As we reach the end of this pandemically crazy year I began my usual tidy up. I like to start the new year with my papers and house in as much order as suits my mercurial temperament.
I am a conservationist, so I re-use paper, making notebooks from printed pages that I no longer need. I also jot down thoughts and ideas on whatever piece of paper comes to hand, and often they remain there for months, unread and unwritten in any manuscript or article. Such are my writing habits, may the Lord help me!
I found a few of these snippets, written at odd times during the year, and in a way they chart my journey from optimism and hope for a great year, to anger and angst, to acceptance and a new level of faith. I’m not even sure if these are all mine, or if I have gleaned them from others whose journeys correlate with mine at some point.
Whatever. They ministered to me, and I hope they minister to you.
I thank you, Father, that every yesterday is written in You.
I thank you for every tomorrow
Where hope will arise
Scattering ashes like leaves in the Fall.
2. Father, I thank You that no matter how dark the night, You always make a way for me to fight.
3. Paul – his disapproval shimmering across the miles of African landscape.
4. Rejoicing in the lucky breaks of others – knowing what they went through to get there. In their success my hope is kindled anew.
5. I’m flagging, but God says in your weakness I will make you strong.
I feel the reverence of the Lord, the need to kneel in my quiet time as an act of submission as I see to make Him Lord of all, because it is only in that Lordship and surrender to Him that I can re-discover my first love.
The Lord is present. He is gentle but unyielding, as He asks, not for more of me, but for all of me. If I can get there, get to that place of total and undistracted communion, I will find the peace, the assurance and so the confidence to meet whatever challenges await.
6. We bumble blindly along the dark pathways of life, so often missing the glint of the sign that would show us a better way.
There is more. Much more as I am sure there is for each of you. For now, it is enough.
I pray this season you will find the measure of faith, the peace that is promised to you by our Lord Jesus Christ, that you and yours will be healthy, safe, and rested enough to face the challenges of 2021.
May the Lord God of Israel bless you and make His face to shine upon you.
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Here I am doing the writer thing at a coffee shop in OR Tambo International Airport. As always I am hours early for my flight but better that than racing for the gate, gasping and perspiring.
I am off to see part of my family in the mother city, that fairest of them all, Cape Town. I wanted to drive. I think it is such a shame that we are now so ruled by time that we have to get there, wherever there may be, and time to stop and smell the roses and admire God’s creation diminish constantly.
Who can not be blown away by the beauty of a crisp July morning in the Karoo, unnamed colours flashing their greeting to the day, distant snow-capped mountains proclaiming their presence against a cerulean sky. Or the infinite vista of dull gold of the Free State, small dams reflecting the sky like drops of sapphires.
Onto the mountains and valleys of the escarpment, feeling on top of the world, then gasping in wonder as you descend into valleys of magnificent trees, streams gushing over rocks, birds enticing. Hard to stay on the road. That is another tale.
Whenever I mention taking a road trip I am greeted with a chorus:
On your own? So far? But it is dangerous. And my best: What if you break down in the middle of nowhere?
How many people do you know have actually broken down in the middle of nowhere? I have travelled many miles alone over the years: from Eswatini to Cape Town, to Maun in Botswana, to Praia do Chizavane north of Xai Xai in Mozambique frequently. Those are the long trips. Then there are the runs to Nelspruit, to the Drakensberg, to Durban, to Howick, to Harrismith, Johannesburg.
In the fifty years since I got my driver’s license I have only ever broken down far from anywhere once and that was my fault. I have a bad habit of taking photographs while I drive, because I might want to paint that scene one day and I don’t necessarily want to stop every few kilometres. Travelling from Nelspruit to Eswatini one day a gorge ablaze with flowering aloes caught my attention. I had painted it from memory. Now I wanted to see how accurate I’d been. I was fiddling with my mobile, getting the camera on, not looking at the road. Discordant grinding and a bumping alerted me and I looked up to find I was heading down a steep slope towards a dam. I corrected quickly, but hit a rock on my way back to the road which trashed my front tyre.
So here I was wanting to drive again, and facing familiar incredulity and resistance. My son, who knows me better than most, asked only one question.
“You cool with that, Mum?”
Yes, I answered. Ok.
It was a good 72 hours later that the objection came, carefully worded. We’ve been talking … we think … we really feel … we will buy the airticket. What about all those germs, closed space, airplanes are where I have picked up my worst sinus infections. None of my arguments prevailed.
Which is why I am sitting in OR Tambo International Airport with hours to spare.
