Tag Archives: relationships

Happy Wind #21

Vintage Map - Nautical Miles of Africa Photograph by Camryn Zee ... ‘While the whole Riemvasmaak community was forced to comply with the defense force’s demands to move, Geel escaped back to civilisation. He was an articulate, educated man in his sixties, respected for his entrepreneurial skills and the easy way he had with strangers. Mr Gibson, the manager CJ had appointed many years before, welcomed his friend from the Kalahari with open arms. Together they set about expanding BCS – Bothma Courtier Services – to satisfy the international demand for the secure transfer of documents, packages and even money.’ Gertruida brightens at the thought. ‘The two of them were really a remarkable team.’

***

It took many months for the Riemvasmakers to settle in remote Damaraland; in the area they were supposed to stay there was no real infrastructure. Susan insisted that she and Herman remain with the people she loved and very soon it became abundantly clear that Herman would have his hands full, taking care of everybody. Babies were born, stomach and lung problems were common and malnutrition took its toll.

Soon, however, Herman’s services were in demand on a far greater scale. There were no doctors for many hundreds of miles around the new settlement. Farmers and their families, their workers, policemen, missionaries and travelling salesmen soon queued up in front of the tent they stayed in. Within six months Herman had to build a small building to house a clinic. Medicines were brought in (later via BCS!) from Windhoek. And before he could build a house for them, the first of several rooms were added to the clinic, to house much needed beds for the sick and infirm.

***

‘Yes,’ Gertruida says, ‘they did get married. Right there, in front of their tent, by one of the German missionaries who had come for treatment of his gout. It was a simple service, but the entire community turned out to witness the start of an amazing marriage. Their meal on the day? A barbecued chicken, donated by the ululating crowd around their tent. At least, the missionary paid for his treatment with some sherry. As far as honeymoon nights go, it must rank as one of the most strange, ever. True to their nature, the newly-weds smiled and took it in their stride.

‘Some time later Herman suggested that they hand over the reins of their businesses to Geel and Mr Gibson. Susan had been the only heir to CJ’s estate and it was impossible to manage the growing little empire from the wilderness of Damaraland. Susan immediately agreed and so Geel became the owner/CEO of CJ’s legacy. He did send a portion of their profit to the people in exile every month, and it did a lot to make their lives easier.

‘Susan, in the meantime, studied Herman’s books and became a rather efficient pharmacist and assistant in the busy practice. She also assumed the role of mother to the Riemvasmakers, listening to complaints and helping out where she could.

Solitaire Namibia Special. Custom Namibian Packages. Explore ...‘Griet Loper springs to mind when I tell you about that time in Damaraland. The Riemvasmakers were a determined, hard-headed bunch. No government was going to force them into being second-rate citizens. Griet was a restless soul and eventually made off with a small bundle of clothing. Just took to the road and kept on walking. Eventually, she came to a little cluster of buildings next to the dusty road with the name of Solitaire. The kindly owner, a Scot by the name of Moose McGregor took pity on her and employed her in the kitchen. In those days Moose sold petrol along this long and corrugated road to the coast and he thought it a good idea to make an extra buck by selling refreshments.’

Much to Moose’s surprise, Griet produced a real German apfelstrudel one day, using some left-over apples a broke traveler had exchanged for a cold Coke. Griet used a recipe handed down by her great-grandmother, who had been a cook to a German garrison stationed at Numatoni, in the Etosha region. Of course, that was before the horror of the war against the Herero’s, which almost wiped out that entire nation. Incidentally, that war was the reason why Griet’s family fled South West Africa to settle in Riemvasmaak, in the beginning of the 1900’s .

Namibia, Fort Namutoni (ehem. Deutsch-Südwestafrika), gel. 1939 ...

Numatoni Fort, 1939

‘Well, that apple pie was something else! Moose McGregor became famous for his delicious apfelstrudel, a reputation that is alive and well today, even after his death. Needless to say, Griet’s future turned out to be a happy and content one in the many years she spent at Solitaire.

‘Oh,and there’s Lena, Mama Namibia herself. Came from Riemvasmaak as a young girl, but, wow, did she turn out to be a gem! Today she runs Wilderness Safari’s luxury Damara Camp in the remote Damara desert landscape, a woman of importance! And what about Petros Sand, the man who started farming with vegetables in the fertile Swakop River bed, near Swakopmund?

‘But I digress,’ Gertruida sighs, ‘the most important part is still to come. And it involves all of us…’

To be continued…

 

 

 

Hapy Wind #18

Cactus Jack Bubblegum Tequila Sours (1 x 750 ml) | Tequila ...Whenever Gertruida gets near the end of one of her lo-o-o-ng stories, she’ll order a round of Cactus Jack, like she does now. That usually serves as a sort of warning for the audience to steel themselves – the climax is near. And that could be happy…or sad. Whichever way it goes, it helps to be prepared.

‘You know, the young doctor simply sat down, took her hand very gently, and shared in her grief. The church was full of people – Francina had been a very much-loved member of the community – but the petite Susan suddenly felt alone – with him. It was a comfortable feeling. They shared one of those moments in which words would have spoiled everything. Just being felt so good.

Page 2 of Daisy pictures | Curated Photography on EyeEm‘And then Susan had the strangest dream. Or vision. Or Imaginary moment. Whatever you call it, doesn’t matter. What matters is that she saw, or felt and heard, her mother. Francina was smiling, waving as she walked away from her. She blew a kiss and whispered goodbye. She was dressed in white and held a twig of Namaqua daisies in her hand. Susan saw her mother disappearing as if in a thin mist, and just before she was completely gone, she dropped the flowers.’

