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Ingrid Wolfaardt

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

My past, revisited

I’ve been musing and amused by THE mother-of-cat fights taking place in the public arena while I’ve been reading and pondering about Empress Dowager Cixi of China, at the end of the 19th century, who after a ripping start, overstayed her royal welcome and these two past-times, which on the surface, having little to do with each other, in fact have much to-do with the seeming importance of matters of state and those who, in state, take themselves too seriously… to my mind at least.

Since my twenties I have pondered on the importance of being an agent of change, for the better, need I say and whether one (the royal we) in the bigger scheme of things is so important after all. Sometimes I think it is of all importance and at other times I think our lives are really no big deal, as the mysteries of the universe are beamed back to us, courtesy of Hubble and then I remind myself that life is less about me me me and more about we we we. For twenty odd years I lived on a remote farm, surrounded by a farming community that quietly transitioned from dysfunctionality, to one where people were at least heard and seen and respected and when we left at the end of the 90′s, in dire circumstances,I “troosed” myself with the thought that we had left some sort of legacy in the hearts of those who were by default, our calling, the men and women who had worked in the orchards and pack-shed and had been our nearest neighbours.

I have revisited this matter numerous times over the past 13 years as stories of the social and even physical degradation of this place has trickled in from old acquaintances and then I ask myself; what was the part we had played in this sad affair, and could we hold ourselves accountable for what appeared to be the walk back to the dark past of farming in this country?

Then something happened in December of the past year. A call from a young man, inviting us to attend a school reunion on the farm where we had lived. Of the farm children who had attended, in the years we were there, would be present and as one does, (“break” with one’s past,) I decided not to go, I had beaten myself enough not to now receive another public thrashing and so J went, quite reluctantly in fact, for what he promised would be a short and sweet hello and goodbye. Well the afternoon came and went, the sun went down and only then did J arrive home.

I normally have a good feeling about what’s the right thing to do and in this matter my gut feel had failed me, as the afternoon on this remote farm, in the old school yard, under peppercorn trees, surrounded by a garden of cacti, planted by the principal and pupils throughout the years, this afternoon turned out to be one of those days that cannot be replicated, repeated, revisited or replayed. You were either there or you weren’t.

And I wasn’t.

It was the sort of experience that I think will be possible one day, to travel into time and see the future. There was 1982-1999 and then there was December 2013, everything on the surface appeared the same; same place, same people and yet everything had changed. Men and women, with partners and families arrived, some had not seen each other for this time or longer and they were all beaming and beautiful. Each and every one who came, drawn by the small advertisement in the local paper, inviting them to come, did so, not knowing quite what to expect and so the day turned out to be one of spontaneously standing up and sharing, memories and the retelling of the collective past but far more importantly, relating their individual journeys, the now of their lives and each story told was a story of people’s perseverance, courage, faith and hope of a better life. But with each, there was a touch-point with us. The day J spoke to a young boy, more than 2 decades ago, encouraging him not to give up, or the few words I had briefly spoken over the lives of young girls, or the many, now forgotten trips we did out of the valley, exposing them to a greater and bigger world out there, set dreams alight, set young people on a course to become more of who they were born to be. Most of the incidences relayed, we cannot recall. Even the names of the young girls, I struggle to remember, even their faces in my mind have faded away and yet these moments over many years, stand as life changing landmarks for those present at the plaasskool reunion.

What I do remember is 1982, standing in another world, with a child on the hip in a cold shed, with a group of sullen children before me, children, when offered paper and pencils, sat staring at the floor, unable to draw. Children who could not look me in the eye, who had no words to speak to me. Were these confident, raconteurs of the plaasskool reunion of the same children?

And so I read (from a distance) about state affairs and those who believe that they are our God given movers and shakers of the earth, who will bring healing and prosperity to this land and rightly so, but it seems to me, more and more after the plaaskool reunion, it takes a nation to make a nation. It takes a collective act by ordinary folk, wherever they find themselves, to sow the seeds for a better tomorrow, one they may not necessarily reap but one that will germinate in the soil and slowly make its way to the surface and push out young green leaves to the sun and drink in the rain. I think its quite possible for all of us to sow a few and trust the act of sowing to do, what it does best, germinate and grow.

Only now I understand the call made by an old, old man, to myself and other farmer’s wives in 1991. He came from Tulbagh and was a farm worker in the district and we sat hatted and heeled, listening to his simple message and plea, which I felt he repeated just too many times for comfort. “Gooi jou brood op die water,” he said that day, over and over.
Perhaps that’s where I’ve got stuck in my writing too, “gooi jou brood op die water,” I ask you.


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