Paths

Mountain biking paths are a pleasure to run on. Their routes have been carefully selected, vegetation and sometimes rocks have had to be manually cleared – which takes an enormous amount of time and effort. Maintaining these trails and paths also requires dedication, and the task usually falls on a devoted few stalwarts who have sacrificed their time and own cost to build and maintain the lovely trails that our little mountain has to offer.

There is an incredibly steep section of the trail that cuts through a forested slope. The original path was beautifully and thoughtfully planned and laid out, with bridges built over rocky drop offs and over mountain streams.

One year the rather large herd of Brahman cattle that had been grazing on the mountain at the time, decided that this particularly difficult and supposedly inaccessible terrain was the perfect spot for a bovine hangout. In a short space of time they managed to break a large number of the young trees and shrubs as well as trample the trail to pieces!

I have been using that section again – I had avoided it for quite a while as it was so wrecked. The irony of it is that now it is easier to follow the path formed by the cattle on their reckless rampage – and not the semi-destroyed original mountain biking and running path.

So it is on my trail runs this week that I have been thinking about the metaphorical paths in our lives. How our carefully constructed and bounded worlds can be shattered and changed in an instant. From the annoyance of things not going our way, to the real and more serious heart breaks and life changing catastrophes and tragedies.

A new path is then forged, whether we like it or not, just as the trajectory of life can be changed in a split second. We learn to use this new path, we have no choice. As we grow and slowly heal from the struggles and storms that life throws at us, the ever changing path surprises us by becoming an ally.

A route we need to take as it leads us from one chapter to another, in the ever changing narrative of life.

Reflections

As I make my way once again up my beloved mountain path earlier this week, my eyes are caught by the vibrant colors of the first Spring veld flowers as they pop up faithfully through the dry grass. Bright yellow Hypericum, the hardy and plentiful Pentinisia prunalloids with their pretty verbena-like blue and purple flower heads. Hypoxis hemerocallidea (African potato plant), their lovely sunny star shaped flowers the purest yellow one could ever come across. Their fresh green sword like leaves such a contrast against the brittle dry veld grass.

Pentinisia prunelloids

These are all highly medicinal plants, and I wonder at that happenstance – that the first Spring flowers to emerge would all be healing ones.

Hypoxis hemerocallidea

When I first started running on the mountain, it was purely for the sake of therapy and exercise in the fresh country air. I soon however found myself paying closer attention to my surroundings. I began to take notice and learn about the beautiful natural treasures the mountain so generously offered. From the daintiest fragile veld flower – often only lasting a day, to the majestic awe of a giant cabbage tree which is probably as old as the mountain, bigger than any Cussonia I have ever come across. I discovered new paths, views and vistas, Mountain reed buck, animal tracks and birds which I would look up and try to identify.

I thought I was learning about and taking inventory of what the mountain had to offer. I was doing more than that – I was taking inventory of myself.

In observing and writing about my experiences, I am going through the process of capturing all my discordant and incomplete thoughts. I am forced to slow down, and through careful consideration, create something meaningful, encapsulating the essential elements.

In discovering the mountain and its offerings I have been discovering myself. From the deepest loneliest valleys to the highest exhilarating highs of my personal life. In this simple act of observation and journaling, I can tether myself to the page.

Storms, tribulations and Mock orange

This was no ordinary storm. Our little town had experienced severe storms before, but I could not remember one like this. The wind had a new sound, ominous and forboding. The pitch was higher and created an eerie inescapable tension.

We were all huddled inside, my three children and I, listening, waiting. The rain and hail arrived next, out of nowhere. Driven in a torrential and violent explosion of noise and fury. All the while the wind kept screaming, egging it on.

Somewhere in between the chaos we remembered Bunsel, our pet rabbit who was still inside her hutch outside. Jaclyn my eldest, with a shriek of guilt rushed outside and we all followed to save our precious bunny. Out on the veranda the hail was building up into ‘snow piles’, and more kept coming as rapidly as spit-fire.

A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the garden in front of us and we all gasped at the same time. branches were lying everywhere! Another flash and someone exclaimed, “it’s the whole freaking tree!”. A huge crack of thunder sent us scurrying back inside with our rescued Bunsel tucked under one arm.

No one was brave enough to venture outside after that. We all sat huddled together in my bedroom upstairs with the shivering Bunsel. By now most of the cats had joined in the huddle too, there was nothing to do but wait for it to end.

The next morning it had ended as most storms do, with a spent out and exhausted silence. We walked around outside in dazed disbelief. Only realizing then just how bad it had actually been.

