Friday, May 30, 2008

Things looking up in Boven...

My town's got a few rough and tough years behind it, but all around there's positive energy with people and organisations making plans, and please excuse the cliché (commonly known as the short arm to an empty brain) - but this one's particularly fitting for Waterval-Boven - suddenly there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Among other things, we've been without a restaurant (it's a long and sad story apparently) for quite a while now. But that's just changed. Tonight I was the very first person to have dinner at the Mississippi Restaurant and Pub, which is in the old Whistle & Trout venue, just across from the railway station. The old stone-dressed house is magnificent and makes a perfect setting.
Sydney Ndlovu - who's been involved in the tourism industry for the last 8 years as he tells me - and his team of six have spent the last three weeks sprucing up the place and opened their restaurant today. It's so new that there's not even menus printed and the staff haven't yet (but who's to blame them?) got into the well synchronised dance that epitomises a successful restaurant.
Sydney, wearing a Castle peaked cap, says that "first and foremost" his restaurant is for the local Waterval Boven and Emgwenya community. "But I also want it to be known throughout the world for it's great offering and exceptional service." Yes, he desperately wants tourists eating here. So does the town.
And if the hearsay about the steam train (the people I'm talking to reckon it could well be running soon between Machadodorp, Waterval-Boven, Waterval-Onder and the Numbi gate of Kruger - just what this region needs!) turns out to be true and it's put into operation again within the next few months, this Mississippi steamer is perfectly situated.
I had a great lamb potjiekos with the choice of rice or veg ( I took rice) for R50 and a Hansa for R10. I chose to sit in the restaurant because I swallow better in peace and quiet, while the pub had far more of a Friday night atmosphere with some great tunes... next time.
Sydney (072 668 7743) and his business partner Dumisani Ndlovu (073 551 5807) are the guys to talk to, and it'll be fantastic to see the likes of them joining up with the Emakhazeni Tourism Association (Trina Matheson: 082 892 1364) and the town's resuscitated, re-energised business chamber (Terry Jansen: 082 900 1362) and the about to be founded (next Saturday afternoon - 07 June - in fact) Waterval-Boven Community Development Forum (Gustav Janse van Rensburg: 082 753 3695).
And there even was a car guard...! 

Waterval-Boven dressed in winter khaki


Life is beautiful

Life is beautiful. I made a new friend today... his name is Fred. Fred Geyser. Not only was he born in 1922, but also lives in a house that was built in the same year. That's relatively old, on both counts, hereabouts. I'm working on a story about my adopted town and countless people - Gustav, Amanda, Tannie Joey, Lien, among others - have strongly recommended I talk to Fred. 
Because he's an ex-headmaster of the local school, and because he's lived in Waterval Boven for almost all of his life, everyone's adamant that he'd know everything about Waterval Boven that there is to know. I guess they're right.
Not only is Fred as bright as a button, but he's got a great sense of humour, laughs loudly and has the most beautiful head of thick, snow white hair I've ever seen (and I told him too). He's also brimming over with love and adoration for his wife who died last year. And he loves God.
I came to Fred's house - the double storey pink one with an immaculate garden and a single, immensely tall and lonely palm tree in the front - armed with a box of muesli Ouma rusks, my notebook and camera. The friendship was instant and we spent the full hour allocated for the interview just catching up on all the years we've not known each other.
Fortunately, two rusks and a damn fine chocolate cookie later, we squeezed out an additional quarter of an hour. That's when I got some quick-fire 'work'-related questions in....
My conclusion is, again, how blessed I am. The pace of my life has slowed down enough to spend real, intimate time with people looking them deep in their eyes while we talk, feeling the grip of their hands as we shake them longer here than in the city.  I really value the time that I have to, sometimes, just watch the clouds pass by. That's my measure of success ... the measure of a life in the process of being well lived. 

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Today I saw my name on a gravestone...

