Tag Archives: relationships

Photo Challenge: The Road Taken..

...less travelled, please! Remote. Isolated. Away… And oh! What beauty and serenity awaits once the sham of civilisation is left behind.015.jpgOnce the call of The Great Silence manages to entice you away from your desk, your computer and your mortgage bills, there is a road that’ll take you to Tranquility. But you must first escape.

057.jpgAt times, one may be excused for feeling a bit lost – after all, entering unknown regions may prove daunting…but keep on following the tracks. IMG_4655.JPGDon’t hesitate. Not even when it seems as if the road leads to Nowhere. Keep the faith.IMG_4857.JPGGear down. Deflate the tyres if you have to. But keep going.IMG_0344a.jpg.And then, suddenly, a new world unfolds. It’s simple. Unpretentious. You set up camp in a completely new mindset. And, for the first time, you notice the green world you’ve been ignoring for far too long…

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Politics, religion, media: who trumps who?

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Credit: Mail & Guardian

“So the land of the free is going to get their own version of a modern-day dictator?” Servaas throws out the bait – it’s been a quiet day in Boggel’s Place again.

“Not if you listened to some religious leaders, Servaas. They paint him as The Recsuer – the man who’ll bring back proper values and some pride in being an American.” Vetfaan doesn’t sound overly optimistic though. “And, whatever one’s opinion, one must agree that the world needs a bit of a shake-up. Look at us: we’ve become spectators and not participants any longer. We listen to the news, cluck our tongues and promptly distance ourselves from the unfolding tragedies around us.”

“That may be true, Vetfaan, but whose fault is that? The churches insist on preaching good news every Sunday, saying God will fix everything in the end. The politicians say we mustn’t worry, everything is fine. The newspapers contain so much bad news, we skip over the articles. So…the church, the politicians and the media are completely out of sync. Who to believe? In the end, none of the above.”

Vetfaan nods. “We’ve become so self-absorbed that old-fashioned charity, good manners and compassion have flown out of the window. The nett result? We’re ostriches – head in the sand and please pass me by.”

“Well, we can’t say much about the US of A; not with the mess we’ve got in governance…and in our churches. First gays are sinners, then they’re not. Now they’re again.  And some pastors prescribe Doom insecticide and petrol as tests for your belief in God, while the  ANC  says it’ll rule until Jesus comes again. Zuma claims God is on his side…”

“And then his tent gets blown away by a freak storm?” Vetfaan can’t help interrupting. “Some say it was an act of God. Doesn’t sound like He’s amused by Zuma’s antics.”

“Well.” Servaas puckers his lis like he does when somebody oversteps the religion line. “People seem to think they understand God and His ways. This, my friend, is true for any religion you care to think about. So you get radical lefts and conservative rights, and they all claim to be preaching the word of The Creator. In the old days, a preacher would be very careful – even humble -with his interpretation of certain verses. Now, however, it is he brash and the outspoken pastors who fill megachurches … or start wars.

“It’s almost funny, Vetfaan. The more we advance in technology, the more naive society becomes. I think advanced societies get so clever that they don’t think any more. They gain knowledge but lose wisdom…which is terribly sad and stupid. Ponzi schemes, religious radicalism, crazy politics – you’d think that an intelligent community would be aware enough to sniff out the fraudsters…but they don’t.” Servaas sighs. “Well, I’m glad I live in Rolbos. The drought is real The sand between my toes is real. Boggel’ Place is real.

“And that’s good enough for me. Zuma, Trump and a whole lot of modern-day social structures can pass me by. As long as they are only virtual realities, they can stay other side of the Orange River…please and thank you.”

The Horizon Hunter #4

download (8).jpg“Life in Atlantis was okay, I guess. The neighbours all knew our story and warned us many times whenever the inspectors were checking up on people’s ID’s. However, my mother refused to send me to school – the danger of exposure loomed too large. Anyway, I was an unregistered child, remember? Basically – as far as the officials were concerned, I didn’t exist.”

***

Mo’s mother found work as a waitress in Cape Town itself, which involved a lengthy train trip to a fro every day. Mo stayed at home, under the care of Achmad, her brother, for a while. Achmad was the main middleman in the supply of dagga (hashish) to the local community. A friend of a friend had a hidden plantation in the Transkei and he had several distributors who acted as agents in the Cape area. In the days before drug lords, Achmad was the king of Atlantis.

Dealing in illicit drugs  was (and still is) a nefarious and dangerous business. Achmad could not survive without a network of dealers and informers. A lot of people depended on him for an income and quite a few were deeply indebted to him in more ways than one. One of them was the lovable Aunty Florrie.

Florrie was a remarkable woman. She used to be a social worker and even helped out at the small local school for a while, but the slippery slope of alcoholism deposited her squarely in the cul de sac of addiction. She was one of Achmad’s runners and – despite her sales – could never quite get out of debt with her supplier. Achad made her an offer she could not refuse: if she housed Maria and her child, her past transgressions would be forgiven. No more debt. A new start.

