Monday, November 30, 2009

The Christmas Story

We had no idea the Christmas play at the NG Kerk would be so crowded. We had seen the posters of invitation, a picture of the church, happy and pink with fruit decorating the roof, calling all to come. Inside the church there was hardly a seat to be had. Langkloofers are, for the most part, largish. Lex heard his name being called - a burly Langkloofer and his birdlike wife indicated that we should sit next to them. They shifted up and we sat down, realizing too late that it would be a tight squeeze. We snuggled ourselves into the pew, me on the outside, knowing that should we need to stand to sing, I would be released, like a cork from a bottle. But, for the moment I was settled, and getting as comfy as was possible (not really) I took in the scene.

The church was dressed in its Nativity Scene best. There was the star, large and silver and suspended over the 'stage', complete with palm fronds and, ofcause the manger.
I was glad to be there, with the church bell suddenly chiming, surrounded by the Afrikaans community of the Langkloof, and one or two, like us, inkomers. But, by now the Church felt somehow familiar - certainly friendly.

Silently the various actors took their places in the dimly lit pews. How comforting it was to see the Nativity players, young boys wearing their dressing gowns surely, and others with towel- like headdresses, some with crowns, some with scarves of chiffon,and there, naturally upfront, dear Joseph and Mary hovering over their most precious baby.

Christmas has, for us, been almost discarded. Firstly, I suppose, because Cape Town, or any big City, thrusts it down your throat from October, grinding away at the old jiggles, tinsel and Father Christmas hats, till you can't wait for it all to be done, dusted and packed away till next year.

And then theres the knowledge, somewhat newly learned amongst many Christians, that the whole thing is pretty Pagan any way (old Constantine doing his thing again!) and so lets toss the whole thing as a result. But I have lately begun to wander if the baby hasn't been tossed out with the bath water. And the thing is - this is a baby we really can't afford to toss , is it?

In fact, the rebel in me, (not to say thats a good thing) has lately, here in Twee Riviere began to fantasIze about putting lights up on our roof , and maybe even decorations in our tree.
I imagine our house, here on the edge of things, shining out cheerfully over the valley, a joyous celebration of the birth of this most special baby of all.

No doubt that would not be appreciated, and it will never happen, but the thing is, here in the Langkloof, I find my self having a great desire to do this thing again, this celebration.

It is a beautiful thing really - the Nativity. And the NG Kerks' version was an interesting one, tracing, as it did the lineage of our beautiful Christ. We were reminded of all the dodgy characters that God chose to use to bring forth the Messiah, Tamar, and Rahab, amongst others. One could not help to be, well, encouraged.

In fact I found, whilst watching - and yes, someones headgear slipped, the star suddenly began to bounce alarmingly and the sound system faded in and out, in the familiar tradition of these things - I found myself feeling inexplicably joyful. I looked around at the crowd of us, and knew, with a sudden clarity that God really does love us all. The other thing, which I whispered in Lex's ear, was a certainty I felt right at that moment - that surely there was a smile on the face of God.

We stood up to sing, and yes, I did catapult out into the aisle a little, and I struggled to read (without my specs) the Afrikaans words of old favourite carols, and so warbled along in snatches of English. If anyone heard I don't think they minded.

Its a greatly, hugely serious thing, the Nativity, but also contains so much joy.The Kerks Christmas Play conveyed that to me, when each player, with hands lifted high, sang out their songs with gusto.
Little girls, I loved your scarf dances, especially the bit when you ran down the aisle and one soft ,fluttering scarf caught me and the old chap behind me off guard, and slid quickly from his face to mine. We laughed out loud together.
And how I enjoyed those three wise men, red lantern led, and Barnard - well - what can anyone say about that dress...

But as we sang the closing Stille Naght and only the manger remained upfront , surrounded by the gifts that all the players had brought to lay before Him, I was grateful to be there, worshipping Him also.

No Christmas do is ever really done until some food and drink has been consumed and so we duly followed the crowds to the Kerksaal for 'refreshments.' Rows of white cups awaited us and piles of koeksisters, cold meatballs and those yummy toothpicks of cheese and pickled onions. We are English and unaccustomed to these delights. We held back through the thank you speeches, the bunches of flowers, milling about in a crowd of Nativity characters (the dominee still in THAT dress... )
And then we dived in, and with laden plates spoke our broken, happy Afrikaans to folk who begin to feel like friends and hoped they would forgive us for being so 'niks gewoont nie'.

