Tag Archives: respect

Vetfaan’s Rules

Respect-Text-Wallpaper.jpgVetfaan grew up in the time when parents were still able to dish out a proper hiding without being charged with some violation of children’s rights. In fact, children really had no statutory rights by law – the rights they had were governed by love, compassion and rather rigid discipline. Love, because his parents cared deeply about his future. Compassion, because they wanted to bring up a boy they could be proud of – and who’d benefit whichever society he belonged to in his later life. And discipline, for it is true that a lack of discipline will result in an excess of misery and distress eventually.

So, a few things were simply accepted: no stealing, no disrespect, no lies. His parents did not read Dr Benjamin Spock’s books nor did they take note of similar opinions advocating the notion that children had an equal right to interrupt a conversation or determine how a weekend was spent. According to them, a child was…a child; an infant who still had to find his place in the community –  intellectually, financially and responsibly. Such an immature being had to be guided and helped to achieve a successful integration amongst his seniors and his peers – something which the parents believed would not happen on its own accord.

Of course, these outlandish ideas have been  discarded as medieval and improper during the intervening years, but Vetfaan remains the product of his past. When the salesperson at the Massey Ferguson franchise called him ‘old-school’, Vetfaan was immensely proud and pleased, much to the surprise of the salesman.  The one thing his parents taught him – Vetfaan says – is humility; something he maintains is the most important aspect of being a civilised human being.

“Humility is old-school,” Vetfaan is fond of saying, “because it has become highly  unfashionable to downplay your abilities. These days people tend to boast and brag; look at any CV or listen to guys describing their sport or work or cars or motorbikes; thinking a solo ego-trip impresses others. The New Way is cheap talk of results sometime in the future; the Old Way was effort first, results to follow and then allowing the results to do the talking – not you, if you follow my drift?  This new way of egotistical flamboyancy has killed the notion that humility is a good thing. People nowadays see  it as a weakness, which is terribly sad when you think about it.”

But when you get to the subject of disrespect, Vetfaan can’t stop talking. “Respect is why civilisation should work…and doesn’t. The term involves your standing in society, the interaction with superiors (and equals and those less fortunate than you), property and culture – to name only a few. You see, respect is another form of humility but at the same time it serves to prove you are in control of the situation. Eastern cultures have long held that the best leader is the humble one who respects others – a simple concept that has evaded the Western mind completely.”

But, Vetfaan maintains, the worst forms of disrespect involves abuse: of relationships, property, or religion. “Nah, I’m not going to put my foot into that one. Religion, sex and politics? Shew, that’s trouble with a capital T. All I’m saying is: while everybody is entitled to an opinion, they should respect the right of others to the same.” He does, however, feel strongly about property. “Look at what’s happening to our schools, libraries and universities – how can the burning of these be called ‘a protest’?  A protest is where you agitate for better facilities or something like that.  But burning down hostels and auditoriums  – costing millions – in the name of protest is simply a lie. Those are criminal acts which deserve to be rewarded by some serious jail-time.

“And the same goes for land reform. Sure, if the government finds a willing seller at the right price, and then awards the farm to a competent community to farm in an economically sound fashion – then I’m all for it. But to use this ability to ‘reform land’ as a political tool? That’s disrespectful towards all the voters in the country.

“That brings me to racism. Gee, man…racism is a world-wide thing – has been since forever, will be till the end of time. But…I think the term is used in a very loose way. Because I prefer my own way of life – my culture – above for instance…an Inuit’s…that doesn’t mean I hate Eskimo’s at all. I prefer biltong above whale fat – does that make me a racist? Of course not. I respect the Eskimo’s culture but I don’t have to embrace it.

“In South Africa we have a very delicate situation. Police chief after police chief gets fired because of corruption. Our president has to face more than 700 charges of corruption. The ANC keeps on blaming all ills in the country on Apartheid, while the elephants in the room are the SABC, Escom, our railroads, our schools and the decaying infrastructure. Now, I ask you: is it wrong to be critical of the guys and women in charge of these departments? Of course not. But….they happen to be black. So now, completely justifiable criticism gets tarnished with a dab of the racist brush and suddenly the objectors against poor service delivery are racists.

