairy at birth) are called leverets. This she says just to impress you – not because it has anything to do with The Miracle.

So Ma sent out her labourers to catch the hares on her farm (for a start) and after a week she had eight of the furry animals living in her old chicken coop. After a month, she had twenty-four, due to the original hare’s natural…er…social interaction.

And during this time, Oudoom redoubled his efforts to get Ma Roberts to reconsider her faithless life. He told her about Hope, Love and Mercy. Ma wouldn’t listen, telling him that’s why the country is in such a terrible state. Oudoom changed tack and told her about Jesus – His life, His teachings, and His crucifixion.

Now, Gertruida adds happily, it’s time to talk about Herman du Preez, the chickenless neighbour. Herman was a sickly old man, patiently waiting for the end of his days on the dying farm where the drought (and Ma Roberts) finally stole his hope of a better life on earth. Realising The End was slowly creeping up on him, he took to reading the Bible on his stoep every day, while the only other living thing on his farm – Butch the sheep dog – rested at his feet. Oudoom visited him occasionally to assure him the Paradise was real, and yes, the streets were paved with gold, indeed. This made the old man very happy.

That is, until the day he realised Butch was missing. He closed the Bible, noting the chapter in the book of Job he was studying, and shuffled to the back of the house to look for his faithful friend.

And he found Butch.

With a hare in his jaws.

The hare was dead.

And old Herman looked up at the sky and told the Lord he still had to finish Job. And the New Testament, old Herman prayed earnestly, needed another going-through as well. Surely he can finish that before he closed his eyes for the last time? He reminded his Maker that Ma was a rather deadly opponent, just look what happened to Japie Mulder?

So he sat down, took the dead body from the guilty-looking Butch, and he thought about his problem deeply. If Ma knew his dog had taken one of her rabbits…er, hares…

Herman washed the little body in the basin in his kitchen. Then he dried the dead hare, fluffing up the fur as well as he could. He remembered his long-departed wife’s meagre collection of cosmetics, fished out the almost-dry lipstick and added colour to the lips and a touch of rouge to the cheeks. The brush came in handy, too.

That night, when all the Kalahari slept peacefully, old Herman walked all the way over to Ma Roberts’ farm. Being old and frail, this took longer than he expected, but he made it an hour or so before dawn. He found the wooden gate to the chicken coop, opened the latch, and quietly deposited the small corpse next to the one sleeping hare, who didn’t seem to mind too much.

Then he started shuffling back home.

That Sunday he attended church as usual and was completely surprised to see Ma Roberts in the front pew. Oudoom smiled broadly and halfway through the service he said one of the members of the congregation had something to say.

Ma Roberts hoisted her hefty frame upright, turned around and said she was happy to announce that she’d been wrong all along.

“Look,” she said, “Oudoom has been badgering me about faith for a long time now. As you all know, I thought it was just to soothe his own conscience. But…” and here the whole district saw Ma Roberts falter for the first time in her life, “I was wrong.”

She took a deep breath.

“Oudoom told me about the Resurrection last Wednesday. I listened with one ear. He asked if he could pray for me. I said yes because I wanted his sorry ass off my property.” She ignored the giggles. “Well, he prayed for a sign. Any sign, he said, to make me see the Truth.”

Another deep breath…

“Then one of my rabbits – er… hares – died and I buried it in the veld. It was dead. Really dead.

“And you know what happened? That bloody hare rose from the dead, returned to the coop and looked more alive than I’ve ever seen any hare look like – in all my life.”


Old Herman died the following month – peacefully in his sleep. When Koos Kadawer laid him out, he was amazed. Corpses, in his experienced opinion, have slack faces. Mostly expressionless. Unless they died of fright or after being struck by lightning, like Electric Eddie, the best weather forecaster the district ever had.

Not so with old Herman. He looked contented. Happy. His lips curled upwards in death, like a smile.

Or like somebody who knows a delicious secret he doesn’t want to share.

The Fable of a Perfect Life

IMG_0419There once was created a Perfect Life. It was shiny, new and the envy of all the other Lives.

“Look at that!” Jealousy was angry. “That’s not fair. Why must I be dull and uninteresting? This is discrimination at its worst.”

“Oh, shut your trap!” Anger flashed a furious look at Jealousy. “All you do all day long, is to complain when you’re not the center of attention. Complain, complain, complain! I hate it!”

“I can’t take it any more.” This time Depression joined the group. Rarely seen in public, Depression usually hides in the shadows – but today is different. Perfect Life has brought on the worst in it. “Look at that: a Perfect life! I’ve always wanted to be like that, now it only serves to remind me how horrible I am.”

Perfect Life – being perfect – tried to calm things down. “You all could be like me, you know? It’s simple, really. All you have to do is to let go of your pasts. Of course, you need Hope. What have you done with Hope?”

