Aunt Gertruida, she who knows everything, taught him so much in his life. Zach often wondered what would have become of him if his aunt hadn’t taken him under her wing. Aunt Gertruida would take him to places very few others ever visited. He knew spots in the Kalahari north of Upington better than most.
Even all these years after leaving South Africa, Zach still sits back on occasion to ponder over all that he learned from Gertruida. At first he’d tried to mentally obliterate the stories… tried to forget his upbringing in the distant reaches of the South African Kalahari. A place of hardship and beauty. Stark, unforgiving beauty. A place of mystery… a mythical place populated by the memories and murmurs of the ancients.
The postal address in Upington remained his only link with Aunt Gertruida. Those days in the early nineties seemed so distant… so buried under the layers of time’s daily sprinkling of memory dust… as if as newer memories were added the more they would obscure the past.
The early communications by letter were rather staid affairs… ‘How are you, I’m fine thanks… yes the job is going well… how are things back there in Rolbos? Don’t you want me to send post directly there? No… the snoops here don’t need to intercept any of our communication. It’s better off this way. I go off to Upington often enough to collect the post.’
So it stayed for years… a few letters a month. The odd photo… the odd parcel, bits of ’toutjies biltong’ and always the return mail to Gertrude. At first only letters and packages containing Dublin newspapers and magazines. Later, when his income rose sufficiently, the books took over. Later still, CD’s and DVS’s. He knew his aunt would devour anything he sent but he always looked out for new material, not something she may easily find in a library back home.
Zach’s seeming lack of enthusiasm for all things African eventually wore thin. He felt more and more isolated and eventually gave in to his desire to know more about the daily happenings of the folk Aunt Gertruida mentioned on the odd occasion. His lust for homespun tails led to another brain wave. A research paper on how literacy and the rise of modern media affected the age-old craft of storytelling. The work was subtitled ‘The dying art of fireside wisdom sharing.’ A line he became utterly attached to and very fond of quoting.
At first he aimed his research locally, trying to capture Irish myths and legends before they were lost for all time. The results of his works were published and led to a doctorate awarded by Trinity Collage, the first such honour from the modern literature faculty to be bestowed on a native of Southern Africa.
Zach even included a photo in one of his parcels to Gertruida, who replied with suitable admiration… and a slight note of sarcasm about him being so Irish that he may well forget where he learned the art of fireside storytelling.
“I wonder how often you sit out around the campfire over there?” Seemed quite a logical retort. True. well, actually… never, if he was prepared to accept defeat. Yes, no cause arguing with that lady… she knew everything…
Then, early at the turn of the century Zach planted an idea in Aunt Gertruida’s overactive imagination. The internet. Yes, he advised her to take a trip to Kimberly or Bloemfontein, or better still, to Johannesburg or Pretoria and find herself a good home computer. He supplied details of the best machines available at the time. Those heady days of Y2K… when clock speeds were rapidly approaching I Gig… gosh, that seemed so far away and ancient by today’s standards.
The letters crisscrossed the equator. Gertruida soon understood the advantage of e-mail. She was by far too astute not to grasp the advantages of the internet. Instant… and more importantly, the internet was promising to be the biggest library available to mankind. Now, that concept… of having all that knowledge at your fingertips, in your own home, that grabbed her imagination… firm and fast!
The next step was to visit the postmaster in Upington… to arrange for a dedicated telephone line to her house in Rolbos. Fortunately Rolbos was located quite close to the fibre network interconnected between South African and Southern Namibia. Yes, the postmaster would arrange the connection to her house, for a certain fee. The fee rose just a tad when Gertruida suggested an element of secrecy. Rolbos had no business knowing her business.
Thus was born the tool for Zach’s campfire tales’ research into all those stories he remembered so well. Soon he was working on a compilation of Kalahari tales… and other unrelated ghost stories. The myths and mysteries were quick to be recalled. At one point Aunt Gertruida sent on at least ten stories, some of which he recalled being witness to the telling of. The tales of the Fish River Canyon’s rose quartz, of the legend of God’s Finger… of the Kalahari Ferrari, diamonds, gold and the story of wandering oasis jolted his memory banks.
There were so many stories… he would have years of fun documenting them all. He would also have years of fun chatting with Aunt Gertruida about the antics of the folk of Rolbos. He would have even more years of fun going on his library lecture tours in Ireland.
The ‘Campfire Tales’ tours became rather popular, so much so that most venues were booked out well in advance of his appearance. Fireside tales, he conveniently neglected ever mentioning their existence as lecture tour material. Aunt Gertruida needed no knowledge of the spreading of the tales… imagine her disdain if she should find out many folk in Ireland now regarded her as cult hero!
Click here to visit Gertruida and the other folk who share her world. Fascinating, often thought provoking… really enjoyable reading!
’Toutjies biltong’ = thin strips of jerky, usually cured venison meat… tasty, super tasty! Ask any self-respecting Kalahari resident!