Is South Africa’s flagship tourist destination the Kruger National Park living up to the expectations of the scores of local and especially international visitors that flock there? If notR…
FOR close on 50 years it has been a personal joy that keeps reappearing on my bucket list, to visit the Kruger National Park: undoubtedly one of South Africa’s flagship tourist destinations. Arguably one of the top two!
Most recently, in January 2017 – at the peak of the summer season, it was the same for me again.
Or… was it? Well, mostly; but not all of it brought undiluted joy all of the time.
It had rained abundantly and all things natural were exceptionally picturesque, jubilant, revived, refreshed and vibrant. My companions and I reveled in the sheer enjoyment thereof. So did all of nature – and our privilege was to be not only silent and awe-inspired observers, but also partakers thereof.
Spotting animals in the wild, having the patience to pursue this activity and making the most of it have over many years and three generations been and become skills that my kinsfolk and I have honed in various manners and places. South Africa’s bouquet of nature reserves and game parks is impressive and they have always had a powerful pull. I’ve wondered: is it more about the bubble of isolation from the ‘real world’ you temporarily find yourself in, or about the close encounter with sights and sounds that are hopefully being preserved for posterity? Can it also be the experience of surrendering to a carefree yet mutually focused sub-culture whilst you find yourself within the boundaries of a particular sanctuary?
Whatever the case may be: once you have become an experienced ‘game reserver’ / ‘parks visitor’ you can safely assume that you have, over time, also acquired the ‘qualification’ and authority to comfortably, as well as probably accurately and fairly, assess and evaluate what is on offer. And frankly – not only what is on offer, but also whether the ethos, intrinsic nature and characteristics of an institution are at a level that they can reasonably be expected to be.
THROUGH THE WORLD’S EYES
I have for a while placed a hesitant and reluctant question mark over the Kruger National Park – and maybe even its mother organization, SANPARKS – in this regard. I do this within the context of, in this particular case the Kruger Park, enjoying the prime prominence and priority that it does as a destination within the ranks of the international tourist population. It is my contention that international tourism standards must comply with ‘universal’ norms in every sense of the word. And there should be no exceptions to the rule. A ‘five star experience’ must be exactly that in universally accepted terms. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, that a Kruger National Park experience is globally perceived as at least a five star destination (or whatever the ultimate number of stars is for a superior grading).
So, concerning a few of the aspects relating to my tentative ‘question mark’:
1. VISITOR / TOURIST FACILITIES:
Accommodation, ablution and other amenities: do they live up to expectations?
I am first in line when it comes to the thrill of returning to basics… like camping and the simple life of not fretting too much about menus, meals, wardrobes, routines, etc. I truly appreciate minimalism and… yes, simplicity. But there is always context.
In a world-renowned and undoubtedly lucrative game park like the Kruger, you are surely entitled to the very best in each quotable category: whether it be staff conduct, a reception area, a rustic camp site, an access or exit gate, a basic bungalow, a luxury chalet, an exclusive guest cottage, bed linen, kitchen utensils and facilities, picnic sites, restaurants, shops, swimming pools and last, but not least, toilet and ablution facilities.
Especially in the latter instance it is disturbing to encounter facilities that are lacking. Even at remote picnic sites there has to be a ‘zero tolerance’ approach regarding spotless cleanliness, adequate hand towel and soap availability, flush mechanisms and taps that work. When public or even private facilities of this nature in rest camps leave anything at all to be desired, it should give rise to serious concern and decisive action.
I have concluded that rest-camps in the Kruger National Park, as well as reception areas, picnic sites and other facilities, do not necessarily uniformly conform and comply with set (hopefully international!) standards. An inevitable deduction is that the general appearance and performance of a rest camp or picnic site depend on the degree of commitment and ethos lived out by its management and staff. Whilst it is evident that some facilities are tended by staff that go the extra mile, others show traces of neglect in varying degrees. It would be unfair of me to neglect motivating my allegations:
- At least twice (once most recently, in January 2017 at the Tamboti tented camp) we arrived at our reserved overnight accommodation in the later afternoon to find that the previous occupants had not yet vacated. How does this happen in a system that should be faultless and top-notch – considering that discerning travellers from across the globe are hosted daily? Needless to say, this kind of experience causes much discomfort and concern…
- A flagship rest camp like Lower Sabie cannot have ANY excuse for lacking or sub-standard visitors’ facilities. However the safari tent we stayed in overnight and paid an adequate amount for, was literally in tatters. We could conveniently watch the full moon rising through a huge torn cavity in the front ‘gable wall’ of the structure. And the canvas was flapping profusely in a stiff and dusty wind. In the same tent – as well as the neighboring one – the mesh windows were either tattered and worn or untidily sewn together in an effort to convince the occupants that they were actually there and serving a purpose! Furthermore I had to guess what I was going to look like to the outside world, because where the bathroom mirror should have been, there was only a frame. (What happened to all the extensive renovations that the rest camp was undergoing for a prolonged period??)