“That, of course, scares most whiteys off, forcing them into submission. Now: submission and humility aren’t the same thing at all. When you are humble, you earn respect. When you force submission onto somebody, that’s disrespect. Simple, true and sad… It’s called: ‘abuse’.”

***

Gertruida once asked Vetfaan whether his ‘Rules’ make him happy. He shook his head.

“It’s not about being happy, Gertruida. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about having peace of mind. And it’s about reaching out to others in the old saying: in unity is strength. We are being artificially divided. It’s time to bring back Old-School and for us to wake up…if it’s not too late already.”

The Goldilocks Zone of Kindness.

extra-Paint-CansBoggel, the bent little barman behind the counter, often tells his customers that kindness and rain have a lot in common. Too little makes things die. Too much, on the other hand, washes away the honesty of caring. Like the theme in the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears suggests, the trick is to get it ‘just right‘. Too little – or too much – will spoil the original intent of empathy and care.

While his patrons might debate this issue, Boggel can’t forget an incident – so many years ago – just after he had left school to seek his fame and fortune in the big, wide world out there.

***

Having managed to pass matric, Boggel had to leave the orphanage. This was a sad day, indeed, when he hugged the others before closing the garden gate behind him for the last time. His worldly possessions included the clean change of clothes in his little suitcase, a small Bible in his pocket, and fifteen Rands and seventy-five cents carefully knotted in the washed handkerchief in his hand. With no specific plan how to conquer the world, Boggel felt like the loneliest young man in the world.

He timed his leaving well, and had just reached the bus stop when Kallie Mann stopped the lumbering bus next to the bench under the huge old Acacia.

“Going places?”

“Ja, Oom. Upington, I think.”

Kallie wouldn’t accept a bus fare from the young lad, knowing all too well what his background was. In a place like Grootdrink, even the orphans were celebrities (of sorts). Anything or anybody out of the usual, mundane normality, was a source of debate, discussion or plain gossip in the little town. Boggel, as a hunchbacked orphan, was a well-known and much talked about young man.

 Kallie, too, had a bit of history. He had married his childhood sweetheart, Sally Kleyngeld, set up home, and was soon able to announce the imminent arrival of their first child. It was not to be. A complicated birth, two graves (a big one, a small one) and an empty house termitted away at the life of this once-popular man. He resigned his work at the bank and became a bus driver. That way he rarely had to spend an evening amongst the ghosts and shattered dreams of his of his past. He said he needed the openness of the veld around him – the small office in the bank had too many walls.

A few miles out of Grootdrink, Kallie asked his only passenger what his plans were. Boggel shook his head.

“Why don’t you move in with me for a while? Until you find something else, I mean. The place is huge, I’m alone and you need a bed. Seems the logical thing to do.”

And that’s what they did. Boggel moved in. Kallie’s house, however, was in a state of total disarray. Kallie apologised, saying he’s never at home and…anyway…cleaning the place would be like throwing Sally out. Her towel. Her nighties. Her slippers. These all remained where she had put them before the catastrophe. Even the baby room, so carefully prepared, waited in vain for the whimper of a hungry infant.

Boggel started knocking on doors the next day. The butcher said his back would never be strong enough. The postmaster shook his head. The restaurant advertised a job for a waiter, but the manager said he was afraid the hunchback would scare his customers away. Door after door closed behind him. The message was clear: conquering the world was reserved for ‘normal’ people, not for cripples like him.

013001056A week or two later, Kallie had to take a busload of tourists to the Augrabies Falls; after which followed a week-long sojourn in Springbok to view the magnificent splendour of the annual flower season. Kallie said goodbye to a depressed and dejected Boggel, who vowed to have a job by the time his benefactor came back.

Boggel redoubled his efforts to find employment. The hospital didn’t need porters, the undertaker had no vacancies for grave diggers and the municipality said they’re sorry, their budget won’t allow another road worker. He had knocked on all the doors. Upington would not be the launching pad of his brilliant career.

Boggel didn’t know what to do. Being idle had never been part of his character, and there he was: unemployed, bored, and disappointed.