Florrie grabbed the opportunity and not only provided a roof over the poor mother’s head, but also started teaching the child the basics of reading and writing. Mo proved to be a fast learner.

At the time, Mo’s identity remained a huge problem. Achad suggested that he’d arrange with ‘some people he knew’ to register the child in his name. A sympathetic Methodist pastor agreed – rather enthusiastically – to baptise little Mohammed Sulliman, clearly a convert to Christianity from a Muslim home. Now, with documents from the church and Achmad’s ID papers, the Department of Home Affairs had to be convinced that the child’s birth simply wasn’t registered due to an oversight by the Sulliman family. Money changed hands. Mo Sulliman became a real, official person.

Aunty Florrie continued her home schooling simply because it kept Achmad off her back. No, she didn’t think formal schooling would bring out the best in the child – not at all. He was far too clever to be immersed in the second-rate teaching the government provided (she said) and she provided individual teaching, didn’t she? The other side of the coin also deserves mentioning: so profound was M0’s influence on Florrie’s life that she almost stopped using drugs. Almost. Not quite.

Initially Aunty Florrie guided Mo through the basics of learning quite successfully, but when the boy was about nine years old, her addiction flared up again. Achmad was dismayed and then had to face the problem of an almost-ten years old boy who never had formal schooling. A government school was out of the question – but what to do with a ten-year old kid with nothing to do? The solution: recruit Mo as a runner to make deliveries to the agents. images (22).jpgThis was a brilliant move. While his other distributors were adults, mostly convicts and generally known to the police, the little boy could fool them all. The only problem was his rather white skin – which was solved by generous applications of Coppertone and plenty of sun.

And so, gradually over the next two years, Mo became familiar with the underbelly of the Cape’s drug world. In turn, people accepted the little runner as one of their own, while his reputation of always managing to avoid the long arm of the law eventually earned him the respect of  a number of ex-convicts and other individuals surviving in the world of petty crime and other illicit activities.

At the time, the Anti-Apartheid Resistance Movement was gaining ground amongst the Coloured people of Atlantis. The community was ripe for rebellion – after their forced move from District Six, the mood in the community was distinctly anti-government. AARM needed informers and made a deal with Achmad: they’ll smuggle the new drug, LSD, to him, in exchange for information. Achmad’s network fitted their requirements like a glove: his distributors and users worked in the affluent houses of Cape Town and some were cleaners in government departments. A few even were employed as officials and clerks. And they all could be trusted to be true to the cause as long as the supply of drugs was guaranteed.

Mo became the trusted runner with stolen documents, secret messages and  drugs – a heady mix of danger and adventure for the youth who understood the necessity of secrecy all too well. But, in the end, even this elusive runner became the focus of police activity, for the officials also had their own network of informers. A reward was posted and Mo was caught.

What followed is not something Mo wants to talk about. His interrogation was merciless and involved the usual methods used on other so-called terrorists. Solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, water – these and other ways of making him talk were all used. However, young Mo stubbornly refused to answer any question, repeating over and over again that he knew nothing. He was a street child, homeless, with no real family. Yes, he knew Achmad Sulliman, he was an uncle. And yes, Achmad had adopted him, but that was a long time ago. No he didn’t know where his mother was. He survived by scavenging on the streets – go on, ask anybody in Atlantis: they’ll all confirm that he was seen here and there, doing odd jobs and living off scraps. His interrogators redoubled their efforts. Mo remained unbroken.

The one thing Mo still remembers, is a visit from Aunty Florrie.

“I only heard – later – that she had died a week before. I didn’t know that.  But one night, while I was shivering from being cold and wet and hungry – suddenly, as if by magic – Aunty was there at my side. I was so disorientated and confused, I didn’t question her presence or how she got there.

1990-02-03.jpg“Well, she held me in her arms and made soothing noises. It was wonderful. Then she told me I had to be strong, everything would change soon. I would be free again, she said. She said I must remember the date: it was Thursday, the 1st of February, 1990.”

Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Aunty Florrie was gone. The next day, on the 2nd of February, President F.W. de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the resistance movements.

 ***

Mo sat back, his characteristic smile replacing the scowl of recounting his experiences during those terrible days.

“I thought that would be the end of it all. You know – Mandela was freed, there were talks about a negotiated settlement and even free elections for all. And…you won’t believe it…my interrogators arrived on the Monday after De Klerk’s speech with new clothes and a hamburger. They said it didn’t matter anymore and that I’d be freed that Wednesday. A doctor came and examined me. They even sent a pastor to give me a lecture on forgiveness!

“Me? I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I’d be set free and that the beatings stopped. I was old enough to understand that everything had changed, but too young to be cynical about it. So, on that Wednesday, I was ushered to a back door in my new clothes, given ten rand and told to bugger off.”

Mo sioghed. “You know, I really thought that was the end of my troubles.” He shook his head. “Had I but known…”

To be continued…

Whatever happened to Old School?

man-opening-door-for-lady-e1313090426170“That was close,” Vetfaan says as he sits down at the bar. “I was almost arrested in Prieska, man! Gimme a beer!”