But Christmas is a time of excess, traditionally, shall we say - celebrating such an outrageous act of God - Immanuel (God with us.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Knead I say more...(some thoughts about bread)

I am by no means the best bread baker in Twee Riviere. It is sufficient to me that I do bake bread most of the time. It took me a while to figure it all out - the yeast, the tepid water, sugar or honey , to salt or not to. I read up various recipes and eventually settled on one - I forget whose it is, Nigella or Jamies or someone else.

My little gas oven was a challenge as well, as it really only has two temperatures, cool or hot. But, six months later I serve two fresh loaves every second day - and they always are well received. Here I could buy what we now call 'shop bread' but I try not to. Bread must be baked.

I like to work in my kitchen with my door open, at least the top half. Then I can see the two oak trees and the dry stone wall. I work on my table top with floury hands, kneading the dough until it springs back and I feel that it is ready for the pans. I set the pans to rise in the sun or on a heater and wait.

The smell from the oven alerts one to the bread being ready and the loaves are placed, steaming and covered by a cloth on the kitchen table. The first loaf never lasts long, and is eaten quickly with butter melting and homemade jam.

I have a friend who bakes 50cm dense wholewheaty loaves that she serves with her freshly churned butter, homemade cream cheese and preserves. Two or three slices fill the most starved of adolescences (and she has a few!). I love to join them at the long wooden table in their dimly lit kitchen, next to strings of corn and onions hanging from the ceiling. I love to eat that bread. I sit quietly chewing, snipping a blade of chives absentmindedly over my cheese. Hhhum...

A couple of people have delighted me by serving steaming challah bread (kitke) at the shabbat meal - which a few folk celebrate here. A long plait, shiny and golden ,it emerges from beneath its cloth after prayers, to be passed hand to hand. I break off a long chunk always and then feed myself ripped of pieces spread with butter. Yum...

I guess this is a good place to write about my other musings about 'our daily bread'.I have found a new understanding about Christ being just that in our life here in the Langkloof. I have participated in many communions - little melt in the mouth wafers, stale squares of white bread that have to be swigged down with tepid red grape juice, torn up matzos with heady red wine...

But none of it compares with the taste of Christ I have experienced here, in this life of faith and provision over the last six months. I have lived off Him here, in every mouthful of precious bread, in all its varieties. He has been the most nourishing and the most satisfying and I am grateful for that.

The bread experience has even extended to some folk having mastered using black Dover stoves - a sweaty business with an orange flame burning within - but warming of course in winter. The trick is to keep turning the bread pan - so that one side does not burn.The bread is crusty and solid and smoky.

Once we shared bread with friends on their veranda with the Kouga mountains as our backdrop. They ate my bread and we ate theirs and licked our lips appreciatively of each others newly learned expertise.

I am learning to make bread in a big black pot, cooked in a fire in an outdoor kitchen - camping style. These days we do not camp much and its good to make a fire in our front garden, with the glowing coals under the moon and the Syringa tree.

We cooked rotis out there once, when we ran out of gas and I had to complete my Indian curry in the black pot on the grid. The rotis puffed up and bore the marks of the grid criss cross over them. We make rotis often, and wrap them around bean curries and I remember working with Asian communities a long time ago.

That's really what bread is to me. Thinking back to Kalk Bay, ciabattas at Olympia Cafe. And now, my day old bread, toasted with some of my own homemade Marmalade can really not compete. But I know I am living a memory.

My daughter Georgia finds dough to be the most delightful thing in the kitchen. She always volunteers to create bread of some sort. Left alone, she rolls out flat bread which we cook in a pan over the gas flame. She is sprinkled with flour, as is the table, chairs and floor....

And so daily the provision of bread continues - I look forward to mastering fruit breads, crispy cracker breads, round breads made with rye and sweet cinnamon breads. The Langkloof is a great teacher, and me, a generally willing learner in this schoolroom with Him.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Kerk in the Kloof

Most South African towns have one. An NG Kerk that is. They stand in the centre of the town, often on high ground,surrounded by gardens, a marble obelisk or two, and have a huge white steeple, pricking the sky above.

As a rule I do not venture into them, or even near them really. They are part of a world that does not often intersect with mine. But, here in the Kloof, this Kerk path and mine have crossed a few Sundays ago

Due to my involvement with the Community Police Forum in which I represent a charity organisation connected to the Kerk I was asked to speak in the church service. Talking in front of people does not phase me, the idea of doing it in Afrikaans did. In the end I decided that good English was better than poor Afrikaans - so I said I would speak, but in English. The Dominee, who has become a friend, was not concerned.

So Sunday arrived and Lex came to support me. He is on new medication and promised to stay awake for my bit - the meds were knocking him out. I was grateful. I knew the Dominee would understand - he is that kind of Dominee. Kind.