Well, he could fix up Kallie’s house, couldn’t he? The idea galvanised him into action. He swept. He dusted. He washed. He tidied room after room, cleaning windows and washing curtains as he went along. Then he took his money to the hardware store and asked the owner for as much paint as his money could buy. The owner took pity on the young lad, and produced a variety of half-empty paint containers – left over from the contract to renovate the town hall. No, he said, no money. He had seen how the hunchbacked youth tried to find employment and took pity on him. Do a good job – and maybe it’d be the start of a career, the man remarked.

Boggel was overjoyed. He painted from dawn to dusk. His back was a problem, of course. To get to the higher parts of the walls was impossible with his hunchback, so he painted as far as he could reach while standing on a chair. Room after room he did in this fashion. Kallie, he was sure, wouldn’t mind doing the upper bits of the walls.

The lounge was blue. There was enough green for the kitchen. The dining room looked magnificent in beige, while the large container of yellow sorted out the rest of the house. Boggel realised he was a very, very good painter. Not a drop was spilled on the carpets or furniture. The dried walls were a smooth as plastic, with no streaks and sloppy lines. This, he told himself, was a huge success.

Kallie nearly died when he returned. When he pushed open the front door, he stood riveted to the floor for a very long time. Then he started – softly at first, but growing in volume – repeating a single word.

“No….no….no.…”

He calmed down after a while. Sat staring at the blue walls around the fireplace, talking to himself. Or rather, talking to Sally, who wasn’t there. He asked her to please, please, come back.

Boggel left that same afternoon. Got on the train after buying a ticket to Cape Town, where he eventually learnt his trade in a tavern near the harbour. (Nobody wanted to work there – it was considered too dangerous.). Here, Boggel’s disability and the way he handled it, generated not sympathy but respect from the rough men who had come ashore from the ships. He built up a reputation as a fair barman, especially after sorting out the wrestling champion with a cricket bat. It’s quite a story, but he rarely talks about that time. He is an outspoken pacifist and hates to be reminded of his more, er, angry days. Even so, his little altercation with the burly athlete saved them both a lot of trouble. The wrestler apologised to the pretty barmaid and became a huge fan of the tavern. laughing at the way Boggel placed the bat on the counter every time he walked in…

***

The_three_bears_pg_11Boggel says that’s the way to dispense kindness. A lick of paint – or a cricket bat – at the right time, can work wonders. But the key is to time it right.

And…not too little.

Not too much.

Just right.

Just like in the story of Three Bears.

 

Fanny’s Surprise

Fanny Featherbosom stares at the mirror for a long time. The dress, made by Androulla Toumaza’s unique boutique in Stoke Newington, north London, is fashioned after a 50’s rage. It is elegantly styled to fit her perfectly; she’d be the envy of every woman in the audience tonight and can anticipate the lecherous looks from the men. Although the thought makes her smile, the mirth doesn’t reach her eyes.

She is the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the Kalahari Bushmen Humanitarian Fund, a charity which aims to improve education and development of the indigenous peoples on that vast desert. Her notes are ready: the history of the persecution of the San over the ages is a harrowing subject that’ll make the attendees add more naughts to their donated sums. The KBHF was started after she returned from her time with !Ka by her father, who saw the value of exploiting public consciousness. Not only would the Bushmen benefit from such a campaign, it also gave big companies the opportunity to tell the world how much they care. Plain Advertising 101: benefits all round.

But this afternoon she had her first look at the projected costs. To get a camera crew to the Kalahari – private jet and the hiring of two additional helicopters once they’re there – already  eats up the first three million. Then, to keep the campaign going, a crew will be left (after the nitial shoots) for another six months. Salaries, overheads, lodging, apparatus – another million gone. After that: the extensive editing, the music that must be composed, the jingles to be written. The budget is quite staggering…

Henry Hartford (The Third) arrives when the large oak grandfather clock in the hall strikes the hour. Dear Henry – always so prompt! Reliable, dependable Henry. Boring, dull Henry. Still, a girl can’t have everything. Despite his personality, he’s quite a catch – everybody agrees on that. With significant shareholding in oil companies, mining rights in Australia and the hotel chain, the wealth of the Hartfords is far beyond the capabilities of normal thought. There are just too many zeroes. Although the marriage will be secure and safe with predictable moments of joy (Christmas dinners, birthdays), she’ll be introduced as a celebrity to the lords and ladies of high society – even the Queen herself. As far as English maidens goes, she’s landed the ultimate prize.