What looked like half of the old Cedar tree had come down. In the process taking with it other trees, shrubs, a water feature, concrete pots, two telephone poles, and one poor Hadeda ibis. The Hadeda had become trapped by a branch that had fallen and was now pinning it down by it’s wing. We managed to lift the branch and free the poor thing who waddled off to join his or her mate, who had been waiting faithfully and anxiously near by.

There are two ways that people generally react to stress. They either become super efficient and capable, stepping into leadership, delegating and taking care of the situation. Or, their brain quite literally switches off. I am of the latter. My brain turns to putty and I find it difficult to string coherent thoughts together, never mind speak actual sensible sentences. I go into a sort of dazed zombie mode.

Zombie mode or not, there were now enormous tasks ahead. No one is going to come and stay at a guest house that looks as if hurricane Katrina just passed through for a warm up. So the many phone calls were made. The irritating process of trying to get hold of our significantly less than efficient telephone service provider just to come and asses the damage, never mind repair it, was a nightmare. I had no internet – as that was dependent on the phone line. I now know what a ‘dongle’ is – I did not then.

It was over a weekend, by the time Monday arrived I had a string of double bookings to sort out. Guests had booked online and I had no way of knowing, I was taking bookings by phone and manually putting them into my calendar. The problem with disasters is that they seldom arrive alone. They invite friends, at least two, just for fun! Just a week before the storm hit, someone had side swiped my vehicle. On top of that the main geyser to the house section of the guest house had burst a few days before, right at the tip top of the double storied roof. I found myself resorting to plans A,B,C,D, and even E!

The telephone/internet problem aged me by ten years I’m sure. The phoning, pleading and eventually begging would be repeated almost daily until a whole two months later the new poles were installed! It took a month for the geyser claim to be approved, and another month for the solar geyser company to drive out to Dundee to install it! Eventually my car was booked and repaired, yes – two months later.

Our beautiful big Cedar tree had provided quite allot of shade and privacy. Now we were left with a gaping openness once all the branched and mess had been cleared up. Frankly it was depressing. Soldiering on however, the water feature was fixed, pots were replaced, and I began to think of new shrubs and small trees to fill the gap.

Pouring through my books on indigenous trees and shrubs, I began to feel more optimistic about the bare spot in the garden. I could plant it up with my own indigenous favorites, a chance for change. Eventually three Buddlej’s were planted – two auriculate’s and one salviifolia. These are commonly know as butterfly bushes – and for good reason. The auriculata flowers in july, providing a heady sweet honey scented perfume that fills the entire garden. The salviifolia, which has similar flowers but sage like leaves, starts a month later and into Spring. It has just started now and is heavenly, especially in the evenings. A small copse of three River indigo shrubs was also planted. Another of my favorite indigenous shrubs. These flowered beautifully during the Summer and the growth was very impressive for one season.

The exotic Mock ornge shrub, allthough quite damaged, we decided to leave in place and allow to recover. It is a nice neat evergreen shrub or small tree, also with scented creamy flowers in spring. Ours had never really flowered much before but it did have nice attractive glossy leaves and once trimmed back I thought it would shape up nicely again.

About a month after the storm our humble little mock ornage decided to surprise us. It suddenly began to flower as if there was no tomorrow, putting on a show stopping display with it’s creamy white flowers, exploding into life.

This to me although surprising – as it was late Summer already, seemed so apt. Such a beautiful metaphor for regrowth, vigor and second chances! I look at the once damaged piece of the garden and cannot believe how it has changed in such a short space of time. It is fast becoming my favorite part by far!

Buddleja salviifolia flowering now

Storms, tribulations and Mock orange

This was no ordinary storm. Our little town had experienced severe storms before, but I could not remember one like this. The wind had a new sound, ominous and forboding. The pitch was higher and created an eerie inescapable tension.

We were all huddled inside, my three children and I, listening, waiting. The rain and hail arrived next, out of nowhere. Driven in a torrential and violent explosion of noise and fury. All the while the wind kept screaming, egging it on.

Somewhere in between the chaos we remembered Bunsel, our pet rabbit who was still inside her hutch outside. Jaclyn my eldest, with a shriek of guilt rushed outside and we all followed to save our precious bunny. Out on the veranda the hail was building up into ‘snow piles’, and more kept coming as rapidly as spit-fire.

A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the garden in front of us and we all gasped at the same time. branches were lying everywhere! Another flash and someone exclaimed, “it’s the whole freaking tree!”. A huge crack of thunder sent us scurrying back inside with our rescued Bunsel tucked under one arm.

