Out of The Hat column, Stanford River Talk (October, 2013)
There are a plethora of reasons why we Stanfordians have been drawn to live in this little, old village.
I have a plethora all of my own.
One, one that I have grown to hugely appreciate and cherish over the past three and a bit years, is simplicity.
This is never more beautifully apparent than when I sit at my kitchen window in the mornings and look out over what I call “my back garden sanctuary”… and beyond that to the fields, where rainwater lakes have formed, and where Howard’s horses graze along with a group of fallow deer and guinea fowl and geese and ducks. And whatever else blew in overnight.
Beyond all of this are the magnificent trees that line the river. And the river, flowing purposefully towards the lagoon, now an estuary blissfully married to the ocean.
Whenever I, with The Gentle Men’s Movement, have gone out to Bredasdorp to plant trees to honour Anene Booysen, I have wondered whether they will be there when I return.
I have pleaded with the people living near the place where Anene was raped and murdered on February 2 this year. “Anene Row”.
I have asked the adults to remind their children to pour a full bucket of water around each of the trees every Sunday. I have spoken with the kids, shown them how to do it, encouraged them… and, when asked for “n randtjie” (a rand), have given in and given them five rands to do the job.
I’ve tried putting “a white light” around the trees when we leave. I come home. And I am able to put it out of my mind. Until I return.
The church was empty. No people, no people’s paraphernalia. No Sunday hats to show off their religion.
Only my hat. To cover the hairless patch. So the birds, flitting around high up in the roof of my lush cathedral, would not be tempted to take aim with fertiliser bombs.
In the church of my understanding, Platbos Forest, the service is ongoing. No words. Just the wind and the trees, talking in tongue (thank you, Leonard).
And lots of hymn. And him. And the Great Spirit. And her.. The birds, of course. The full panoply of song. And the canopy, alive with the buzzing of a million bees, their high voice as one, harmonised with the budding spring.
I walked into my church, mindful of warning the resident congregation that I came so there was no cause for alarm. The forest floor was damp and scented and musky and rich, the leaves, the bark, the twigs, the moss, the mould, the mulch, the Grandfather’s Beard all creaking and cracking in tune with my footfall. The anthem of the fallen.
The Fallen. This is why I had come back. To talk. To ask them, my family lost, for guidance. To find reassurance. And my truth.
The Gentle Men’s Movement (that’s Tim O’Hagan and I for this day) went to plant more trees for Anene Booysen on Women’s Day.
I am overwhelmed. By what I see as miracles. Little miracles, perhaps, but still they overwhelm me.
I go to Platbos Forest early on Women’s Day to buy two trees to plant in what I’m calling “Anene Row” at the Kleinbegin RDP area near Bredasdorp. Yes, the place where she was brutalised, raped and murdered on February 2 this year.
I take R100, donated to The Gentle Men’s Movement by Beatrice Pook of Stanford, and Platbos owners Melissa and Francois suggest two Karoo acacias, which will be hardy enough to withstand the harshness of the conditions and life at Kleinbegin. To stand near to the White Pear we planted on Mandela Day.
I pay with the R100, Melissa doesn’t have the R20 change and I tell her not to worry, that the R100 was meant to go into the trees which will bring healing to Anene’s community. Francois says: “Well, take another tree.” And produces a beautiful Cape Ash sapling…
I have just made a long-distance phone call to a person very dear to me, somebody who has known me as a child and adult. Somebody who is trying to pick herself up off the floor, after being flung there by life.
She tried to rise again on her own, without telling anyone of her distress or of her mess. Until she just had to reach out for love and support. Which duly came. In many forms and from many sources and with great abundance. She is not alone. And she is not alone in this. And she was not alone in getting it wrong. She is getting help. And she will be fine.
I never thought I would tell her this but, when we spoke this morning, I told her of the six weeks I spent in my London flat many years ago, six weeks spent almost entirely in bed. Unable to get up. Unable to rise again. Unable to ask for help. Until I did. I embraced change. And the learning. Learning to be kind to oneself. Learning to be one’s self.
Learning that our perception of the expectation of others is not our truth. Learning to be true to our self. To be ourselves. To be nobody else but ourself. To honour our own needs, our own wishes, our own dreams. Our own bodies. Our own minds. Our love for self. I am still learning this.
I read somewhere recently that “no matter what value we put on ourselves, there ain’t nobody else who is going to come along and raise that amount”… or words to that effect. We are all worth far more than the value we dare put on ourselves, our lives, our love.