***

Susan Bothma listened to the last Amen . So, that was the end of her journey with dear Francina, the mother who loved her so much? How sweet and short and cruel the voyage through the stormy waters of Life! Why so fleeting the passage, why so inevitably final the end? But she remembered the words old Andries spoke when they returned from Upington with her terminally ill mother…

‘Look at the animals of our veld, Miss Susan. They are there season after season. Sometimes you see the same animals as last year, sometimes you see the next generation. And, Miss, they continue to feed on the short grass in our desert and they continue to be content – they never move away to places with more water and more grass. When it rains, they rejoice. When it’s dry, they endure, We must learn from them

Oryx photos, royalty-free images, graphics, vectors & videos ... ‘You mother is dying, Miss Susan. Soon, she’ll know the world is on the other side. But we’ll stay behind for a while. We’ll join her when the time comes. But now, in this time, we must endure. Think about it: do we have a choice? Can the Gemsbok wish for more grass when the drought has withered the veld? No, they know how to endure – and that is what we must do now. Yes, we must grieve, but we must grieve with gratitude. Be happy for the past and look forward to the future. The rain will come again. The season will change. And we’ll be together again when the time is right.’

She glanced at the two men next to her:  CJ, the big brother who worked in faraway Natal, and the young doctor – a man she hardly knew but felt strangely comfortable with. Her father was in the aisle, in his wheelchair, stone-faced and grey. Three men. Three pillars.

When they trooped out of the church, sniffing and silent as is customary under such circumstances, she noticed Andries waiting for her next to the steps of the building.

He was holding some flowers in his hands. It wasn’t much. Just a little green branch with some daisies at the end.

Happy Wind #16

White Bushman Paperback ‘To describe the mindset of the Bothma family back then, you only have to consider what the average farmer feels like today.’ Gertruida makes a vague gesture with her free hand (the other holding a cold one, despite Tannie Zuma’s decrees). ‘Abandoned. Forlorn. Angry. Depressed. Like today’s farmers, they were realists. The war was drawing to a close after more than 11,000 South Africans  –  Black, White and Coloureds – died in battle. We simply do not know how many casualties our forces suffered, nor how many struggled with mental illness afterwards. What is known, is that the Afrikaners were fed up with the Smuts government.

‘Of course CJ and his family didn’t want to return to their previous lives. CJ Snr was incapacitated in the worst possible way, Francina was afraid that the Smuts people would jail her again and little CJ Jnr did not want to leave the village-life they had become accustomed to. When the legendary Peter Stark – the famous White Bushman of South West Africa  – was 15, CJ, too, was learning the intricate culture of the Damaras, the San and the Hereros. He stood with his two feet planted in two cultural kraals – Western and the heady mix of African ways and histories. Lastly, CJ Snr felt embarrassed and guilty about his war wounds – appearing in public would have been just too painful.

‘Still the nightmares continued. One night, after a particularly violent nightmare-storm – this one ending in blood welling up from the ground – Francina soothed her husband like she usually did. What was unusual that night, was CJ’s response. He often complained that the dreams were frightfully terrible, making his feelings of guilt and incapacity even worse. A man should weather these storms, not so? A real man doesn’t sob himself awake in the middle of the night and then expect his wife to comfort him? A real hero has two legs and a string of medals.

‘Francina understood all these things. And then, on  that wonderfully fateful night, she proceeded to prove to her husband that he was still the same man that left for Egypt in uniform.’ Gertruida sighs dramatically. ‘You men are all the same. Primitive, simple-minded creatures. Once your ego get stroked, you plop over in a blissful slumber. And that, gentlemen, is exactly what happened that night. Little Susan Bothma was born in that same hut, nine months later.’

Servaas raised an eyebrow. So this is the Susan that would have a relationship with Herman Viljee…interesting!

***

The years that followed, were as peaceful as one could wish for. The Bothmas adapted to life in the Kalahari and the Riemvasmakers adapted to them. A house was built next to the huts – the first of many to follow. The natural remedy and CJ’s courier business continued to thrive under the care of Geel and Mister Gibson. A healthy trickle of cash flowed into the village’s coffers, where CJ saw to it that there was a fair distribution among the villagers. CJ Jnr grew into a strapping young man and little Susan was the darling of everybody.

While South Africa drifted sideways and backward on the tide of inappropriate legislation, Jan Smuts lost the 1948 election and the Nationalists eyed the prospect of a republic. Unfortunately, that is not all they did. History would judge the leaders of that time harshly, and rightly so.

EX UNITATE VIRES | Union of south africa, Africa, Botanical drawings Malan and Strijdom used the churches, the newspapers and the radios to re-educate an entire nation. Blatant propaganda focused on the danger of communism and the deterioration of independent African states. The progressive destruction of the country’s motto – ‘Ex Unitate Vires’, In unity lies our Strength –  created an unbridgeable divide between the peoples who live in this beautiful country.

***

Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela

Ian Player, Magqubu Ntombela    Photo: Trevor Barrett

‘CJ Jnr wanted to see the world, but he had no formal education. Francina and Geel had taught him to read and write, and he had a natural aptitude for numbers. His father knew the boy could not spend his life in the village. Life in the city was not an option. In the end he wrote – without much hope – a letter to Ian Player, a war veteran like himself, who at that time worked in the Natal Parks Board, one of the early South African efforts to conserve game, nature and the environment.

