They say that if you drink of the water of the Groot Marico, you will always return.
That is what happened to me and I bought a small piece of earth, half a portion of another portion within a portion of a farm: a piece of land in the form of a hammer, split 50/50 between two occupants by a strange diagonal line in the middle, with a thin piece of land going up to the centre of the river.
There is something poetic about owning a piece of a river, especially one that was so magic that it could bring people back to it, unwillingly.
I made the big decision when I was passing under a large thorn tree, about 30 meters from the river. I felt a strong tug from underneath the earth – as if a trap was set for the first unsuspecting human passing just on that spot.
Herman Charles Bosman
This is Bosman country, and the Bosman literary society has put the Groot Marico on the map through constantly reviving his spirit by reading his stories and articles at public festivals, and in their own inner circle. Some people think the Bosman memory is nothing much to keep alive – quaint and interesting, but one could, say, rather have this type of following for a person like Deon Meyer, who writes detective stories that has been translated in many languages.
Other people in Marico resents the way Bosman portrays the farmers (a simple ill-informed lot, with worn-through velskoens, superstitions and an addiction to mampoer).
Alone or lonely?
At first, I thought my small piece on earth was isolated and that I was safe here, because no-one would just stumble upon it. I was wrong, because houses get broken into and farm attacks happen all around. So far though, the scariest sound I hear is that of Zebras’ chilling bray on a full moon night. There are also sounds of hunting rifles of people coming from far to have the pleasure of shooting defenceless animals – paid for or poached; and the distant rumble of caged lions, probably reared for the canned hunting industry. The feature that probable makes the place safest, is the rocky dirt road you must use to get here. Should it be tarred – as many people say they want, then many cars would pass, and it would be easy to be stumbled upon by strangers with random bad intentions. Now the only people passing are those aiming to be somewhere specific on the road and those with non-random bad intentions.
As Bosman has said so famously – the Marico moon is beautiful. I caught it on camera several times– the moon veiled behind the twigs and small leaves of a thorn tree, as if she is wearing laced underwear. But of the real moon, you can never tire. I prefer it slightly off-full, when it does not look like a large flat disc, but when the shadow shows that it is a round, heavenly body. It reminds me of my smallness and mortality. When it is full, it makes you feel as if you are immortal and the world a romantic place, which we all know is just an illusion.
When I am here on my own – which is often – my biorhythm tries to change back to the one I was born with. I would arrive here after a long day of work and driving and have a cup of coffee and two rusks for supper. After that, still early in the evening, I would lie down for a moment, to wake up at 01:00, read a bit, write a bit, think a lot. I listen to the sounds of large trucks far away (though not really so far) on the N4. There might be the sound of an antelope grazing around the house, a blouwildebees snorting somewhere and baboons kicking up a row with themselves, a passing human or a threatening leopard. All comforting sounds, framing the silence of the bush, which is what keeps everything together. At home, in Pretoria, my husband and I are often awake until late at night in a pleasant sort of laziness after a day of work. Here I am closer to what I think I was meant to do (thinking intensely about things that are seemingly not important, like mortality and morality)
I am lured into the magic of the bushveld, not only by those people who have spent their lives here, loving the Marico and sometimes inviting me into their inner circle, but by the bush itself. Here, the Marico river has many bends, generously providing of its water to the arid soil. This is dry bushveld, which will eventually turn into a desert, and the constant flow of water the most valuable feature of this land. In some of the slow bends in the river, the red cliffs stand out high above long, deep pools, cold in the shadows of cliff and the trees lining the river. Here sometimes I feel I am the only human on earth. I have read that water has a memory and I imagine that if I put my face in the Marico river, my image will be received and put together again, but some wise person downstream.
I delve into Bosman again.
I like his articles, which show who he was and how liberated his thinking – could he have lived 3 decades longer he may have taken part in the early discussions between the liberation movements and South African writers, and may have had a greater impact on our thinking. His poetry would have been famous. Little by little though, I let the stories steep into my consciousness – the folly and superstition and weakness and ridiculousness of being human. Clarity of right and wrong (it is much less evil to steal someone’s cattle or his wife, than to think that you are somehow better than others).
Bosman uses the k word quite often in his stories and the literary decision was to keep it that way. I agree that adapting it to current political correctness would somehow affect the original intent. Bosman was using it mostly to show the ignorance of the bushveld characters, in the way they express themselves about their perceived ignorance of the black people in the area. Always, the twist of the story shows where the real wisdom lies. But this feature probably keeps Bosman from being fully accepted by a black public, who might be put off from reading the stories
The stories sometimes portray the racism and superior attitude of the farmers which would kindle the anger of any black person reading it. The point I think is, that Bosman himself stands at a distance and presents to us the ridiculousness of this attitude.
But Bosman’s compassion saves all his characters – what makes you a fool is not that your big toe shows through your velskoen, or that you did not go to the Finishing School in Zeerust.
Truth is elusive
Truth is elusive – and who could tell where the twist in your own story will take you? And you cannot know whether people would be cheering you on, but silently smirking behind your back, smirking openly at you, but silently admiring you? Telling you a lie to avoid hurting you, or telling you the truth, just so they can hurt you?
We are just mortals. There is nothing you can do to make you superior to another. The world is barely bearable and the only way to find meaning is to look at it through a poet’s eyes.
No finishing school at WITS, or Tuks or Stellenbosch or UCT can teach you that.