Tag Archives: Namibia

That’s what friends are for…

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

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

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

“Wha…whadaya fin’ out?”

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

Vetfaan nodded slowly. “Same person.”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Kunene River. Angola on the other side.

Kunene River. Angola on the other side.

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

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

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

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

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

Zuzu

Zuzu

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

That’s when he told Vetfaan to go back.

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

***

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

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

“But what about his parents, his family?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Fia’s Story

048Rolbos has, purely through circumstances, an overwhelmingly European population. A small one, it is true, but still. It is extremely rare for them to play host to ‘other’ races despite the fact that they view themselves as  ‘very modern and open-minded.’  The subjects of gender equality, same-sex marriages and mixed-race relationships often lead to lively debates, but the group in Boggel’s Place has long ago adopted the motto of live and let live. They’ll be equally critical of the national teams’ performances or Oudoom’s sermons, simply because these things afford ample opportunity to explore diverging views in a safe environment. The exception is the government and the president: these they don’t have to debate at all. There’s no need to overemphasise the obvious…

Credit: isnicethat.com

Typical Herero dress and headgear       Credit: isnicethat.com

Despite this, the group lapses into a surprised silence when the Herero lady enters the little bar in Voortrekker Weg on this sunny morning.

“Good morning,” she greets after her eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the building. “I wonder if you can help me. I seem to be lost.”

Her accent is pure English, despite the traditional dress she is wearing. Gertruida (who else?) immediately gets up to offer her help after introducing the group.

“Oh…I am Fia. I’m on my way to Namibia but I must have taken the wrong turn somewhere?”

Gertruida quickly figures out that she took the wrong turn-off at Grootdrink and explains the way back.

“We don’t get many visitors, especially not Herero’s like yourself. Please, come in and enjoy something to drink? It’ll be our pleasure and our treat?”

An opportunity to listen to a stranger – hopefully with new stories – cannot slip through their fingers. Anyway, Gertruida’s curiosity won’t allow Fia to escape without learning where she is from and where she’s going. The group listens with rapt attention as Fia tells them about her visit to America.

She promotes ethnic art, she tells them, and often travels to the far-flung corners of the globe to seek opportunities for local artists. 575349450“So this year, I went to Los Angeles to attend the World Championship of Performing Arts. Man, was I proud! I watched the  Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers dance their way to three gold medals! Not with modern dancing, mind you, but with the oldest dance form in Southern Africa. Riel dancing originated with the San people and was handed down from generation to generation. They were even asked to dance again, at the closing gala event!”

The conversation drifts to Namibia, its beauty and it’s history. Fia is a natural conversationalist and well versed in the history of her country. She tells them of the years of war – reaching back to the Herero massacres by Germany in the later 1800’s. “But now we are a free and prosperous country. Our president isn’t like yours at all. Hage Geingob is a fair man and a devout Christian. And he’s married to only one woman.”

“But what about South Africa and Germany? After all the bloodshed – don’t you hate them?”

Fia laughs. “Hate the Germans? Are you crazy? Sure there were a lot of atrocities, but that was long ago. They left infrastructure, songs and music and for many years German was the lingua franca. They did exploration, mined minerals and built many churches. Today we play host to many, many German tourists every year – making a significant contribution to our economy. ” Her gaze grows distant before she adds, “The Germans were hard taskmasters, yes, but in some ways they left more than they took.”

After she leaves, Gertruida says that’s how history should be handled: with forgiveness and tact. But even she gasps in surprise when a letter arrives a week later.

Dear Rolbossers

Thank you for your kind hospitality. I really enjoyed my little visit and would love to entertain you in my B+B in Ondangwa sometime. Feel free to visit whenever you are in the vicinity.

Love,

Sophia Kauffman.

Note: The money was raised. They went to LA…and they did it!!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Half and Half

Every country offers the traveller something unique – something that makes you come back time and again. Namibia has it all: people, culture, comfort and wilderness. The countryside offers vast vistas of unspoilt nature where one can simply sit down and wonder about the magnificent creation around you. It’s a place filled with silence, solitude and…surprises.

For this half-and-half challenge, looking for some symmetry in the picture, the following:

023

The contrast between the dry veld and the sky – with the thin line of mountains in the background – made me stop for this one.

IMG_4610Drawing nearer, the landscape changed as the sun slowly released its grip on the desert in the later afternoon.

IMG_4883aThe next day, the landscape was covered in withered grass and stunted trees – but the hills of ancient volcanic rocks formed a barrier between sand and sky.

IMG_5070aAnd here the surprise waited: a shallow pool, where two juvenile desert elephants posed for a while.

I’ll simply have to go again.

Trusting Liar (#4)

The Gloster AS.31

The Gloster AS.31

“A…a diamond?” Vetfaan squints at the stone, marvelling at the way the son reflected from within.