Lex hauled out a clean shirt and chinos and got a little anxious about a tie - but in the end we went neat and clean, stopping for Lex to down a red bull - he felt exhausted. I so appreciated him coming with me.

He has memories of a similar church from his childhood - a high pulpit and even loftier sermons. This Kerk proved to be light and bright, simple and clean - with lots and lots of wood (maybe due to the Tsitsikamma forests just over the mountains). It has a feel of theatre in the round.

Churches often feel theatrical to me. with all the players in their place, the long maroon velvet curtains, the brocade and , in this particular church the row of men in black suits, white shirts and silvery ties. We were a little late but we found my Social Worker friend and slid into the pew next her.

Our turn came and I spoke. I wanted to talk about Jesus really, which would be appropriate, but I just wanted to speak of His love for humanity, especially the addicts, the alcoholics, the tossed away people of the Kloof. What I did speak of was the Agenda of the Forum, the illegal shebeens, the understaffed police station, the language issues. I tagged on somethings about Jesus being our Hope, the worlds Hope - but the word Love I didn't say - but I wanted to.

The Dominee spoke about Love though and I was grateful for a God who knows and completes our sentences for us.

We went to the Kerk that night as well. We took a whole lot of young people with us- because a little dramatjie was being performed and, well, drama (of the theatrical kind) is rare in the Kloof.

Two young adults performed. One we had briefly met when she was a waitress and we were just arrived in the Kloof. Then she had struck us as deep and sensitive and with eyes looking away from the Kloof for some bigger thing. So we were not surprised. Rumours had also informed us of some deeper tragedy to her existence. A true Drama queen - right here in the Kloof. And she was great.

There was an intensity and a sincerity to her performance, her poetry and in her voice when she sang.Her friend proved strong too, in her piece. I felt a deep and true emotion in response to their performance.

Most of all I was moved by two young woman writing from the Kloof with concern and passion about Crystal Meths and homeless people and deep,deep need. Their writing holds compassion, and here where, notoriously, compassion has often been lacking I felt hopeful. Maryka and (forgive me for forgetting your name) I salute you.

So the Kerk blessed my socks off that Sunday - and will do so again sometime soon I am sure. And Barnard too - hey -the dominee who dares....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Blommetjie in the Field

Some people call Twee Riviere the land flowing with milk and honey. I'm not sure about the honey - lots of hives but not much honey (stories of bee disease and drought abound - maybe they just don't want to share...) but milk, now, that's another story.

Milk truly does flow here. We are often blessed with gifts of it. Bottles arrive, sometimes with a thick layer of cream settled on the top. 'Just say if you need milk" friends generously offer,'I am throwing milk away!"

We hesitated about acquiring our own cow. We have admiringly watched our friends herding their cows and calves from field to field. We have been party to wars over pasture, heard tales of grazing theft - not to mention seeing posses of men out and about searching for a bull that has been 'borrowed' without asking to make merry with someones cows. The dairy feuds abound in the Kloof.

We watched all with interest, choosing instead to shoot footage of pretty milkmaids bringing the cows home, long skirts with muddy hems, bare feet running, long switches in hand to tickle wandering rumps into walking and not wandering off.

Our children often assist, and have told me they know how to milk. Indeed the milkmaids around here boast of a superior strength in their fingers. Boys, it is said, balk when challenged to arm wrestle a pretty maid - they are known to mercilessly beat them all! Such are the benefits of milking!

So, we didn't think we had much need of our own cow, except that one needs abundance if you are to master all the other dairy skills - butter making, cheese making and yogurt. As much as I want to master all these skills, at the moment I wrestling with pumpkins (my husband calls them triffids) that are threatening to completely overrun my garden...

So the dairy skills must wait until I have defeated some of the gardening challenges. We felt content without a cow - that is, until Blommetjie.

Blommetjie belongs to a friend and became a victim of both a grazing feud and a grass shortage. We stay on land that has no feud (except for Louis sheep that pass through willy nilly and chomp our baby olive trees!) But otherwise - we have GRASS!

So Blommetjie came to stay. We also have shelter and our friend secured it all a little more and Blommetjie was ours! Well sort of. We think she is a particularly pretty cow, and we were smitten. Actually Lex was. Her soft brown eyes got to him, her gentle swishing tail. She became the udder woman.

And we got milk, fresh from our shed. It was wonderful. She was tied up on a long rope because we have no fence and at first she didn't mind. But after a few days we noticed her pulling on her rope and felt that she might be getting to the end of her tether.

Out of concern Lex put her into our front garden enclosure, where, due to no lawn mower, the grass is long and green. We struggled to get her through the gate - later she couldn't get out fast enough. We think our garden furniture startled her.

