519 Christina de Wit Street, Prince Albert
Accommodation in Prince Albert

Karoo Time

eat | sleep | breathe

Dear Boet,

I hope you are well and that Epping Forest is starting to wear its Autumnal robes. Is Paula better and has Jan-Neil started school again? I forget how your holidays work.

The thing I have discovered about Karoodorpies is that things pretty much remain at the same pace that they started out.

Paying at the Koöperasie still takes a long time. There are prices to be double-checked and a mug of tea to be taken delivery of by the cashier and the punched sides of the printer paper to be torn off. And everything needs to be stapled together with a stapler that’s often missing. But it is a good thing, because it gives one time to talk to Dina, who came in for jam jars, about her marmalade recipe. And it also gives Marius time to warn one that there might not be any gas arriving for the next two weeks. These are all very important chunks of information when one is running a restaurant in the Karoo.

Another thing that takes its time is delivering eggs or lemons. Important things such as mending hips and the state of dogs and horses have to be discussed. And also finding out who managed to cycle up the Swartberg pass the past few days (never let it be said that Karoo folk, or ‘incomers’, are not made of sterner stuff).

You, with your photographer’s eye, would enjoy the slow change in the succulents from pale green to pinks and reds in the winter. Apparently it is because of the weather extremes.

Strangely enough, the coming of Spring is a sudden thing. Almost an overnight thing. For weeks we would be watching little brown knobs on branches and wonder if our fruit trees are going to make it through the winter and especially the freezing August winds this year. Then one morning we would wake up and the plaas would be clothed in the most frivolous pink and white blossoms. When you walk amongst the orange trees, you can imagine yourself wading through a pool of perfume. This is the time when we have to rent a few hives of bees to come and buzz about and make sure our almond trees and all the others will be sorted fruitwise come season. And talk about speed! I now understand ‘a hive of activety’. From dawn to dusk, these little creatures are working non-stop. And beware the one walking through the flight route! I still have a bump on my leg from last year….

Then, the sky. How can I describe to you how my hart jumps in the dark hours of a Saturday morning, making my way to the big kitchen to bake for the Markie? By then all the solar lights have died and the morning is black, quiet and crisp. But the stars. But the stars. I can’t help it. I just have to stand and stare, even though I know there is a tub big as a bath of bulgeing dough waiting to be turned into loaves….. I literally get arrested for a few moments by the majesty above me. And once the loaves are in the oven and the quiches have been made the way Elin taught me, I go to the cottage for my second cup of coffee. By then the East is aflame and the mountains etched into the red background. Boet! I will never get used to it. New mercies every day.

There are two, no, three fast things in this town, and those will always be fast. One is Ysterbene and his friends shooting up the Swartberg pass as if it’s nothing. How good it is to see these youngsters cycle out in the morning, chatting away, getting traction in their lives, honing their skills. And come the Trapsuutjies Race, they ace it!

The second is is Willem at the Saturday Markie. We would still be packing out our jams and jars of goeters and our biltong and chorizo when he pulls up on the pavement, bakkie loaded with oranges or spinach or whatever his farm is producing at the time. It’s a matter of seconds from when he stops, opens his folding chair and orders pancakes from Mari and Johan. There is always a second chair available for whoever wants to come and have a weekly conversation with him. With his knipmes he will quarter a few oranges for tasters and soon there is a happy group gathered around the bakkie, orange-stained, sticky cheeks and all. Of course Joubert believes that our oranges are sweeter than Willem’s, so every Saturday in orange season, there is a fair amount of running commentary and upmanship and face-pulling going on between the Yellow House stall and Willem’s bakkie.

The final fast thing I want to tell you about, is about the ostrich trucks that come screaming past our front door. Remember the road through Prince Albert is a provincial one, so the traffic can get quite busy at times. Throughout the year, huge lorries with trailers full of small ostriches tear through the village. They make quite a sight: Men are sitting on top of beams running across the open trucks, keeping the primitive juveniles from sitting, in which case they would get trampled.

To me the men look like ancient warriors, muffled up, even in summer, against the elements. And beneath them, a sea of bobbing little hairy, beaked heads. The trucks rattle and roar, they sound and look eery and disconcerting and aggressive, reminding me of a Trojan Horse or a speeding wagon that may never be allowed to stop, moving and roaming forever and ever. Almost a symbol of the perpetual motion in the world outside our little town.

I turn away from the road towards the mountains. The trees. The eternally blue sky. Constantly changing, in season, each to its own rhythm. It stills one’s heart and mind.

Lots of love from all of us, dogs, cats and chickens too!