As he escorts her to the limousine (soft hand at her elbow, straight back, nose slightly tilited upwards) she cannot but help thinking of Vetfaan. Rough, tough-as-nails Vetfaan with the old Ford pickup. Yes he did open the door for her, but she had to clear the supplies and equipment from the seat before she could get in. Dusty, trusty Vetfaan, the rugged man with the soft heart and the kind eyes. She smiles as the chauffeur jumps out to shepherd the two of them into the air-conditioned interior, where the two chilled glasses of Dom Perignon won’t spill a drop as they drive off.

As usual, Henry says nothing.  He’s may be brilliant with figures and numbers, but small-talk is something he  is totally incapable of. He said he’d fetch her and escort her to the function, so that’s what he’s doing. It’s unnecessary to say anything, after all.

After the customary social interaction that accompanies these stiff evenings, her talk is announced.  Henry gets up to give her a hand to rise from her chair, hands the CD with the powerpoint presentation to her, and shakes her hand.  Pompous, dull Henry. She lets go of Henry’s limp hand, gets up and glides up the steps to the stage. The technician rushes over to get the powerpoint into the computer and waits for her nod to start the slide show.

From where she stands, she scans the faces of the audience for a second, gathering her thoughts.

“Ladies and gentlemen..” she rushes through the ritual of greeting everybody by their social rank and standing, before telling them about the plight of the San people of the Kalahari. She sweeps the audience along with her telling of the value system these so-called primitive men and women accept as completely normal, contrasting it brilliantly with the mayhem of modern society. The inherent kindness and respect of the San gets positioned apposite the greed and laws of Western civilisation.

Then she nods, starting the slides.

The audience gasps.

She swirls around to see the face of Vetfaan smiling from the screen.

One after the other, Gertruida’s photographs of Rolbos, !Ka and the Busman family flashes in front of the audience, telling a wordless story of the life and times of this remote area in the desert. A short video clip of Oudoom talking about love follows, and the slide show ends with a clip of the group at the bar wishing her and Henry the best of futures.

The polite applause punctuates the audience’s surprise. They expected Fanny’s brilliant photographic documentation of the !Ka family’s life, but here they were shown how different groups can coexist – under completely different circumstances – in peaceful harmony, interdependent, and on the goodwill they  share.

Then, after thirty seconds or so, Gertruida appears on the screen. The end of the slides, was, after all, not the end of the show.

“You people don’t know me. I’m Gertruida.  And I want to tell you something you may not know. We love Fanny. All of us do. Maybe Vetfaan loves her more than the rest of us, but that remains to be seen.

“Now I know you want to collect money for an advert and you’ll donate millions towards improving the life of these Bushmen. I have another suggestion.

“Donate your money. Give it to Fanny. Let her get that Sally Shepherd to do the filming, with Fanny directing. You’ll save thousands of pounds in production, and we can get Fanny back to Rolbos for a while. I’ve spoken to Henry Hartford, and he’s given his blessing on such an undertaking.”

This time the applause is spontaneous and genuine.

Fanny stares down at Henry. Dull, socially inept Henry. And in that moment, she understands for the first time that his life isn’t just about money and numbers. Gertruida obviously contacted him, and suggested that he exchange to CD’S to show the one they saw tonight.

In that locked gaze, she realises a new understanding between them. He’s not afraid to trust her, and he doesn’t want to keep her from doing what she feels she must do. He wants her to be free, find her heart, be the person she wants to be, and follow her passion.

With tears streaking down her cheeks, she hurries over to hug Henry. Dear, sweet, understanding, loving Henry. He of few words, but a heart of gold.

For the first time since she’s met him, she can see him laughing as she rushes up to him.

The Gift

!Ka smacks his lips – the coffee is strong and sweet, a special treat after the months of desert-living. The thick slices of bread, generously covered with butter, disappear one after the other amidst numerous clicking sounds of appreciation.