Now, anybody who knows Vetfaan, knows he likes to stay on the right side of the law. Policemen and lawyers tend to make him nervous, especially when he returns from his biltong-gathering excursions. He maintains he has never poached a single Kudu – he only uses the meat from recently deceased animals. Although the cause of death might be disputed, he insists it should be listed as another case of lead poisoning.

“Been out hunting again, have you?”  Boggel’s secret admiration for Yoda surfaces from time to time. “Trouble you should have.”

“Nah, it’s not that.” The burly farmer swallows half to contents of the glass, burps with gusto and plonks down his drink. “Sexual harassment! Can you believe that? At my age!”

“Pleased, you should be.”

“Ag, Boggel, snap out of it! I only told the girl at KFC she has beautiful eyes. Next thing I know, Constable Kiewiet arrives and gives me a talking-to. He would have arrested me, but I reminded him of the last time we met.”

That story had done the rounds a few months ago. Kiewiet stopped Vetfaan’s pick-up one evening and found two recently deceased Springbok carcasses under a tarpaulin. When he got excited about his discovery, Vetfaan cleverly diverted his attention by reminding the constable of the fact that he – the policeman – would not be able to pin the demise of the poor animals on him, the innocent farmer who came across their pathetic remains. Why, he – Vetfaan – was on his way to the police station with the evidence of some individual’s (or individuals’) dastardly deed to shoot at defenceless and unarmed creatures.

The constable agreed that, indeed, Vetfaan had made a strong case for further investigation. Vetfaan suggested that they discuss the matter like gentlemen should, over a beer and maybe a bite to eat. This they did, right there, next to the road. Afterwards, Vetfaan mentioned the fact that Kiewiet had partaken in the unlawful act of consuming evidence. It was then mutually agreed that maybe – just maybe – it would be unwise to pursue the matter further. Case closed.

“Lucky, you were.”

“You know, Boggel, I don’t get it. What happened to good old chivalry? These days you dare not compliment a lady. You may not even sneak a peek at a shapely figure – it’s called invasion of privacy these days, and put on the same pedestal as abuse. Laying a comforting hand on an upset shoulder, is suddenly equal to fondling. Where is this all going to end?”

“Called gender equality, it is. Rights for humans. Laws for privacy. Not allowed to abuse, you are.”

Vetfaan shrugs. “You’re right, of course. Society seems to think that everybody is the same. If you say somebody is black, you’re a racist. If you smile at a woman, you’re a sexist. When you talk about labourers, you’re elitist. And…you are completely politically incorrect to talk about blindness, physical impairments or mental instability.

“Everybody suddenly got on the Discrimination Wagon. It’s as if society became so oversensitive about…issues…that we dare not mention them anymore. No, society wants us all to believe there are no differences in colour, gender or ability. Society wants us all the be the same; but let me remind you: equality has nothing to do with being the same. Unlike politicians want to tell us, we’re not a colourless, cultureless society believing in every religion ever invented. I’m white. Kiewiet is black. He’s a Muslim, I’m Christian. He votes for the ANC and I’d rather die than do that. We are, Boggel, and never will be, the same.”

“But respect him, you do?”

“Of course! He’s a human just like me. He has dreams and goals. He lives, loves and functions just like I do. What I’m saying, Boggel, is that the human race consists of two sexes, a multitude of cultures and a spectrum of colours. Each of us are precious. But…why make us fit into the same little box? Why can’t we stand back in wonder, celebrating diversity and acknowledging obvious differences without adding the word ‘discrimination’ to everything?”

“Everything backward, we have?”

“Yes, Boggel. There was a time when a compliment didn’t land you in trouble. When a handsome man or a beautiful woman didn’t feel threatened when somebody said something nice. When opening a door for a lady wasn’t called abuse, or when being courteous and friendly didn’t imply sexal impropriety.”

“Old school, you are.”

“Yep, Boggel. And very much out of fashion I am. Another beer you give.”

 

The Man from BBE

images (19) copy“That must be Mister Ball, ” Boggel says as the line of dust on the road to Rolbos nears the town. “I wonder what – exactly – does he want? Said he had to come to do business, but that was all. He sounded rather strangely pompous as if he expected us to fall for some sales talk. Something about empowerment and compliance – couldn’t make out head or tail…”

They’ve talked about the visit ever since the telephone call a week ago. Servaas reckons it has to be a government thing, because they seem to be creating more and more agencies to regulate businesses and organisations. “It’s their way of creating jobs, see?” Servaas gets upset about the way the government insists on appointing inept and unqualified people to positions of power – officials who do not have the faintest idea of what they should be doing, anyway.

Gertruida has been hard at work, too. Using the skills she had picked up in her days with National Intelligence, she created a perfect copy of a liquor licence  – something Boggel has never bothered to apply for. That, of course, is a completely different story, and one that has been told a long time ago. Still, if the government wants to see that piece of paper, she’ll have it ready for them.