- In Mopani, which is undoubtedly one of the model camps in the park when it comes to location and layout, and is seen to cater for individuals and families from mostly higher income groups, we found our comfortable 3 bedroom cottage to be in need of repairs or attention in more ways than one. The vanity shelf in the main bedroom was sagging; the interior of the fridge smelt unbearable; lighting shades were missing from more than one wall-mounted light; the kitchen was somewhat sparsely equipped with utensils and some of the exterior walkway lights were out of order…
- At Letaba – traditionally also a flagship rest camp – we had two basic huts on the perimeter and had looked forward to our unobstructed views of the river. On arrival, however, we found an unsightly pile of sand practically on our doorstep and between our two neighboring huts. It had obviously been indiscriminately dumped there by workers for reasons unknown to us. Our request at the reception office that it be removed, was followed by a site visit from a staff member who apologized and sent a team to comply. Unfortunately it was a halfhearted attempt that left much to be desired. Finding a kitchen facility (as these particular huts are not equipped in this regard) was also quite a challenge. In fact there was none within a convenient distance from our accommodation, because the designated one had been converted into a pop-up restaurant to counteract threatening staff strikes at the rest-camp’s franchise restaurant.
- Punda Maria is one of our most favourite rest camps – perhaps mostly due to its remoteness, and also for its magnificent trees, the waterhole and hide, the rustic atmosphere and the touch of tradition and old-fashioned charm. Our upmarket safari tent was perfectly comfortable and well equipped, with the added luxury of its own ablution facilities. I however cannot but mention that in some aspects maintenance appeared to be lacking: a section of the canvas roofing was sagging dangerously from a huge load of rainwater that had accumulated and it was in danger of collapsing or tearing. A rather bad leak in the roofing of the bathroom section appeared to be unattended and proved to be a real problem when we actually experienced a glorious rainstorm. Furthermore I frowned at the fact that of the four appliances in the rest camp’s little laundry facility, only two were in working order. The other two appeared to be quite dusty and had obviously not been attended to in a long time. The latter assumption was confirmed by a staff member. Besides the discomfort it caused the seasonal campers who had to queue for their turn at washing and drying, it is also an unacceptable slip in what should be world-class standards.
- In Satara, arguably one of the most popular of all the rest camps, we recently as campers encountered altogether unsatisfactory kitchen facilities: twin-plate stoves as well as boilers were missing – and when reported, the issue was met with shrugs of acknowledgement that they had been stolen. No further action was taken! A serious sewerage system problem at one of the ablution blocks (impossible to ignore!) was not effectively addressed and solved. Besides the stench, there was also the niggling concern about possible hygiene-related issues…)
2. SERVICE STANDARDS & STAFF CONDUCT
Are checks and balances in place? Is there a satisfactory uniformity throughout the park?
I am eager to testify that politeness and friendliness from staff are mostly the order of the day. They are predominantly tidy, punctual, helpful, discreet and seemingly well organized. Occasionally, personal conversations among themselves in the course of executing their tasks are somewhat more audible than is probably convenient or acceptable to the discerning visitor; this is a personal opinion. And their timing for cleaning accommodation facilities is not consistently discreet.
- Entry gates: this is where first and last impressions are formed. Your Kruger Park experience starts and ends here. Are you welcomed and received, as well as bade farewell and sent off, professionally, eloquently, politely and enthusiastically? Regrettably I recently noticed that, on exiting the park at Crocodile Bridge after a ten day visit, the appearance of the gate and its attendants, as well as the latter’s conduct, reminded me a little bit of some countries’ border posts… grim, drab, indifferent.
