Leaving Bloemfontein in the Free State, the little green Suzuki Alto drove into what seemed a desertification. After the glittering fields of the day before, the endless vistas ahead were bleak, bleached, literally blanched. It seemed as if the whole area, including the Northern Cape, had suffered from a combination of geological and human evisceration, an emptying out. Homesteads ghostly, crumbling and deserted, seemed to stare out at the passing cars, vacant with loss, poignant with history, nothing left but the whisper of buildings, a pointing to what once was. The living creatures seemed sad, gathering in small groups, thin and hungry looking. I felt so moved and sad as we drove on, an overpowering sense of yawing fatigue took over me. We almost missed Graaff-Reinet, since Google Maps pointed to a way which would have added on hours to the journey. It was a kind of time warp space, what should have taken 4 hours took 6.
Finally we arrived by way of a major detour, at Heather’s Guest House. There we met Heather and Barry, a most delightful couple. Their motto: “Arrive as a stranger, leave as a friend, return as a regular” certainly rings very true. Warm and inviting, not only as people, but also their home and the Fig Tree Cottage where we stayed. As I stepped through the front door of their home, I was transported to another time, another place. To the Karoo farms I visited as a child, the homey feel of the place, the lamps, the “voorkamer”, (I could almost hear the milk machine “ting tinging” in the dark). The “voorkamer” even had the ladies sitting, doing their needlework, amidst crochet blankets, beautiful old porcelain dolls, patchwork, doilies and all manner of goodies from yesteryear. Barry whispered conspiratorially later, that they were all gossiping. What a lovely but brief stay this was. I would recommend Heather’s to anyone wanting to visit Graaff-Reinet a lovely, very pretty little town, with so much to see and do. Below is an image of Fig Tree Cottage and the other is the church in the centre of town, opposite where we ate that evening.
Top image from Gratisphotogrpahy
Photos taken by Carol Knox.
My grandparents, standing first and second on the right.
What you Think becomes What and Who you Are
ETutor: Early reflections on who I am 05/03/2014
These reflections form part of my eTutor training with the University of South Africa, (UNISA). I would like to record my journey here. The emphasis of the training is on forming communities of practice, where we can reflect in a safe environment, support and learn from one another. For many the online tutor environment is new.
Regarding my early reflections. I was mostly raised in my early years by my grandparents. My mother was a single mother with two children to support, so it was easier that I lived with my Grandparents. These two wonderful people influenced me in profound ways. They were deeply religious and belonged to the Nederlandse Gereformede Kerk – NG Kerk. They were warm people who accepted all. At the skirts of my grandmother I learnt respect for all. Sometimes we would travel by train to visit far flung family. Some of the family were farmers in the Karoo. The history of my grandparents is: they were sheep farmers, my grandmother was a farm school teacher. The depression came as well as a drought and they lost everything, They made their way to Durban with five small children to support. Times were very hard and they were very poor. My grandfather got a job in Customs at the Railways.
So each December we got a free rail pass, and used it to visit family. This was the first time I was exposed to not only racism but also cruelty. My grandfather’s brother treated his workers badly, swore at them and such. He was cruel to the animals, sheep and pigs, with some horses and cows, also a large black dog. From what I remember I was around 12. It left deep wounds in my being, since I had never before encountered such things. I learnt that racism is taught, it does not come naturally, as is cruelty taught. I became a vegetarian after witnessing the slaughter of a sheep. It was gruesome and horrific and has continued to give me nightmares.
These experiences deeply shaped who I have become. My children were raised without prejudice towards others and they were never aware of differences based on population group, gender, background. They never even described their friends in these terms. Again it affirms for me the importance and power of teaching and providing a living example – on how one develops.
With these formative influences I have come to see how easily people are defined by population group and other group formations. In the workplace I have even been told that I mustn’t think I am privileged because of the colour of my skin. Prejudice is easy. Standing against it is not so easy. At university my youngest daughter sees people sitting together in population groups and it pains her. However, she is lucky enough to be deeply involved in debating, where the mix and balance is more comfortable for her. They accept one another for the commonalities that they share.