No one was brave enough to venture outside after that. We all sat huddled together in my bedroom upstairs with the shivering Bunsel. By now most of the cats had joined in the huddle too, there was nothing to do but wait for it to end.

The next morning it had ended as most storms do, with a spent out and exhausted silence. We walked around outside in dazed disbelief. Only realizing then just how bad it had actually been.

What looked like half of the old Cedar tree had come down. In the process taking with it other trees, shrubs, a water feature, concrete pots, two telephone poles, and one poor Hadeda ibis. The Hadeda had become trapped by a branch that had fallen and was now pinning it down by it’s wing. We managed to lift the branch and free the poor thing who waddled off to join his or her mate, who had been waiting faithfully and anxiously near by.

There are two ways that people generally react to stress. They either become super efficient and capable, stepping into leadership, delegating and taking care of the situation. Or, their brain quite literally switches off. I am of the latter. My brain turns to putty and I find it difficult to string coherent thoughts together, never mind speak actual sensible sentences. I go into a sort of dazed zombie mode.

Zombie mode or not, there were now enormous tasks ahead. No one is going to come and stay at a guest house that looks as if hurricane Katrina just passed through for a warm up. So the many phone calls were made. The irritating process of trying to get hold of our significantly less than efficient telephone service provider just to come and asses the damage, never mind repair it, was a nightmare. I had no internet – as that was dependent on the phone line. I now know what a ‘dongle’ is – I did not then.

It was over a weekend, by the time Monday arrived I had a string of double bookings to sort out. Guests had booked online and I had no way of knowing, I was taking bookings by phone and manually putting them into my calendar. The problem with disasters is that they seldom arrive alone. They invite friends, at least two, just for fun! Just a week before the storm hit, someone had side swiped my vehicle. On top of that the main geyser to the house section of the guest house had burst a few days before, right at the tip top of the double storied roof. I found myself resorting to plans A,B,C,D, and even E!

The telephone/internet problem aged me by ten years I’m sure. The phoning, pleading and eventually begging would be repeated almost daily until a whole two months later the new poles were installed! It took a month for the geyser claim to be approved, and another month for the solar geyser company to drive out to Dundee to install it! Eventually my car was booked and repaired, yes – two months later.

Our beautiful big Cedar tree had provided quite allot of shade and privacy. Now we were left with a gaping openness once all the branched and mess had been cleared up. Frankly it was depressing. Soldiering on however, the water feature was fixed, pots were replaced, and I began to think of new shrubs and small trees to fill the gap.

Pouring through my books on indigenous trees and shrubs, I began to feel more optimistic about the bare spot in the garden. I could plant it up with my own indigenous favorites, a chance for change. Eventually three Buddlej’s were planted – two auriculate’s and one salviifolia. These are commonly know as butterfly bushes – and for good reason. The auriculata flowers in july, providing a heady sweet honey scented perfume that fills the entire garden. The salviifolia, which has similar flowers but sage like leaves, starts a month later and into Spring. It has just started now and is heavenly, especially in the evenings. A small copse of three River indigo shrubs was also planted. Another of my favorite indigenous shrubs. These flowered beautifully during the Summer and the growth was very impressive for one season.

The exotic Mock ornge shrub, allthough quite damaged, we decided to leave in place and allow to recover. It is a nice neat evergreen shrub or small tree, also with scented creamy flowers in spring. Ours had never really flowered much before but it did have nice attractive glossy leaves and once trimmed back I thought it would shape up nicely again.

About a month after the storm our humble little mock ornage decided to surprise us. It suddenly began to flower as if there was no tomorrow, putting on a show stopping display with it’s creamy white flowers, exploding into life.

This to me although surprising – as it was late Summer already, seemed so apt. Such a beautiful metaphor for regrowth, vigor and second chances! I look at the once damaged piece of the garden and cannot believe how it has changed in such a short space of time. It is fast becoming my favorite part by far!

Buddleja salviifolia flowering now

Wisdom from ‘the mouths of babes’ and Pentanisia prunelloides

Most of this week has been unusually hot. My Tuesday morning trail trot was no exception. As I made my way up the winding mountain path I was quite relieved to find it breezy on the top after my climb. There are a few brave floral faces beginning to show themselves in anticipation of Spring.

Aha! I was pleased to find the first blue pentanisias peaking through the dry veld. There will be many more as this is quite a common veld wild flower. The sight of them takes me back to a memory of a morning out walking with my son Matthew last Spring.