- Reception areas:can staff at a reception desk ever be too helpful, too efficient or too accommodating? Let me hasten to say that I do not mean they need to indulge the whims and opportunistic demands of ill-mannered patrons, but rather to take charge and control of the needs of guests in a manner that reassures, emanates warmth and extends a hearty welcome. Kruger generally has a good performance record in this regard. But again – NO compromise on quality and finesse should need to be tolerated by the discerning visitor!
- Gratifying past experiences of rest camp management staff must be mentioned in all fairness. At Shingwedzi, on a camping trip, we once had a personal report-back from the camp manager after she herself had been involved in chasing a troop of meddling monkeys out of our tent. This particular individual was during our sojourn regularly seen moving about the area and obviously familiarizing herself with the condition of amenities, the satisfaction levels of guests, etc. She had a face – and a phone number that worked! At a world-class destination like Kruger, this is what you’d expect. It is however regrettably not what you invariably get.
3. IS CONSERVATION STILL THE ALPHA AND OMEGA?
Are Conservation and its intrinsic Management Values still an ultimate and urgent bottom line objective to the KNP?
This may appear to be a rhetorical question. However it has serious undertones and has, in my opinion, the very real possibility of being valid… for example:
- Is it purely my imagination, or have Kruger’s herds of herbivores shrunk somewhat over time, throughout the years? Granted, there are factors that play annual and seasonal roles, like the distribution and abundance or shortage of natural water sources – depending on rainfall figures or drought occurrences. Therefore, when you drive for long stretches without seeing animals, it need not necessarily concern you: searching for them is after all the name of the game! But could and should the effect of the mentioned factors be as drastic and consistently increasing as it appears to be? Is there a possibility that antelope and other herbivores, for example, are being hunted somewhat indiscriminately by more than their natural predators?
- Why, for example, is it according to news reports that reach public eyes and ears, predominantly only possible to apprehend (rhino) poachers after a perpetration? Through the media it is evident that the counter-initiatives, their quality and extent are extremely focused and sophisticated. This is acknowledged and appreciated by nature lovers far and wide. So this is the issue: whilst the rhino population figures are plummeting at a heartrending rate – why do these magnificent animals appear to be as unsafe in the most reputable reserves as they are anywhere else? Are there more threatening and underhand factors involved than insatiable greed?
- How effective is the screening and selection of staff who are appointed in key conservation-related positions in view of the fact that they are in all reasonability being entrusted with the crucial and delicate task of playing a passionate role in the preservation of our wildlife heritage for posterity?
The Kruger National Park has a rich and intriguing history. With it came and went traditions like communal camp fires, ethnic drum sounds that announced the evening meal, the daily sharing of game sightings among like-minded enthusiasts, scrumptious bush brunches under gigantic trees at picnic sites like Tshokwane, Babalala, Muzandzeni, Mooiplaas, Timbavati and the likes. Although it would be unfair, impractical and unrealistic to expect all customs and traditions to live on, I believe the indescribable and undeniable charm of the KNP lies in, among other things, not departing altogether from the dual purpose of protecting whilst delighting.
Protecting without withholding; not only the defenseless and threatened, but also that which has rung dear to stakeholders and visitors alike through the decades.
Delighting without sacrificing on the full richness of an experience in nature by detracting from it; and without compromising on world-class and internationally acceptable standards in order to keep pleasing even the most refined and discerning of new and loyal patrons.
* * * * * * * * * * *
I have this Brazilian classic guitar, a Di Giorgio dated 1974 – with the crafter’s signature and telephone number still perfectly clear on the sticker in the cavity. It is 40-odd years old and looks it. But when I stick my nose into the sound hole (yes, that’s actually what it is called), shut my eyes and slowly pull in my breath, the memories roll in.
I am 19 going on 20 again and relive the indescribable thrill of becoming the owner of this magnificent instrument, purchased with my own earnings in my home town. My boyfriend from teen days is impressed and shares in my excitement. He presents me with the sheet music of ‘Marianne’ and says I should practise it so we can sing it together.
The chords progress from A major to B minor… to D major, to A major. To G major… Soon I have mastered it and it sweeps me along. “I used to think I was some kind of gypsy boy, before I let you take me home..” “We met when we were almost young – deep in the green lilac park. You held onto me like I was a crucifix, as we went kneeling through the dark..”