‘Much to CJ’s surprise and Francina’s joy, Player not only answered the letter, but also invited CJ Jnr to come and see him. The rest, you guys know, is history. CJ Jnr was a fierce fighter for RR – the NPO he started. Rhino Rescue remains testimony to his singleminded goal in life to protect those huge pachyderms from extintion. He died in his eighties, peaceful and content with his contribution to Life on Earth.’

Gertruida wipes away a tear. ‘At least he had that, didn’t he? His father died in the sixties, a rather fortunate situation, for he was spared the hardship and anguish of the forced removal of the Riemvasmakers from their ancestral grounds. He did, however, witness the wonderful relationship between little Susan Bothma and Herman Viljee. I suppose one may think that he died in peace, despite the loss of Francina, the poor man.’

The group at the bar sits up. ‘Francina died? Why?’

To be continued…

Giuseppe Verdi: Va pensiero

Some of the words:

Arpa d’or dei fatidici vati, Golden harp of our prophets,
perché muta dal salice pendi? why do you hang silently on the willow?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi, Rekindle the memories of our hearts,
ci favella del tempo che fu! and speak of the times gone by!

 

Happy Wind #6

OssewaBrandwagWapen.png ‘Nobody, especially the colonial power of England, ever managed to subdue the Afrikaners, you know.’ Gertruida – who knows everything – frowns. ‘Not the English, especially, after the way they treated women and children during the Anglo-Boer War. South Africans have a very long memory, understand – all of us – and we nourish and care for our personal grudges with great compassion.

‘So, during WW II, many Afrikaners objected to fighting for England. They formed the Ossewabrandwag and a paramilitary force called the Stormjaers and made their objections very clear.

‘Well, initially, Francina didn’t care much for these groups. She concentrated on her work at the hospital and cared for CJ Jnr. But then CJ, the father of her son, disappeared in the Sahara conflict. The last she had heard of him, was a postcard from a place she never had heard of – El-Alemein. And then she heard about the big fight there on the radio…and CJ disappeared. Now,  if you really, really wanted to upset an Afrikaner woman, you disrupt the harmony in her house. You want trouble, you do that. It was bad enough that CJ was sent to North Africa, but fearing him to be dead made her mad.’

***

For a while – the first two months after CJ’s disappearance – Francina went about her daily tasks in a fog of automated actions. She nursed without passion. At night she put little CJ Jnr to bed without a bedtime story or a prayer. She hardly slept, fearing somebody would come with news and she’s miss the knock on the door. The matron at the hospital called her in, sympathised, but told her to stay at home. Patients were complaining she said. Francina just nodded, and like the automation she had become, went home to sit in front of the radio.

It is there she heard the news bulletin.

‘Prime Minister Smuts once again urged the Ossewabrandwag and their leader, Mister Johannes van Rensburg, the erstwhile Secretary of Justice, to refrain from any anti-government actions. He called on the movement to stop dividing the country along pro- and anti-colonial lines. Smuts also reiterated that the full force of the state would be directed against the Stormjaers, which again cut the telephone lines between Johannesburg and Cape Town last night.’

Joining these forces would not bring CJ  back, that much Francina knew. The objective in her mind then was to hurt the hand that snatched her husband from her side.

***

‘It was quite easy to slot in with the Ossewabrandwag. The secret organisation wasn’t such a big secret amongst the Afrikaners. Somebody knew somebody else who had a contact and soon Francina was visited by a man and a woman. They talked. They listened. And they approved her joining the fight against the English. Francina’s anger suited the Ossewabrandwag well. They needed trustworthy footsoldiers. After the top echelons were consulted, Francina was inducted in the Stormjaers with the oath: ‘If I retreat, shoot me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me’.

‘Her first mission was to observe the blowing up of a power line outside Boksburg. This was to have been her initiation and the start of more serious missions. To dynamite a pylon in the middle of the veld, under the cover of complete darkness, should have been an easy mission.’ Gertruida snorts. ‘But, the best laid plans of mice and men…’

The police were waiting for them they were all caught. The next day a very brief appearance in court resulted in a verdict of guilty. Francina and her comrades were sentenced to six months in prison, with hard labour. It could have been worse. Had they blown up that pylon, they might have been hanged for treason.

‘But what about the boy, little CJ?’ Precilla wipes away a tear. “What about the poor little boy?”

To be continued…

Happy Wind #1

 

Kate's skirt has a mind of its own as she speaks to soldiers as she arrives at Calgary Airport on July 7, 2011. Chris Jackson, Getty Images.

Wind and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Gertruida will tell you – because she knows everything – that all winds are not necessarily sad. There are, for instance, Happy Winds which are completely different to the Dismal variety. Happy Winds are frivolous and naughty. They get into papers and hair and skirts. You’d recognise a Happy Wind instantly, she says, simply because its effect will make you smile.

Happy Winds also bring relief and joy as it fulfills promises (like rain), which Dismal winds never do. When you get Gertruida talking about these winds, she always tells the story of Herman Viljee and little Susan Bothma. She says it describes exactly what a Happy Wind is capable of.

 

***

History – De Beers Group Susan Bothma was a petite young lady with an athletic body and a strong mind. Born to an older couple – after years of trying to fall pregnant – she was spoiled from day one. Her room was spacious and overflowed with Teddies, soft toys, lights of various colours and soft music. The Bothma’s were an extremely rich and clever family. Their fortune was built up over many generations, starting with some shares Great-great Grandfather Loser Bothma won in a poker game in Kimberley.