The black BMW purrs down Voortrekker Weg (still misspelled after all these years) and comes to a stop in front of Boggel’s Place. A chauffeur in a perfectly pressed suit jumps out to open the back door for a remarkable man. Remarkable? Maybe not the right word. Astounding might be more appropriate. The huge figure emerging from the vehicle is, indeed, typical of the average government employee – built like an over-sized teapot with a soccer ball head and frog-like eyes. He, too, is dressed in a suit; but how he managed to squeeze his massive bulk into the clothes, is a mystery. Maybe one should not be so critical about Chinese material -it really stretches!

“Mister Ball…?” Boggel steps forward to shake the large man’s meaty hand.

“Just call me Black. All my friends do.” The lips scarcely move, but a gold tooth manages to wink at Boggel. The voice is alarmingly high-pitched, making Gertruida wonder about the man’s hormonal balance.

“Black?”

“Yes. Black. Black Ball. That’s me.” He tries bow slightly and almost manage, too. He hands over his card, which states that Black Ball is the managing director of BBE – Black Ball Enterprises. Underneath, in smaller letters: already 

“Come on in, er…um…Black. You’ll need something cool after driving through the heat.”

“No. No drinking. I’m here on business and I don’t have time to waste. Where can we talk?”

Boggel leads the man inside, where they have to place two chairs next to each other to accommodate the large frame.

“Let me get straight to the point here. You guys need protection. I can offer you this…at a very reasonable rate. You have a choice: work with me, or not. If not…well, the consequences could be rather …uncomfortable. Even painful.” Black pulls a face to emphasise the point.

Now look. You don’t talk like this in Rolbos. Never. It’s not done. Especially not if Vetfaan has had to overhaul his old Landy again – for the second time already this year. This time it was the head gasket, which necessitated a vigorous scrub-down with petrol to get rid of the treacle-like oil that clung to everything. The scrub-down was for Vetfaan, of course, resulting in his cheeks being even more rosy than usual.

“Now look here, mister…”

“Black, just call me Black.”

“Well, Black, I think you have the wrong address. We’re not interested in bribing our way out of your trouble. We’ve got rifles, pistols, a few revolvers and Vrede, our dog. We need protection? My foot! You and who are going to protect us?” Vetfaan gets up to tower over the sitting giant.

“Of course you need protection! Everybody does. Guns won’t help you.” Black spreads his hands in front him. He doesn’t have to say it – his incredulous expression tells them it’d be very stupid not to co-operate. “Look, it’s the way things are in the country.” Now his voice is an octave higher, almost pleading. “I go from town to town and everywhere I’m welcomed with open arms. But you? Sheesh! I feel like you people don’t like me! And here I am, offering you a lifeline in these troubled days…and you don’t want it?”

A troubled silence descends on the group in the bar. Boggel coughs, looks up at the ceiling, and wonders how he can defuse the situation. Sure, they had been a bit apprehensive about the visit, but this is worse than even Servaas’ worst fears. This isn’t the usual governmental mess – this is criminal extortion… He’ll have to get the large man to relax – maybe they can work something out without Vetfaan losing his temper. That would certainly bring on a gang of tattooed ex-bouncers and a bunch of ululating ladies. Hard to say which is worse…

“Look..er…Black. What does your protection cost? Let’s talk about this, man?”

“It’s very cheap. Really.” This time, the snake-like eyes seem to glimmer with…hope?  He certainly sounds more eager now. “Way below what you’ll pay in Upington, for instance. And you’ll have my personal assurance of quality. When I’ve got you covered, you’re as safe as can be. I’ve never had a complaint about quality.” He shakes the large head. “No sir. Never.”

Gertruida sits up suddenly.

“Um…Black? Your protection? Can you give us a demonstration of it?” She smiles her most charming smile. “Please?”

Black calls his chauffeur over to give him instructions.

What happened next in Boggel’s Place, will remain a source of hilarity as long as  Boggel is there to serve his customers. He insists on keeping the complementary sample on the shelf behind the till.

***

“Who would have guessed?” Vetfaan whistles as he slaps his hands together. “Of all things! And there I was, ready to take the poor man out, hey?”

“Always a good idea to listen before you act, Vetfaan? Gertruida tries to sound stern but the twinkle in her eyes tells him she’s not serious. “Hey, it’s the New South Africa – everybody is just trying to make ends meet. I felt rather sorry for him, but he does seem successful enough.”

Sadly, Black Ball failed to make a sale in Rolbos today. Servaas said he was to old, Gertruida pleaded menopause and Vetfaan said something about celibacy.

In bigger towns like Kenhardt and Pofadder, Black might be able to sell his wares. But in a small place like Rolbos? You see, after a certain age – especially if you’re from a more conservative background -some people simply do not use the stuff. They’re fun to blow up and Vetfaan even filled one with water; but to actually use it for its intended purpose would be worth a lot of bragging rights in Boggel’s Place. Only – here everybody knows everybody else’s business, hence they’ll know when a bragger is lying through his teeth. It’s not that they don’t want to use condoms…they simply can’t any more…

Shame..