Leonard Cohen’s name became irrevocably engraved on my timeline. His lyrics arrested me; and the tunes tugged at my fragile heart.
Whenever I picked up my guitar in years that followed, “Marianne” was invariably the first song that would come to mind.
Sunday 27 November, 2016:
The early evening, less than a month away from Christmas, is hushed in the small coastal village of Pringle Bay and daylight is reluctant to depart. Inside the crowded little theatre with its low lighting and a few red-glowing solar lanterns dotted around, the chatter is cheerful and the anticipation is tangible. We are waiting for ‘Leonard Cohen Live in London ‘ (2008) to begin. Not exactly a live show! But for all who are gathered to share in the experience, time and space become irrelevant. It is almost three weeks since his passing.
When he appears on the screen – large as life, wearing his fedora low over his eyes and addresses us in a low, sonorous but barely audible voice, the magic begins. He clutches the mic in his right hand and shields it with his left as he lives in the sounds we have learned to love; he drops down onto one knee as his own words and music demand; then again rises and shyly removes his fedora to reveal the close-cropped grey hair and generously pours out his inimitable style…
“The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government —
signs for all to see.
I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
and they’re going to hear from me.
Ring the bells that still can ring …
You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.”
(Anthem, released in 1992).
He sways us through the passionate plea of Dance me to the End of Love; touches our souls with Hallelujah; stirs our imaginations with Suzanne; draws us into his honesty with Bird on a Wire…
We cheer. We are swept away. We see and feel what he does. An enigma who is no more; but who lives on in his legacy of hauntingly human agonies and ecstasies.
“Cohen manifests a moral strength rare among the butterflies of ephemeral fame. No musician has maintained a more assured equilibrium through good times and bad, riding the swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune and misfortune without falling prey to the temptation of an easy fix.
“Cohen’s lyrics hint forever at alternate meanings. His bird sits on a wire, perhaps the peaceful fence of a domestic property but also a front line, a prison camp, a place of extermination. In conditions of extreme privation and existential threat, Cohen sings of an inner liberation: ‘I have tried, in my way, to be free.’ He described the song with customary duality as ‘a prayer, and an anthem’.
“…the consistency of purpose is astonishing and the fundamental faith is unchanged. He wears the hat and the suit of a regular shul-goer. He is a Jew, first and last, a traveller, a seeker, eternally homeless. ‘I just move from hotel to hotel and by the grace of the One above sometimes a song comes,’ he said.
“…Leonard Cohen stands above his generation as a seer of lasting things, of values received and passed on. Other musicians have emerged richer, more famous. Some still twist and shout on stage, escorting their mob of semi-retired fans into a seventh age of twilight care.” And especially this part: “Cohen stands up there unchanged, addressing his audience with unfailing courtesy and curiosity, with a sense of continued discovery. At that desperate end-of-tour concert in 1972, having wept into the shoulder of every member of his entourage, he blew his nose, wiped his eyes and walked guitarless out onto the dark stage. “I just want to tell you, thank you and good night,” he said. Along with all that he had said and sung, it sounded like a blessing.” (Norman Lebrecht, 2014)
It certainly is not about personalities, or about favouring the one political party in the world’s most prominent country over another; neither is it about feminism or equity; nor about a whim. It is more (however not only) about the question of whether leadership and statesmanship and integrity matter at all anymore. And perhaps even dignity and character. Have we come to a place where nothing is sacred or respectable any more? Let alone honourable?
The United States of America have earned themselves the new head of state that they deserve. Democracy has taken its course. With an unprecedented Republican twist. Yeah, sure, Donald Trump has it all. Money talks, right? There was never a slight chance that his campaign would be underfunded or shoddy. He knew from the start that his march to the White House would be victorious. (But then Hillary knew that about hers too…)
Hopefully this outcome will not be like the dog that successfully chases the car, catches it, and then…is not 100% sure of the next step.
The question is just this: If the American people were simply tired of the way things were and have been; if they were angry (as it appears they were); if they were going to use this presidential election to swing things in a new direction – then please tell me why their research and strategic planning were so lacking? Would a stuttering Moses not have better suited the role of leading the people out of the egypt of power games, corruption, deceit, decadence, etc. – than a slick, glib, arrogant billionaire who obviously occupies the throne in his own dazzling empire? Has he actually earned all this seemingly blind loyalty, and how? Through the age-old and cheapest trick in the book, namely promises?