***

Loser Bothma lived up to his name all his life. Nothing he tried ever worked or turned out to be even moderately successful. Maybe because he had nothing to lose and maybe because he was an eternal optimist, he was also a habitual gambler. The only certain thing about his gambling, was the inevitable outcome.

In 1891 he was 52 years old, digging for diamonds as a humble labourer in somebody else’s claim. (It is still unsure who owned that claim, although the family believes it was Cecil Rhodes himself). Top Spots For Gem Hunting In The US | Gem hunt, Diamond state park ...Loser knew he was way past his prime and that his later years would be spent in abject poverty. And then, one day, as he shoveled one dejected spadeful of dusty gravel after the other on to the sieve, a little gust of wind changed his fortune in the blink of an eye. He noticed the spark of reflected sunlight first and when he forced his aching back to bend a bit further, he picked up a pure blue diamond the size of his thumb. It was perfect in every way.

Of course, the diamond didn’t belong to him. But… the claim had delivered only a few, inferior quality, diamonds in the past. He was working alone. And nobody saw him pocket the stone. He went home to his dilapidated tent that night to sit down beneath the torn canvas and to consider what to do. There was no way he could claim the diamond as his own to sell; people knew him and who he worked for. A diamond that pure of that size would be impossible to sell without divulging its true origin.

For once in his life, Loser made the right decision. He buried the diamond under his mattress and continued working on the claim. He did find two or three small, insignificant diamonds, which he duly delivered to (the family believes) Mr Rhodes. And then, when his time was up, he folded his tent, stuffed the diamond in his pocket and left for the Witwatersrand, where gold fever was at its height.

Rand Club in 1888

The Rand Club in 1894

Loser was careful. He had a few pounds and the clothes on his back, as well as a donkey to carry the tent, his mattress and a few pots and pans. He reached Johannesburg, pitched his tent and started looking around. At last, he heard about the gentlemen at the Rand Club. They were rich, he heard, and had a penchant for gambling – especially poker. This was, as his name indicated, a game he was most familiar with.

And so, on the evening of a warm day in December, 1894, Loser presented himself at the club and asked if he could join the game.

***

Cecil rhodes & alfred beit00.jpg

Cecil Rhodes and Alfred Beit

‘One must bear in mind,’ Gertruida says – because she knows everything, ‘that Loser was dressed in the only clothes he had. He was dirty and dusty and his hair was all over the place. The doorman threatened to throw him out. Loser showed his diamond. At that precise moment Alfred Beit arrived at the door. He, Rhodes, Wernher and Herman Ecksteen was planning on a leisurely evening of friendly poker. He saw the diamond, the scruffy, down-and-out miner and immediately invited Loser in.

 

One game and one game only, was offered to Loser. ‘The highest hand wins. No comebacks, no second chances.’ Beit smiled the way a hyena would. Easy game, easy prey and easy winnings. And the buy-in, Beit said, would be £ 5000, just about the price for the diamond – quite incidentally. Loser was to hand over his diamond, but Beit said everybody else was good for the credit. When Loser objected, Rhodes sent the barmaid downstairs to fetch his valise from the safe, guarded by an armed employee. The man came back to check. Rhodes raised his voice. The valise was on the table a minute later.

‘There,’ Rhodes said. selecting a document from the briefcase, ‘satisfied now?” It was a share certificate was worth just over £ 5000.

Loser swallowed hard and nodded.

How to play Texas Holdem Poker? - 1mhowto.com

They sat down in plush chairs on the first floor of the building with a beautiful view of Marshall’s Township, Loser’s opponent was selected by drawing lots. Beit won and sat down opposite to Loser.

The cards were shuffled, Loser was offered the cut and the cards were dealt in a way Loser had never seen before – five open cards in the middle with two face down in front of both players.

‘Make up the best hand of five cards and decide if you’re in. Once both players are prepared to play, the highest hand will win.’  Ecksteen, the dealer, smiled so his gold tooth showed. ‘Mister Bothma?”

Loser checked his two cards, careful not to show them to the others. He had two Kings. It was a good hand. He nodded. Beit smiled.

Beit nodded and carefully replaced his cards on the table. Just then, a Happy Wind breezed through the open window, ruffling the cards on the table. Loser saw the two aces in Beit’s hand.

‘Gentlemen, show your cards.’

***

Gertruida knows more about Texas Hold’em poker than what Loser did. His two kings were weaker than Beit’s two aces. ‘He stood up to go, so used was he to losing, but in those days gentlemen played like gentlemen. It was Rhodes who pointed out that a third king was laying there, face up, amongst the five open cards. Loser had a triple to Beit’s double. He had not only retained his diamond, but he also had won the share certificate in the De Beer’s Mining Company – doubling his fortune.’

Beit was gracious in defeat. ‘He offered to buy the diamond for £ 5000, which Loser was happy to do. He wanted cash for the diamond and that’s what he got. Plus the shares. However, unbeknownst to him, Beit sold the diamond the next day for double that figure, ensuring everybody ended up winners.’

***

Vetfaan gets up, stretches, and smiles. ‘So that’s how a Happy Wind got its name?

‘No Vetfaan, not at all. That would only come years later. Sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.’

To be continued…

Dismal Wind

Wind - Wolwedans - NamibRand - Namibia Gertruida – who knows everything – will tell you, you get many types of winds. You get sandy winds that drive the Kalahari sand so hard it takes the paint off your vehicle. Sometimes you get a wet wind with a few scattered raindrops between the dust particles. And there is the cold wind that chills the very life out of everything.