“Yes…” Gertruida frowns, her puzzled expression lifting her brow towards her hairline. “And not just any old diamond!”

“Wha…?”

“It’s a polished stone, Vetfaan. A very strange and unique stone. See the imperfection in the middle?”

adThe diamond is the size of a rather large pea, brilliantly polished, but in its center the yellow-brown immediately draws attention. “It looks like an eye…” Vetfaan says.

The helicopter makes another pass, but now too far away to worry the group.

“A flawed diamond?”

Gertruida remains silent for a long time while she turns the stone around between her fingers. The she whispers a single word…

“What? What did you say, Gertruida?” Kleinpiet holds a hand behind his ear, his eyes full of question marks.

Hitler…” She looks up suddenly, remembering the history she studied many years ago. “The Tears of the Wolf…” Then, hesitantly and in a hushed voice, she tells them the most amazing story.

***

images (13)In 1934 South Africa was proud of their new boxing wonder. Robbie Leibrandt won gold at the Commonwealth Games to become a national hero. In 1936 he was part of the Olympic team to compete against the rest of the world in Berlin.

“Apparently he met Adolf Hitler while he was there and was fascinated by the man. He returned to Germany in 1938 to study at the Reich Academy for Gymnastics. When the war broke out, he joined the German army and was trained to fly and use a parachute. Most of his training involved sabotage techniques, however – his German commanders had a very special project in mind.”

Operation Weisshorn involved dropping Leibrandt on the Namaqualand coast (using a confiscated French yacht), after which he set up a rebel movement, aimed at destabilising the government led by Jan Smuts. His plans almost succeeded, but he was betrayed and caught by the police.

“But,” Gertruida continues, “there was a bizarre twist to the story. Leibrandt was assisted by a man with strangely similar features, one Walter Kempf. Even their commanding officer could not always tell them apart. This is presumably why “Leibrandt” was often seen at two places at the same time, adding to the confusion of the authorities trying to catch him.  Anyway, their efforts in South Africa were funded by gold coins and diamonds the Third Reich provided.

“Once Robey was imprisoned, Walter fled with the loot. He managed to bribe his way into the airforce base near Pretoria, where he stole a rather dilapidated Gloster plane used for aerial photography. Apparently his aim was to flee to South West Africa (Namibia), where he hoped to link up with German sympathisers. The aeroplane never made it to Windhoek and the lost gold and diamonds were never found.”

***

“Thanks for the history lesson, Gertruida.” Servaas pulls up his shoulders to spread his arms wide. “But what the Dickens does that have to do with this diamond?”

“This diamond, Servaas, may very well be the one that the Fuhrer, himself, gave to Leibrandt on the eve of his departure from Germany. It was supposed to be a good luck charm, one of Hitler’s favourites. Hitler often likened himself to a wolf, and these diamonds was named after him. Legend has it that a small collection of these stones came from one of the pyramids and that they were amongst the valuables the Nazi’s ‘collected’ during their campaigns. If I remember correctly, there was quite a lot of excitement lately amongst fortune seekers in the town of Mittenwald in Austria, where some of the treasure might still be hidden.”

“So…are you sure this diamond is part of Leibrandt’s treasure?”

“I’m assuming it, Servaas. Think about it: an unique, expertly polished diamond with the exact characteristics, appearing in the desert where an aeroplane might have crashed almost eighty years ago….it sounds more plausible than anything else I can come up with. Unless you have a better explanation…?”

Servaas shakes his head. He knows better than to argue with Gertruida – who knows everything, anyway.

“But I still don’t get it.” Vetfaan stares at the horizon. The sound of the helicopter has faded away, leaving them in the vast silence of the desert. “How does this tie up with Liar? He can’t possibly be involved with all this history?”

Even Gertruida has to shake her head. She’s fairly sure about the diamond – the unique stone was described in fine detail in a report she had read during her training as an agent for National Intelligence. The history of spying in South Africa provided many lessons for new agents and (back then) the study of erstwhile projects and agents had been mandatory. But…tying up the diamond with Liar just doesn’t make sense. Could it be that they have stumbled across the diamond in one of the strangest coincidences of all time? Or…not?

She’s still thinking about this when they hear the distinct clack! of a rifle bolt ramming the bullet into the chamber behind them.

“Okay folks! Turn around. Slowly. Hands where I can see them. And no funny business, thank you.”

They all freeze as they recognise the voice…

Go Back In Time

While I’m busy with another project, it is virtually impossible to add new stories to Rolbos. This has drawn some criticism from some of my loyal readers, who accused me of abandoning them. Since quite a number of new followers were added in 2014, it mat be a solution for some to have a peek at some previous stories.