GIFT OF THE GAB?
Look at some of his notorious quotes – only a pitiful few of the multitude:
“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”
“If you can’t get rich dealing with politicians, there’s something wrong with you.”
“All the women on The Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”
“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
“The wall will go up and Mexico will start behaving.”
Strike you as mature utterances that speak of character and finesse??
Look, in my opinion Americans were in this presidential election between a rock and a hard place. Between the devil and… another. But WHY? How did it happen?
The boundaries defining the concept of ‘leadership’ have seemingly become controversial, vague, slippery and frankly almost non-existent. ‘Leadership’ has broadened and flattened out to such a huge extent, that it probably constitutes almost anything a bunch of fools would want it to. Not to even mention statesmanship. Or, for that matter, statespersonship.
It’s like I know what I am talking about? In South Africa? Well now….
Someone had to win. And the winner was bound to be one of the two finalists, right?
It is what it is.
Missing the point is at best a waste of time. And opportunity. At worst it can be a helluva mess. Or even a massive disaster. As the one we are seeing unfolding in the out-of-control #feesmustfall 2016 campaign.
I like what Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, says about the student protests that have been disturbingly dragging on for… how long now? He calmly and convincingly states, with conviction, that it is urgent for the South African government to revisit its subsidy policies regarding tertiary education in this country. THAT is the point.
If this point had been acknowledged, admitted and addressed – much, much sooner – by those responsible and accountable, there would no doubt have been much less panic and pain. The latter are sadly suffered by tens of thousands of South African students who are in dire straits for being rudely and ruthlessly disrupted from completing their academic years and preparing for end-of-year examinations. This is almost unforgivable. It is totally unacceptable.
Mr President-of-the-country – for what you are worth in this capacity: where in the world have you been?! Was it not you who sowed this unfortunate seed on our university campuses? – The one that has blossomed into the misconception that five star tertiary education can be handed out for free? Could you not speak out and admit that you simply had no idea what you were talking about? Blade Nzimande – how could you allow things to deteriorate to these barbaric levels?! Without contextualizing; offering some form of perspective; correcting the perceptions of so-called students and preventing them from escalating into warped and distorted ludicrity?
Marching on university campuses with placards bearing appropriate slogans is probably not the worst kind of awareness campaign. This country-wide demonstration could most likely have had its desired effect if conducted and concluded in a powerful but dignified burst of orchestrated protest. The message was undoubtedly heard and elevated to the next appropriate levels of authority (it was, was it not?); but was there any indication that it had been noted? Hello? Was anybody home?
DESTRUCTION & DEVASTATION
But, no: instead of a swift and orderly response to a pretty obvious issue, blind eyes have been turned and rampantly raging students(?? really??) have been left to destroy and devastate. Irreparably. For whose account? Presumably and actually most certainly not theirs…
A review of government subsidies for tertiary institutions is long overdue. Drastic increases are a glaring need. Is it so hard to make the connection between the overwhelming multitude of aspiring students jostling for a place in the race and the drastic financial implications all round? More than 22 years downstream from the start of our democratic voyage: did no-one at the helm foresee that capacities would have to increase by leaps and bounds, and that the handful of available institutions would have to be drastically empowered to meet the swelling demands?
On the one hand we have the emerging generation – surging towards the stars; and on the other hand we have the apparently clueless political authorities who have seemingly long forgotten how to apply their political will. Assuming there is one.
Just a random thought to ponder: it would be interesting to establish both the quality and quantity of ‘true student fibre’ among the rampaging mobs. Perhaps someone should hasten to remind our boisterously demanding youth that it has never been a ‘right for all without reserve’ to enroll as a post-matric student for a university degree. As far as I know and can recall, there have always been requirements.
Granted – if and when these are met, the way forward should be paved and open, for each and every qualifier. And only THEN should financial constraints NOT be stumbling blocks.
The mountain in her austere aloofness and rocky splendour, rising abruptly from sea level and allowing between herself and the ocean only a narrow strip of earth for human habitation and movement, today wears that softening, unhurriedly shifting veil of low cloud cover that renders her mysterious and shy.
‘Tis a favourite sight for me. It soothes. Reassures. Allows for quiet nostalgia and solitary reflection. Hushes.
