My trip to Cape Town has flown by and I was welcomed home with a thunder storm that brought a small measure of relief to the thirsty earth. Sadly too late for the herbs in my barrow, but they can be replanted.
I had a window seat on the flight home and so could see much of the devastation the drought has caused to much of southern Africa. Over the Karoo the expression that came unbidden to mind was ‘scorched earth’ – the land dark red, barren, the vague outline of ‘once-were’ fields naked in the glare of a relentless sun. The colour of the earth changed subtly the nearer to the Highveld we flew, but still frighteningly devoid of vegetation.
How does one describe such utter desolation? The usual description is: It’s like a desert. But it isn’t. Deserts might not have rich green fields, but they do have life and plants that are adapted to survive in them. This has no life, because it isn’t desert, it is rich farmland that has had the life sucked out of it.
As is the way of humanity, we cast about for someone to blame for our misfortunes. The first institution in these cases is the government of the land, or in this case a number of governments are involved. Why did they wait so long to warn their citizens, why didn’t they introduce water restrictions earlier, why aren’t they distributing enough to the hardest hit areas, the whys go on and on.
When we get tired of blaming Government, we move onto the various Water authorities, for not fixing pipes timeously. I have even heard the ubiquitous car wash industry being blamed. For those not from these parts, the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes in where jobs in the formal sector fall way short of the number required to sustain the large majority of the population. So the informal sector flourishes, pavement markets abound, and men with buckets clean cars for a paltry sum of money. How these chaps have contributed to the drought escapes me, but we have to blame someone!
This tendency of casting blame for natural catastrophes is a world-wide phenomenon. I wait for it now, when there are floods in England, fires in America, hurricanes in the West Indies. It takes a scant 24 hours before someone is crying foul of the authorities, who haven’t prepared for it, are not doing enough, and in fact have caused the entire debacle. It’s so illogical that someone somewhere must realise this. The sad truth is that our modern day Joe Soap citizen is molly-coddled, his every need taken care of by some agency or other. The fear of lawsuits has diminished ensured that every care is taken in the interest of public safety, to the point where the public now expects to be protected, even from the elements.
But what of us, the citizens and residents of these lands? Are we sure that we have been judicious in our use of this valuable resource. I have to start with myself: Do I harvest rain water as I should? Do I have a set up to utilise my grey water? Do I practice water wise techniques as a matter of course in my garden, and ensure that those who work for me do too? The answer is no, I don’t, and this makes me as culpable as the next person. We all know that water in this part of the world is a precious commodity, but we become inured during the time of plenty, and we are not careful, we don’t guard this resource as we should.
Mickey Reilly of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks began selling off game back in March 2015, because he knew the drought was coming, understood there would not be enough grazing for his herds. Many farmers throughout the region also knew we were due a bad one, and began stockpiling hay, doing what they could to protect their dams and livestock. Anyone listening to weather forecasters around the world must have heard them warn that another powerful el Niño weather pattern was about to be unleashed. What did any of us do to prepare for it? What did I do?
I am not absolving any authorities of blame – they did all wake up months too late. Their plans are feeble and insufficient and they have a lot to answer for. But so do we. It is time that each one of us, as intelligent human beings, took responsibility for own lives, for our surroundings, our land, individually and collectively, and by so doing maybe, just maybe, we can mitigate some of the effects of the tragedies that strike any part of our globe each day.
Right, that’s enough of that.
On a happier note, for those of you who haven’t got here yet, spending time with grandchildren is simply the best. It is so refreshing to see life through eyes that have not yet been dulled by life, simple pastimes and experiences that generate so much pleasure and amusement. A sneeze becomes a great giggle, the aquarium a place of magical mystery and adventure, train rides, swings, the world is full of wonder. Even swimming in icy water is something to be embraced!
As grandparent I am free to enjoy it all, without any of the concern of a parent. All those precious moments that I missed with my sons, because life was a rush of working, instilling values, school, activities, rush, rush, rush, I now get to experience with two precious little people who in turn delight in sharing themselves. These moments are about learning once more how to enjoy what life has to offer minute by minute, and somehow being with them puts much of what tends to vex me into perspective, a place where what is important is the relationship, the love, the fun.
It’s exhausting, but worth every stiff muscle and undignified stoop.
I highly recommend it!