From Denmark to South Africa and back

2011-03-30 00:00

AS avid readers of The Witness will be aware, our family moved from Hilton to Lystrup in Denmark last year. Financial matters and a project that my Danish special person is overseeing in Sisonke District, and a desire to see family and friends again brought us back to South Africa for a short visit in February. I thought readers would enjoy an account of our travels, and our impression of South Africa after being away on the far side of the Earth for a year.

While my special person was setting up her project in Sisonke, I took the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Cape Town with a relative. Said relative has a house on Long Beach at Kommetjie, which we visited one windy, sunny summer afternoon.

The beach was well nigh deserted. When we were kids in the fifties it was deserted too, but in those days there were no houses next to it. Then as children it was easy for us to run naked along the beach as far as the wreck of the Kakapo, and beyond. There was no one in miles to be bothered by it. One also notices the light in Cape Town in the summer on a day when the South Easter is blowing. It has an almost indescribable brightness about it. Dark glasses are not enough. One imagines it is all that clean ocean air, blowing in off the vast tracts of the Southern Ocean. Do I miss it? Not really. I know it is there and I can go and enjoy it from time to time when I can afford it.

In Cape Town it was also refreshing to hear Afrikaans spoken again, and reassuring that I could still communicate in it after my indoctrination into Danish. When I try to speak Afrikaans here in Denmark, I lapse almost immediately into Danish, but when one is surrounded by Afrikaans speakers, it rolls off the tongue again. I think it was Shakespeare who first came up with the “When in Rome...” thing.

The other thing about Cape Town is that it is clean and it seems to work. Perhaps the Msunduzi Muncipality would consider sending Mike Tarr down there for an observational visit. The contrast to Pietermaritzburg is stunning. We got the impression in Pietermaritzburg that the muncipality started clearing the gutters after we got there because it had heard we were coming.

So then, or “bagefter” as they say here, we spent a week or so in Pietermaritzburg and surrounds, and a couple of days visiting our friends on their farm in the Eastern Free State. I rented a car in Durban, and had to adopt the convention of driving on the left side of the road again. It is easy as long as you say to yourself every time you come to a junction: “When I go on, the white line needs to be next to me”. Of course, this doesn’t help if you are on a motorcycle, but I was not, fortunately.

Friends in Pietermaritzburg were visited and reminisced with, and it was good to see how some of them had thrived in our absence. I am not suggesting that our absence necessarily contributed to their having thrived, but one is able to detect changes in people after a year’s absence that one might not otherwise. There was general agreement that certain things change as one gets older, and that sometimes the changes are unexpected and unwelcome. Gravity seems not to pull straight down any more. The dark seems to get darker and one seems to get more clumsy as many more glasses and plates are broken. I thought it was just me, but it seems to be a near universal experience in the over-sixties. I have learnt to be much more conscious of what I am doing in the vicinity of crockery and glassware.

The trip to the Free State was perhaps a bit of a luxury, given our time restraints, but it was wonderful to see old friends again and to see the Free State after excellent rains in January. One evening the special person and I sat in the back of the bakkie, and our friends sat in the front, and we went down to the dam for a sundowner. Paradise could not come close, I am sure. It is no picnic being a farmer in the Free State these days. If you are going to survive, you have to take chances, and you have to be three steps ahead of the opposition. But the reward is the beauty and tranquillity of it all, there for the taking every day.

The special person and I went back on separate planes but arrived in Denmark a few hours apart. I found myself on a new superjumbo which was a bit like flying in a ship. One is astounded that it can actually get off the ground, especially in Johannesburg’s rarefied air. I arranged to pick up my bag in Frankfurt, so I could be sure that it had made it. So I bought an extra bottle of Van der Hum in OR Tambo, knowing I could stow it in my bag before the flight to Billund. Unfortunately the bag did not show up in Frankfurt, so I had to try to disguise the bottle of Van der Hum in paper and sticky tape to get them to let me put it in the hold. But the Frauleins at Lufthansa would have nothing of it, no matter how I tried, so the Van der Hum ended up in a bin in the concourse at Frankfurt.

My bag got back to Billund eventually, but we had to drive to the airport to get it. It’s a long story for another day. But arriving back without a bag meant that I had to go back home from the airport on the bus(es), and walking in the snow, in my sandals. Residual heat from South Africa in February kept my feet warm long enough for me to get home without getting frostbite.

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