Taking a shuttle bus was one danger too many, and it was mooted that I should drive. Now I have to tell you I find driving to cape town a lot less daunting than driving to ORTIA This airport is the most terrifying destination, a fraught expedition involving finding the correct lane, outsmarting death-defying feats of Gauteng drivers, misreading the signs into the Airport resulting in having to drive around and start all over again, leaving me with an accelerated pulse, gasping in shock and disbelief as I dismount shaking from my vehicle. So for years I have opted for the shuttle in spite the limitations it places on flights and connections.
I had two days to get my head around this, prepare myself. I can do this. Done it more times than I can count. Butch up. Self-speak going flat out.
The trip was uneventful, except for getting off the N14 onto the ORT highway at Boksburg. Whoever designed that interchange should be taken out and shot at dawn. You have to negotiate getting across a lane that is introducing traffic from another highway, and the spacing positively does not allow uninterrupted flow. Cars to the left, one up my bum, another in the front, a fourth somewhere on the periphery of my vision. I hate Ford Rangers. They are the most obnoxious of all vehicles on the road and of course it was a ford ranger pushing his way ahead of everyone that caused the whole confusion. I believe firmly God sent a couple of angels to lift me out of harm’s way!
The Valet people had kindly sent me a video to show me where to meet their driver. For some reason when I played it coming into ORT it was mute. Throwing caution to the wind I found a safe spot, put on my hazards, to watch the silent directions.
Amazingly I was in the right place and it was an easy hop from there.
Another crisis, another upheaval I have no idea how to deal with. A friend sent a link this morning and as the powerful words of I Surrender by Hillsong wash over me, I fall to my knees, my arms spread wide. I don’t know what to do, Lord. What to say, how best to say whatever needs to be said. Because I do have to say something.
“Like a rushing Wind, Jesus breathe within, Lord, have Your way, have Your way in me… “
I’m flagging, but God says: ‘In your weakness I will make you strong.’ I feel the reverence of the Lord, the need to bow low as an act of submission brings me to my knees. I seek to make Him Lord of all, because it is only in that Lordship and surrender that I can re-discover my first love.
“Here I am down on my knees again, surrendering all, surrendering all…”
As I kneel at the foot of the cross, my face wet with tears, singing familiar words, I feel peace encroach. The atmosphere is gentle. I see myself among the rocks, the shadow of the cross over me. I sense a presence, a quiet comfort. Jesus is gentle but unyielding as He asks, not for more of me, but for all of me. If I can get there, get to that place of total and undistracted communion I sense I will find the peace, assurance and thus the confidence to meet whatever challenges await.
“Drench My soul as mercy and grace unfold, I hunger and thirst, I hunger and thirst, with arms stretched wide I know you hear my cry, speak to me now…”
Surrender is not simply a giving up of my life, but offering all the strands that make up who I am. My fears, my likes, my dislikes, my anger, my need to defend, to justify, all of it, until all that remains is the love with which He fills me, the love that I must appropriate in order to share it, unconditionally with those around me, no matter the hurt of thoughtless action, the anger at unreasonable behaviour, or simple irritation.
“I surrender, I want to know You more…I’m desperate, for You”
The flow of tears slow, the ache recedes, as He breathes His light within, exchanging the weight of my burden for the easy yoke of His concern, His care.
“ Like a mighty storm stir within my soul, Lord, have Your way … “
The notification of a charge on my credit card got my attention. It was from a company with whom I had signed up for a free trial.
In irritated haste I checked my emails, and there it was: the notification announcing my month’s free trail was up and I would be charged 14.95 US Dollars. Which translated to the R260 debit on my credit card.
Oh no you don’t!
I went to their website where my sense of injustice ratcheted up a few notches when I saw the normal charge was 12 dollars and a special was on offer for 6 dollars! They, of course, charged me the premium rate.
I was annoyed. With myself because I know not to do this. That these deals are usually cons. But mainly, I was annoyed with the concern.
Where is the ethic, the morality of this action? Surely it is a simple matter, in amongst the myriad mind numbing emails they send to you about their product each and every day, to simply inform you your trial is ending, ask if you have enjoyed the service, and would you like to now become a fully paid up member? It is respectful of my rights, it gives their company a tick, and it’s the right way to do business!
I found the contact space, sent the message. Very sorry to lose me they are, will of course reverse the charge, but please note it will take five or six days to reflect in my account. Insult upon injury!
I got involved in a discussion a couple of years ago about the merits of dating sites. I am part of a single ladies’ group and it was cause for much hilarity, resulting in most of us rushing to our laptops to check out various sites. Here again, the ethics of the companies offering these services is off centre. Free, they all shout. So in you go, find someone who could be a match. At which point you are directed to the accounts page listing all the payment options.