 

An Interview with an Ailing Man (In Afrikaans)

kleur-1000This post is directed at all people who love that most beautiful language, Afrikaans.

This interview was broadcast this week. It is in Afrikaans, and the reason for posting it here, is to reach out to the many, many expats living all over the world.

‘Kleur’, the biography, concerns the life of Randall Charles Wicomb. It traces his childhood years against the background of Apartheid – and the battle his mother fought to ensure that the word ‘European’ appeared on his birth certificate. The book explores his life, his loves, and his terminal cancer. It tells of his musical achievements and the long and winding road in the search of identity. In the end, it’s a poignant tale of a man who looks back, remembering the good times, but not shying away from those incidents that caused hurt and sadness. Between the smiles and the tears, the book aims to convey a simple message: we all belong to the human family. And also…enjoy life; we don’t live forever.

Photo Challenge: Transitional Normality.

We all start life filled with hopeand innocence. Oh, parents mean well, don’t they? But how can anyone prepare a child to live in a world where hope and innocence are so easily lost? Teaching a child to be a ‘normal’ member of society often leads to a life of pretence – you have to act, speak, talk and exercise your choices in an ‘acceptable’ manner; denying the instinct to be an individual with unique characteristics.

t1We grow up, losing much along the way. And then we get to that point in the woods, where the two roads diverge, just like Robert Frost promised it would…

t4

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…’

t3Of course we choose one…expecting to find rest, comfort, good fortune…and possibly, Love. That is, after all, the promise of ‘normality’…isn’t it?

t2Sadly, all too often these dreams are shattered by the thorny seat we eventually find ourselves in. Here the dreams of a quiet life, ‘normal’ relationships and peace are shattered by the reality of the outcome of our choices. Pretending to be content, just isn’t good enough any more.

IMG_2528That’s when we begin to realise: ‘normal’ doesn’t mean a thing. It’s time to shun pretence and follow the heart. If it raises a few eyebrows, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

t5And then, having lost so much and found so little – we start afresh: finding happiness in simplicity; hope in reality and love in the most unexpected place. Love isn’t out there, waiting for us to find it; love has all along been  inside us; the sad  prisoner of pretence. Only once those walls are shattered, can we reclaim the hope and innocence we were born with. That’s when we dance on sunshine…

Back to the future

breekyster 2010 045A fridge, like we all know, is an essential requirement in our everyday survival. Warm beer just isn’t healthy – especially so in the Kalahari. So, when Boggel’s trusty old fridge suddenly gave up the ghost, his customers were devastated. It’d take two weeks for another cooler to arrive with Kalahari Vervoer, which means the end of civilisation as they know it. The mood in Boggel’s Place is dark, the conversation stopped and even Vrede doesn’t seem interested in the piece of biltong Sevaas chucked his way.

“I suppose this is the end of the line,” Vetfaan sighs, “there’s just no reason to go on…”

A long, depressed silence follows the remark. A life without cold beer in Boggel’s Place? Impossible!

“Ice.” Gertruida whispers the word. “We need ice! In the old days of Kolman’s Kop and Kimberley, they delivered huge blocks of ice to the house. Somebody must simply drive to Upington and get us some.” A smile lights up her face. “Simple, isn’t it? Problem solved.”

“Yes, and by the time we get back here, we’ll have a tub of water.” Vetfaan’s remark isn’t unfounded – it’s been terribly hot lately. “We won’t get back quick enough, even if my Land Rover makes good time…which it usually doesn’t.”

“Ja,” Servaas joins in. “It’s just like the situation in the country. There is enough ice in Upington, but we won’t get it back here where it’s needed.”

“How can you compare Boggel’s fridge to the country’s problems, Servaas? That fridge is much more important than the political mayhem, the bankruptcy of SAA, the wrong trains from Spain, ESCOM’s bottomless pit and the student protests combined…and you know that!”

“Jup…those are serious matters, indeed, Gertruida…and that’s my point. We have enough money in the country – what with taxes being what they are – but the real stuff doesn’t get to the people who need them. We thought Nkandla was bad, until the pres started showing interest in a new super-plane for himself. As usual, he giggled his way through questions and told everybody he knew nothing about such things.

“The point is this: it’s no use having ice in Upington, if we cannot get it here. And there are endless protests because people are cheated out of a brighter future. It’s the same thing…”

“Maybe we could drive over to Ben Bitterbrak’s place – he’s got a solar panel to keep him going. Quite a nice arrangement, if you asked me. He’s using sunshine to keep him happy…and it’s not only free, but it works!” Vetfaan eyes the case of warm beers, shudders, and goes on: “Of course, he might not want to help; stingy old bugger that he is.”

breekyster 2010 049“On my farm I haver a cooler room, guys!” Kleinpiet’s excited statement makes them look up hopefully. “You know, one of those old-fashioned rooms with the double, perforated walls and the charcoal in between. Haven’t used it for ages, but there’s plenty of space for all the beer in Boggel’s storeroom. All we have to do, is to wet the charcoal.”