Therefore, I am deeply sensitive to the issue of respect for one another. When I did corporate training I was fortunate to train members of the Department of Labour. We were doing Conflict Management and we were talking about difference and how this can lead to misunderstanding. I shared that I was a lacto-vegetarian and how this sets me apart maybe more than anything else. I related my story of what happened when I was a child. Most delegates could not understand my choice, they worried about what was left to eat. It was amazing when one delegate stood up and said: “I can understand this. I have chickens at home. I do not want to kill my own chickens, I am fond of them. I would rather go to the store to buy one there.” Then everyone had an example that they could relate to.
For me, I work from the premise that we all have more in common than we are different. I view difference as interesting and something to learn more about. I think we all have to watch what we think, because that becomes what you speak and that becomes what and who you are.
Image courtesy of Carol Knox.
The Owl House and Helen Martins have fascinated me. She lived a lonely life and was ostracised by her community – yet she found her life purpose and meaning in the creation of the Owl House. The Owl House is a museum in Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape, South Africa. The house itself was inherited by Helen (b. 23 December, 1897) after her parents had died. The image above is from the “Camel Yard”.
For more than a century reclusive artist, in what is known as “outsider art”, Helen worked to transform her tiny home in the isolated Karoo village of Nieu Bethesda:
“…creating an intriguing world rich in personal symbolism and universal meaning. The garden became a sculpture yard populated by a throng of pilgrims and camels, owls, mermaids and other creatures, (in fact, over 300 cement/wire/glass sculptures), while the walls of the house were coated in colour and crushed glass to create sublime and unsettling effects. Anne Emslie leads us on a guided tour through the rooms of the house and along the paths of the sculpture yard, helping us towards an understanding of Helen Martins’ remarkable vision.”
Once the interior of her house was almost finished, Helen started to change her small garden. She was especially inspired by the Bible, the poetry of Omar Khayyam, and William Blake. Over about twelve years, she and Koos Malgas, a local sheep-shearer and builder, created hundreds of sculptures and figures that fill the ‘Camel Yard’ and cover the walls of her house. Her favourite animals, owls and camels, are mostly seen, but all kinds of real and imagined creatures are also present. She referenced not only Christian, but also eastern religious icons. All the figures in the Camel Yard face east.
Legend has it that one night when Helen was lying in bed viewing the moon shining in through her window, she realised how dull and grey her life had become and decided in that moment to bring light and colour into her life. The image below is from the interior of her home.
Helen created an external world that expressed her need for purpose, meaning and light. Below is a YouTube walk-through for those who are interested.
Images from Wikipedia are by Robin Tweedie, 2003.
…this is a true story of misadventure on a small Karoo, South African, sheep farm. a young girl comes to think about eating, what we eat, and why. i thought about life and compassion. i vividly remember this experience even today. this was the beginning of my journey to a vegetarian and vegan life-style. all living things want to live and be happy…
As a city girl of around 12 years old, (and younger), I used each year, to travel with my grandparents, by train, all over the country to visit family members. This each December.
I love the Karoo sheep farms and the life there in those days. Wide open “stoeps” with gas lamps at night, in some places only candles, and the sound of the milk machine in the cold early mornings “ting tinging” in the dark. I loved to cavort with all the animals, watch the cows being milked, the cats coming for saucers of milk. How I loved watching the sheep and the lambs, the little mice scampering amongst the grain bags in the barn. I lay in lush grasses, played with ants and fed lucerne to the large, lovely, pink pigs. I was struck by how smart and responsive they were.
As it happened on one of the farms, we walked one day towards the sheep. Unsuspectingly I watched. One sheep was singled out and dragged by the hind leg to a place close by where I stood. My idyll began to fade as my sense of shock and horror grew. It was so quick. The blade glinted and passed across the throat of the sheep. I was riveted to the spot. I saw it struggle, I saw its eyes widen in shock, I saw it, so beautiful, struggle to live. The light went from its eyes. I shriveled to a husk.
The process began. The detail I will spare you. A strung up carcass, stripped and fed to the table on plates. Beside myself in this strict household, I could not fathom that now I should eat this living being, who not long before had lived a happy life in a carefree field. What to do? I cut up small pieces and fed them carefully and slyly to the dog under the table. This was the start of my questioning and I never again ate mutton or lamb, nor did I feed it to my children.
So began my life-long questioning, “where would I draw the line”? It causes you to question many things. From what you eat to what you buy for your household, to what you wear and who you support.