It wasn't long before we really started to realize that all was not well in our field. Our friend came with weed eater and lawn mower, saying the grass had got too long and fluffy and Blom didn't like it. Soon we had a neatly mowed meadow - but all was not well in the garden with Blom.

The end came one morning when, from his office window, Lex sent an urgent text to our friend. Blom was bellowing loud and long. Something was up. Lex came outside and looked at her intently . Blom looked back at him and mooed like no cow I have heard before or since. Lex turned to me, perplexed ' Maybe she's just feeling moody,'he said.

But that was the beginning of the end. Blom was moved that same day. Whisked off to greener pastures. The grass really was greener on the other side. We have been told she will return - when our grass grows out and they organize a 'zapper 'to keep her in.

We miss her. Her stall is empty, the field is bare. For a moment there we felt we should get a cow of our own. But now, knowing what we know, and remembering that look in her eye as she looked at my husband....I'm not sure if I'm ready for that much competition.

Community Relations in the Kloof

It did not take long for us to realize that there are some very serious community issues in the Kloof. It was probably on the first or second night here when we were roused by the sounds of drunken squabbling and swearing on the street outside. Now, we are in danger of getting used to it. It happens on weekends mostly, when people are not working. Men and women stagger home, often with babies strapped to their backs, little toddlers screaming after them, howling for attention and being ignored.

I wanted to do something, but as usual its that 'what to do' and 'where do I start' thing that paralyses one, as well as being that dreaded 'overwhelmed by the hugeness of the problem'. So I did nothing and the weeks passed.

Word spread of my community development past, and I also asked questions about what was being done and by whom, the usual answers came back - not that much and those that were doing something felt that they were only touching the tip of the iceberg of the problems. Two of these people arrived at my door at 7.30 on a very rainy winters morning. I had sort of told God that if He wanted me to get involved in some way He would need to bring it to my door. So He did, and me still in my pyjamas!

As a result of that meeting I now sit on the Community Police Forum for the Langkloof. i went to the first meeting with my Social Worker friend who rather surprised me by proposing me as Vice - Chair! I was even more surprised when I was voted in! I guess I was suspicious - 'these people are desperate' I thought. My photo appeared in the local freebie newspaper, as usual the tallest, blurred in the back row.

It had been a while since I was on a committee and I had to remember procedure and get the handshakes right and quickly control my shocked glance when a black member called me 'madam' and I forgot it was procedure...

To date to record for lateness for a meeting is 2 and a half hours and I have pitched twice in one day for a meeting only to have it postponed and then postponed again and then postponed to the following day! I confess I apologised, anyway I was my daughters birthday and maybe it was postponed again..

I try not to be impatient or disillusioned and I am determined to believe that change will come about. Turns out we have a police station under serious investigation, an acting Station Commander who leaves me and others astounded by his antics and sheer incompetence.

But I remain inspired and, I must confess highly entertained. Its good to be the only whitey often, picking up stompies of Xhosa conversations, limping through my own bad Afrikaans - although all business is conducted in English. Its good to hear of the insurmountable problems and issues that the poor grapple with on a daily bases and resolutely decide that surely something can be done.

I am often taken by surprise, like when the local Councillor arrived, collapsed in a chair and a second later the meeting was disrupted as a loud cellphone ring (Brenda Fassie) emanated from the depths of her bosom. We all paused and stared as she groped into her cleavage and fished out a rather large and old cellphone. Sitting next to her I glimpsed her cover picture - was it her in huge white framed spectacles? The meeting resumed. And when the meeting ran hours over time and the police produced trays of clingfilm wrapped cold meat sandwiches, scotch eggs and friend spring rolls. I guzzled about ten little spring rolls, tired, frustrated as I was, but they tasted so of South Africa that I guess, after that, I feel I can swallow anything.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Media in the Middle of Nowhere

We are taking a short break from the Media School. Today should be class and I sort of miss it, but also need a break. Actually we are in a time of waiting (again). This school has been run on prayer and provision and right now the provision has paused....We have no edit suite and the computers in our house have mostly gone on the blink.blink.blink...We are terribly grateful for the wonderful camera we use, on loan from Phil Cunningham from Sunrise productions, the gifts of film from many and the one big light from Ants and Peter - we love you all.

The idea in the beginning was to make dvd's on sustainable living. The inspiration came from a family right up the valley who really are doing it - living off the land - with seven children. They are a picturesque bunch - all long hair and floating skirts and with a sound track straight from the heavenly hosts. They jokingly refer to themselves as the von Trapps. Because they sing ofcause - all of them.I decided to teach Jethro to do camera, but he needs buddies, and before long there were six of them. Six adolescents - and me - and Lex when he could spare the time. He is our expert, for the rest we learn as we go along.