But, she says, it is the Dismal Wind that gets her down. That’s the worst, she reckons.

This Self-Filling Water Bottle Mimics a Desert Beetle | WIREDA Dismal Wind blows in from the west, from the Namibian coast where the cold Benguela sea stream courses northward. Here the wind picks up moisture to form a fog that feeds the sparse succulent plants in the desert and the occasional desert beetle collects on its surface. (They stand on their heads to drink, incidentally.)

But that is where the promise in the wind stops. Beyond the Namib, it continues as a disillusioned, empty breeze which – at best – may cool you down on a hot summer’s day. It’s like a sterile relationship of empty promises, she says; it may bring clouds, but it never rains.

Yesterday just such a wind drove dust devils down the aptly named, irony laced and wrongly printed Voortrekkker Weg in Rolbos. It frogmarched a tumbleweed down the rutted road as if to make fun of the weeds on the sidewalk. It skirted around the few buildings lining the street, raising the occasional subdued howl as it found little holes in the rusted roofs and window frames. And it brought with it the mood which gave it a name, so many years ago.

***

Gertruida says that Pottie Visasie used to be a handsome, sought-after bachelor in the district, managing game on the family farm. That’s before he was drafted in to the army. The Rolbossers know the story well: the troop-carrier triggered a landmine and he was the last to be rescued from the flaming wreck. He spent more than a year in various hospitals before returning to the farm. He was the original self-isolator, long before a virus forced the world to close its doors.

Before he left for basic training at Voortrekkerhoogte, everybody expected him to marry Bettie Odendaal, Mooibettie, who’s father was one of the original directors of the Oranje River Cellars. Oubaas Odendaal used to be famous for the columbard grapes he cultivated, pressed and fermented on his huge farm next to the river. Odendaal’s Rus, the sweet dessert wine from the deep alluvial soil of the region, was a favourite in the majestic mansions in Monaco and French Reviera. These two markets alone made him a multimillionaire.

Mooibettie and Pottie had promised each other eternal loyalty and commitment on the evening before the train left for Pretoria. During the tough weeks of basic training, Pottie wrote a letter each day,

And then he was sent to the border, to Caprivi, where, on the second after he landed in Katima Mulilo, his luck ran out and he had to be airlifted back to Voortrekkerhoogte in a critical condition. Three weeks later he regained consciousness. Four weeks later he asked, for the first time, for a mirror.

He never wrote to Mooibettie again.

***

‘Well, he eventually made it back to the farm, and he then steadfastly refused to leave his house. The foreman, Klaas Geel, had looked after the farm while he was gone, and he simply continued doing so after Pottie’s return. Pottie was the shadow behind the curtain, the man who signed papers, the owner who was owned by the farm.’ Gertruida sits back to signal for another round. ‘And that was too much for Mooibettie.’

Mooibettie was, indeed, beautiful. Or, more correctly, she used to be. When all her Ashburton Guardianattempts to contact Pottie failed, she took to writing letters. Long, forgiving love letters, which she wedged between the locked farm gate and the post of the two-spoor road leading to Potties farm. There they remained stuck while she added more and more letters every week – for months.

‘Mooibettie was such a lovely girl – not only in looks, but in spirit as well. She hoped, prayed, remained loyal. Pottie, however, just couldn’t face her – or himself, for that matter. He knew about the letters. Klaas had told him, but Pottie would have none of it.  He ordered Klaas to leave those letters just where they were, hoping Mooibettie would get the message.’ Gertruida sighs – such a waste! ‘And she did … eventually. Married Gerbrand van Wyk, late Tannie Cathy’s old husband.’

Why, nobody knows. Mooibettie Odendaal became Elizabeth van Wyk. The newlyweds settled in the new house Oom Gerrie built on his farm. Her room had a nice view of the Kalahari landscape, with the red sand contrasting with the old Camel-thorn tree next to the farm dam. According to Ai Siena, who takes care of the kitchen on the farm, Elizabeth van Wyk just sits at her window, staring at the tree in the desert.

‘Pottie heard about the wedding through Klaas. Telling Pottie about the new Mrs van Wyk was a sort-of revenge for the frustration Klaas endured every time he drove past the bunch of letters stuck to the gate.

‘Pottie’s reaction almost broke Klaas’s heart. He says it looked as if Pottie was back in that burning troop carrier. The livid scar that used to be a handsome face distorted and reddened and looked as if the fragile bits of normal skin would tear apart. He howled like a trapped jackal. Klaas says he was afraid  the man would drop dead, right there, at his feet.’

But he didn’t. He ran out of the house, screaming as he did. And his feet found their way down the two-spoor road to the gate.

‘It was a really windy day. One of those West-winds that threatens to blow everything apart.  The letters were no longer there.’

***

Pottie never returned to the house. Gertruida says he is still out there in the veld, searching and searching for the letters the Dismal Wind had strewn all over the Kalahari. Klaas puts down food and water next to the gate post – it disappears every second or third night.

‘It’s a sad story of missed opportunities, bad luck and grief. When the Dismal Wind blows through the rusted roofs and small holes in the window sills, you can hear them both. Mooibettie and Pottie, yearning for each other, but lost in Life with no way back.’

Gertruida – who knows everything – says most people understand the way of the Dismal Wind. It’s there, inside us, looking for the small holes in our rusted window frames and roofs.

Die Perskebloeisel.

Peach Blossom, Spring Flowers | PikrepoRolbos isn’t just about the Kalahari and the delightful people we find there. Sometimes something else crops up. Something current and important. Like what happens in an Intensive Care Unit during the Covid Pandemic.

