Waiting for the rain from the ancestors


“DIT gaan nie hierdie jaar reën nie,” Muttering Darkly muttered darkly as she peeled the potatoes, confirming the fear of every farmer this side of Klerksdorp. The farmers’ number-one reason for being connected to the Internet is to be able to see the facts about upcoming weather on the meteorological website, which they keep as their home page.

But whereas the farmers’ fears are based on the facts brought to them through cyberspace, Muttering Darkly’s fears are more aligned with the ancestors who used to turn away from their sins in prayer for rain: “Ek sé vir jou, Missus”, she promised me, waving the knife in the air, “dit gaan nie reën nie.” Although I am not a farmer, Muttering Darkly’s fears also cut me to the quick. If it doesn’t rain, then this Cape Town girl could start losing some of her marbles in this desert.

Muttering Darkly’s fears are connected to the goings on among the labourers in the area. We live before the time of the rule of thumb. The rule of thumb established in past centuries said that you may not hit a woman with a stick that is thicker than your thumb. Two unlucky women in the past six months were beaten with something bigger than a thumb. Beaten, in fact, to death. “Dit gaan nie reën nie,” Muttering Darkly muttered darkly.

And the farmers, looking at the meteorological Internet sites, have to agree.

I have learnt if it does rain, not to go shouting with glee into town about the number of millimetres that fell on our farm. Although we have the Internet to give us the facts, it still subtly implies that God loves and blesses us here more than he blesses people 30 kilometres away.

“Julle bly in Kanaan,” Dareen said to me when I told her two weeks ago that it had rained softly and gently through the previous night. “Kanaan?” I questioned her, finding it hard to believe that where I live, which is so dry that I have to rub Milko Balm, meant for the udders of cows, onto my cracking hands and feet, is considered the promised and blessed land.

“Ja, Kanaan,” Dareen confirmed. “Julle word daar geseën met reën.”

“Magtig,” I have to say (as I sometimes now do speak Afrikaans). “Then what is it like where you are?”

Muttering Darkly’s dark mutterings about the weather are the only ones that upset me. I was speaking to her last week about how tired I was of rushing. Nicolaas going to Grade 1 has meant that we get up a whole hour earlier — bear with me as I feel sorry for myself and write “5.30 am” here — in order to get him to school on time.

“Jag is nie goed vir ’n mens,” Muttering Darkly confirms. “Ek jag nooit. Ek werk stadig en stadiger.”

This is not really news I want to hear from the woman who is the only thing standing between me and a house of dust, a bathroom of germs and a kitchen full of greasy appliances.

“Ek doen iets, dan staan ek vir ’n rukkie. Ek dink, ‘Nou wat sal ek nou doen?’ en dan doen ek iets weer stadig.” Great! So I am blessed not only with rain that doesn’t feel like rain, but a domestic worker whose idea of a hard day’s work is to fill it with a lot of rest. There is, I know, Buddhist wisdom somewhere in those words, but I cannot help feeling panicky about the implementation of it to our financial account.

The funeral for the second unlucky wife was scheduled for the next weekend. The mielies were visibly suffering and farmers stopped studying the websites and turned in supplication to the heavens, praying for a cyberspace override. “Dit gaan nie reën nie!” Muttering Darkly muttered.

But it did.

On the Friday it started. It was a steady non-stop rain, just like a Cape Town winter but with much more show-and-tell. It kept going all day. The mood in town was lighter. No one minded getting drenched while leaping across gutters flowing full with whirling streams. We ran through the small gate and into the school yard to fetch our barefoot children who were waiting in their classrooms. Clutching their small hands and their big rucksacks, we tore back to the cars dodging lightning bolts as we ran. No one minded. It was raining.

Everyone was happy except for Muttering Darkly. She sliced the pumpkin in the kitchen with anger, for once working quickly, in tune with her troubled soul.

“Hulle!” She said, pointing her knife to the sky, waving at the ancestors. “Hulle het dit laat reën omdat ons wil begrafnis hou!”

That’s ancestors for you. They will wreck crops and spoil even the slightest bit of funereal fun. They will fight posthumously until Justice herself is free to walk unhindered through our land.


• Catherine Smetherham is rediscovering herself and South Africa from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West Province. Contact her atCatherine@holtzhausen.com

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