672There is, for instance, a series with The Bogenfels as a theme. For those unfamiliar with this natural wonder, it is a massive rock arch in wild and uninhabted beach of the Atlantic  in southern Namibia. The Curse of the Bogenfels  introduces //Xuiram, the Bushman, tells about Otjikoto Lake and some very mysterious events in the Sperrgebiet.

Where to find the story, you ask? Simply click on the picture. At the bottom of each episode there will be a little arrow directing you to the next segment of the story. It’s on the right, just above ‘Comments’.

And then depart on an adventure that left even Gertruida breathless.

Everybody has a You (#7)

thescientistThe events leading up to Dawid Loper’s visit to Vetfaan must be seen as one of those strange, inexplicable situations we all experience from time to time. If one tried to arrange these happenings in a logical fashion, it all seems to sound so farfetched and illogical – causing the sceptic to walk away with that superior smile that says one should not be so gullible and stupid: coincidences happen all the time, don’t they?

But in the Kalahari the people have long learnt to keep the doors of scepticism firmly closed. Oh, like Vladimir Nabokov, they retain a sense of humour when it comes to such things, and laugh at Gertruida when she quotes the great author when he writes: “A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.” But they also subscribe to Albert Einstein’s famous words: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Boggel says both these men grasped the deeper truth behind a coincidence: sometimes Life mixes up laughter and tears to make us realise we will never be able to explain everything. Sometimes, Oudoom says, Boggel has the uncanny and surprising ability to condense complicated issues like Faith into a single sentence.

When Dawid wioke up three mornings ago in his simple hut in the dunes, he watched an eagle flying high overhead. And he felt the tapping in his chest – that strange unease, telling him about somebody who needs help. Who it was, and where, he wasn’t certain at first, but later when he saw the spoor of an eland leading off to the east, the tapping became more intense. He followed those tracks to the rise on the small hill on Vetfaan’s farm, where he immediately understood: this was where he had to be.

Now, just after the group in the bar has fallen silent – he opens the door to Boggel’s Place.

“I heard,” he said, looking at Vetfaan.

Tsamma melons (Citrullus ecirrhosus). Sesriem. Namibia.In Western society it is considered rude to be eavesdropping. Not so with the Bushman tribes. To survive, you have to gather as much information about your circumstances as possible. Wind, weather, spoor and veld provide clues to where the next meal might be found. That, and what other’s say. A family member might mention the field of tsamma plants in a deserted valley, or talk about a water source a grandfather mentioned a long time ago. Knowledge ensures survival as much in the Kalahari as in the stock exchanges all over the world.

The major difference between the so-called modern world and the Busman? The latter have retained the ability to listen – really listen – to nature, to their surroundings and to other people. The art of shutting up and paying attention was lost when Man invented the telephone – an instrument invented because we needed technology to force others to listen. Of course, poor Mister Bell meant well, but it only made matters worse: the telephone in reality created a platform to mostly broadcast one’s desires. And just when we thought our ego-driven society had reached the bottom rung, along came Facebook. We talk, we want others to see and listen…but it’s generally a one-way street.

The small, yellow people of the Kalahari avoided this downward spiral in communication. They actually use their ears – under all circumstances. Even under the window of Boggel’s Place.

“You were listening at the window?”

Dawid nods – a little shyly, because he knows the strange ways of the white people: they have this obsession with privacy.

“Good, then I won’t have to explain.”

“I felt him, mister Vetfaan, felt him here.” He taps a stubby finger against the creased skin of his chest. “I didn’t know who, but the spoor led to your farm.So…I came.”

“And now, Dawid, do you ‘feel’ Boggel? Please help us, man?”

The Bushman slowly sits down on the floor, resting his head on his hands. The people in the bar remain completely silent while they watch the man as he starts rocking to and fro. At first inaudible, they later hear the monotonous tune he hums. Vetfaan holds a finger to his lips while he watches – he’s seen this before when Dawid helped him find the lost ram.

It seems to take a long time. After the excitement of Mary and Smartryk’s arrival and the terrible realisation that Boggel may be in mortal danger, it is almost impossible to sit quietly while watching the shrivelled old man. But they have to – and they do. Servaas and Oudoom exchange glances:  their way of thinking shies away from the mystical and unexplained…yet this may very well be their only hope of finding Boggel again. This, they realise, is not the time to voice their concerns.

Eventually – after what seemed like an eternity – Dawid starts tapping his chest. Slow, deep, thudding taps. His eyes are closed when he starts talking.

“Yes, I feel him. Mister Boggel. He is…far. And I think he is injured. And…he needs help.”

“Where is he, Dawid? Can you help us?”

Again the old man is silent for a few long minutes.

“Yes. We must go.” The tapping stops. He looks up. “Immediately.”