It is a South African story. In order to emphasise the local situation,  this one is in Afrikaans.

***

‘Dis my verjaarsdag.’ Haar stem is skaars hoorbaar bo die onreëlmatige biep-biep van die skerm langs haar bed. Ek sit my pen neer – ek sal die voorskrif later voltooi. Ek het hope werk wat wag nadat ek van die kongres af teruggekom het en sukkel om al die pasiënte in die saal te leer ken.

‘Veels geluk.’ Ek klink seker nie entoesiasties genoeg nie en wend ʼn poging aan om te glimlag. Wat kan ek haar toewens? Goeie gesondheid is iets van die verlede. ʼn Lang lewe is buite die kwessie. ʼn Mooi jaar? Met gevorderde Covid-geassosieerde nierversaking soos hare? Gmf! ‘Ek hoop dis ʼn beter dag as gister, um, mevrou … ‘

‘Turganev, Dokter. En dis Juffrou.’ ʼn Bleek handjie fladder verskonend onder die deken uit. ‘Mense sukkel maar met die van. Dis Russies.’

Die van herinner aan die tyd toe ons familie nog normaal kon gesels oor wat daagliks interessant was. ‘Was daar nie ʼn Russiese skrywer…?’

Daar is nuwe lig in die vrou se oë. ‘Ja, Ivan Turgenev. Die Dagboek van ʼn Oortollige Man – miskien weet jy dat hy tronk toe gestuur is oor sy skryfwerk.’

‘Ek ken nie sy werk nie, Juffrou.’ Die vraagtekens in haar oë dwing my om te verduidelik. ‘My dogter is ʼn dosent – sy’s die letterkundige in die familie. Sy is dol oor die ou Russiese skrywers – Chekhov, Nabokov, Pasternak…’  Ek is haastig – die intensiewe eenheid is vol en dokter Schutte soek ʼn bed vir een van sy pasiënte.

‘En my naam is ook histories – Valentina.’ Sy sukkel met die suurstoftekort en moet eers ‘n paar keer diep asemhaal voor sy kan aangaan. ‘Ek is gebore op die 13e Junie 1963 toe Valentina Tereshkova die eerste vrou in die ruimte geword het. My ouers het gevlug uit Rusland toe hulle die muur begin bou het, maar die ruimteresies van die vyftigs en sestigs het hule verbeelding aangegryp. Sputnik, Gagarin…’

Ek het werklik nie nou tyd om hieroor te gesels nie! Ek stryk die groot vloeikaart by die voetenent plat, klik die balpuntpen en gaan aan met haar voorskrif. Uit die hoek van my oog sien ek hoe die fladderhand weer onder die deken verdwyn – die onsuksesvolle antenna word teruggetrek. Die duif keer boodskaploos terug na die Ark.

Dankie tog…

Ek kon twee minder siekes oorplaas na die algemene saal en en is op pad deur toe, maar suster Willemse keer my voor.

‘Dokter moet probeer om ʼn bietjie meer tyd by tannie Turgenev te spandeer.’ Suster Willemse se stemtoon laat – soos altyd – geen argument toe nie. ‘Kyk, sy weet sy gaan sterf en sy aanvaar dit. Sy is eensaam en sy het geen familie nie. Niemand kan vir haar kom kuier nie. Medisyne gaan nie vir haar help nie, maar ʼn simpatieke oor sal darem troos.’ Dan, onverwags, is daar ʼn ongewone pleit in haar stem. ‘Probeer, toe?’

Met my aand rondte slaap juffrou Turganev en suster Willemse rapporteer dat sy ʼn onrustige dag gehad het. ‘Laat haar rus terwyl sy kan, maar probeer om môre vyf minute vroeër te kom. Luister na haar. Hou haar hand vas. Lyk asof jy belangstel.’

Op pad huis toe eggo daardie laaste sin in my gemoed. Lyk as of jy belangstel. Sjoe! Ek spandeer my lewe in die hospitaal. My familie word afgeskeep. My werk is my lewe…en my lewe is my werk. Hoe kan iemand insinueer dat ek nie belangstel nie!

Daar is nog lig in die sitkamervenster – Estelle, my vrou, kyk seker weer ʼn sepie. As ek die voordeur toe maak, hoor ek sy lag. Dan tref dit my: die universiteit het gesluit weens die pandemie. Natuurlik. My dogter is mos tuis. Afstandsonderrig.  Skoon vergeet…

Ons groet mekaar soos dit hoort – met spontane vals glimlaggies. Estelle se oë is koud en afsydig, soos altyd, maar ons het lankal besluit om die skyn van ʼn gelukkige huwelik te bewaar. Sonja, my dogter, was nog altyd aan haar ma se kant maar haar groet is miskien darem een graad warmer as Estelle sʼn.  Ek gaan eet in die kombuis (koue bobotie en rys) en na die tyd gaan sit ek op ʼn gepaste afstand by die twee vroue. My bydrae tot die gesprek is die af-en-toe ‘O’ of ‘Mmmm…’, bloot omdat ek hulle sal verveel met my stories van siekes en sterwendes.

Dan, tydens ʼn paar oomblikke van stilte, probeer ek om deel te wees van hul lewens.

‘Um, daardie Russiese skrywer – Turgenev? Jy’t mos al van hom gepraat, Sonja?’