“Oh that one? Huh! Let me tell you.”  Faith stood a little way off, blinking away tears. “Hope was my best friend. But then these Lives stopped believing and they lost me. In fact, they chased me away, saying I’m not welcome anymore. I left…and Hope followed me. Somewhere along the way, Hope got lost. It must still be out there, somewhere.” Faith swept a hand out to the desert, where the endless dunes stretched to the horizon.

“But why, Faith? Why would they chase you away?” Perfect Life – although perfect – could not understand such madness.

“It started when Love died. It was so sad. You see, Anger and Jealousy got everybody together and told them about Love. They said Love was the reason why there is so much Pain.” This time, Faith pointed at the pitiful figure of Pain, curled up in the sand. It was writhing in agony. “In fact, what you see here, is just one, single Pain. There are many more of them living amongst the Lives. Some are, indeed, the result of Love, but there are many other causes. Love just got blamed for most of them.”

“And so…?” Perfect Life still didn’t understand.

“The three of us left. Love, Hope and me.Hope got lost. Love died. And, without my two friends, I am left to struggle along alone.”

“But I believe in you. And Love. And Hope… Can’t we team up against the rest, and make the world a better place?”

“Oh, Perfect Life, you are such an idealist! I’d love it if we tried…but it won’t work. Anger and Jealousy are formidable enemies by themselves, but look who are supporting them.”

And Perfect Life looked, and saw Gossip and Greed and Hate and Ego and Deceit standing behind Anger and Jealousy. And Perfect Life knew – without having to ask – the Truth had been the first to leave, because the Lives could not stand being honest with themselves any longer.

Perfect Life – being perfect – realised it would never survive amongst the Lives,  It took Faith by the hand and walked away, choosing to believe there was a better Life in the desert than amongst the Lives.

Since then, the only way to find Perfect Life, is to follow Faith.

And we know, don’t we? If we choose to live amongst the unhappy Lives, we’ll never find Perfect Life. That’s why the start of a new year is so daunting: we’ve lost too many important bits of our Lives. Now we accept Mediocrity as the only Perfect Life available to us.

If only we had Faith. Or Hope. Or Love… But those are reserved for Perfect Lives, aren’t they? For those more fortunate than us? So settle back, stop trying, and wait for the Other Lives to complete their work.

Or not.

It’s your choice on the first day of January. No, it’s not a resolution. It’s not a threat, either. Just as you cannot will yourself to stop breathing, this is something you simply have to do. You’re at a crossroad and you have to decide which way you’re going in 2014.

Your Life depends on it…

On Days Like These (# 1)

Winslow Homer (1878)

Winslow Homer (1878)

On days like these, Boggel hides under the counter. His customers are arguing about whether President Booma will resign or be sacked – and he knows it’ll make no difference. Instead, he allows himself to think back to remember a time when politics didn’t matter so much. He seldom does this, you have to understand, because it hurts so much. But today, because it is December and because it’s almost Christmas, he can’t stop the memories from rising to the surface. There were Chrismases – back then – etched into his very being, into his soul, and he  can still not answer the Big Question: what if…? 

He gets up, tells Vetfaan to take over his duties and walks out into the sunshine.

“What’s with him?”

Mary Mitchell, Servaas. He gets like this at Christmas time, every year.” Gertruida – who knows everything – watches as the bent little man sits down on the bench in front of the church. “He won’t be himself for a few days.”


They had sneaked out of the orphanage to their ‘secret’ place, which wasn’t so secret at all. It was a flat stone next to the small hill outside Grootdrink. Hills in this area aren’t impressive: they’re mere elevations dotted on the flat surface of the district, covered with a few sun-burnt rocks and small shrubs. Still, their spot afforded an endless view over the veld, which in those days wasn’t marred by pylons and telephone poles,

Boggel remembers these hills well: he always liken them with his life: flat, uninteresting, unremarkable; a few moments of happiness scorched and shrivelled by the unfairness of life. Or Love, come to think of it…

“I wanted to talk to you,” she said, looking uncertain, “about us.”

Boggel shifted his position so he can see her eyes. There was no mistaking the pain. She had just returned from a weekend visit to her parent’s home – which explained her need to be alone with him. Boggel always listened without commenting; he never condemned or judged…even though he had the impression she never told him the whole truth. Not entirely. She’d allude to the time spent at home as unbearable; describing the time spent there as ‘hell‘ and ‘never-ending‘, but always refrained from providing details. It was only later – much later – that he finally understood how dark and terrible her ‘hell’ had been.

“Boggel?” The little frown between her eyes deepened. “What do you think about Love? I mean,” she hesitated, biting her lip, “is there such a thing? People talk about it so much, but I don’t know…”

He was sixteen; she, a year younger. He knew no life outside the orphanage. She had her weekends at home. They both had never been outside the Grootdrink district.

“Yes,” he said, “because the Bible tells me so.” He sang the last words on the familiar melody, trying to make light of the moment.

