Just a thought....
Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

"Daar is 'n haltjie, Dwaal..."

For some time now, George has promised me an article about my mom in a popular South African magazine. Apparently, she was interviewed while travelling around the country. As far as I know, she was headed up to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth at the time. He finally sent the article, which had a photo of her, but nothing else, other than her age. This is a woman who, in her 60's would go for a walk to the beach for an outing... the beach being a mere 8km or 5 miles away.


I hope the article is typed out well enough. I had difficulty reading most of it. My dear brother sent me the page scanned in at super low resolution. The final image I received was only 800 pixels in height!

Incidentally, 'dwaal' is the Afrikaans word for 'wander'. Or we can say 'he is in a dwaal', meaning, he's quite lost or has total lack of concentration or focus.

Herewith the article:

3 April 2003
Whistle stop on the wastelands

A poet described this part of the Karoo as grey and godforsaken - he was partly right

In the third instalment of his railway adventure, Dana Snyman hops off the train in the middle of nowhere to find a remote place aptly called Dwaal and bumps into a collection of fellow travellers with stories to tell.

You magazine article-2 

I WISH the police would hurry up and bring back Kitte's motorbike. I need a ride to Dwaal. I'm stuck on a desolate stretch of the N1 somewhere between Colesburg and Hanover and getting tired of waiting.

At the crack of dawn I got off the East London-bound train only to discover I'd stranded myself in the middle of nowhere. Hanover station looked as if it had been hit by a Scud missile - derelict and deserted. There wasn't even a bench on the platform.

I wanted to get away as fast as possible. The problem was the actual town of Hanover was more than 10 km away.

I managed to hitch a ride with Johnny van Wyk in his wheezy Mazda. He dropped me off on the N1 where I encountered Kitte Honibal and his dog Boetie. They were also heading south, with a makeshift trailer Kitte had crafted out of two old bikes and a chicken coop gate.

He'd been towing the trailer with a 125cc motorbike, but in Trompsburg he'd sold the clapped-out machine to a guy named Chris. But there were all sorts of complications with the transaction and now he's expecting the police to bring the bike at any moment.

Kitte had a narrow escape in Trompsburg. Someone offered him work. "I don't want to work now, man, I just want to get to PE and go out on the sea," he says, pointing to the enormous sailboard perched on the trailer. As he gestures, I notice deep scars on his right wrist. Knife wounds?

I sit on a rock at the side of the road and contemplate how I, almost middle-aged, have landed up in the company of a boardsailor and a dog named Boetie in the middle of the Karoo at 10 o'clock on a Wednesday morning.

It's been almost a week since I started my train ride from Musina to Cape Town. On the journey, I've encountered people you'd never meet if you did the journey by car - taxi owners, truck drivers, hitch-hikers, barladies, idlers and drillers. Not that Kitte would describe himself as a drifter, even though it's been years since he held down a job and most nights he sleeps under the stars.

"I'm actually writing a book about drifters," he says. He shuffles off and digs around in his trailer until he finds what he's looking for, a grubby file containing his writings. He reads aloud about a drifter who killed another with a brick. But we're only just into the story when he stops abruptly and asks, "What the hell are you planning to do in Dwaal?"

IT'S because of a poem that I want to visit Dwaal - Uys Krige's poem Tram-ode.

In Std 9 our Afrikaans teacher read it to us. It's about faraway places with lovely names that hold a special attraction for restless souls: Putsonderwater, Kilimanjaro, Pilgrim's Rest, Baardskeerdersbos... The poem goes on: "Daar is 'n haltjie, Dwaal, te midde van die vaal godverlore dor Karoo..." (There's a little stop, Dwaal, in the middle of the grey, godforsaken, barren Karoo...). Ever since hearing that, I've wondered what life's like in Dwaal.

But trains don't stop in Dwaal any more. You have to get to Hanover and pay Seef Farmer R40 to take you there in his HiAce.

That's another thing I'm beginning to realise about South Africa. Wherever you go, there'll always be a taxi driver, pastor, teacher or somebody else willing to give you a ride if you pay. Every town, it doesn't matter how small, has what township people refer to as a "hiking spot". Just stand there and you'll soon be on your way.

