Thursday, July 31, 2008

LIFE IN KAROO COUNTRY…or, remembering an old rhyme

- Elizabeth Storey-Lawson -

Last month, STOEP TALK rightly reminded us that “speed kills” and that we should all make our best efforts to drive more slowly through Prince Albert.

Hardly a single coffee-morning gathering does not wonder and worry at the lorries, bakkies and cars that seem to have little regard for small children, bikers, strollers and the elderly who cross and re-cross our streets. Our pets are in constant danger and speeding vehicles continuously decimate the wildlife that forages in the proximity of the dirt road to my village of Leeu Gamka.

Having lived all my adult life restricted to 35 kph on a tiny island, I was appalled at the speed with which many drive in South Africa. And I am just the sort of person who will stop to assist lumbering mountain tortoises reach the safety of verges.

Once driving in Namibia I came across a very small one who I believed would take too long to cross at his own pace. I stopped, determined to swiftly relocate him. By the time I had turned off the car, unbuckled, and emerged, he was nowhere to be seen and I wondered if in the simmering heat, it had all been a mirage!

Rather, having sensed the only shade for 500km in any direction, the tortoise had hunkered down under the very middle of my car. I truly feared that if I started the car, and drove even at the slowest pace, it might well be caught under my wheels.

Picture me, flat on my stomach on the searing tarmac, poking a long handled ostrich feather duster I had most conveniently bought in Windhoek at a small mound of retracted reptile determined to stay cool!

But the arguments against excessive speed apply to many other considerations. Farmers too suffer the bane of speeding vehicles along dirt roads as the dust raised settles injuriously on fruit trees, gardens and stock alike. I think we all are aware of the risks of the road per se, but few give much thought to a kilo of dirt embedded in a sheep’s fleece.

Karoo Country is rife with dirt roads running through farms. Many of these roads are set amidst spectacular scenery and often in seemingly under- populated areas. The mountain passes attract a myriad of visitors who thrill to the twists and turns, hairpin curves and breathtaking vistas. The roads themselves unfortunately tend to elicit a Le Mans Rally-driver fantasy!

My husband’s friend, I will call him ‘Mr. Fourie”, has a large fruit and stock farm along side the beautiful Montagu Pass. He is, quite reasonably, super sensitive about the horde of seasonal speeders who hog the road and raise just such calamitous clouds of dust.

Returning to his farm from George recently, Farmer Fourie had a terrifying encounter with a massive descending Merc. Forcing him to the very edge of the precipice, and adding unearned insult to near-miss injury as she careened past, the driver screamed through her open window at him: “P-I-G”!

A stream of answering invective rose in his throat, fortunately to be heard only by the rushing wind. Out of breath, his venom spent, he struggled to regain the center road and hold the last arc of the killer curve…only to screech straight into a wall of looming lard. There before him was his prize 600 kilo “Landrace” sow, ecstatically celebrating her escape with a leisurely trot down the Pass.

I am delighted to report that Farmer Fourie’s pig, and his pride, reached home unscathed that afternoon. Throughout the evening, with both a touch of remorse and a large dose of gratitude, he hummed to himself: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

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