The would-be rescuers assemble everything they need in record time. Blankets, sleeping bags, Precilla’s first-aid kit, tinned food, water and – of course – a solid supply of Cactus Jack. This gets loaded into Vetfaan’s pickup and Sersant Dreyer’s police van. Somehow, they all squeeze into the vehicles and are set to go within an hour.

“Where to, Dawid?”

“”Beyond the dunes, Mister Vetfaan. Near the dry river bed, I know the place. – we call it Zosi Plain.”

Gertruida feels a pang of panic rising in her chest. As the only Rolbosser to understand some of the San language, she knows ‘Zosi’ means ‘those without hooves‘. In other words, dangerous people, like predators. The Bushmen, she knows, associate themselves closely with the animal kingdom, where the eland reigns supreme. And, if a man ‘has no hooves’, it implies that he – unlike the Bushmen – is coupled with hunting animal with paws and nails and canines.

“Tell me about Zosi Plain,” she prompts the old man gently.

“Many summers ago, Miss Gertruida, there were men with guns. Many guns. They were hunting other men. Some of my family got shot there.”

This, Gertruida thinks, must have been during the 1914 Rebellion, when some South Africans refused to fight in WW I. They remembered the Anglo-Boer war, the burnt farms and the 26,000 women and  children who died in the concentration camps – and refused to battle alongside their former enemy, the British. Some of the rebels fled to the Kalahari,but were pursued and hunted down before they reached German West Africa – the country we know today as Namibia.

“And what did you see – or feel – about this plain, Dawid?”

Dawid Loper stares at the horizon, where the shimmering heatwaves cause heaven and earth to mix in a hazy line where it is impossible to say where the one ends and the other starts.

“Mister Boggel is weak, Miss Gertruida. He is alone. But he has a Zosi following him. We must hurry.”

Although Vertfaan and Sersant Dreyer have a lot of  experience about driving in the deep, loose sand of the Kalahari, their progress is slow. When at last they stop for the night, Dawid tells them they have only gone as far as the hips – his way of estimating halfway. Despite the urgency, the group realises the futility of attempting to cross the dunes at night.

“First thing in the morning,” Vertfaan says, “we’ll be off. According to Dawid, we should be at the plain at about midday. That’s the best we can do.”

Smartryk nods. He’s seen the Kalahari from the air while flying, and realises how dangerous the place is.

“Mary,” he now says, “tomorrow we’ll find your Boggel, don’t you worry.”

And Mary Mitchell, the woman scorned for so long by men and life alike, looks up to the kind eyes of this strange man she’s just met. She’s aware of a weird feeling welling up inside her – a warm, comfortable sensation she can’t define accurately – and finds herself smiling. Here she is, in the middle of nowhere, with somebody she hardly knows. And yet…he’s been there all day, sitting quietly next to her. Just his presence, it seems, made it possible to face the last two days. He doesn’t speak much…but even his silence was enough, made her stronger.

“You’re such a sweet man, Ryk,” she says, choosing to omit the first part of his name. ‘Grief’, she reckons, should not be part of the way she thinks of him. She toys with the name, coming up with ‘Liefryk’, blushes at the silly thought, and looks away. “I really do appreciate…”

“Shhh.” He interrupts her gently by laying a finger on her lips. “Rest now. Tomorrow will be a long day…”

Photo Challenge: Containers

Storage: that’s the key to survival in any remote area. Africa has lots of them – remote areas as well as strange ways of storing, preserving and transporting essential items.

Come see our village, the man at the camp said. We are a prosperous family, living not far from here. So I went and  I asked the old Himba woman permission to see her house. It is not mine, she said, but you are welcome.

335The hut contained a young mother and her baby. No, this photo wasn’t photoshopped. The red colour is real. I looked around  after greeting her and receiving a shy smile in return. See, she said, this is my house, my life. Look at all the things I have. I am a blessed woman, she said, holding the baby out to me.

37Then she proudly showed me her container with the aromatic herbs. Picking up a glowing ember with her fingers, she dropped in into the herbs so I may smell the scent of the veld, the aroma of Africa…

36And look, she said, I have a pail, a calabash and a funnel.

I looked. And I saw the funnel was made of wood and s strange bit of copper or brass. What is that? I asked.

The old woman heard the question and laughed. It used to contain a bullet, back in the days of the war, she murmured.  Now it pours the goat’s milk from the pail to the calabash38

I marvelled at that. These women have so little…and yet so much. The spent cartridge a soldier had thrown away, now served as an important component to the primitive funnel.

Oh, let me rephrase that… The word ‘primitive’ doesn’t belong here. Not in this society where the scrap of wartime now helps them survive. Maybe we should learn from them. We, in our large houses and with our many possessions and running water and electricity – we keep on making guns and shooting down aeroplanes. We are hamsters on silly little wheels, constantly wanting more. How primitive is that?