When I was young, my father would often pack us all into the Ford Cortina (with round rear lights and tailfins) on a Sunday. And we would head for the ocean. Nobody had picked up on my astigmatism then and I would lie like a descaled and reddened crocodile in rock pools, with my begoggled eyes slightly submerged and, sight magnified by the refraction of sunlight on the water’s surface, watch the tiny fish flit about and the crabs beady-eye me from their shadowed nooks. Boy in a bubble. I wear glasses now. But no roadtrip in Lucille is complete without a snuffle around South Africa’s magnificent coastline. To submerge myself in the sights and sounds and sand and salt. And, while seagulls skirl overhead, to lie meditatively in rock pools. On my back. Like a seal. And drift off… and be washed away. And washed.
My “Out of The Hat” column, first published in Stanford River Talk, the quite extraordinary little local newspaper that serves (and I mean serves) my village – April, 2013.
I STEP out of the shower I share with large frogs, even bigger spiders, any size and number of exquisitely hand-painted moths and and am immediately enveloped by the heat once more.
Sipping the dark, bitter remnants of last night’s sweet, black tea, I feel the mountain-dew breeze diffusing through the fly-defying mesh of the screen door and on to my chest, prickling my still-damp skin with it’s early autumn cool-creep.
The vista from my front door is the same, as always. In that is is constantly changing. The aimlessly scudding clouds, the groping, gripping mist and the love of the light all conspire to create new mountain edges, resketching a familiar landscape in my mind. Doves clatter inconsiderately through the leaves into the tree, just outside my wonky gate, where they have chicks to feed.
It doesn’t say much for humankind when a stray dog is buried alive in the grounds of a school. And when this cruel act was carried out on the orders of the school’s principal, one wonders what message this sends to the children being educated under the supervision of that principal. Who then sacks the school cleaner who dared to alert an animal welfare organisation to the plight of the dog.
It does, however, say a lot of the compassion of Bukelwa Mbulawa, the humble cleaner and sole breadwinner of her family who is in sufficiently in contact with her conscience to blow the whistle on her heartless colleagues.
And it says a great deal about the good works of Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha that they are doing everything in their power to heal the crippled body and traumatised mind of Warrior. Hats off to Jane, Gemma, Daryl and all of the others at Mdzananda who perform miracles daily with limited equipment to save countless township dogs which don’t enjoy the comforts of your or my lucky Fido.
My friend Helen, who has volunteered to help Mdzananda, and I went out to Khayelitsha yesterday to give some assistance… and to check on the progress of Warrior, the brave dog which has thrown the spotlight on how animals are often treated in the hard environment of South Africa’s townships…
This is Warrior. She's now in very good hands... but she is in bad shape and has a long way to go. She barks in terror whenever a stranger approaches her cage...
Let's zoom in on the eye of a Warrior. I'm sure you will see the distrust, the pain, the fear of a dog which was buried alive. Simply because its presence annoyed a man in power, a man who is a role model for the children he is responsible for educating.
Warrior barked in terrible fear when I went close to her cage. Vet Gemma says she doesn’t trust males…
... but Helen, who has a beautiful way with dogs, had a chat and managed to calm her down.
Warrior is, of course, not alone. Countless dogs lose limbs after being knocked over by cars in the township. And this little guy is just one...
Geordie, a pointer-ridgeback cross, is another who was run over. He faces life on three legs but has a gentle temperament and loving nature.
Gemma tells me that is almost impossible to rehome dogs with just three legs. There is a stigma attached to owning dogs that don’t have the full complement of limbs.
Go on. Say it. "Aaaaah..." And, "ag shame!"
So, when Helen was done doing a full makeover of the clinic’s charity shop and I had held dogs firmly in place while Gemma treated their wounds, we went off to do a “mobile” at a squatter camp. There we helped with giving the community’s dogs their routine injections and rounding up those which are taken away in a cage-trailer for sterilisation…
Helen fell for this cutie-pup...
... while my job was to squirt two shots of deworming muti into the mouths of a legion of hounds.
All the while, we were watched intently by the children, happy that their pets were being kept healthy…
And I somehow knew that this little character would provide us with a comedy moment…
And he didn't disappoint!
This is how caring for the health of animals in townships looks…
And Helen and I can’t thank the team at Mdzananda enough for allowing us the opportunity to help in some small way… it was a humbling and rewarding experience.
They - and the animals they treat and save - need your support...