Friday, February 26, 2010


Going to school has brought with it many challenges. We have been a home school family, a nomadic, drifting, impermanent family on and off for many years. A family whose dreams included a life lived in tents, under trees, beneath a canopy of blue sky. A life without an iron.

Its not that I cannot iron. Even Lex can (who ever went to Army and never learnt that skill?) Its just that ironing, amongst other things has not been a priority. Mostly.

I guess its part of a much bigger picture - being netjies - generally.

I grew up with a working mother, who cannot cook, and did not do anything of a domestic nature - at all, ever. We had a maid, full time, always, living in the back yard, hardly never there. Looking after myself, when I left home was an adjustment, for years.

I have wrestled with this cleaning thing. For years, during my political struggle, I did not employ anyone ever, to clean up after me. Neither did my friends. I lived with some of the richest, most privileged offspring, and the messiest!

Overseas I was a wife, mother, and servantless for years. I mastered all the domestic arts. I cleaned other peoples houses! I cleaned up in an Irish pub, cleaning upstairs bedrooms after people who had rough nights of.......
It cured me of any sensibilities about cleaning. I came to a revelation - the only way it makes any sense at all is to be paid to do it.

Back home we have had times of abundance when we have employed people , and although good they are always times fraught with care. I am a terrible employer. I cannot help but be a friend. By Gods grace I have been spared users and abusers, because a used and abused employer I would be - I have seen it happen to many of my best friends!

Its distressing though, the lives of the poor and needy , the refugees, the single mothers. Many hours have been spent in my home, over cups of coffee, listening to tales of woe and abandonment. My husband is no better. In better times he was often to be seen delivering furniture and assorted goods to employees in need - once using his boss's Merc sports to ferry our maids daughter to her matric farewell... Life is complicated when one is an employer.

So, mostly as home-schoolers we resorted to the chore system, working our children to get things done! Those days are over. There is a saying - if you want something done, ask a busy person. Its true it seems, as these days we accomplish early risings, cooked breakfasts, all of us rushing out to school, sometimes doing 4 trips back and forth in the afternoon before we are all settled at home once more. Then there is the washing, the ironing, the food to be cooked.

And netjies we are, mostly. But my house is not pristine. In fact, some days it is an absolute mess. I have been known to lie on my bed and stare out my window at the rural scene, when there is work to be done. There are hours I spend under the Syringa tree scribbling when the laundry basket is overflowing onto the grubby bathroom floor. I can be found (like now) punching away on my laptop when I know the floor needs to be swept and there are dishes to be washed.

The point is, I need dream time. House work, they say is a thankless task. I have to agree. There are those who love it, thrive on it. My friends tell me about 'Fly Lady'. I know they want to help, but the only 'Fly Lady' I'll ever be is the one in the kitchen on a very hot day, looking up with an air of hopelessness at the disgusting fly strips, hanging like filthy streamers from the ceiling, knowing that they need to be changed, yet again.

So, the dilemma continues, having never mastered the art of making the domestic worker invisible ( lets live our life as if she does not exist) I constantly turn to them when they are in my home and make asides, about the drama of our life being played out before them. My sister cleans her house the day before her char is due to come. Ho hum, whats the sense of that? But, I totally understand.

So, please forgive the hairballs that always seem to gather beneath my couch (damn dogs! ), the laundry basket that is never empty, the dishes that are hardly ever all packed away. I don't think I'll ever get it right, but in the mean time thanks for all those marvellous books I get to read, flights of fantasy DVDs I get to watch, dreamy dreams I get to dream, and the endless scribblings I get to scribble.
The ironing can wait...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Red hearts and fire

The Langkloof has been burning. We, here in Twee Riviere have been spared the fires this time. Anyway, the mountain is still scorched from the fires last year, when the flames licked at many a back door. I have heard of much suffering and loss, with apple trees ablaze as the fires swooped with the wind and devoured whole orchards.

There was a day when the town was wreathed in smoke. It imitated clouds, showering us with flakes of ash. There has still been no rain, and everywhere the ground is bleached with a brittle dryness. Many mountains have been stripped down to a skin of blackness.

Driving to Kareedouw the other day the grass was, in many places, burnt up to the road, perhaps the fire was caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette. Maybe the same thoughtlessness caused a couple of houses here in town to be ringed by fire. A storehouse was burnt down ( someones home I believe). Looking at it, set me thinking about things lost in the fire.

At the same time as the fires were raging, preparations were being made for a visit from Valentine. One school classroom was filled with imitation red roses and little red hearts. There was a Valentines ball planned for the end of the week. The idea of LOVE was burning. My son was fleeing. He likes a good dance, but did not want to be singed by any flames of passion.