The amazing thing about children in a hidden place like this is that they grow up largely without the influences you might find in the city. They are fresh - like new sponges. It wasn't long before I realized what a privilege it is to work with them, and a responsibility.

I hadn't planned to show them film really. Mainly bacause there is no movie house less than two hours away, and no DVD store to speak off. But then ,along came the dominee Barnard Steyn with a colection of cinema nouveau films and about 20 Rob Bells. And so we began.

Last week we watched Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring and it felt like the Langkloof. Water wars, beautiful young girls skipping up mountains and swimming in streams. But mostly I realized proudly that many of the shots could have been filmed by one of our six students. They know most of the rules, they love the land, the light and mostly have filmed dreamy sequences amongst arum lillies and down paddling in streams. They have shot each other riding horses, sipping milk in forest glades and running up green hills to picnic blankets - just like in the Sound of Music. They look into the camera lense with a disarming innocence, and film scenes through it with the same outragrous sweetness. Outrageous for this day and age. Mostly I leave them to play with shots, watching from a distance, occasionaly interfering when totally necessarily. Watching the rushes of the day normally causes much laughter, especially when watching the boys footage, normally action stuff, silly boys - but lately showing a gentle touch.

We now need more than one edit suite - open source software on a computer we share with Lex. No doubt our prayers will be answered - so we abide for now.
These months with my six, Jethro, Hannah,Rivkah, Jonan (from Twee Riviere), Alex (from the Kouga) and Matthew(from Joubertina) have made precious memories for me. I think we all want to continue, keenly developing ourselves into a production house. We have learnt to wash eat others feet, being directors, camerapeople,grips,wardrobe and talent too when required. We have travelled in the trusty (rusty) Cruiser to locations deep in the Kouga and the Hoek. We have written scripts, drawn up shot lists, filmed wide shots, close up, pans and tilts and had plenty of laughs. We have watched films in the dominees lounge, eating marmite cake and sipping coffee and look forward to more to come.


Notes from the other half

Its been 6 months in the Langkloof and we feel its time for me to add my voice to all that has been happening in Twee Riviere. I think back to our first ten days when we had no water or electricity....and I guess my overriding emotion is one of gratitude. So many things to be grateful for. I have spent a lot of time in our kitchen, with its falling down ceiling, grass growing through the floorboards, and yes, the gratitude wells up. We have experienced Gods provision here in an incredible way, interfacing with Him in ways that I would not have missed.

Only the cook knows sometimes how miracles work out over the stove, when you have no money and only kudu (which you have never cooked before - a gift from a random hunter..) an onion and cabbage and what else, oh yes some garlic. An interesting aside is that you have guests to stay - from a city far away - and they really have no idea.

Guests have been blessings always, although a challenge, and as I stepped over the threshold to our freezing kitchen I would pray fervently for help from above. Lex and the family say I have produced some of my most tasty creations in the last six months.

I have learnt about processing fresh produce when it arrived at my door in such abundance as gifts from friends that I cooked and froze and dug up cookbooks that I had never used before for inspiration.

During these culinary adventures Georgia and Jethro were often close at hand, helping to slice,dice and peel. Both have become able cooks - kneading bread, baking muffins and learning many other skills besides.

The homeschooling continues with interesting activities having been added to the curriculum. Jethro learns agricultural skills from farming friends. He is now nifty with irrigation systems, planting, fence building and last but not least, assisting in the slaughter and butchering of an ox. Both children were part of this experience and happily tucked into the heart and kidneys which were served up for lunch.

I awaited Spring with great enthusiasm, deciding to dig up a piece of land and plough in some  rich compost kindly delivered to our door. Jethro fenced it off, as protection against marauding sheep, horses or cows and soon enough we were given the go ahead from those that know, that we could indeed now plant. With great excitement we sowed our seeds and then waited. How they exceeded all expectations! Pumpkin leaves as big as dinnerplates and then larger...zucchinis bearing golden flowers, little white flowers on bean plants. We water them at 6 in the morning in the coolness, wetting our hands beneath the glistening spray after fingers get muddy pulling weeds. I cannot beleive that we will eat tomatoes, beans, peppers,strawberries, spinach and beetroot from this little scruffy patch.

And so we stay in our rented house and now the heat is building, my washing is crispy from the line when I bring it in. The dark interiors of my house suddenly make sense - no longer freezing, but cool and so dim that my eyes have to adjust from the dazzle outside. My heart starts its summer sing song. How I love the hissing heat of Africa.