Friday, January 29, 2010

Once in a Blue Moon and Eclipses

It's 2010, and like someone said, it sounds so 'Star Trekkish'. But here we are in the Langkloof, if anything far less 'advanced' than we were a few years ago. We live in a very old peasant house, use gas to cook on, bath by paraffin lamp often and live off an endless supply of marrows and pumpkins from our garden.

We saw the New Year in on the balcony of a smallholding in Krakeel, to the sound of discordant drumming from some friends who had been making merry.
There was a blue moon and an eclipse happening at the same time. Our daughter was valiantly trying to understand and to speak Afrikaans with new friends and Lex and I were looking up and out and wandering where God was taking us this year. We meant to go and listen to Dominee as he preached in the New Year, but weariness and darn right laziness prevented us.

It would have been in the NG Kerk of cause, and in Afrikaans. Which brings me to a very definite factor that we will be contending with this New year - Afrikaans.
Thinking back, I do not know how I ever passed matric Afrikaans. I had no interest in learning, enscanced as I was in my English world. We laughed out loud when we watched 'Nommer Asseblief' - and that was about it.

It seems that me and Afrikaans and that blue moon being eclipsed have a lot in common. Afrikaans crossed my path very occasionally after school, but when it did it was usually part of some of my most intense experiences.

There was that crazy trip in the eighties into the Free State with two 'Alternatiewe Afrikaners' who decided that the very random me ( at that time) needed some 'perspektief'. It was a road trip never forgotten. Times in huge open spaces, big meals around farm tables - with even bigger glasses of brandy and coke!- crazy bakkie rides, even crazier Bloemfontein art students, and a startled me being introduced as someone from ' die Kolonie'.

I remember reading some very beautiful Afrikaans poetry (Yolanda, Yolanda ek vou jou in my hande...) and struggling through Afrikaans literature because I wanted too, and liking the sound of it very much, and feeling disappointed because I knew I was missing something pretty special.

There was that Afrikaans boyfriend who took me backstage during the 'Voelvry' tour to meet a drug saturated Koos Kombuis and Johannes Kerkorrel, and it was all pretty weird and I could hardly understand the big 'Struggle' in those days, never mind that lesser (but pretty serious) 'struggle' of those Afrikaners. They were as high as kites, massively talented, lost and lonely, and I, from my English world, could hardly reach them.

There were my years in Arcadia Port Elizabeth when I learnt to speak very good 'Tsotsi" taal , working with the 'coloured gangs' and sweet little children. Later, living overseas, Afrikaans was useful for gossip, not now of cause, London being so awash with South Africans.

More recently I had heavenly holidays in the Karoo, with Lex's divinely beautiful relative, and I learned to chat one sentence at a time, slipping from English to Afrikaans, and enjoying it.

And now here we are, in the Kloof, trying our best with this lovely language again. Because lovely it is. Oh, ' language of the oppressor' it's been called, but as Zakes Mda points out, it was also the slaves who took Dutch and helped to transform it, mixing in Khoi words and other sounds, helping to bring it to the place where it sprang forth, like it does, from the very soil of this land.

It can be scary, this language, huge fun, and massively expressive, vilely crude too. It is clever, academic, intellectual and as we often say ' there is just no English word for this'.
Thats all I know right now, but I am learning.

I have had stunning conversations on a stoep with a wonderful woman who speaks her language with a voice like a lullaby. It lulls me, lilts and sways. Spoken by her it is a volumptous, big Mama language.

A man in exile, during those years, said once that he needed to return, simply to roll his language round in his mouth. I am trying to do that myself, and finding it tastes good.
Koffie and Beskuit. Melktert. Braaivleis. Boerewors. And so much more.

An English lad, friend of my son, stated the other day that he hates the language, and thinks it stupid. His comment saddened me. It is arrogant and foolish at best, deeply rascist at worst. I guess he is young, and has, as we say, been 'picking up stompies' in a thoughtlessly superior English world.

Sure, its challenging, but here, under my Syringa tree voices carry to me. Some are drunken, some are children. Some are farmers gathering in orchards. Some are singing. All are Afrikaans.

Much more than once in a blue moon then, me and this 'taal' tangle together now, not so eclipsed any more, by my own huge language and culture. A new landscape to explore in 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Hi guys,

    I have to tell you that I was deepl moved by this entry. I'm in Sydney for a year working and reading this made me so homesick and proud of the unique and wonderful country we are so lucky to inhabit. And you sound so st peace with your existence in it. I'd love to look you up when I get back and come and smaak that boerie and melktert again... God Bless