I walked out in the sunshine, past the kraal filled with goats and the little ‘hut’ for the chicken swinging gently in the breeze. It contains the eggs, keeping them away from vermin.39

My visit left me wondering whether the minds of these people contained more wisdom than I originally gave them credit for. Are we really sure that our way of life contains everything to make us as happy as they are? 40

Or should we admit that they have more reason to smile than we do? Shouldn’t we discard the trappings of luxury and sit in the sun more often while we contemplate the joys contained in a simpler life?

 

 

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 9)

svl_helicopter“This is a hare-brained scheme,” Gertruida whispers while they’re waiting for the helicopter. “Matotsi thinks we’ll be able to spot the wreck from the helicopter! Imagine that! And he insisted we come along, so he can be assured of our silence. What’s he going to do – even if he spots the wreck?” The worried frown cuts deep into her brow. “This is just too easy – I’m sure he’s up to something…”

“He told me that here’s been no aerial searches of the off-shore area for ages. None that he can trace, anyway.” Servaas hitches his small bag to hang more comfortably from his shoulder. “Anyway, we’re getting a free trip – and that counts for something.”

“I don’t know… I simply don’t trust the man. Look at the way his goons treated me? No, I say we must watch him very carefully.” Elsie looks up as she sees the little general approaching. “Shhh, you guys, here he comes.” She moves a little closer to Servaas, her hand searching for his.

“The helicopter will be here soon,” Matotsi smiles confidently. “Then we’re off…”

***

Bogenfels

//Xuiram floats – flies – in the Land of Dreams. His mother and father smile at him: they want him to join them in the Land of Plenty. Come, son, we’ve built a special hut for you. You must prepare,  it is almost time…

How many times has he dreamt of this Land? A long time ago, when the family was larger and the elders still held the yearly meetings in the desert, they talked about the Land. There were, they told little //Xuiram, green valleys, fat Eland, easy hunting. Lots of water. In fact, once you reach this Land, you have need for nothing more. The most remarkable thing he remembers from those tales, is that all people – even The Others – live in harmony with each other there.

And now it is almost time for him to journey to that land. A happy smile creeps into the wrinkles of his face.

The box, //Xuiram…first find the box…

It takes a while to leave the dream-world. Then, getting up slowly, he approaches the back wall of the cave.

***

IMG_3128The helicopter banks sharply as they fly over Pomona, the deserted mining town in the middle of the barren wastes of the Sperrgebiet. Heading west, the aircraft lifts its tail as it speeds up.

“This is one of the most inhospitable wastelands on the African continent.” The pilot’s voice in their earphones confirm what they’re looking at. “You get lost here, and you die. Short and sweet. Survival here is out of the question.”

IMG_3140Underneath them, the desert is almost featureless. Stunted little bushes survive by absorbing the cold morning mist that rolls in from the cold Atlantic. Other than that, there is no sign of life at all.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Gertruida says, not quite realising her helmet microphone communicates with everybody on board.

IMG_3141Matotsi glances over at her. What is it in his eyes? Gertruida feels a shiver running down her spine.

“You can be glad you’re flying. The old track running to the Bogenfels has not been maintained for many years. It is almost impossible to get there, except through the air.

“Oh, and there you are!” The pilot points. “Bogenfels…”

 ***

//Xuiram finds the rock at the exact point he saw it in his dream. Straining and sweating, he shoves it to one side.

The elements have done their work. The box is rusted and the once-shining surface is now dull and covered with flaking bits of metal. When //Xuiram lifts the lock to inspect it, the clasp crumbles in his hand.

Inside, he finds two slabs of shining metal, the likes of which he’s never seen. There is also a piece of yellowed paper, parched and fragile with age, on which somebody drew some lines. In the middle of the page, the black X draws his attention.

***

The pilot puts down the helicopter within sight of the Bogenfels.

“This is as far as you go,.” Matotsi’s voice is harsh, commanding. “Come on, get out.” The snub-nosed pistol in his hand leaves no doubt about his intentions. “Out. Out!!”

“What are you doing, General? Why…” For once, Gertruida has no answers.

“OUT!!!”

Servaas, Kleinpiet, Vetfaan, Gertruida and Elsie do as they’re told. Boggel is the last to alight, struggling to get his short legs from the hull to the landing gear.

“Just tell us why…?”

“It’s easy. You lot,” the general waves the pistol towards the bedraggled group, He has to shout to be heard above the slow whunp-whump of the still-revolving rotors, “know too much. Now you’re simply an irresponsible group of tourists who wandered off into the desert. When they find you in a few months time – or a few year’s time – nobody will connect you to DEAD. A nice, clean way to get rid of civilians who snooped where they shouldn’t have. I’ll file a report stating that you said last night you wanted to explore the desert towards the north of Luderitz – and that you left early on foot. Me and the pilot here, we’ve spent the whole day looking for you. They’ll send out search parties, of course, but unfortunately they’ll be looking for you in the wrong area.”