“Now that,” Vetfaan says with a sardonic sneer, “is real progress for you. From nuclear power plants in the future, to damp charcoal-cooled beer. All that is left, is to start the fire, and we can have a braai.”

The group at the bar can’t wait for Kleinpiet’s return the next day. As the minutes tick by, they start speculating that the farmer might have had an accident, or maybe fell ill…or something. It is way past midday beofe Kleinpiet finally appears at the end of Voortrekker Weg – on a borrowed donkey-cart.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he says when he finally draws up the reins in front of Boggel’s Place. “The garage in Grootdrink didn’t have petrol – apparently the drivers of the tankers are striking. Nothing in Upington either, they told me. So I had to borrow Platnees’s donkey and his cart. Anyway, here I am, and the beer is cool…”

Kleinpiet is the hero of the day. Forget about the great technical advances, the wonderful convenience of modern-day appliances and the so-called progress in world-wide politics and economics – the old ways have stood the test of time. According to Gertruida, we are far too dependent on electricity, the Internet and the goodwill of our fellow men and women across the globe. She says we have become slaves to the energy companies and the concept of democracy. That’s why, she maintains, Rolbos is such a great place to live and grow old in – the place is remote, the people care more about each other than about what the newsreader on CNN tells the world, and  their only weakness is for cold beer. Oudoom is there to keep them (more or less) on the straight and narrow. And…Kleinpiet has an ancient cooling room.

Maybe, she once remarked, the world wants too much. By constantly expecting the future to be better than the past, is like expecting education and health care  to be free. Yes, it sounds like such a good idea, but only if the professors and the doctors refuse to be paid. And, she added, if you pay peanuts, you’ll  get monkeys. She called it the ‘zoo-scenario’.

“The past will be better than the future, chaps. We might as well get used to the idea.” She’s right, of course – like always.

That’s why Boggel got the townsfolk to start building a cooling room behind his bar. He says cold beer has been around for many centuries – it’s worth investing in the past.

The Stupidity of Ernest.

Citrus_swallowtail_Christmas_butterfly_(Princeps_papilio_demodocus)_04Ernest Swiegelaar rarely visits Rolbos, mainly because he is such a busy man. Still, whenever he phones to tell them he’s on his way, the men in Boggel’s Place perk up, get to bed early and have their weekly bath. You never know your luck, after all, if you haven’t tried your best.

Gertruida says it’s Mandy’s fault. If she had been more kind, Ernest could have been a professor by now. Still, according to the men in Boggel’s Place, Ernest should be admired for the way he survived, despite the success of his research.

Ernest studied the habitat of a very specific butterfly, with a very specific goal in mind. According to Gertruida, the little creature is called  Papilio demodocus, but the group at the bar prefers the more common (and easier to remember), Citrus Swallowtail.  When asked why a young man like Ernest would want to waste his time chasing some butterflies, Gertruida defended his actions.

“Look, we all know what happened th Ernest. It’s the old-old story on boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-his-heart and girl-dumps-boy. It is, after all, not unique in the history of male-female relationships. But, in Ernest’s case, it turned out to be a life-changing experience. At the time, Ernest was doing a Ph.D in lepidopterology, the study of butterflies, and was doing great work on pheromones.” Of course, Gertruida had to stop right there to explain what it all meant before she could continue. “So, when Mandy preferred a star rugby player and left him, his world came crashing down. He actually abandoned his studies, telling his professors that there was no point in pursuing the matter. What good, after all, could come from analyzing minute amounts of chemicals some insects secrete? He left university and hitch-hiked his way to nowhere. Just travelled and lived like a nomad.”

This much is true. However, Ernest eventually ran out of money (and space) near Union’s End, where the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia meet. He finally had to face reality, so he offered his services as a entomologist to the manager of Grootkolk Camp in the Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park. It is difficult to find game in this vast, arid region – which often resulted in tourists grumbling about the amount of money it cost to stay there in relationship to the number of animals they saw. Enter Ernest, with his vast knowledge of insects – and butterflies – who could entertain bored tourists for hours with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the world of exoskeletal creatures, moths, beetles, and…butterflies. Somehow a circle in his life was completed – the lepidopterist awoke once more.

It is here that he noticed the Citrus Swallowtail, an old favourite of his, and it is here that he started spending hours and hours studying the pretty butterflies. It is also here that his interest in the Kalahari Citrus Butterfly took a surprising turn.

The Citrus Swallowtail is rather common in Sub-Sahara Africa, but it prefers more moderate climates. In the Kgalakgadi, with the endless red sand dunes, Ernest observed two strange phenomena. First: the subtype occurring  there, didn’t lay their eggs on citrus leaves (there aren’t any). They had adapted to a small cactus-like plant, which Ernest correctly assumed contained citrus-like oils and Vitamin C. But, more importantly, he noticed that the male Citrus Swallowtail was much more successful in its mating habits than the butterflies he had studied before. He didn’t need a long time to figure it out: these Desert Citrus Swallowtails had to produce much more of the female-attraction pheromones than the ones he had studied before.