I feel a little sad to be leaving Kitte behind. He looks much more content with his lot in life than the lawyer with the Audi A4 who drank beer with me in Colesberg and told me three times that he'd met Bob Skinstad in Durban. Something still bothers me. What caused those scars on Kitte's wrists?

He seems to read my mind. As we say goodbye, he opens his file, produces a letter and waves it under my nose. It's an affidavit from police in Brits noting that the marks on his wrists weren't the result of a suicide attempt, they were caused by an angle grinder that slipped while he was helping to overhaul a bus.

"Ja, life can be very hard, my friend," he says. "But never for a moment would I consider suicide."

Dwaal is about 20 km from Hanover on the railway line to Noupoort. Seef drops me off some distance from the village because I want to do the last bit of the journey on foot. I want to dawdle into Dwaal.

In the glory days of train travel all these small stations had station-masters, proud men who paraded along the platforms in their blue uniforms. There was an annual competition to find the neatest station in the country. And there was the baboon that worked at a station near Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape.

In his book, Everlasting Footprints, NG Bezant recounts how Jack the baboon helped to operate the signals at the station in the 50's. Jack's boss, signal master John Wide, recruited the baboon to help him after he lost his legs in a train accident.

Uys Krige was right. This is a dull part of the Karoo. But not godforsaken.

There are all kinds of hardy bushes near the roofless station building. I've been standing on the derelict station platform for a few minutes when, as out of nowhere, steps an elderly gentleman. Anneries van Wyk turns out to be a retired builder.

He tells me he once worked as a builder in Maputo when it was still known as Lourenço Marques. Then his mom died and he had to come home. He flew back to Bloemfontein in a Boeing - a Going, as he calls it. That flight has been the highlight of his life so far.

"The Going is a wonderful thing, you can sit up in the air and drink tea, but it's so calm that the tea doesn't even make waves. We'd been in the air for only 18 minutes when the driver up front told us, "buckle up, we're going to land now."

Anneries hauls out his tobacco pouch and slowly rolls a cigarette. We stare into the distance.

That's all there is to do in Dwaal - stare into the distance.

I NEED to get out of Richmond. I'm tired of drinking apple juice.

I ended up here after hitching a ride from Hanover in a truck. I want to get back to Merriman tonight so I can board the Trans-Karoo, but there's a long wait ahead because the train is only due at 1am.

I'm sitting with At van Rooyen on the pavement next to Richmond's main road, chatting about the Levi's advertisement that was filmed here last year. Occasionally people give us apple juice, litres of the stuff.

Last night a truck overturned on the N1 nearby. It was full of fruit juice. Last week a truck carrying potato crisps overturned. Before that it was a truck with StaySoft.

"Last week there were chips all over the place," says At, an unemployed mechanic. "I ate so many that after a while I didn't want any more chips."

Most people in Richmond struggle to make ends meet, so in a bizarre way the truck accidents are a blessing.

A local explains: "This is a small town. If there's an accident, the police go out first. If all three police bakkies go out, we know we've been blessed again. But we don't drive out to the accident immediately. We wait at the garage until the police return. Then we ask them, 'Is there anything?'"
You magazine article-3
"If they say, 'No, there's nothing,' we know there's something. We climb into our cars and go out and load up."

An old white Mazda roars around the corner. It's Pastor Jonathan Groen who operates as a taxi driver in his spare time. He'll take us to the station. It turns out At is also heading for Cape Town.

But we have to stop on the way to see Gert Swiegers, the king of Boeranje who lives in Murraysburg. He apparently has a lot he wants to get off his chest...

MAIN PICTURE: Dana Snyman discovered that there's not much to do in Dwaal other than daydream.
RIGHT: Kitte Hanebol (right) with his sailboard en route to Port Elizabeth. With him is travelling companion Christo Bester and dog Boetie.
BELOW RIGHT: Annatjie van der Merwe (63) and dog Peggy try to hitch a ride from Colesberg.

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