Why not simply list your charges on your home page and give your potential customers the option to decide if they can afford your fees, want to afford your fees. Why the subterfuge? Why is it so hard for these companies to be upfront and honest about what they are doing?
Free, my foot! Free as in bound, as a friend of mine once described this fallacy.
Apart from the deviousness, I feel it is an infringement on my rights and my intelligence but I guess because it works for them which is why so many of them operate this way.
Hopefully, I have now learnt the lesson is well and truly. The next time I see the word “FREE’ emblazoned on anything, I’ll delete quick sticks and I suggest you do too!
Writers like to joke about their work. Usually how little they manage to do as they search endlessly for the creative genius that will catapult them onto global best seller lists.
One way of avoiding putting words to paper is to ‘work’ on your author platform via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, whatever will get you into the public eye. The myth is this activity will get you noticed, hopefully by agents or publishers desperately looking for a new hit and there is a chance your name is the one they are going to investigate.
My morning sport is to check on my fellow scribblers and see what distractions they have come up with. Amongst my wanderings last week I came across this question: What’s the title of the current chapter of your life?
No brainer. My fingers typed the response before my brain got there: Fighting the blues. And winning. Mostly.
The blues for me, is a desolate landscape, littered with shapeless mounds, lumps of bodies, ghosts flitting between them, determined I should define my future by the past. It is a battle that at times overwhelms and causes a paralysis that keeps me from any productivity.
I am put in mind of Moses during a battle against the Amalekites found in Exodus 17. As long as he held up his hand the Israelites prevailed, and when he dropped it, the Amalekites prevailed. Aaron and Hur came to the rescue and held up his hands so Israel eventually won the day.
Another analogy that always makes me laugh is found in Isaiah 35 v 3: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. It is such a vivid and real image of how I frequently feel. Paul puts in another way in Hebrews 12 v 12: Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.
Such sage advice, but how in times such as these, when two questions dominate?
‘If’ is a big word. So is ‘when’. Put them together and you have uncertainty doubled. It is hard to keep moving forward with ‘if’ and ‘when’ hanging over our heads. It’s all very well to say: ‘live in the moment’, but to effectively do so, we need to have some idea where that moment will lead us.
This time of separation and fear has taken its toll. We are almost through it and I believe many of us are tired. Tired of being vigilant against crossing the border into fear and despair, tired of playing our part in encouraging those around us to endure, tired of not knowing the end and the outcome, tired of being unable to plan.
The opposite of despair is hope, and all over the world as days pass in relentless and often fruitless progression hope flags. There is a strange parody that accompanies this: the days drag but time moves fast.
I realise part of my sorrow is all that I have not done in this time, the sense of loss is due to my own failure to achieve all I set out to do with such determination that first week of lockdown. I have said before, I have a masters in procrastination, and I have refined the art further these past months.
I know I have a choice. I can walk that land, look at the bodies, remember the pain. Or I can give them a fitting memorial, learn the lessons, and walk into a future filled with hope. I can discard the persona that I have allowed life to develop in me, and change the parts I don’t like. No one says I have to stick with this. It’s a wrangle, for as much as I detest the blues, there is a part of me that revels in the misery of it all.
And therein lies the rub.
If I am to defeat this foe, I need to look him squarely in the eye, and shout ‘No More you time thief!’
Time to defy the habits of decades, lift up my hands, strongly, stiffen the feeble knees, straighten my shoulders and move confidently into the future, regardless of what might happen, if and when!
This year Women’s month in South Africa has passed in a haze of Covid-19 lockdowns, fear, tales of unending corruption, and muted concern over domestic violence.
I had a conversation many years ago with my then boss, Tars Makama. He and I had many interesting conversations. It was the era of apartheid, the atmosphere in our part of the world restless and unfair.
He made a remark that resounds in my heart until today: When the women of Africa arise, watch out!
The Women of Africa arose that day in August 1956 when 20,000 marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest the pass laws. Since then they have played an integral role in many aspects of African life all across the continent.
These past five months I’ve been humbled and blessed by the actions of a number of women, how they have dealt with the Covid pandemic. They are separated by a border, two countries, but the same heart of empathy and compassion that reaches out to touch others, to help them, beats within.
The first is a young lady I have known since she was a toddler, Jeanine von Wissell van Wyk. A few days after lockdown Jeanine called me to say she was deeply concerned about the poor in Eswatini. There are many poor and hungry people in that small Kingdom who struggle at the best of times, now with extended families faced with job losses, how would they live?