Since living here I've driven past Berg-En-Dal more times than I can count on both my hands and both my feet. To my shame I've never stopped. Mostly I've been too focused on my destination rather than the journey. Also, from the road, the memorial's quite an ugly looking one. Another little lesson impressed home many times before – don't judge by the cover, because it was well worth exploring.


Perhaps I stopped there this morning because my nerve ends are raw, bleeding, at the hideous pall that has bleached colour, and snuffed out lives, across our land and brought shame on our nation; because my head is spinning and my stomach churning with what it means to be South African.


Because our soil, from centuries, is soaked with blood and hatred I possibly stopped there to, unconsciously, pay homage to those who've lost their lives here, no matter which side of the pitch they played on.


One can't help noticing – it's prominent, on the right hand side of the road when travelling along the N4 / Maputo Corridor from Belfast to Machadodorp - this stark, sadly now rather run-down Anglo Boer War memorial. It's dedicated to members of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek Polisie who were killed (on August 27, 1900) during the bitter six-day battle of Berg-En-Dal.


This battle has often been described as the last set battle (before entering, in full force, the guerrilla war phase) of the South African War (1899–1902). The British, having already taken Pretoria, were adamant to get the Boer thorn out of their side forever (and their pride intact again) and capture the then Eastern Transvaal. 


I was for most of the time the only visitor there, able to soak in the isolation and the peace, also to enjoy the magnificent winter-veldt views, for as far as I could see, over rolling 'berg' and 'dal'. But then I have to confess my surprise at finding, maybe 25m on the far side, a smallish and simple in contrast stone pyramid memorial as tall as me.


Called the Rifle Brigade Memorial, it's a replica of the original memorial which was demolished in 1970 to make way for the adjacent Berg-En-Dal one. It was funded by the British War Graves Committee of the National Monuments Council and the South African Soldiers' Graves Association. I don't think many know about it, and I've never seen it mentioned.


Imagine my further surprise to find my name carved in shiny black granite among the other dead: Rifleman C.King of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade (dog tab number 2928) killed on 27 August 1900....


Although I'm a South African with (give or take a pint) equal amounts of Afrikaans and English blood, I – like Socrates – consider myself a citizen of the world ("not of Athens or Greece"). Having been a rifleman once before in my lifetime (with "C King" embroidered in black on dirty brown) I will never again be brainwashed into fighting for a country... they're the idiotic constructs of even more idiotic politicians. 


As you can sense, I have some bitterness with roots digging as deep as 20 years ago, when white boys like me were forced into an army and brainwashed into fighting for my country against all sorts of "gevaar"... "rooi gevaar", "swart gevaar", "roomse gevaar"... "you-name-it-gevaar". That was the tail end of another senseless war that lasted 13 years and cost many lives... of South Africans (whether black or white), South West Africans, SWAPO. And some Cuban lives too. But mostly African lives... like in the last two weeks. 


Right now I have severe patriotism challenges... maybe call it "patriotism gevaar" that I'm fighting.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blogging makes you happy

Barbara Iverson - in her Poynteronline E-media Tidbits post 'Blogging Brain, Happy Brain' today - makes it clear "that scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Awe and Humility

how can i stand here
and watch the sunrise,
following the mountains
to where they touch the sky,
out of the vastness,
the depths of the sea,
and to think for a moment
the point of it all is to make much of me?
because i'm just a whisper
and YOU are the thunder....

(the meaning of mpumalanga, the province where i live, is 'place of the rising sun'. i live here, on the very edge of the escarpment, in awe, humility and in a state of perpetual anticipation)


In these xenophobically crazy times my inspiration remains German writer Heinrich Böll (1917-85). He embodied that rare combination of political awareness, artistic creativity, and moral integrity which remains a model for future generations... especially, not so long ago, at Europe's darkest hour, when what light there was couldn't even reach the end of the tunnel. The courage to stand up for one's beliefs; encouragement to meddle in public affairs; and unconditional activism in support of dignity and human rights were characteristics of Heinrich Böll.