Vetfaan once asked him how old he was, but the old man simply shook his head and said he was born after the Year of the Fire. When he asked Gertruida about it, she said fire destroyed most of he Kalahari grasslands in 1932, which meant the old man could be nearing his eighties. His wrinkled face and the gaunt body make it impossible to guess how old he might be, although the lack of most of his teeth suggest many, many seasons in the veld.

The first time Vetfaan met the withered old man, !Ka ran away. He had just shot a klipspringer and was so intent on skinning the animal that Vetfaan was almost next to him before he noticed he had company.  Grabbing the slain little antelope, !Ka set off across the sand. Vetfaan shouted for him to stop, but of course that didn’t help. On impulse, Vetfaan took his rifle and fired a shot in the air.

In Africa you learn to use whatever form of guile you can fool your opposition with. It’s an essential part of survival. Animals use camouflage for the same reason. Humans can be more inventive. !Ka threw his hands in the air, imitating having been shot, and fell face-down in the sand. Of course, by the time Vetfaan reached the spot, !Ka and his antelope were gone. Not a trace. Not the slightest hint of a spoor. Vanished into proverbial thin air.

The ruse had been so skilfully executed with such stealth, that Vetfaan sat down and laughed. It was a laugh of merriment, of appreciation, even respect. Then as he scanned the horizon, he thought he saw !Ka move behind a bush a distance away. In fact, it wasn’t !Ka, it was the foot of the antelope that protruded from the hiding place. !Ka realised it might be visible to his pursuer and dragged the carcass deeper into the shadow of the bush. Had it not been for that single movement, Vetfaan would never have found him.

To !Ka’s mind, it was useless to flee. The White man had a gun, after all. The stories the old people told about how the men with horses and guns hunted down their ancestors, were all to clear in his mind. When Vetfaan strode towards the bush, !Ka stood up. He waited, whites of his eyes showing clearly against the walnut-brown of his face, and when Vetfaan was near enough, he bent down to lay the small buck on the ground in front of Vetfaan’s boots. The message was clear: I’ll buy my life back from you with this animal I had killed.  A taken life for a given life. Fair exchange…

How do you explain your intentions when the language-barrier is so daunting? Vetfaan knew enough about Bushman-lore to know you shouldn’t refuse a gift. He also knew the meat represented quite a number of meals for the man’s family, who must certainly be around somewhere near.  So he sat down, making  sure !Ka saw how he moved the gun away to one side. I’m not here to hunt you, Old Man, the gesture said. And he smiled, took out a packet of cigarettes and offered one to the scared man with his dead antelope.

It was difficult at first. Finally realising the futility of long sentences and excessive gestures, they started at the beginning.  Me, !Ka. You?  They finished the packet of cigarettes and shared water from Vetfaan’s bottle. Vetfaan tried to tell !Ka that he was curious to know more about Bushmen, and meant him no harm. It was impossible to say whether he had been understood.

In the end, Vetfaan clapped his hands together in a gesture of gratitude, and accepted the klipspringer. Then he picked up the gun and indicated that !Ka must follow him to the Land Rover. The herd of Gemsbok he had seen that morning was only a few kilometres away.

The joy on !Ka’s face was overwhelming.  A Gemsbok! Now, that was a prize! He thanked Vetfaan with many clicks and gestures, and was overcome by emotion when he realised Vetfaan would supply the transport back to his family as well. By that time the nagging suspicion that the White man meant him harm, had disappeared.

Vetfaan was welcomed at !Ka’s little settlement as a king, after a long and elaborate explanation by the Bushman. Families gathered around the carcass. The gift of the Gemsbok meant a sudden abundance of food and was celebrated with much singing and dancing. Still unable to communicate with any sense of purpose or certainty, it was made abundantly clear that Vetfaan was welcome at !Ka’s fireside whenever he wanted to visit.

And so their infrequent meetings at irregular intervals started. Sometimes, when Vetfaan patrolled his farm, he’d pick up the little man’s footprints. Occasionally, it was !Ka who found his way to the homestead.  Slowly, over the years, they started understanding words and phrases, which made communication easier. !Ka knew Vetfaan would always help with the hunting in the dry seasons when animals were scarce and scattered over vast areas. And every meeting brought deeper understanding in how different their lives were.