Jeanine had an idea that she wanted to pass by me. What an idea it was!
Jeanine is a horse-riding coach and the Technical Liaison on the committee of the Equestrian Federation of Eswatini, of which I am president. She wanted to do something that would help her peers, the riding community as well as the poor. Her plan benefited all. She wanted to ask the top Show Jumping Athletes around the world if they would agree to appear on a webinar, free of charge, allow her to sell tickets and have all the proceeds to go to charity.
She called it The Big Food Ride, designed a compelling logo, and went to work.
She wrote many letters, got no positive responses, until a young Irishman, Cian O’Connor, caught the flame of her vision, agreed to the proposal, and convinced a number of his friends to do likewise. Thus was set in place two seasons of six Webinars apiece where young and old, riders, officials and horse lovers alike got the chance to talk to, and learn from the best in the world, for a season ticket that cost little more than an hour’s tuition in the saddle. In other words, eminently affordable.
She has raised R126,000 so far, shared between five charities. What a win-win idea.
I have no idea what I am going to do on Monday nights after the last episode airs in a couple of weeks. It has been a wonderful journey for many of us, and, I believe, for the horsemen and women who so generously gave of their time, their talent, their experience, hearts to help those less fortunate. A generosity of spirit that deserves the most honourable of mentions.
My second tribute goes to a group of fourteen, sometimes fifteen, ladies who I have the privilege of leading in Bible Study each week. Our group ranges in age from late thirties to the eighties, and I am not talking about decades!
As we dispersed into isolation way back in March, there was much fear, especially amongst the over sixties. So many questions, so many concerns: would we see each other again? Would we see our children again? How would we manage with shopping and other needs?
A couple of weeks before lockdown we got news that the daughter of one of our number had pancreatic cancer. She couldn’t get a passport in time to get to her. All we could do was pray and support our friend. It was a tough journey, some days hopeful news, others the call would go out and as one we would pray. Sadly, the Lord took her home, and that day we cried together. What was extraordinary was the strength of our sister, the peace she felt underneath the sorrow, she was an example to all of us with her positivity, her grace and dignity in the face of tragedy.
We were led to Zoom. As one the ladies signed up, downloaded the app, lost their way, connected, faded, persevered until one Wednesday soon after lockdown we met for a virtual bible study. The relief and the joy of seeing each other radiated over the ethernet. These ladies proved that age is no hindrance to conquering the idiosyncrasies of technology.
We met each week until the day we could meet again in person, albeit masked and distanced.
These amazing women, from such diverse backgrounds, kept our WhatsApp group alive with chatter, serious and amusing, each person offering something: a word of encouragement; a song; a scripture; each concerned that every member of our group come through these times in one piece, stronger and better than when we went into isolation.
I was reminded of the story of the geese:
When geese fly in formation, they create their own unique form of teamwork. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in their ‘V’, the whole flock adds at least 71% more flying range than if each bird flew on its own. Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back in the ‘V’, and another goose flies point.
When a goose gets sick, or is wounded and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with their companion and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly, or until it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with the group. https://ccednet-rcdec.ca/en/about/logo
For five months this group took care of one another, and by extension, our families and friends.
This week we recorded our version of The Jerusalema Challenge, most of us managing to take part. Our routine is not perfect, but we had a lot of fun, rehearsing, putting it together, learning the routine, finding new ones, and finally recording it. Our older members took the back line We had two names for them: Corps de Aged or Corpse de Ballet.
Whatever, no one was being left out. What an example to those we hope to reach with the message of Christ’s love, the hope that we have in Him.
Ian van der Walt, a precious young man, was the videographer and editor, and he has done a great job.
Our oldest member gave us a name, Galaxy Girls, because she said we were like stars in the milky way, each a tiny pinprick of light, but together we make a bright show, a highway of stars. No matter how small your contribution, it is an important part of any whole, and the whole we are a part of is humanity.
Age, circumstance, situation mean nothing if you have the ability to rise above them.
The common denominator in both these stories is the unselfish consideration of others, being prepared to give time and effort to nurture and care for the lives around you.
Jeanine and the Galaxy Girls, I salute you this Women’s Month. You have done us proud!
There is a palpable sense of lightness this week in South Africa, after moving to Level 2 of lockdown. In retrospect the Covid journey seems to have taken forever, five months equating to so much more, and yet it the year has flown by. I am intrigued at how I have dealt with certain aspects of this journey.