The pitch of the engine increases suddenly and – as if plucked upwards by a huge invisible hand – the helicopter lifts and speeds away.

***

The small Bushman family hears the helicopter and now //Xuiram’s oldest son breaks tradition by shouting for them to get cover. “Hide, hide my family! I know that sound, It means trouble. We may not be seen. Run…run!”

//Xuiram, too, heard the sound.

Men will come here, //Xuiram, and they’ll die. The words of his ancestor seems to emphasise the noise the helicopter makes, Closing the box carefully, he drags it over to the smouldering ashes of his holy fire. He’ll ask the spirit-world. They’ll know what to do…

***

Vetfaan surprises everybody with the range of expletives they never use in Boggel’s Place.

“The bastard. The absolute bastard…”

“I thought…,” Gertruida begins, but Servaas stops her.

“Ja Gertruida, you thought. That doesn’t help us now. Not one bit. How we got here is not important. How we get back to Luderitz, is.”

“That arched rock isn’t that far away, guys.” Boggel tries to sound confident. “Let’s go there and look for shelter. And then let’s sit down and talk. Maybe…”

“Let’s go.” Vetfaan strides on ahead.

***

“People, my father. There are people coming.”

//Xuiram puts his hand over his mouth to remind his son they’re not supposed to talk. Then he nods. Yes, he saw them. Two women, four men. White people. They’re scared.

And then, suddenly, he knows why his family had to make this last pilgrimage…

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 8)

goldbar_armband“One thousand kilograms of gold? In little bars, stamped with the Reich’s insignia? Wow!” Kleinpiet lets out a long, low whistle. “That must be worth something, hey?”

Gertruida nods. “Work it out: at $50,000 a kilo? And, if you added the novelty value…collectors would fork out considerably more. The Rand being such a joke these days, you can add two more zeroes to the sum.”

Matotsi manages a wobbly smile. “Ya-a-as. A lot of loot. Out there, somewhere. Many Nkandlas…”

***

Bogenfels

//Xuiram is happy. The spirits have blessed them with a downpour of rain, filling the hollows in the rocks around them and causing little streams to run down the rock face. A pool of water collected at the back of the cave they’re sheltering in, as well.

Still observing the ritual silence, he leads his family in a slow, foot-stomping dance for a while. Later, he’ll get out the fire-sticks and wait for the embers of the twigs they collected to glow before he’ll sprinkle the holy herbs over the ashes.

Yes, he thinks, my season has gone. It’s been a good one. He glances over at his oldest son, feeling glad that he’ll be able to leave his family in capable hands.

***

Boggel’s Place

General Matotsi is much more focussed now. Boggel’s special wake-up coffee contains a Kenyan mix of freshly roasted coffee beans, a dash of hot chocolate, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a tot of Amarula.

“So…what do we do now?” Elsie sips a Green Ambulance while eyeing the general critically. She has to smile at the situation: here she was, trying to get closure on her father’s death – and suddenly it exploded into a mystery of Nazi gold, international intrigue, and the government’s greed for money. Who would have guessed…?

“I’ll tell you what I’ve pieced together. Your father was sent to Bogenfels, to look for the wreck of the City of Baroda. It was a long shot, but Captain Wilmott swore under oath that the box was left in the captain’s safe when the ship sunk. Van den Bergh an Diederichs had information that the box contained a sample of the gold and details of where it was hidden…”

“But I don’t understand what the Smit murders had to do with all this?” Gertruida holds up an apologetic hand for interrupting the small general.

“Aah…that. Yes. I’m not sure. But…assuming Smit stumbled across some irregular overseas accounts? Accounts that were used to finance a plethora of underhand activities. Accounts only known to Diederichs, Vorster and maybe van den Bergh.  Vast accounts. Accounts fed by a number of less-than-legal ways. And suppose, out of these accounts, a number of secret operations were funded. Operations, including buying rocket fuel from Pakistan; buying nuclear intel from Israel, obtaining weapons from Belgium and the US of A. Should such information be made public, a number of political faces in South Africa – and elsewhere – would have had a lot of egg all over them.” Matotsi sighs. “I think your father’s operation was financed through these funds. Anybody digging deep enough – at that time – could have unravelled the puzzle. So Smit – brilliant though he was – made a fatal mistake. A few days before his murder, he made an announcement that he would make a public statement that would shock the nation.”

