Existence is Movementby Timothy Gabb / 08.08.2012
I awake the following morning to the shrill sqwaking of a cacophonous assembly of birds in the trees above my tent. I am camping at the backpackers, and rise to put some coffee on the stove. I get ready, and make my way to the small community of locals on the outskirts of the town.
Nieu Bethesda is an interesting arrangement in social terms. The coloured community live beyond the artistic get-away houses of the main town. They live in another world, and are not easily welcomed to partcipate in the “touristic” part of town. Their world is hard.
Rhythms are slow and cyclic. The dusty roads remind one of the implications of moving too fast; my dry eyes wrestle out dirt as a police bakkie speeds passed me and is soon invisible in its own swirling storm.
As I approach the township, I am greeted by a bundle of young children flying kites in an open field. I climb the fence, and go and introduce myself, showing them the large photographs I have with me, enquiring about the whereabouts of Karel and Jannie and the rest of the gang.
The kids are intrigued by the photos, and seeing my camera, plead to be photographed too. The photos are beautiful – the kites are plastic bags tied together on thin sticks, and the line leading them high into the preternaturally blue sky is made of wool, spun by the local ladies here on their archaic looms.
Finally asking if Karel and Jannie are around, I am answered with a confusing suggestion.
“Bieu is dood meneer.” They chant together. “Hy is dood.”
Bieu is Karel’s nickname. I ponder their answers, thank them, and move into the location. Karel is dead? I think to myself. No, they must have somebody else in mind.
I arrive at the Oudtshoorn’s home. Outside the door to their delapidated little RDP house are Laticia and Sarah-Lee Oudtshoorn, Jannie’s daughter and wife respectively.
“Oh Timmy! How are you?” they greet me in Afrikaans, soft smiles itch across their faces. Sarah-Lee is sitting at her loom, spinning wool, the wheel rattling in a persistent rhythm. Doof… doof… doof… It slows down to a halt…
I take verbal action in the presented silence. “Everything is good thank you! How are you two?”
We converse in the early morning dust, as the sun creeps and warms up the chilly street.
They are doing well.
I show them the photographs, and Sarah-Lee instantly starts crying.
“What now Meisie?” I ask, calling her by her commonly known name.
“Timmy! Bieu is dead!” She continues to cry. Laticia has moved into the house, and watches from a distance. “They found him one morning here, behind our house, with a big rock on his head!”
“What!?” I am speechless, overwhelmed by what I am hearing. “They found him with what?”
“Ja, a big stone… It’s so hard… It’s not the first time either… DEAD! Timmy – he’s dead…” I try to offer comfort. These people are poor. The rural poor. The poorerst of the poor. Marginalised. Rendered invisible by the governments of the past and present. Simple folk, working the land. Shearing sheep. Spinning wool. Making it with the bare minimum. Yes, alcohol plays a huge role. Yes, Bieu was drunk, and had apparently gotten into an argument. But their alcohol abuse is symptomatic of their plight, not the cause of it.
They are the descendents of the San peoples. The First Peoples. And now they have so little in the way of dignity.
Sarah-Lee has calmed.
“The men are out on a job, shearing at Wellwood farm… They should be back tomorrow. They’ve been gone all week… Thank you for the photographs. I am going to keep this one of Bieu!”
I step into her house, and notice a series of the photographs I sent plucked to the rough, brightly coloured wall. They obviously received them.
I am too shattered to try and ask for an interview on camera with the ladies, and decide to wait for the men to return. I greet the ladies, and choose to go explore the kloof just outside town; perhaps I can find some rock art. Dennis, from the owl house, had told me he thought there might be some overhangs up river which might have paintings in them. At the very least I may enjoy a good walk through the bush. Meditate. Get dive-bombed by a Jackal Buzzard and have a troop of Dassies bark fierce primordial screams at the winged threats gliding through the kloof… Yes. Sounds like a good idea.
Keep moving. Remember Breyten Breytenbach: “The origin of existence is movement.”
Walking. Movement. The refreshing of sense-data. The meditative project of being mindlessly aware. Involved with your environment; creating your mindscape. The act of being-in-the-world. Intimate. Connected. Not to mention the endorphins which are produced by exercise…
Travel excites the mind. Routine and complacency dull the senses and hide the true nature of things. By refreshing one’s sense-data through exploration and movement, we stay alert, receptive and alive. Robert Burton, in The Anatomy of Melancholia, understood that movement and travel is the best cure for melancholia: “The heavens themselves run continually round, the sun riseth and sets, stars and planets keep their constant motions, the air is still tossed by the winds, the waters ebb and flow… to teach us that we should ever be in motion!”
Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 3 here.
*All images © Timothy Gabb.