Sy kyk verbaas na my, as of sy vir die eerste keer hierdie aand my raaksien.  ‘Sjoe! Het Pa nou begin om ordentlike literatuur te lees? Impressive…

‘Moenie sarkasties wees nie, Sonja, dit pas jou nie.’ Ek het glad nie bedoel om so kortaf te wees nie. Hemel, wat het van ons geword? Ek haal diep asem en dwing my stemtoon terug na normaal. ‘Ek het ʼn dame in die saal, haar van is Turgenev. Sy sê sy’s familie van die skrywer. En sy het iets gesê van ʼn oortollige man…’

Turgenev Dissed Russia but Is Still Lionized as Literary Star by ...‘Ivan Turgenev. Nou toe nou! Dnevnik Lishnego Cheloveka, The Diary of a Superfluous Man.’ Ek moet, ten spyte van die atmosfeer, glimlag oor haar poging om die Russiese woorde te vorm. ‘Daardie verhaal, asook sy eerste boek, Rudin, gaan oor ʼn belangrike onderwerp – die onmag van ‘n willose intelligentsia. Daar was ʼn hele generasie opgeleide, intelligente, slim Russe, manne van insig en integriteit, maar hulle was nie in staat om die outoritêre regeringstyl van Tsar Nikolaas l te beïnvloed nie. Die gevolg?’ Dit lyk as of sy ʼn antwoord verwag en ek word gedwing om my kop te skud. Wanneer het hierdie kind, hierdie klein dogtertjie, vrou geword? Wanneer het sy verander van ʼn hulpelose telg tot ʼn selfstandige wese, ʼn akademikus, iemand met vaste opinies? Sy antwoord self: ‘Die mans is hierdie verhale het die inherente vermoë om omstandighede te verander, maar hulle word passief. Toeskouers. Die gehoor van ʼn tragedie wat reg voor hul oë afspeel.’ Sy sug. ‘Dis die verhaal van baie gesinne, baie samelewings in hierdie dae. Selfs ons.’

Ons? Ons die land of ons die gesin?

Ek slaap sleg en is voor my gewone opstaantyd aangetrek vir werk. Estelle slaap nog vas as ek by haar kamer inloer.

Die verwese, grys kop op die skoon wit linne lyk nog méér broos as gister. Sy hou my dop vandat ek die intensiewesorg saal se deur oopstoot tot ek by haar bed kom staan. Het suster Willemse met haar gepraat? Vertel dat sy my aangespreek het oor my belangelose houding? Haar oë is moeg, gedaan.

‘Dis tyd,’ sê sy.

Ek weet nie wat om te sê nie en probeer die gesprek by gister se besoek aanhaak.

‘Die onmag van die intelligentsia, Juffrou, is ʼn siekte van die mensdom. Soms wil mens omstandighede aanspreek, maar daar is geen manier nie. Jou voorvader was reg, nie waar nie? Hy was bekommerd oor wat van Rusland gaan word, en vandag moet ons erken dat hy reg was.’

‘Ja, hy skryf êrens … dat ons baie herinneringe koester, maar … so min het om te onthou. Of so iets.’ Die inspanning om te praat is pynlik duidelik

‘Ek is jammer, Mevrou, as ek soms oorhaastig is. Die werk…’ Dit klink lam. ‘Die verantwoordelikhede…’

Die kreukels en plooie rangskik hulself in iets wat ʼn glimlag mag wees. ‘Genoeg hiervan.” Sy haal diep asem. ‘Mag ek … iets vra?’

Suster Willemse kom staan langs my. Sy moes gewag het vir hierdie oomblik.

‘Ek het al vir Suster gevra en … sy’t gesê dis reg met haar.’ Die handjie kom bewend onder die deken uit en vou om my voorarm. Suster Willemse sit haar hand bo-op neer. Ons drie is verbind deur die band van tas. Hoekom voel dit so vreemd? ‘Buite, in die vierkant … net anderkant die venster, staan ʼn … boom. ʼn Perskeboom. Dit sou wonderlik gewees het … as dit ʼn kersieboom kon wees…’ Haar stem raak weg. Die oë dwaal hemelwaarts. ‘Maar dit sal nou maar moet doen.’ Nou kom daar ʼn definitiewe smeking in haar stem. ‘Kan ek…mag ek…vir ʼn oomblik onder daardie boom gaan lê? Net ʼn oomblik. Suster het gesê … sy sal help.’

Hulle het my later geroep om haar afsterwe te bevestig, daar onder die ou perskeboom in die vierkant, tussen die baksteenmure van die hospitaal. Sy het mooi gelyk, ontspanne, selfs gelukkig.

The First Woman in Space: Valentina Tereshkova | AnOther‘Sy wou soos Valentina Tereshkova wees, Dokter. Sy’t my vertel. Daardie eerste vrou in die ruimte was ʼn eenvoudige Russiese fabriekswerker, iemand met ʼn droom. En haar ruimteloopbaan het begin toe sy kind was, toe sy in die kersieboom agter hul huis geklim het om aan die hemel te probeer raak. Wys jou net: as mens braaf genoeg is om te droom, is niks onmoontlik nie. Al vereiste, het sy gesê, is dat jy regtig moet glo in jou droom. Anders word jou droom oorbodig – superfluous, is die woord wat sy gebruik het. Dis hoekom sy hier onder die boom wou kom lê, vir oulaas, sodat sy kortpad hemel toe kon kies. Sy het só uitgesien daarna…’

Daardie aand het ek huis toe gegaan en met my vrou en dogter gaan praat. ʼn Lang gesprek oor Russiese skrywers, vroulike ruimtevaarders, ons klein familietjie, en drome waarin mens moet glo. Oor ‘n gesonde wêreld sonder virusse. Die volgende oggend het Estelle vir my koffie en beskuit in die bed bedien. En op die klein skinkbordjie, langs die beker, was ʼn perskebloeisel.