Today it allows me an inward glance that urges me to contemplate life in the wake of a death. Not just any death. That of my father. But still – death.
Euphemisms have no place when the topic is death, nor do they serve a purpose, for to postpone or avoid the naked truth is to simply miss the opportunity of coming to terms with finality.
Often we use this word in everyday communication, to describe something commonplace like a conclusion. Or an outcome. We confidently or impatiently declare that we want to reach or gain ‘finality’ on a matter.
Death is the epitome of finality.
Perhaps it is the irrevocability that sets it apart from other matters of so-called finality. Once it has set in, there is complete and utter silence – never to be broken again in this realm of awareness.
There is, after all has gone still, no way of prolonging warmth; or conversation; or mutuality; or eye contact, that mystical merging of a moment or many moments in time by securing a shared channel of visual, sensual, emotional awareness of other. There is no way of prolonging anything known or unknown in a three dimensional world – once there is the termination of life as we know it.
What is however strange, is that when expected, death is presumably always preceded by waves and surges of hope, even in the face of the inevitable. This is one of the mysteries of life: that hope lives on while life lives on…
When not expected, it most likely deals a blow that is so devastating that it is oftentimes denied and mistaken to be an illusion – for a while at least.
We know of the awakening of Lazarus from death even after a few days; and the raising of Jairus’ 12 year old daughter; and we cannot help but wonder intensely if our own loved ones’ eyelids may start fluttering again and their blood vessels start pulsating with restoration.
When they are no longer here, we continue to see them coming towards us… and then we don’t. We hear their voices. Their laughter.
The familiar fragrances of their hair, their clothes, their after-shave lotions and perfumes remain in our nostrils.
The film of Tabac on my father’s skin even in his final hours still emits the beloved manly and reassuring fragrance that I had come to know as a child. I may simply not ever have noticed it on any other man; but in my reference framework it is unique to my father. And will remain that way.
In the last days – sweltering midsummer days during which the heat also causes unease for my dying father – I am aware of the contradiction of seeing and feeling him slipping away, yet willing him to hold on and stay. Heart and mind are in conflict. The one knows; the other is aflame with senseless hope against all odds.
It is clear that his race is almost done. He has run it superbly and all we can do – all we are able to do – is to remain by his side, day and night, in relays: encouraging; reassuring; accompanying; knowing that finally he will have to cross the threshold – the Jordan – alone. Knowing that our journey with him will be over.
* * * *
Here I interrupt my halting thoughts to cycle at dusk; to breathe and reconnect with the new reality of only weeks.
What I see, is a manifestation of light and shadows and colour in nature… It makes me gasp.
- * * * * *
In the last hours his unease deteriorates into severe and painful discomfort. Almost visibly his body transforms. Racked with the painful agony of the terrible disease, what remains is the silent dignity I know so well. I cannot do anything to help and it tears me apart. When his eyes focus, they pierce ours pleadingly; his blue gaze, now fading, mirrors ours. He recognizes this. He does not want to leave us, we sense.
He is thirsty, but can no longer swallow. We drip cool water into the corner of his mouth and brush it across his lips. We sing. It makes him peaceful. We sing more. We pray. I clasp two of his handkerchiefs in my helpless hands. They are soaked with the tears I cannot hold back. I cry for my own imminent loss. And for the sadness and seriousness of my father’s condition. But mostly we tell him with strong voices that he has been and given more than we could ever have hoped for. He has been larger than life.
The shape of his face becomes less and less familiar as physical resilience ebbs and the threshold approaches.
We hold his hands. Amazingly, he holds ours.
The spasmodic breaths are further and further apart until almost impossible to perceive.
The last one… oh… It is so faint and so final. Or is it? How can it be?
The line is so thin. Only the double-edged sword can penetrate to divide soul and spirit.