Because passion was, indeed, flaring in many a young heart. Oh how love burns when you are young, maybe fifteen. It sears through you like fire on dry grass. I suspect that there are a few young hearts quite burnt out, because Valentine has come and gone and remained illusive. Wrapped in cellophane, discarded hearts and red roses, are all that remain. I thought I loved someone when I was sixteen. I can still feel the depths of that despair when that holiday was over, and he went back to his city and me to mine... Nothing like it ever since, although I have loved and lost somewhat since, has ever been as bruising.
Oh that tender heart, that offered apple, that burnt down orchard, that sweet sixteen first love.

The flame of love is not easily put out, I thought then, last week, planning a Drama theme for Grade 12, aptly entitled 'Love Hurts.' I read quite a few scripts and all were burning , singed pages of passion. Blanche and Stanley (A Streetcar named Desire), Othello and Desdemona, the desperate characters of Mis.... Burning, burning ...
The seventeen year olds say they understand, wrestling with the scripts, and the deep. searing pain of love. I listen to their lines with an aching heart, while the smoke gathers on the horizon and drops its ash upon us.

L and I were invited to a Valentines meal in Krakeel. The fire had nearly burnt down to their back door a few days before. We had been asked to wear red, and a few lovely ladies were aflame in black and red. We were all a bit older, and surely had all been burnt by love before. We have all lost something in the fire. We toasted Valentine anyway, and tucking in, celebrated LOVE.

The Bible says...these 3 remain, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is LOVE. God is LOVE. He made us able to love, and to burn with it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Langkloof Prayers

I am a prayerful person. I have to be. But I am not a peaceful pray- er. My prayers are often desperate, angry and even raging. I rage at God - quite often. I do also have prayers of thanks (what would I do without Him?), happy prayers and quite regularly, chatty prayers. I have been known to talk to God, when alone, whilst sweeping, above the heavy beat of Jimi Hendrix in the background. Then there are those contemplative moments, blissful silence with His presence so real, so marvellous, that I never want to leave...

I have been blessed often by the Twee Riviere womens prayers. Tuesday mornings, chatting and praying, singing (off key) Bible reading. Tea and yummies for afters, sitting in our bellies like comfort, together with our shared prayers.

In my life here I have been prayed for by those who are more charismatic, my eyes flying open, startled sometimes by a particularly empassioned plea, for me, for mine.
I have been prayed for over the phone many times, while I shed tears into the handset, and peace settled apon me. I have received prayer emails, notes and cards. People have prayed for me in broken English, lyrical prose, Afrikaans (like a warm duvet covering..) and languages I don't understand.
Blessings, blessings, all.

But recently I have found myself part of Community prayers, here in Joubertina.
I was invited, because of the CPF to come to the police station for their prayer day. There were the police, all in blue, the new lady Superintendent ( she needs prayer - what a job!) and an assortment of community players. There was the table, set with blue and gold, and two carefully placed, one male, one female, uniform hats of the police.

A candle was lit, a minutes silence for all those fallen police - I focused on the hats.
Some prayers were said, before the singers for the event were ushered in. All in black the men stood before us. Brown, elderly faces, tight curls of grey. Unaccompanied they sang, their hands glasped before them. Workers hands , almost grey in places, gnarled like wood with clean hard nails. The songs were hymns and they stood there and sang, their eyes looking at us, me looking at them.
One old man, as he sang 'He touched me' openly wept, removing his spectacles and wiping his face with a large blue hankerchief. I felt deeply moved then, sparing a moment to wander what his life might have been. His hands alone told a story , of hard work, his lined face, sparse teeth, thin frame. But he sang on, allowing his emotions, unashamedly to spill over. It touched me. He touched me. Then, there was the message, given by a policeman/pastor. He spoke of HOPE and I took it as a word for me, and not only for the belleaguered police station of Joubertina. He quoted Martin Luther King - a lesser known quote - along the lines that 'everything that mattered to me I have lost, except those things which I have put into the hands of Jesus'. There is a new beginning happening in the police in the Langkloof - I really do try to remember them in my prayers.

And then, a few days ago there was a Biduur at the NG Kerk. The whole school was invited to attend. The church was full, we sat in one of the balconies, surrounded on all sides by school children. They squirmed a little as the prayers went on, giggling at times, but mostly very good, little brown heads lowered, ribbed with plaits, huge shiny ribbons, and blonde heads beside them, high ponytailed and freckle cheeked.

There were prayers by a Dominee, an English lady who said a very lyrical prayer, and there were many prayers by farm workers, calling on the Lord for mercy. All of the prayers were for rain. The reason for the prayer meeting was for rain. And there they all were, the farmers, sitting high and dry in the pews, wives beside them, children beside them, all with heads bowed, praying for rain.