The first days I was fearfully optimistic. If I obeyed all the rules to the letter, there was a chance the angel of death would pass me by. Three weeks. I could manage three weeks. Except I knew it would be many more weeks than three.
I made a list of things to do. I always make lists. There were parts of the house that need sorting, work in the garden, murals I wanted to paint. And, of course, my current manuscript to finish. I tackled house keeping with new energy; I joined a painting group and practised my art; I looked at old lists and brought them through to the new one. (I seldom tick every chore off my list, and the Covid list is no exception.)
I read copiously. Every report. My cell pinged hysterically. Soon I removed myself from a number of groups. The data consumption was prohibitive, the hysteria infectious, the repeated forwards mindless.
In spite of my initial optimism, fear hovered subliminally, and then manifest in panic filled terror in the second week. The ‘what if’ questions, the long days filled with strange emptiness, the roads empty of traffic, the silence at night made it difficult to sleep. It was a bad bump. Fear raged out of control, I cried for no good reason, worried that I would never again see my sons, grandchildren, friends. I imagined the hot fluid of Covid in my lungs. I’m asthmatic so I know what it feels like not being able to draw breath.
The panic subsided after about three days, and I got on with getting through the rest of the lockdown.
I loved the silence of the night hours. I took pleasure in walking outside, standing at the gate to our complex, praying unhindered for healing, for wisdom for our leaders, for friends, and mostly for protection against the pandemic, while a recording of a shofar calling the faithful to worship played out. I hoped my neighbours would not be alarmed. They sky was extraordinary, lit up with stars, unpolluted by light or sound.
There was no one around except a fast walker, who interrupted the peace with his flip slap flip slap scuttle, the sound of which resonated sacrilegiously in the silence of the early hours. There always has to be one person who thinks they are beyond the law.
I came to grips with technology. I lead the ladies’ group at my church. It is a vibrant group ranging in age from 40 to 84, their humour is quick, their laughter infectious. It was soon apparent that messages via WhatsApp were not going to be enough to keep morale high. Some of the single members were not coping so well. I learnt about zoom and soon had the weekly bible study meeting going again. A few members resisted, but most came on board and it was such a relief getting to see each other, albeit in strange colour and cut off at the chest.
For those who live too far away, or who really eschewed the technology I began to record each week’s lesson and put it on You Tube. Years ago I was a broadcast journalist and I felt had come home. I enjoyed the discipline of having to prepare a teaching each week. I have always found comfort searching the Scriptures. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDV0ItFxPRk&t=36s
I convinced my sons to come to a zoom meeting. I so badly needed to see them. I got to have video calls with my grandchildren, and friends far away. Virtual sundowners lifted the spirits.
We shared videos of exercise routines in those early days, realising how important it was we keep fit. I live in a complex so we walked up and down the driveways as well, masked and distant.
Level 5 lockdown was extended. We were in this for the long haul. Forget the list. Get back to your normal work routine. Did I? Huh!
At last an easing came. We could exercise between 6 and 9. Great. I was out there. Every morning. Until they extended the hours to 6pm. No pressure. My walks dwindled. Always the thought, ‘I can go this afternoon’.
My enthusiasm for painting waned. There is only so much space to store canvases that are unlikely to sell. I offer them to my neighbours.
I am not a drinker. Too many alcoholics in my past. I do, however, enjoy an occasional splash of wine in a glass well filled with ice cubes. Until I was told it was verboten, whereupon it became a glass a night. I made sure I had a good supply when the ban was lifted. Happy to say I was able to bless a friend with a bottle, and I had the last glass of my stash on Monday night. How was that for planning! Now to go back to my old ways where it matters not a jot if I have wine in the cupboard or not.
I have always worked from home, so lockdown should not have made much difference to me. All that changed was my freedom to come and go, socialise. These were replaced with well planned forays to the shops, a peaceful environment in which creativity should have thrived, and many hours in which to accomplish all that I have struggled to accomplish over the past however many years I have been working on this manuscript.
I did make headway on my manuscript but somehow the walls closed in on me. The uninterrupted routine of making meals, washing dishes, cleaning the house, watering and weeding the garden took precedence and drained me of creativity. The days stretched long and lonely, the nights I filled with Netflix.
The move to Level 3 meant we could meet for coffee. Outside. But we could meet. So we did. What a reunion! Thirteen ladies, excited at our daring, our chatter unabated. I met with the odd friend too.