The Curious Art of Celebrating the Sad Things

Johnnie Walker whisky to become available in paper-based bottle ...It’s been one of those rare, quiet mornings in Boggel’s Place where everybody is too angry to engage in superficial chit-chat. The news that Boggel’s most expensive drink is going to be sold in paper bottles, has been just too much. Vetfaan reckons  these bottles won’t withstand the stresses and shocks of Upington’s potholes.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘we can’t afford JW’s Black Label, and that’s cool. But I hear Coke is also looking at the possibility. What are we going to mix with brandy? It’s a disaster.’

Servaas breaks the reverie. ‘Ah, another disaster. Another celebration.’

Kleinpiet puts down his drink – cleverly disguised as Appletiser in case Sersant Dreyer pops in. ‘What are you talking about, Servaas? Celebrating disasters?’

‘Ja man, it’s a world-wide phenomenon. We simply cannot get enough of hardship, pain, disappointment, death and anything else that makes us sad. Or angry. Think about it: we remember 9-11. We celebrated Guy Fawkes in the past, just because he almost blew up the British Parliament. We remember Armistice Day and the millions who fell in the wars. Our own calendar is littered with names of people who died tragically.’

‘Jis, Servaas, that’s all true. But we must never forget the sacrifices people made to grant us the freedom we have today.’

Servaas sits up straight to wag a finger at Kleinpiet. ‘Freedom? You call this freedom? Remember Bobby McGee, my friend. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…’ When Boggel slides a fresh beer over to the old man, he calms down a bit. ‘Let’s not go overboard with that freedom idea, Kleinpiet. Ja, we must remember the past – the whole past, not just the bits promoting a specific ideology.

‘Whether we like it or not, there were – as there still are – many murders in the past. We had despots, kings, wars and even a period of cannibalism. Colonialism and slavery was something the whole world endured. History tells the story of mankind’s many mistakes and it is right that we learn from that. But why celebrate disasters when we can celebrate nice things – the stuff we learnt during those times?’

‘Like National Braai Day?’ Vetfaan brightens at the idea.

‘Ja, man! That’s the idea. Why celebrate a paper bottle when we can have a real party with the contents? If all of us who live in this beautiful country can have the guts to take a good, long, hard look at what and who we are, we might see progress at last. Instead of concentrating on the weak spots, why can’t we celebrate the good that we have? We have music, cultures, creative minds, sports, miles and miles of national parks, beaches, animals, whales – the list of things to celebrate, is endless. Why can’t we have a National Love-Thy-Neighbour Day?’ Old Oom Servaas suddenly runs out of steam. ‘Ag, I know. We love to argue. We don’t let the sun shine on others. Politics have been divisive in the past and will be so forever. We insist on complaining about the paper bottle and in doing so, fail to appreciate the contents.’

Boggel nods. ‘That’s what we call freedom, Servaas.’

 

Lockdown Rising

‘He’s back at the keyboard.’ Kleinpiet sighs. ‘Now our days of sneaking to Boggel’s Place for a quickie is over. Shees! The way uncle Rama is constantly changing the rules, is really frustrating.’

‘And it’s not as if our hospital is overflowing, man! We don’t make accidents and we don’t have a hospital. So, what’s the point of forcing Boggel to close down again? It’s pure madness.’ Vetfaan’s voice sounds like Tannie Nkosasaan’s after a heavy night’s smoking. He’s had a bout of Kalahari Flu last week after drinking Kleinpiet’s pineapple tequila.

Boggel manages a smile. ‘Alcohol bans are here to stay, guys. As long as the majority of people insist on socialising in the most dense spots in the country…’

‘Whao, Boggel, you’re treading on holy ground, Bru. You can’t go on saying such things. It’s socially irresponsible. Rather tell us about the long silence we’ve been forced to endure?’

‘He’s done another biography…again. This time he had to study all about atoms and leptons and mesons and bosons and quarks. And all that at his age, nogal. It took him a full year just to understand what he was writing about. But, in the end, the book explains everything you ever wanted to know about time.’

‘Time? The reason we look at watches? What a waste! The sun rises, the sun sets. Winter, summer. What else do we want to know about time?’ Vetfaan has never worn a watch in his life.

‘No, man. It’s an interesting subject. When did time start? Can we slow it down? Speed it up? And what about warping spacetime? What does it mean and why can it help us to get to other galaxies?’ Boggel slides new beers across the counter. ‘Think out of the box, Vetfaan. Even if we live in the Kalahari, we still have to know something about the outside world.’

‘Nah. Not me. The outside world is sick. You pay me a million bucks to go live elsewhere, and I’ll tell you where to put that money. Here we can say what we want. It’s okay to discuss colour and gender and religion and politics, without waiting for a guy in a uniform to bang down your front door. We don’t disrespect people who are different, we just reserve the right to be independent thinkers, that’s all.’

‘You’re right, Vetfaan. At least here, we can talk about Bloukrans or the Boere-oorlog and not get angry about the past. What happened, happened. It’s the reason we are where we are. Toppling a statue doesn’t make history go away.’

Boggel sits down on his box beneath the counter. Ah, yes! It’s good to be back. And it’s nice to hear the banter in Boggel’s Place again. At least the guys didn’t ask him whether he was going to lock up the bar. It would have been a waste of breath, wouldn’t it?

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…