And it is a glorious winter, rainbows each afternoon arching between mountain peaks, coppery leaves falling, streams full and waterbirds around the farm ponds and dams.
Yesterday we went out for a drive after the morning walk was curtailed by rain and found ourselves on a corrugated dirt road through banks of reeds, glimpses of heavy-bellied cows on spits of sand, white egrets and surprisingly green veld, tiny red gladioli coming up. Crunching acorns under the wheels as we drove through oaks lining some roads, ruined farmhouses from the 1940s, just a few tatters of leaves hanging in the poplars like yellow semaphores. Farm labourers’ cottages tucked away on the side of the kopje, so far from anywhere, threads of blue wmoke rising from chimneys and we wondered how they get to shops or clinics, but were cheered to see solar heating panels on the roofing of the cottages, solid shutters and doors, as this indicates the farmers may be good employers, have put in running water, ensure visits from the mobile clinics, decent recreational activities. But so forlorn to live there at the back of the north wind, the long walks to the muddy fields and vineyards each day, the loneliness and silence. And nobody can eat the scenery.
Standing in a brusque chilly wind and wondering how many of the people living in those cottages are trying to stay sober all alone out here? The difficulties of isolation and boredom, wide empty skies, an empty landscape, no distractions or amusements or togetherness, just the wind blowing, the veld whitened with frost or baked with sun. In so many places, character and lives are shaped by poverty rather than by choices or ‘lifestyles’. The history of this area is all about slavery, slaves from Mauritius, Reunion, Angola, Senegal brought here against their will and named after the month of the year they were sold: January, September, October. Reggie September, Adonis February, Dulcie September, Muriel October. Children taken away and sold, husbands and wives separated, the farmer’s son raping the young slave girls, that old bitter history that persist right to the present day. (How startled I was once to see the resemblance between the servants and their owners on a Strandveld farm, the same features, the identical eyes and similarly shaped ears, genetic consequences of droit de seigneur.) And lives bent to the montonous back-breaking work, the utter dependence on their owners, the hardships of drought and failed crops. Constitutional liberties have changed very little for people out here, change has hardly touched their lives.
Driving back — to go and speak to anyone would be to risk charges of trespassing — the rain a torrent so we could not see the road ahead, just crawled down the mountain by memory rather than sight, hoping we were alone on the road. The desire to reach out like pressure around my heart, the understanding of what ‘service’ must have been like in Depression America, amidst so much suffering and ignorance. But it is never to do with what we might need, only to do with what we desperately want, what we are prepared to sacrifice, what involves going to any length.