And I went to the Kruger Park. Oh what heaven! The first thing we noticed was the state of the roads – dirty with grass and poo, and branches. Game rangers had been posting pictures of animals sleeping on the roads, and this was the evidence that tar was no longer something to be avoided. The animals had changed. Zebra not flicking their tails in irritation when you stopped to look at them and moving away into the safety of the bush, Giraffe staying put in the middle of the road, ellies calmer than I have seen them for many years. One trip we saw a heard of usually shy Sable antelope, happy to carry on grazing in spite of the proximity of our vehicles. What a spoiling! I went as often as I could, knowing this was a special time, not likely to be experienced again.
And so, after five months of relative isolation, we have arrived at level 2, and as I look about me, and reminisce, I cannot help wondering what all the hype has been about. The figures are not as dastardly as we were led to believe they would be, both globally and here. Let’s face it, 20 million infections out of a population of 7 billion, less than 800 thousand fatalities globally are hardly the millions we were told about in the beginning. True, there are still new infections, but they are decreasing, as is the death rate. I am not callous, but do these figures justify shutting the world down? Bringing country after country to its economic knees? Mass unemployment? Talk about World Interrupted!
Conspiracy theories have abounded since the first murmurs trickled out of Wuhan at the beginning of the year. Fear is an awful weapon, and it is fear that has caused this scenario. Fear and fear alone. And because the carnage seemingly isn’t enough for those orchestrating this ‘pandemic’, we are now being threatened with the, wait for it, SECOND WAVE. It sounds like the title of a cheap novel, or a horror movie.
If there is a conspiracy, what is it about? Economic control? Global domination? Or is it an act of benevolence, ensuring respite for the earth from rampant pollution, a time for families to regroup, re-evaluate relationships, bond, maybe reconcile? To ensure weaknesses of governments are made manifest, rampant corruption exposed, fractures in political ideals laid bare, leaders tested as never before?
I am saddened by the suffering of the past five months, the loss of life, lonely and unattended, the isolation that has led to increased suicides, domestic abuse and other horrors. But I am also aware of much good that has happened and I know I need to balance the two, and then figure out my way forward from here.
We were told it would be a different world after Covid. I’m not sure I believe that anymore. The world I look out onto looks much the same. People back in the park, leaving as much litter as before, the same speed freaks keeping us awake nights with their raucous engines in spite of curfew, the same arguments, the same riots and demonstrations.
The balance between the haves and the have nots is altered, but hopefully it will swing back better than before now that we are so much more aware of the chasm between the two.
I worried about how I would cope when this all ended, how I would begin again. But I think my life will crank into gear and soon I will be back in a familiar routine and these months of Covid will fade into the distance.
I pray, however, that the lessons learnt will not.
Friday, middle of the month, it has been a frenetically busy day here in White River. I can only think it is the thought that maybe, just maybe, lockdown restrictions are about to be further eased, and people are getting ready to get back to work.
In a province that is heavily reliant on the tourist industry, there is a feeling of desperation at the continued travel restrictions. Lodges and tour operators are crashed and crushed after five months of no business. Those that can have tried to continue paying their staff, but the string is now stretched as far as it will go.
The line outside our local Post Office does not diminish, many people queuing, their shoulders hunched, their faces lined with worry as they wait hours for a pittance, with which they are to feed hungry mouths. The chatter and banter that is part and parcel of queues in Africa is missing.
Those that are fortunate enough to still have an income are nervous. There have been hold ups, robberies, hijackings. Be aware. Be careful. More to fear.
We can expect no less. People are desperate; desperate people are moved to desperate acts.
I have just listened to Kimi Skota sing My African Dream , a recording from when she was with Andre Rieu. She now lives in White River, so we feel proprietorial towards her! It is a song made famous by Vicky Sampson back in 1996, that speaks to the dream of a new tomorrow, an Africa that honours its people, its resources, that moves ahead of its history.
It is one of the go to songs in this part of the world, together with Johnny Clegg’s Great Heart
There is a spirit in African people that will not lie down and die, but right now it’s as close to breaking as I have ever known it to be. It is going to take great courage, and sacrifice, and unplumbed levels of selflessness to come back from this.
I was reading Romans 12, and therein I found what looks to be the perfect recipe to ease our survival, if we can manage to do this, to live this:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.
Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another;
Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;
Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
I have a dear friend, a busy lady who lives a little in her own world. She enjoys a few glasses of wine after a hard day’s work and, like many, she ran out before the first ban was lifted. Then sales opened. Time and again she would wander off on a Friday or Saturday to buy her wine for the week, totally forgetting she should have done so before Thursday. Poor Su!