Its not often that I have been in such a meeting, when a community comes together, and acknowledges that they are powerless. Powerful people, money, possessions, land, all dependent now, on a force beyond their control. Make it rain. Please make it rain. The fruit is on the trees, not quite ready for harvest, and we need you God - please make it rain.

Personally, I was praying for Pula, in Botswana the word is used for rain and for money. Pula Lord, said I, covering two bases, being pretty skint, and acknowledging the need of the community I find myself in.
We all filed out into the sweltering Langkloof sun, onto the dead, dry, prickly church yard grass.

Its true that most prayers are rather desperate, pleading, asking for rain type prayers. But I did remember to also thank God then, for this Langkloof life. So real , so without pretense.
That was a few days ago. We are awaiting rain.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Kouga Art

There is a lot of Art in the Kouga, we have been told. We have yet to explore the various sites, hidden as they are in Kloofs and cliffs. We have seen some rock art , in the Cedarberg, beautiful big works, in absolutely deserted places, where we stood in awe as a family, and listened to a silence more intense than we had ever experienced before.

I think I had read something about Martin before I met him. He is quite famous in Art circles. Rumours abound about him having lived in a cave, then somewhere in Clarens. I heard from his own mouth that he often uses the same materials that those other artists did long ago, on their stone cave wall canvases. His canvases echo those tones of red, ochre, browns, tans, a startling pink, an electric blue.

Mostly Martin reminded me of a stroller when I first met him. Those ragged, bearded men of the mountain in Cape town, who live outdoors, strolling those upper Cape Town city avenues. I guess he is a little like that, having chosen to buy a piece of land himself in the Kouga mountains, and to live an unplugged life, in the middle of nowhere.

We had a long chat, leaning on a railing outside the ATM one day, after he had walked for six hours into town. He rolled BB cigarettes, and talked about himself. His is a very specifically South African story, spicy and peppered with those names - Big Ben Dekker, Braam Kruger, Bobs Bar... Ja, ja, and our heads nod, remembering army times, the border, passes, train journeys and waiting on platforms for 'bossies' boys to return to a very different South Africa.

There was talk of the Joburg Art scene, many wives, a number of children (an edge of pride when he mentions them still) and THOSE Jesus pictures, touted by Barnard. Your patron, say I, my patron Saint, says he. So why Jesus? I ask nonchalantly, and he looks off into the distance, then fixes me with his ( which one is it?) artists eye and states matter of factly that here, in the Kloof, there is a market for such pictures. Jesus with closed eyes, painted with the pigments of the Khoi found in caves.

We were invited to visit him, in his Kloof. We heard of his boy child, who lived with him there before, and Barnard brought out, wild child that he was, to go to school. Others also told us of this extraordinary child. They spoke of a boy who loves swords, medieaval battles, words and, of cause, art.

We met him one day when we ourselves were childless, and we went in to the Kouga to escape work and our empty house. The boy who met us wore an empty milk carton on his head, with holes for eyes, a trenchcoat, oversized gloves, and spoke with a robotic voice!

In time he shed his disguise and took us for a hike down an overgrown path to wondrous pools set in rock amidst high cliffs and overhung with ferns. We swam in the cool water, but I missed our children as I watched this wild boy, emerging from the water, fully clothed, a knife strapped to his upper arm, like some lost soldier in the jungles of Vietnam.

It was a few weeks later that my children visited. They went in with the Dominee and his family, and slept over without us. They returned exhausted, telling tales of very little sleep, of long swims clambering from pool to pool. They spoke of stick fights and fires burning, of leopard crawls through the bush and exciting, creative games under the trees, mostly imagined up by the boy, leading them on, sharing his world with them.

The children stayed in the Dominees campsite, of caravans and tents, but no doubt vertured into Martins territory. A land of half hearted buildings, of cob and wood. Of kaross spread sleeping places, collapsed trucks and cars.A territory strewn with half completed paintings left to be ruined by the sun and rain. A land where completed works jostle with unruly piles of books, tottering in their own haphazard formations.

When I passed through Martins landscape a stroke of white paint painted my trouser leg. The place has a seam of paint running over it, through it, saturating it. In fact, his entire world there in the Kouga is like one large living installation, to be breathed in, wandered through.

The children saw it all, accepted it and lived quite comfortably within it for a couple of days. Georgia said she wanted to stay. Jethro, with the distance of his age, had not immersed himself as totally. Georgia brought her clothes home in three plastic bags. I opened them for the wash and found them to be caked, soaked, encrusted with sand and mud.
Every item was coloured by earthy pigments, in shades of brown, tan, ochre. The children spoke of electric blue skies , red fires and startling pink sunsets. No doubt those pigments coloured their dreams as they slept for 13 solid hours, back in the cosy comfort of their beds.

Thanks for being there Martin. Here in the uniform land of schools, schedules and timetables you remind me that that territory is there, peacefully painterly and beyond bounderies.