“Oh, Boggel… The Bible tells us we have a Father in Heaven. He’s supposed to look after us. When we pray to Him, He’ll protect us. And you know what? I don’t see that happening a great deal. It’s more like He…well, He’s forgotten about us. Maybe Grootdrink is just too small. Maybe He’s busy elsewhere. But He seems so…distant.” She managed a wobbly smile. “You’re actually confirming my question, Boggel. Love. God. Do they exist?”

Boggel wanted to tell her yes, love exists. Yes, because I love you. But he was sixteen and didn’t have the courage. Or maybe he was wise beyond his years, knowing that such a statement would drive a damaging wedge between them at that time. Whatever happened during her weekends at home, this was not the time to make romantic advances.

“I..well, I suppose love and God are as real as you wish them to be, Mary. Maybe it’s the same as believing. Either you do, or you don’t. Not much grey in those concepts at all.”

At a certain stage in Life, young people are terribly clever. They have the answers to every question ever asked. The horizon is endless, the possibilities without boundaries.  Then we grow up, get knocked around a little, and realise we know so little – so very, very little. And then we bandage the wounds caused by our ignorance and start closing doors. That’s when when we start living in little boxes, because we bleed less in those.

“And you, Boggel? Do you believe in Love?”

He nodded. At that moment a small herd of springbok appeared from behind some rocks some distance away, grazing peacefully.

“How long have we come here, to this very place, to chat?” He saw that the question had startled her.

“Oh…I don’t know? Seems like forever.”

“…And this is the first time we’ve seen some springbok while we’re sitting here.” He smiled at her questioning look. “What I’m trying to say, is that Love is like this. You can look for it everywhere and never find it. And one day, out of the blue, it finds you. That’s what makes it so precious, I guess.”

She remained silent for a long time, staring at the little herd.

“We’ll always be friends, won’t we?”

This time it was Boggel’s turn to be caught off guard. Friends? He had hoped for more, much more… But at that stage he didn’t understand her need for friendship was bigger than her need for a romantic liaison. She needed trust and loyalty and respect and kindness more than a clumsy kiss on the cheek. She’d become comfortable with Love later – but it had to germinate and sprout leaves in the rich soil of friendship first.

“Of course,” he said, feeling hurt.

He got up abruptly, held out his hand, and walked her back to the orphanage in silence.


“Pondering the past, Boggel?” Oudoom’s question shatters his reverie and he moves to one side so that the clergyman can sit down as well.

“You know,” Oudoom says this casually, as if they’ve been chatting all afternoon, “I told Mevrou just the other day; I said it’s sometimes difficult to believe in things. When Vetfaan came back from the war, he questioned God. I think he stopped believing for a while.” Oudoom falls silent as he watches a dove pecking at the side of the road. “And I understood that. I think we all get to a point in our lives when things just don’t make sense.”

Boggel twists his neck to look up at the pastor. “But why, Oudoom? Who don’t things work out? It’s as if God adds misery to our lives on purpose. You know about my past, Oudoom. Why can’t I have somebody in my life? I’m not asking for much…just a friendly smile, a cup of coffee in the morning, a hug at night? Why must I feel so…lonely?”

Oudoom shakes his head, causing the dove to flutter off.

“It’s Christmas-time, Boggel. For some, it’s a time of joy and celebration. For others these days hold an incredible amount of pain…even depression. It’s as if Christmas acts like a prism – allowing our memories to accentuate specific emotions we live with each day. So, on Christmas, we become aware of a special bit of the spectrum – causing laughter for some, tears for others.

“What is important, is that these memories always involve other people. It’s about acts that mattered in the past.” He lays an arm across the skewed shoulders. “So, Boggel, you have to answer a question: when you think back, are you ashamed of what you did? Or did you contribute to help somebody along on the path of Life?”

Oudoom feels the shoulders begin to shake. A large tear falls from Boggel’s cheek but he makes no effort to dry his eyes. Oh Lord, Oudoom looks up at the sky, why is it so hard? 

“Next year, Boggel. Maybe next year things will be better.” What else can I say?

“You think so, Oudoom?”  Boggel sniffs loudly. “That’s what I thought last year as well…”

“God’s time isn’t our time, Boggel. His plans aren’t our plans, either. But you’ve got us, at least.”

Boggel thinks the old clergyman is using the royal plural but when he looks up, he sees the whole town gathered around them. A small figure forces her way to the front.

“Mister Boggel, sir, we’ve baked a special pudding. Mister Stevens and I…well, we thought to give it to you on Christmas, but maybe today is more appropriate.” Miss Kenton! Boggel can’t even remember when last she and Mister Stevens visited Rolbos. “And there’s a letter, sir. Nice feminine handwriting, if I may say so. It arrived on the farm this morning, and Mister Stevens insisted we bring it to you immediately.” She smiles sweetly as she places the Christmas pudding and the letter next to Boggel on the bench.

“We had given up hope of receiving an answer to Missus Fanny’s letters, sir.” Mister Stevens spreads his arms wide. “But yes, here it is. An answer. I suppose you’d want to read it, won’t you, sir?”

The little crowd moves forwards an inch, curiosity forcing them nearer.