Monday, March 31, 2008

Life in Karoo Country

- Elizabeth Storey –

I have been snow-bound on a train in the Canadian Rockies, pea-soup’ fog-bound in London when one could not see the end of one’s nose, let alone follow it, and in one of the coldest instances of curtailment, ice-bound on a ferry in the middle of an Alaskan lake.

After years of working in cities, I was inured to taxi strikes, bus strikes, subway strikes, and great sections of thoroughfares being closed off due to the visit of a foreign dignitary or, over an even greater expanse, the U.S. President.

Travelling abroad, I have safely landed only to be stopped dead in my tracks by labour shut-downs, saint’s days, sporting contests, holiday closures and even a national day of mourning (I never found out who it was that had died and deserved the complete cessation of commerce).

On a small yacht, I have been port-bound by hurricanes and ominous tropical depressions. I have even been doldrums-bound in the South Atlantic Ocean where the wind simply ceases. Various other modes of transport have caused me to be: sand-dune-bound in Namibia when my budget rental car agency economized by not providing spare tyres; Boeing 747-bound when the exit door mechanisms refused all efforts of release by electrical impulse or human intervention; and just quietly locked in a loo when my train reached its final station (no one bothered with a head-count of passengers).

Something as ordinary as an elevator managed to entrap me, and three others, for 49 stories as we descended by gravity when the power failed. It took only four hours but seemed the entire night.

I thought all the stresses and vagaries of urban life to be behind me. In my new life as a farmer’s wife in the Great Karoo, I am assured of constant sunshine, winds below the minimum “Beaufort” category (the classification of ocean storms) and hardly a rumble on the “Richter Scale”. Snow is a picturesque oddity on the far mountains and ordinary precipitation is something that happens only on the near horizon. So much so that I have re-named our farm: “Why Is It Raining Over There And Not Here – Fontein.” Sheep have no proclivity to strike and all disputes are settled by simple head butting.

Imagine my incredulity at finding ourselves River-bound! I had finally adjusted to the use of this word in its figurative sense; a sandy, reed-filled and occasionally cattle-filled concavity in the landscape across which one drove with scarcely a memory, or in my case, the knowledge, of the hollow ever having been filled with Water!

But for a week it had rained and rained and rained. Not on our farm, of course, but ‘up-river’ and so that gentle sandy stretch was now an impassable torrent of debris-filled division. My husband was flooded-in and I, having spent the day in Prince Albert, was flooded-out!

Karoo charity knows few bounds. For three days whilst the river spent its fury, our neighbour stood at the ready, like Charon alongside the Styx. Rather than row the dead, he towed the living with his indefatigable John Deere tractor, back and forth until all had been either re-united or re-provisioned. No coin was ever asked or accepted.

In Karoo Country, farmers exchange rainfall statistics even before the most heartfelt salutations. I, too, am learning to scan the skies for moisture-laden clouds. But each day now as I trundle through the riverbed, returned to its normal desiccated state, I muse…”Be careful what you wish for!”

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