(vir Pappa – op 21 November 2015, die 84ste herdenking van sy geboortedag)
gister, vandag & more…
die driekleur-fyngeur van pers onthou en wit behou
by ’n venster van ’n huis
vol harte en hande en heimwee:
kinderstemme soos in ’n droom
kersliggies, die towergeur van ’n denneboom
die varsgeur van bloekomboom op bloekomboom
die skietpyn van ’n by wat skuil in ’n pers blom…
nee, ’n towertapyt van pers blom op pers blom
gestort van die ruwe takke van ’n uitlandse boom
in die middel van die edentuin aan die soom
van die dorpie van drome
daar ver in eens-op-’n-tyd se transvaal.
te ver nou, vir ons, vir my en jou
maar nie vir pers en wit onthou en behou
van lagtye saamtye huiltye tuistye toertye onstye singtye speeltye…
van die kennelik klinkklare hartsnaarklank
van ons kerkklok hoog bo die plataanboomsoom
en die ossewa-onthouplek
knus langs die stoer-trots sandsteengestalte
in die hart van ons dorp: destyds nog genoem na ’n held
van die Trek…
sonbesiesomers en naguilnagte; tarentaalskemeraande en rooivlagtreinoggende
die piet-my-vrou: koning van kleintyd-klanke
die gerunnik van perde en die kraak van saals
die kletterklop en blêr en bulk
van bees en skaap wat trek
’n sweep wat klap en keer
zulustem wat fluit en beheer
die feesmaalvolheid van gesinwees
in ons tombana-eden met uitbundige bloeiselboom in die hoek…
terras met die bloureën-persreënlint
wat ons en voorouers bind
koejawelboom digby die ewige rots
vensters wat blink en varslug verslind
omgee en liefde en wysheid en waarheid
so na die hart van kind op kind…
oorvloedig! Here, hoe blymoedig maak U my die hart!
hoe vrymoedig die hardloop met arms uitgestrek
na ’n vaderland van blousaffiere
’n brokkelplekkie in die son
Die gryp na die soom
van ’n ‘favourite things’ vir altyd-droom…
HOW proud I used to be to be called a ‘bookworm’. That was many moons ago. When I had deserved and earned the title – by reading whenever and wherever I could! Regrettably things changed with time. For many years I could no longer claim to be… that worm…
Today (8 September) being International Literacy Day, and this week being National Book Week here in South Africa, my thoughts cannot help but turn to this most desirable pastime that I now struggle, but am determined, to pursue. It is through no-one’s doing but my own!
I read like a caterpillar chewing on a green leaf long before I went to school! It continued into my early teen years. I knew the magic of the smell of a new book, the thrill of receiving a wrapped birthday or Christmas gift in the undeniable size and shape and feel of a book, I loved (still do!) the hush of a library and the wonder of shelf upon shelf of potential pleasure. And indeed not only pleasure, but also new insights, new worlds of wisdom, new ideas!
Oh, the joy of picking up a substantial hardcover book and turning the pages one by one, all the while immersing yourself deeper and deeper into other worlds and spaces; making your own pictures of places and faces! The reward and satisfaction of growing a collection, a selection, of books: your own library.
ALIVE & WELL
Mine exists. It is alive and well. It is thriving – mostly in neat stacks beside my bed and I have the doubtful habit of trying to browse more than one copy at a time! Frantic to make up lost opportunities, maybe? Daily my eyes dwell lovingly over the titles in shelves – also by my bedside! – that are waiting to be read or re-read. And on the landing of the stairs there are more enticing titles and volumes calling out to me. I AM a potential bookworm. I can convert again! I still experience the delight of ownership; the sensation of possessiveness.
Why the habit ever dwindled?
Late teens: boys… schoolwork… piano practice….
Early twenties: university studies… romance….
Late twenties: career obligations…neglect…marriage…
Thirtysomethings: motherhood…part-time (full-time!) professional writing practice…fatigue… neglect…burn-out… (the latter temporarily brought my concentration abilities to a nasty and grinding halt).
Fortysomethings: self-employment…life coaching (of my own, precious offspring)…writing (for additional earnings)…
All the while I knew, however, that love of reading, the hunger for solitude and silence with written words, had never died or gone away. Thank goodness for that!
And now – I am trying with a passion and a vengeance to put right what went wrong. I still yearn for books, for reading time. I nurture and cherish the time I manage to spend losing myself in a book. Autobiographies, philosophies, family sagas, thought-provoking non-fiction with one of the requirements being that the reading matter direct my thoughts to higher and worthier things than the mundane and the ridiculous.
Book Week! What an excellent campaign: there are few better ways than reading, to boost your vocabulary (for everyday use!), stimulate your thought processes, satisfy your need for knowledge and insight (to be able to think on your feet!)