“But all that was forgotten and buried in history. Nobody was interested any more. However, some time ago we were discussing the shortage of funds, one of our old agents jokingly mentioned the case of the missing millions again. The treasure, he said, was still hidden in Namibia somewhere. Now – that made a few people sit up straight. Here was an answer to some of the government’s financial woes – there for picking up and bringing home. Free.” Matotsi pauses, signals for another coffee. “The only problem being that Namibia is independent now, and we’re on friendly terms with them. And we sure as nuts don’t want to share it with them…or anybody.”

“So you had to scare me off…?”

“Yes, madam, exactly. You were getting too near something we wanted to keep secret. We couldn’t afford that.”

“The answer, then, is at Bogenfels. Find the wreck, dive the site, get the safe, get the instructions and possibly a map, get the fortune?” Gertruida, being practical as usual. “Why don’t you just locate the wreck and get it over with?”

Mototsi sighs and gives her the what-do-you-know look. “We can’t start a search without drawing attention to ourselves. A sea or air recon will definitely lead to questions being asked. The Namibians aren’t stupid. They spot a South African aircraft or boat nosing around in their waters, and we’ll have to explain exactly what we’re doing there, and why. No, this must be done quietly, without them realising what we’re doing.”

“I realise that.” Gertruida rolls her eyes. The man thinks I’m dof... “That’s why I’ve got a plan. Why don’t we become common, garden-variety tourists? One happy group of people cruising through a neighbouring country, anxious to see what’s happening next door. See sights. Drink beer. Take photographs. Have a ball….and visit Bogenfels?”

***

Bogenfels

//Xuiram sits down next to the embers, inhaling the aroma of the sacred herbs.

Send your family out. There’s a gull’s nest next to the foot of the Holy Rock. They’ll find eggs there. And your son will see the burrow of a rabbit. He’ll know what to do.

The Bushman smiles contently. Yes! More blessings on their being there. He looks up, glances at his son: what a fine young man he’s become! Their eyes meet. Then, without a word, the young man motions for the rest of the family to follow him.

IMG_3147Inhaling deeply, //Xuiram closes his eyes again. It isn’t dark when he does this: in fact, with his eyes shut, he can see quite clearly how his son leads the family down to the foot of the huge arch. Sees them find the eggs, hears the whoops of joy.

Then he sees a white man, a man with a peaked cap and a sodden, white uniform, walking towards the very cave he is sitting in. The man carries a box, a heavy box, causing him the breathe deeply. It is hot outside. Sweat drips from the man’s brow. He can see individual drops of sweat coursing down the stubbled cheeks. The man glances over his shoulder at a big ship just beyond the breaking waves, There is a smaller boat in the water, taking people to the ship.

With a last glance backwards, the man stumbles into the cave. He looks around. Fixes on a hollow in the rocks at the back of the cave. The box gets shoved into the hollow. The man drags another rock in front of the hollow. Then the man walks out to wait for the boat to pick him up.

***

Luderitz, Namibia

IMG_2909“It’s not exactly a bustling city,” Matotsi says. “Looks a bit forlorn to me.”

“Don’t be deceived, General.” Gertruida is in her element. “This used to be an important harbour. And right now, you’re next to the richest diamond fields ever discovered. Anyway, we’re not here to pubcrawl. Tomorrow we’re off to the Sperrgebiet and the Bogenfels. Who knows what waits for us there…”

“Yes, okay. At six we’ll get the helicopter at the small airfield. Low tide is at seven. The pilot is an old member of the recces – he’ll take us to the last known coordinates of the City of Baroda. According to the naval charts, the sea is about thirty metres deep there. With a bit of luck…”

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 6)

982849-broken-noseVetfaan is halfway through his third rendition of the Radetsky March (quick tempo) when he has to stop. The lyrics for the last few minutes have been constant.

Thump! – General – Thump! – Matotsi – Thump – General – Thump – Matotsi….

Vetfaan is getting bored and thirsty – he can’t do Radetsky, the thumping…and drink beer.

“Enough, Fanie, I think we’ve got all the information we need.” Fanny lays a soothing hand on the big man’s shoulder. “Gertruida, how about phoning that general or something?”

The name the man gave – over and over again between Vetfaan’s nose-tapping – is General Matotsi. Nothing more.

“Who is this general? Never heard of him.” Vetfaan downs the beer, sighs and turns to his victim. Fortunately for him, Gertruida clears her throat.

“I know about him,” she says, which isn’t surprising as she knows everything, “He runs one of the less known government agencies. The Department of Education and Deployment – DEAD.

“Well, it is aptly named, one must admit. Although they are officially supposed to re-educate dissenting ANC members and then deploy them somewhere useful, that isn’t the whole story. Their education – or rather: re-education – is aimed at much more sinister causes. They will invoke township violence…for instance.”