Well, it is said that you can take a born researcher out of the laboratory, but you can’t take his curiosity away. And slowly, month after month, Ernest compiled notes, observations and a number of theories. He surmised, for instance, that the reason why these male butterflies were so successful, was the harsh environment. Nature thus provided them with the super-ability to produce offspring, a simple evolutionary occurrence to ensure the survival of the species.

It was during this time that Ernest first visited Rolbos. The road to Upington had been washed away by a freak storm, leaving Rolbos (and Sammie’s Shop) as the only alternative place to replenish supplies. Like all visitors to Rolbos, it was only natural that he popped in at Boggel’s Place, where he met the group at the bar. Despite his natural reluctance to interact with strangers, Ernest found (much to his surprise) it exceedingly easy to chat with Gertruida – and it was through this conversation (and many afterwards) that Ernest finally agreed to become a scientist once more.

Ernest started contacting his old professors, much to their joy. Yes, of course, they’d love to assist him to complete his studies. Let the past be past, all is forgiven. And so, after another year, Ernest was back in the laboratory with his small colony of Citrus Swallowtails in a sizable, climate controlled environment stocked with Kalahari succulents.

***

“Ernest phoned to say he’ll be around for a week or two.” Gertruida’s announcement had a note of smugness about it. “He said the butterflies in this region proved to be superior to other areas – his previous visit showed that. Now he wants to make Rolbos his basecamp again.”

“Oh, no!” Vetfaan droped his head in his hands, making sure he didn’t spill his beer. “Last time he did that, it was chaos. Remember Oudoom’s sermons afterwards? It was really difficult to catch a bit of shut-eye when he started shouting like that.”

“Oh shush, Vetfaan. As I remember, the sermons were very necessary. Especially after the way you and Kleinpiet – and don’t forget Servaas – carried on during his last visit.”

An uncommon flush spread up Vetfaan’s neck while he tried to think of an appropriate answer. Kleinpiet came to his rescue.

“Ag, Gertruida, give us a break. Ernest succeeded in a massive scientific breakthrough. He might even be on the brink of establishing world peace….”

“Or a world war…” Servaas interrupted.

“…and he might even get the Nobel Prize.” Kleinpiet soldiers on. “Imagine that some molecule – which you can’t see and smell or taste – can have such a profound effect on men and women…men, especially.”

“It’s not the molecule that fascinates me,” Servaas said dryly.

“No, you closet Cassanova, you.” Gertruida’s scorn dripped from the words. “It’s the bevy of assistants you drool over. All of them – the beauties, the trim bodies, the pretty faces….”

“And the legs, the short skirts, the brilliant smiles…” Boggel added with a laugh.

“Ja,” Vetfaan eventually agreed with a sigh. “Such a pity they only have eyes for Ernest. It’s like being at a buffet but you aren’t able to get anything on your plate.”

“But maybe that’s a good thing, Vetfaan.” Servaas smiled. “Have you seen what he looked like, last time? Just a bag of bones. I gave him six months, but apparently he’s still at it. Quite amazing, really.”

The conversation dwindled out after that. Boggel had to lock up earlier than usual that night. The men wanted to get a bath and a good night’s sleep before Ernest and his entourage arrived the next morning. And maybe, hopefully, Ernest wouldn’t be so stuck-up to lock that precious little bottle away again like he did last time…

The Sad Moon of Solitude…

Sir Philip Sidney, 1554 - 1586

Sir Philip Sidney, 1554 – 1586

One should be careful when asking Servaas about solitude: his answer is too brutally direct and honest if a sensitive soul should dare being so inquisitive. As a confirmed introvert with his own set of rules, he does adapt to living amongst others…but only just. Oh, he can spin a yarn and debate the issues of the day as well as anybody else (provided you accept his narrow-minded conservative approach and offer the obligatory tot of peach brandy), but deep down he is a loner. Has been all his life, will be until they lower him into the ground. And, as  a man comfortable with his own way of analysing issues, he does tend to be a bit overbearing – which doesn’t bother him in the least. He doesn’t like pretence: if you don’t like what he says, it really isn’t his problem at all.

Oudoom, naturally. disagrees with his head elder on this matter. People need people, according to the pastor, and that’s why we need many, healthy relationships. No man is an island, he’s fond of saying – but Servaas likes to remind him that as the Lord created continents, so too did He make islands.

It takes all kinds…

breekyster 2010 153But a passer by – a few years ago – did venture to ask the question. She was the sprightly widow Violet Hancock; a kind and sympathetic woman who toured the country, taking photographs of isolated places. She said it was her way of managing her sudden change in social standing – from being the wife of a famous actor, to being…well, nobody at all. Whereas before the maitre d’s and the photographers would do anything to please her, she found herself stranded on that lonely island called Isolation. Photographing the wide expanses of the country, the old ruined farm houses and the dilapidated windpumps, reminded her that all life – like all fame – was but a fleeting moment. These pictures, she said, made her feel better: she wasn’t alone in her lot.