Literacy is indispensable. It empowers. Period.
I really hope and trust that SA Book Week will see many, many converts! Here’s my pledge: I’m jumping on the bandwagon – watch me!
The surface of the street where I live is shiny with the traces of this morning’s frequent and intense showers after days of fierce and angry gales. The ocean is tired of dancing to their tunes and heaves in heavy swells of grey – beneath a sullen sky in all those fifty fluffy shades.
The date is significant.
The music of the Reflection and Meditation CD from the Reader’s Digest album The World’s Favourite Classics is so perfect for the moment. I float with it. Soar. Maybe not altogether lightheartedly; however temporarily and willingly detached from the shackles of earthly realities.
I lean over to be able to see the mountain and notice with a quiet gladness that there is a splattering of sun on the slopes where my mother’s ashes lie strewn. Where we scattered them some months after her death exactly twenty years ago. I marvel at the brevity of time; yet also its vastness. A sense of timelessness envelopes me and reminds me of the words found in the 55th chapter of the Bible book written by the prophet Isaiah – in verses 8 and 9: “My thoughts,” says the Lord, “are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours.”
My mother has been spared a great deal of earthly toil and turmoil. As much as I would enjoy taking her on a walk down memory lanes of the past two decades, I am also relieved that she is not exposed to the ridiculousness and the nadir of a government flailing about in disregard of all decency, morality, nobility and righteousness.
She has not needed to learn daily with a heavy heart of the escalating crime and corruption that are threatening to destroy a South African dream of freedom, fairness and opportunity for all… Likewise she is unaware of the race against time to save this unique and singular country from recklessness and destruction at the hands of arrogant egoists who almost certainly do not even know how to spell the word ‘integrity’.
Her heart would no doubt be troubled if it felt the threatening tremors of lawlessness approaching like a potentially devastating earthquake that is eager to devour and destroy the foundations of justice.
It would cry and flutter at the knowledge that the father of her children is sailing these stormy and treacherous waters in the frailty and vulnerability of old age and ill health. Yet it would sing joyously and victoriously to the tune of his courage and perseverance against all odds.
What matters most, after all, is to sense and believe that a journey of victory on high places, somewhere between reality and eternity, is ultimately rewarding.
When I stumble upon words or phrases that can be attributed to great and famous spirits and they resonate with a passion deep inside of me, I feel a trickle of excitement and pleasure tickling my spine. Oh, especially when they actually kind of summarise or accurately echo that passion!
Sri Lankan born author Michael Ondaatje, whose profound and poignant novel The English Patient earned him the 1992 Booker Prize, has his character who is throughout the narrative only presumed by the reader to be Almásy, express thoughts on the power and integrity of words – while they are most likely Ondaatje’s own.
Referring to the characters of Geoffrey Clifton and his wife Katharine, Almásy says: “The words of her husband in praise of her meant nothing. But I am a man whose life in many ways, even as an explorer, has been governed by words. By rumours and legends. Charted things. Shards written down. The tact of words. In the desert to repeat something would be to fling more water into the earth. Here nuance took you a hundred miles.”
Katharine subsequently asks Almásy for “That book you look at in the evenings?”
“Herodotus. Ahh. You want that?”
Some days later she takes out The Histories after the evening meal and reads out loud to the men the story of Candaules and his queen. A piece that Almásy had always skimmed over, but now listens to.
“…the words she spoke across the fire…”
He then tells the reader (or Hana): “This is a story of how I fell in love with a woman, who read me a specific story from Herodotus. I heard the words she spoke across the fire…” And a few paragraphs further – “She stopped reading and looked up. Out of the quicksand. She was evolving. So power changed hands. Meanwhile, with the help of an anecdote, I fell in love.
“Words, Caravaggio. They have a power.”
Much later on in the novel, when there is an inevitable break-down in his relationship with Katharine, he (the narrator at that stage) skilfully uses words to imply a deep and profound understanding of her that she is sadly not aware of: “She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water.”
Perhaps this following excerpt from the review of the novel by Pico Iyer of Time best describes the allure and intrigue of The English Patient:
“A magic carpet of a novel that soars across worlds and times… As rare and spellbinding a net of dreams as any that has emerged in recent years.”
I salute Michael Ondaatje’s captivating celebration of words.