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

Of Rain and of Plaasbakkies

eat | sleep | breathe

Dear Boet,

I haven’t written to you in such a long time. At least we dip into each others’ lives with the odd phone call or message. I hope Jan-Neil is settling back at school after the holidays and that Paula is flourishing at work.

We had spectacular rain and you should see how grateful the veld is. Joubert and I went cycling on Sunday and there was water everywhere, gushing from rivers and rivulets and overflowing dams. It was a crisp, clear morning and our wheels were going shrrrr over the muddy tracks. Slowly the fog of business cleared from our minds and we were simply and silently happy to be alive. Even the thorn trees are looking green. The species we have here in the Karoo is the Soetdoring or Vachellia Karroo. It is part of the Acacia family. The funny spelling, karroo, an old version, can’t be changed, because there are laws on botanical nomenclature. In the old days, the long, very sharp thorns were used for sewing and as thumb tacks. It is also used to make medicine for humans and animals. Don’t ask what, I don’t know. The most wonderful thing about these Soetdorings are their fluffy, yellow pompom flowers in December. We call them Karoo Christmas trees.

The citrus trees are unaccomstomed to all this water and we have to make plans all the time with hundreds of oranges and limes and lemons needing to be picked NOW. So of course, first things first, and that means hauling out the copper jam pot and lining one side of the pantry with a dyke of sugar. Then off to the Koöperasie for jam jars and also orange bags, while I’m at it. You order and pay inside and then drive to the warehouse at the back which smells of animal feed and shaved wood to collect your goeters. It’s a semi-dark space with little birds flitting in and out of the high windows and the isolated voices of the men working there, speaking the half-sentences of those who know each other well enough to complete the unsaid. While the guys are packing my jam jars in a box that once held grinder blades, I wander about the yard searching for pools of thin winter sun. There are cement water troughs and farm gates. Big rolls of fencing. A heap of disused shop fittings and a broken fridge advertising sheep medicine.

The plaasbakkie’s door is open. Even though the seat is covered in fabric, it has the look of leather from years of hurried gettings in and out, work jeans polishing the fibres to an oily sheen. A little bulge of yellow foam escapes from a worn patch on the door side. A plaasbakkie carries in its cabin a memory collection of desperate prayers, emergency dashes to the hospital (blood stains on the passenger seat) and jubilant drives in the countryside as the bakkie bobs over the dirt road. Scattered about are hastily scribbled measurements and lists on scraps of paper and cardboard, a few screws and a rusty set of keys that’s been there forever and of which nobody knows the purpose. At the feet of the passenger is a collection of odd tools that dirty your town shoes if they touch. Behind the seat, a gnarled plastic bottle with water in case the radiator leaks. This is the green bakkie.

We also have a white bakkie with a canopy. The canopy door can’t lock, but it shoots open with so much aggression it might necessitate a hospital dash if you’re not careful. This bakkie transports our precious cargo of everyone working on the farm and restaurant and guest cottages. Each morning it comes creaking its familiar creak through the first dip in the driveway and then parks between the macadamia and the mineola. Deep in, so the Karee can shade it while the day makes its way. Once parked, Wayne would open that shooting canopy door and everyone would unfold from the plethora of scatter cushions in the back and make their way to the laundry, the orchard, the kitchen, the tool shed.

If anyone needs to use one of the bakkies during the day, there are a few aspects to consider. The green bakkie is normally parked on the other side of the macadamia, so some aspects apply to both. If you are in a hurry, take the green bakkie. It’s a little more impatient, the seat is high and hard and your wrist reaches straight for the ignition. Reverse carefully, because of the little stone wall that you can’t see in the mirror. Use the tall Christ Thorn that Arrie has tied to an iron pole with orange baling nylon as your marker. Once you are past the stone wall, you are free to reverse and then shoot forward, gadonk-gadonk, and off you go.

Should time be on your side, use the more coach-like white bakkie. The seats are deep and you have to give your wrist a kind of bend in order to twist the ignition. The doorhandle has a crack, so you can’t slam the door, which is good for self-discipline. Gear into reverse, follow the same rules past the Christ Thorn and sink back into the seat for a relaxing drive into town (1.8km).

The last thing I want to tell you about the plaasbakkies is that we went to Cape Town a while ago in the green bakkie. I found great merit in this exercise. We could see properly where we were going and I even won a little parking competition between a lady with a shiny big blue car and myself. Also would like to mention that she started it.

Nou ja. Enough about bakkies. There is another crate of oranges at the back door. Today I will make orange chutney. And buy more jars. Sugar’s still enough.

Love to all of you – I so hope you can visit one day.