“You see,” she told Servaas on the afternoon she visited Rolbos to take shots of the Kalahari at sunset, “my husband used to be the reason for my importance. Because he was such a huge figure in the public eye, everybody was nice to me. After he died, there were a few bouquets of flowers, a stack of sympathy cards, a ton of calls…and then it stopped. Society had settled their account –  they owed me nothing. Being nice with me wasn’t important any longer – and the public eye roved around as it must, and found somebody else to idolise. Here today, gone tomorrow.”

The two of them sat, discussing the fickle nature of mankind in general and fans in particular, and later a comfortable silence settled between them. Servaas could feel her eyeing him and started feeling really uncomfortable. Did she think…? He dismissed the thought immediately.

“And you, Servaas? Don’t you feel lonely at times? How do you handle it?”

It was a trick question – he could feel it. Still, it was only right that he should answer it honestly.

“You know? Only people who aren’t comfortable with themselves feel lonely. They need company to prop up their self esteem. They love having people around, especially if they make a fuss about them. Now, according to my reckoning, that’s more than 90% of the population.

“They play this game, see? You tell me how special I am, and I’ll be nice to you. Now for some – your husband might have been one – it is an easy game because society elevated them to star status. Actors, politicians, some pastors and a few businessmen are like that. For them it is the way to remain on top of the heap – but they seldom ask what the heap is made of.

“I’ll tell you: it’s all pretence. To be popular, you have to understand Pavlov’s dog. You have to know how the psychology works – and then use it to manipulate others into thinking you’re different. And people fall for that all the time.” His bushy eyebrows rose high as he got got excited about the subject. “Why be different? Why increase your bust size, wear outrageous clothes and makeup to try to draw attention to yourself?” He paused and, seeing she remained quiet, answered on her behalf. “Because people can’t accept the way they are. They feel they have to stand out to be noticed.  Better to hear them say ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ than to endure the silence of being considered only average.

“So they start pretending. They play to the audience. They build up a fan base. They have lots and lots of people they call ‘friends’, but who – in actual fact – rely on the friendship only for what’s in it for themselves. It could be money, or recognition or simply bragging rights, but in the end those ‘friends’ are social parasites, feeding off  the noticed in the hope of becoming memorable.”

“No friends at all – is that what you’re saying?'” Violet seemed exceptionally sad when she asked the question.

“No, my dear.” He softened his tone. “True friends are rare. Anybody who is honest with himself, will realise you only have a handful of real friends – if you’re lucky. These are the people you can phone at two in the morning or simply share silence with. These are effortless relationships because the commitment to respect and kindness is so natural, so spontaneous, that it sustains itself. These are very special people who can tell you what they really think without being afraid that you’d either reject them or play them along. It’s a non-judgemental association between two persons who’ve accepted each other just the way they are.”

“But…” she hesitated, “…that doesn’t exist, Servaas. I’ve never experienced that type of friendship – and believe me, I had a million friends back then.”

“And where,” Servaas asked, “are they now?”

***

IMG_0140They sat on Boggel’s veranda until the full moon managed to light up the veld from behind some rare clouds. Mrs Hancock sniffed loudly at times, but refused the handkerchief Servaas offered. Then she glanced up at that moon and addressed it with a bit of Sir Philip Sidney’s poem: To the Sad Moon:

Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call ‘virtue’ there— ungratefulness?”

Servaas, of course, had no idea what she was talking about. He nursed his peach brandy and listened to the cry of a distant jackal. Still, he felt he had to say something.

“Love, like friendship, is a rare joy, Violet, just like the moon you see over there. Search for it  when the season is right. Cherish it when you find it. Nurture it when you have it…. And appreciate it when it’s gone.”

“Full moon. Dark moon. And yet, even when I can’t see it, it is still there?”

“Yes Violet. It is still there….and alone. And you know what? It’s okay. It waxes and wanes without complaining, ever spinning around an ungrateful world. That moon,” Servaas pointed, “is the keeper of a secret – although it is a constant companion to the earth, it needs distance to remain what it was created to be.” He sighed softly, patted her shoulder and smiled. “You’ll be alright, Violet, if you remember this.”

Violet Hancock left Servaas there, on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place. Drove off and eventually settled in a cottage she rented on a deserted farm. Her photographs have won national and international prizes, but she never attends these ceremonies. She maintains – according to the single reporter she allowed an interview – that her solitude is more gratifying than recognition. This remark caused quite a debate in a popular weekly magazine in South Africa, with most readers commenting on such selfish behaviour.

Servaas saw the article, read it twice, and sat down on the bench on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place. He smiled proudly, blew his nose, and waited for the moon to appear from behind the dark and distant horizon.