Thursday, November 11, 2010

LETTERS TO OOM SCHALK - A Fountain full of Loeries

Dear Oom Schalk,
When night falls in Loeriesfontein a gigantic illuminated Cross, on the hill overlooking the town, takes over as the custodian of the faith until the sun returns in the morning.

With my head a little hazy from the previous evening's over indulgence at The Boesmanland Pub and Grill, I chased myself out of bed early on my first morning there, intent on exploring the village and greeting the sun before it painted another very bright coat of heat over this harsh, yet beautifully barren, landscape.
I had brought myself to Loeriesfontein to view a Windmill museum, ostensibly the largest in the world, according to the author of the magazine article that caught my eye. He wrote with an unspoken conviction that found a happy resonance within me and before I knew it I had driven across our country to look at a collection of historic windmills standing idle on a plot within the precinct of a fountain full of Loerie's.

Strolling up the main street, taking in the commercial prospects of the village, I paused to study with envy the prices of meat advertised in the window of the butchery.Karoo Lamb at a price below that of pet's mince back home had just grabbed my attention, when suddenly, a familiar face appeared on the other side of the glass! - Adriaan - the barman of the BP&G from whom I had purchased a very fine hangover the previous evening was, it turns out, also the butcher. He could also make a very fine cup of coffee, which my hand accepted with great gratitude, almost immediately upon entering through the door.

The second cup of coffee was needed as the conversation had wandered into the meaning of life, the future of life (rugby and sex included) and the quality of life that villages such as this had to offer. It came with a sharp knife and a stick of biltong which became breakfast, followed by an invitation to visit the family farm with him as he had to give supplement to the sheep.

Two "rugby men", one hangover, a lorry, a coloured bloke called Hendriks and four sacks of mielies set off for the farm not too much later. There is a certain power in the words... "The farm stretches from those mountains over there, back to the low level bridge we crossed coming out of the village and around to those hills just below where the sun is now", said Adriaan as we rattled our way along. They were not spoken to impress and were well qualified by what followed...
"Four thousand hectares sounds like a lot but the quality of grazing and the lack of rain will only support 750 sheep and then only if you supplement. My father brought this place as a sub-division - no house, no dam, no fences - I inherited it as the oldest child. I was born here, it started raining one day - I was about three years old... my mother told me that I ran to her screaming with fear. It was the first rains since my birth"!
There was a period of silence until we eventually stopped to allow Hendriks to open the farm gate on our behalf, Turning right after the gate we found the sheep in the top camp - they knew why we were there - Hendriks dropped the tail gate, cut open a sack and hung it over the edge and as we slowly pulled forward the mielies fell in a line on the ground in our wake. The sheep formed a line, all 750 of them and like vegetarian vacuum cleaners, devoured every pip, sack by sack, as we drove round in a large circle. I learnt then and there that calling somebody a Skaap could in fact be a compliment.
The sheep knew exactly how many bags had been brought and wandered off as the last pip hit the ground, either that or they had had a previous owner called Pavlov!

Leaving Hendriks to do the count, we drove past some dry land fields that were waitng for the rains. If they came, the rains would fill the dam in within hours. You would wait a maximum of three days for the sediment to settle and then drain all of the water onto the waiting fields hungry for growth. Longer that and the water became "brak" and the opportunity was lost!
What followed was, plough, plant and prayer.... some years your prayers were answered in abundance and you repaid your debt at the Co-op with a small profit. In the bad years, your debt doubled and you prayed a little harder....

Arriving at the farmhouse, situated in the middle of this vast tract of pebbles and scrub, the first thing that struck me was the remains of a tennis court alongside the two bed roomed house with it's long drop toilet, twice removed in distance from the house. Adriaan saw me looking at the court and said, "Ja, every July, we held an Afrikaans Wimbledon on that court, my Dad loved tennis, people came from miles around, my Mother even tried to grow strawberries", he said, his eyes reflecting many happy memories,,,!
Ja-nee Oom Schalk there is serenity to be found in simplicity.

Die Uwe
Spyker Koekemoer

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