Seeing the puzzled looks, she takes a sip before explaining. “Look. Say you’re the government and in charge of the whole country…except the Western Cape. And the Western Cape is an embarrassment because it runs so smoothly. No Marikanas there. No corruption. Much less crime. No e-Toll. The schools get their books on time and outperform all the other provinces where the ANC tries to tell the people what a good job they’re doing. The Western Cape, you may say, is a thorn in the governments side.

“So, they make a plan. Get a few farm labourers and promise them money and immunity. Get them to burn a few tractors and protest about their wages – the very same wages the ANC imposed on the farmers in the first place. Get the people to complain about the free houses they received. Establish gangs in the Cape Flats and help them procure drugs to destabilise the community.

“DEAD’s main job is to discredit anybody who opposes the ANC. Any means, any method…provided it is done in such a fashion that nobody connects it to the government.” She sighs. “Just like BOSS did. History, my friends, repeating itself.

“But…they also do other stuff. Secret things for the government. Like…if you want information that is so sensitive you don’t want the usual organs of state handle it. For instance: sniffing out the traitors of the 80’s, or digging up Apartheid injustices – anonymously, at arms length.

“So, Vetfaan, I think you must take up your musical career and ask your nice guest why they are interested in Elsie? What danger does a widowed white woman pose to the mighty ANC?”

“Noooooo!!!!” The man lets out a strangled cry. “Please. I don’t know!”

220px-Radetzky-von-radetz“Did you know,” Gertruida asks when Vetfaan starts up the nose-drumming again, “That Johann Strauss was commissioned to write the march to commemorate Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz‘s famous victory at Custoza in 1848? He was an excellent military leader and had been retired a few years before the battle. The war against Milan was a great burden on the Austrians and it even seemed as if they were going to be defeated. Then, – voila! – they recalled on the 82-year old general and he turned the tide. When the victorious soldiers returned to Vienna, they sang “Alter Tanz aus Wien“ – a catchy tune that caught Strauss’ attention. This inspired the composer to pen down one of the happiest marches in history.” Gertruida exhibits her uncanny powers of concentration by delivering her little speech, completely ignoring the background noise of the hapless agent.

“Please! –thump! – Please – thump – Make – thump! – The man –thump! – Stop!”

“Okeydokey.” Vetfaan lifts the agent’s face from the counter. “Want to say something? Don’t let me interrupt you…”

***

Sniffing loudly, the man tells them that he knows very little. The department is worried that some information might leak out. Elsie is – as far as he knows – busy investigating something that causes the main brass in the ruling party to become extremely worried. They want her to stop. His general, he says, told them to scare her off. It’s got something to do with ANC  finances. And that, he swears on his mother’s eyes, is all he knows.

“I’ll tell you what.” Vetfaan grins at the red nose. “Why don’t we cut the cable ties on your little friend here? We’ll ask him nicely if he doesn’t want to fetch the illustrious general, and bring him to Rolbos. You’ll remain as our guest, of course. Then we have a nice little chat with the general, and you all go home. Hmmm? What do you think?

“Or else we can take nice photos of the two of you and ask a newspaper if they’d like to go for the Front Page of the Year award? Don’t worry, we’ll comb your hair and wipe your nose for the photo – just to make you guys presentable, see? I’m sure General Matotsi would simply love that. Publicity never hurt a politician – and even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. I’m sure he’ll want to reward you afterwards. Maybe even give you free lodging for the rest of your life – if you know what I mean?”

***

IMG_3147//Xuiram stares at the giant, arched rock. Yes, it is exactly the way he remembers it. The sandy little beach, the giant waves, the rugged coastline…

They don’t talk. They don’t have to. Here, at the arched rock, words aren’t necessary. After the arduous trek across the sand and the arid terrain, they are only too grateful to arrive at last. Grateful…and thirsty. They only have one ostrich shell full of water left.

//Xuiram sits down on the beach, gathering his family around him. They sit motionless, still, waiting for the spirit-world to welcome them.

A sudden gush of wind stirs the sand around them. Overhead the clouds gather to obscure the sun. Is this a good sign? Are they being rejected?

Then the drops start falling. At first //Xuiram thinks he is mistaken, but then the first sheet of heavy rain sweeps the beach. The torrent increases, causing rivulets to stream across the beach. //Xuiram gets up. They have been blessed, far more than they deserved. Clapping his hands together in thanks, he leads his family to the only shelter he can see: a shallow cave in the rocks on the shore line.

***

General Matotsi arrives the next day. Not by car, as Vetfaan would have thought, but by helicopter.

“Is he really a general?” Boggel glances through the window. The short man with the pot belly and pointed face doesn’t look like a general to him. The eyes are set too high and wide on the sloping forehead, the ears too tiny, the mouth too small for the prominent lips. “He looks like he belongs in a fishbowl.”

“Concentrate on his rank, Boggel, not his looks.” Gertruida hides an impish smile. “This is going to be interesting…”