Now !Ka puts down his mug on the step of the stoep beside him. He’s here for a reason, but this time it’s got nothing to do with hunting.  His wife (he indicates breasts) is ill (eyes crossed, tongue lolling to one side, breathing fast), and has a fever (hand across the brow, wiping away sweat).  Vetfaan gets the Bushman to get into the Land Rover and sets off in the direction !Ka indicates. His first-aid kit nestles between them.

Bushmen live a simple or complicated life, depending on how you view it. Simple, because they need only the bare necessities. Complicated, because they survive on those only.  !Ka’s family have erected their shelters next to a rocky outcrop where a damp spot on the ground told them about the water below the surface. The huts ware fashioned from twigs and grass, with animal skins supplying shade during the day and warmth during the night. A small fire was kept going in the clearing between the shelters.

!Ka’s wife tries to get up when Vetfaan enters her shelter, but she is so weak, she almost topples over. A wet sheen of sweat covers her diminutive face, and even in the half-light inside the shelter, she seems pale.  It takes only a cursory inspection to realise this woman needs expert help. Asperin and Band-Aids aren’t going to fix her.

Vetfaan makes carrying motions, points at the vehicle, and lets his hand cruise up and down, indicating a journey over the dunes. !Ka is aghast.

***

It takes three months.  !Ka’s wife had a ruptured appendix and needed repeated surgeries to fix everything up again. Vetfaan travelled to the hospital in Upington and back once a week with a wide-eyed !Ka in the passenger seat. It was difficult to say which was the more frightening to the small man: the trip to the hospital, or the pathetic little woman who seemed to be slipping away. In the end, she started getting better, filling out the wrinkles  as the pipes and drains got less. During that time, !Ka stayed in a backroom on Vetfaan’s farm; doing odds and ends to earn his keep. They also found it easier to communicate as time went by, learning words in each other’s language as they went along.

When at last the day of her discharge arrived, the entire hospital staff was there to bid her goodbye with singing and dancing like you only find in Africa. The old lady must have made quite an impression. !Ka responded with a long speech in his language. Nobody understood the words; but his gratitude was so obvious, he didn’t need an interpreter.

The following morning !Ka is waiting for Vetfaan in the kitchen. He’s dressed in his traditional loincloth, barefoot, and has his bow in his hand.

I’ve come to say goodbye. It’s time.

But no, you can’t. She’s just out of hospital…

She needs the sand. The desert. The space. She’ll be better out there. These walls prevent her from being in the Kalahari.

!Ka solemnly shakes Vetfaan’s hand. Then, as a gesture of thanks, he places a small leather bag in his friend’s hand.

I go. Someday maybe we’ll see each other again. Thank you…

Vetfaan watches as the two stride out towards the horizon. Two small persons, heading back to family and home – wherever home might be. Then again, home is where the others are; the little ageless people who roam free in a kingdom they have made their own. He can hear their melodious voices chanting a happy-sounding song, over and over again, as they grow smaller and smaller in the distance.

He sits down on his stoep, unravels the thong around his present, and drops its contents in his hand. It is a large stone, almost transparent – and it feels surprisingly cool to the touch.

What do you do with one of the huge diamonds that get mentioned in so many Bushman legends? This one is half as big as a man’s fist and must weigh almost a kilogram. Do you sell it on the black market? Take it to the police and explain where you got it? Get somebody to cut it up in smaller bits, work it into jewellery, and sell it as heirlooms?

Vetfaan pours another mug of coffee while he admires the large, seemingly flawless stone. Then, after wrapping it up again carefully, he buries it next to the old tree behind his house. Buries it in the sand – the red sand of the Kalahari – where it came from. It’s not a rejection of a heartfelt present, not at all. !Ka will tell you: presents are to be cherished and embraced. Gifts are like sliced bread, he once said. It must be given with love and appreciated with respect. It may not be rejected and cannot be returned.

“This is appreciation and respect,” Vetfaan tells himself, “this stone belongs here. No money can compare with the friendship this stone represents. It’ll be safe here, it’ll stay here.”

He smiles when he remembers one of their halting conversations. Friendship, !Ka said, is the generous helping of butter on life’s slice of bread. It tastes as good, but fortunately, it lasts longer…