When I heard Ramaphosa slam liquor sales closed that Sunday night, my thoughts immediately went to her. Needless to say she didn’t have a single bottle in stock. She has been ribbed mercilessly by all of us these past weeks, and she has dealt with it all very well.
The other afternoon she called to say she was baking bread, was I home so she could deliver a loaf to me. Where else would I be? As I waited for her, I felt a nudge. I had two bottles of wine in my cupboard. ‘Give her one,’ said the nudge. ‘But what if the ban goes on and on?’ ‘Give her one. Open up your mean little heart and give her one bottle’. I lost the argument with my better self I am happy to say, and the look of glazed delight on her face made it worthwhile.
But what of all those who don’t have a friend with two bottles of wine. Or surplus food. Or a few cents to spare. Or a heart hardened with meanness after a life of uncertainty and insecurity.
As I said earlier, if we are to recover from these catastrophic five months, it is going to take a degree of courage and selflessness such as has never been asked of us before. I believe we can do it. I believe in the indomitability of the African spirit.
As Master Kg featuring Nomcebo’s heartrending cry to the heavens in the song Jerusalema, has people dancing across the globe , so, I believe, we will we walk in jubilant freedom in one day.
I’m a writer. It’s my career, my calling, an unavoidable compulsion, call it what you will, it is what I am and what I do.
It is a hazardous career that involves many hours staring at a blank screen, followed by either furious typing or staccato bursts of finger tapping, frequently followed by depressing the backspace button and erasing most of what I’ve written.
The prequel to this is endless discussions as to how best to set about writing your masterpiece: do you plot your storyline first or do you fly by the seat of your pants and let the story evolve, let your characters dictate the plot? Should you plan each chapter? How long should a paragraph be? Or, my bête noir, the debate about the everchanging use of commas, colons, semi or otherwise!
Hanging over all this is your word count. How many words do you produce each day? What is the optimum number? How else do you define a good day at the office, which is a corner of your home? Which leads people to think you don’t work, because sitting staring into space cannot reasonably be construed as a job, so it is fine to interrupt you and expect you to be available at the drop of a hat to perform whatever chore no one else wants. And which you leap to execute, because any excuse not to look at that screen will suffice.
When, finally, you come to the place where you can type THE END, the elation is short lived, as you now have to begin the dreaded re-writes. The combing of each sentence to ensure it says what it should, that you have used the right word, the right tense. The Thesaurus is at hand, something to chew on that hopefully isn’t too detrimental to your health, coffee on the go to prevent the eyes glazing over.
Whilst the re-write is happening, you have to start working on another horror, your pitch. This is your sales talk, your carefully crafted plea to the publishing world to stop for two minutes and agree to read your manuscript. Two hundred of the most important words you can come up with. This is the beginning of marketing yourself, of finding a way to get others to believe you are relevant, the story you have told cannot be kept private, why it should go out into the world and entertain thousands, eventually finding itself listed on one or other coveted list.
Everyone has read about rejections letters. How many this author or that received before they were published and found untold fame and fortune. For those who have never received one of those polite, we regret missives, believe me when I tell you there is no pleasure in them. My son, an actor, also a recipient of many rejection notices, says: “Grow a skin, Mum!” before telling me how a friend of his has used his rejection letters to wallpaper his study. Heaven forbid that I should have to look at them each day!
They hurt. Whichever way you look at them they are a condemnation of the essence of you, your craft, your ideas, your hours of relentless labour. A writer never has time off. Story lines and sentences and words are constantly claiming your attention – there is no escape. Whether they make it onto the page each day or not doesn’t count. They pester you.
I follow a good number of authors and writers. We are a band united by the vagaries and uncertainties of our craft, that only those of us who battle them each day really understand. Which is why, when one of our number has a lucky break and broadcasts it on twitter or wherever, the rest of us are able to rejoice with them, because we know what they went through to get there, and in their success our hope is kindled anew.
The plaudits are few and far between in this job, and I celebrate joyously even the smallest that come my way. Any encouragement, any verification that you have touched someone, that you are on the right track is worthy of mention. It is what builds us up and enables us to carry on.
I had a post shared this week. It was well received by a number of people way beyond my usual sphere. I was euphoric and couldn’t wait to share my news. My ardour was dampened when the allegation came that I sounded big headed. I have no doubt that I did. But only to those friends who are not writers, who do not understand the loneliness and insecurity of this journey, this career, the oft-times crippling need for endorsement.
I don’t begrudge you your opinion. You haven’t a clue of what I and fellow wordsmiths go through, and it is enough that they, my fellow writers and poets, stand in the wings and clap, and I thank them with all my heart.
I was born in Mbabane, in the Kingdom of Eswatini many years ago and lived there for most of my life until a couple of years ago.
When my boys were small, friends of ours returned from an overseas posting. Friends who had a racially integrated marriage. It was the time of apartheid in neighbouring South Africa, and many of the prejudices of institutionalised separation made their way over the border. The sad thing about prejudice is that it easily rubs off, it is contagious and one has to consciously guard against it.
These friends had twins, separated in age from my youngest son by four days. The three were such firm friends that we laughingly referred to them as triplets.
One day, about six months into their first year at ‘big’ school, my youngest came home and asked me why he was different to his two friends. I was puzzled.
“What do you mean, different?”
Without a word he pointed to his arm and rubbed it. I knew with sinking certainty that some well-meaning, ignorant bigot must have pointed this out to him – he would never have figured that out on his own. I tried to respond to my unhappy five-year old with a lesson in genetics, but some of the light had gone out of his eyes, and my reassurances were not going to help.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Checkers, struggling through my mask and steamed up glasses to read the label on some product when the most atrocious language insinuated itself into my consciousness. My first thought was to hope there were no children around. The tone and insistence of the abuse penetrated, however, and as I looked up to see what was going on, I couldn’t help but object.
“Hey!” I said.
The perpetrator was a young white male, casually dressed. He looked at me almost proudly, confident of my approval, as he continued swearing at a young black man, who, hats off to him, was ignoring the tirade. What he had done to cause this, who knows, except that I heard the man say: “you can’t even say sorry,” so I assume maybe he had bumped past him.
I frowned, and said again, “Hey, you can’t talk like that!”
I can be a bit slow at times and should have made a much greater fuss. Once this chap realised I wasn’t applauding his vileness he disappeared fast. Like out of the shop fast. I found the whole episode deeply upsetting.
A couple of days later, at my home, which fronts onto a fairly busy road that edges a park I experienced another unpleasant incident. There are a number of hobos who live around here, and during lockdown a few desperate people had been scavenging for food. Where possible my neighbours and I had helped them. I was on the phone and one of these chaps was waiting to talk to me when a red bakkie screamed to a stop, half on my pavement and started yelling and asking if he was worrying me.
I shook my head and tried to indicate that everything was fine. But they told this man that they were community police and he better get moving before they sorted him out. I shouted and said “No, it’s fine, I know him.” They were in too much of a hurry to listen and roared off. This poor man took off down the street, and I have not seen him since. I had also never seen these “community police” before, nor have I seen them since.
In both these cases I know, and so do you, that if the subjects of the vitriol had been white, there would have been no incident.
How many times have you, I’m talking to the whites here, been served ahead of a black person who was in front of you in the queue? How many times have you received better treatment than your black brother or sister? How many times has a black man doffed his hat, or bowed his head to you and called you ‘Baas’ or ‘Madam’? How many times has a black lady curtsied to you, and shown you the utmost respect, even if she is many years your senior?
How many times have you bowed your head to a black man and called him ‘baas’? how many times have you curtsied to a black woman, or man, to thank them for some paltry favour?
Are you getting the picture?
Are you starting to understand why the response to #BlackLivesMatter can never be “But White Lives Mattter, or All Lives Matter? Do you get it? Because you need to get it! If you try to justify your response to #BlackLivesMatter by saying white, or all lives matter, you are tacitly admitting culpability in the systemic and unrelenting racism that has defined black lives for centuries.
Yup. You are guilty. As are most of us.
This movement is not denying the importance of all lives, even white lives, but it is about ending generations of attitude and behaviour that has ensured the denigration of black people, of treating them as lesser beings, as people who don’t count, and this has to change.
I am very aware that as a white I have and do receive preferential treatment, and it is easy to let it happen. Until such time as we acknowledge this and make a conscious effort to rearrange our attitudes and thoughts, that we refuse that preferential treatment, we are guilty of endorsing our own white privilege at the expense of black people, and nowhere is this more reprehensible than in the Church.
Every time I see Christians touting their counter hashtags I cringe at the damage they are doing to the message of the gospel, the message of love from a God who states unequivocally He created all men equal in His image. If I deny the rights of a black man before my Father in heaven, I deny God Himself. Nowhere in scripture does it differentiate between the races on the basis of colour. Nowhere.
Please! You need to understand what this is about. Until such time as we, as whites acknowledge our role and determine to change ourselves and our part in perpetuating racism, no matter how insignificant you may think your part is, we can never move forward, the fighting and outrage will never stop.