We had been walking on the mountain searching for ‘treasures’ as we sometimes like to do. I was keen to find the first Spring grass orchids as these are not common and a bit elusive on our mountain. I had just been learning about these mysterious and beautiful little plants and I had developed a kind of ‘orchid fever’ in my hopes of finding some.

In my enthusiasm and eagerness to find the orchids I was a little less enamored by the other more common veld flowers that day. The lilacy blue Pentanisias were everywhere and I had become so accustomed to seeing them that I had in fact stopped seeing them. I did not even know what they were called.

My son looked at me at one point during our walk and said “Mom, why don’t you like these pretty blue ones?” He had noticed that I had been completely overlooking them in my search for the Orchids. I answered that it was because there were so many of them and they were everywhere. He looked at me with a scowling disapproving face and promptly told me off for thinking like that! He was right! I have never forgotten those nuggets of wisdom from my then ten year old son.

Pentanisia prunelloides

So this year I have been eagerly awaiting the blooming of the Pentanisias! Now I know them by name and I have done a little reading up about them to share.

Pentinisia prunelloides or ‘wild verbena’ is widespread in Southern Africa. it is used extensively in traditional medicine and is a veritable ‘cure all’ for a wide range of ailments. The Zulu name for it is ‘olamlilo’ which translated means – ‘that which puts out the fire’. In Afrikaans it is the ‘sooibrand bossie’ meaning – ‘heart burn shrublet’. It is an attractive plant in the veld or garden flowering from August to January. It is also a favorite source of nectar for many butterflies. It has a large root system which allows it to survive veld fires and trampling by livestock. According to SANBI PlantZAfrica – the Pentinisia does not enjoy having it’s roots disturbed, but can easily be propagated from cuttings in Spring and Summer.

Penryn ‘Kitty’ Hotel

The first Penryn kitty to move in was an adorable friendly tabby kitten found by Paige in the garden. He was completely on his own, hiding in the ivy growing around the Jacaranda trees. Paige named him Solo, as he was indeed ‘solo’ when he was found. He would not be ‘solo’ for long!

To this day I often wonder how he even got there. Was he perhaps placed in the garden – as a test by the the other homeless hopefuls? Perhaps word on the street was that a newly single distraught looking woman had moved into the neighborhood, and she had ‘crazy cat lady’ potential written allover her forehead – only of course she didn’t know it yet. Were the other strays perhaps waiting behind the scenes, one can almost imagine them saying “send in the kitten”!

And, so, that was first of many cats and kittens that have come and gone through the gates of Penryn and into our hearts. Some have been lost to illness or to unfortunate accidents on the busy road outside of the guest house, and some have stayed, living out their nine lives. All of them have added to our joy and amusement and have been part of our family.

Of course each and every cat we have ever had certainly deserves a chapter, but that would be allot of writing, and chapters and chapters about cats may just seal my fate as ‘crazy cat lady’! I have decided to just do a few – for now. Some of these kitties have passed on sadly.

Blacky Jack

‘Dartanian’ aka. Blacky Jack, is a very handsome and neat tuxedo clad black and white stray that moved in a few years ago. He is a cat sporting many talents and interests. These range from yodeling, an eerie caterwauling sound reserved for special occasions – to an intense interest in motor cars, or anything with wheels for that matter. No sooner do you have your car door open, and in hops Blacky Jack. I am surprised that he has not gone off with one of the guests yet. He is also the self appointed car guard, and can usually be found sunning himself in the car park or lounging on top of a car bonnet.

Poppet was donated as a tiny mewling three day old and had to be bottle fed. A leggy brown tabby who has never forgiven me for extending the menagerie. At one one time preferring to live on the roof for almost a year because she despised a particular new addition. Only when the poor ‘new addition’ succumbed to illness a year later did Poppet grace us with her presence again. Cats have an amazing ability to spite one another – it has to be seen to be believed!

Miss Muppet – the vanilla princess

Muppet the ‘vanilla princess’ was found by my staff in the township. Also only about three days old and needing a bottle and ‘new born’ care. The prettiest creamy blue eyed cat with cinnamon ears and tail. She was quite a character and really crept into my heart. I was devastated when she went missing about a year ago.

Meow cat, aka. Mouses, was spotted living in a tree outside our kitchen door. He would come down at night to eat when no one was around. Slowly we gained his confidence and once he had a taste of being stroked and loved he was hooked! A big handsome solid cat – like a giant plush toy, with a wonderful personality. He oozed love and cuddles, looking for any opportunity to get as close as possible to you. He would work his charm on the guests too, shmoozing his way into their rooms, adoring the attention. Not only was Meow cat a big hit with the guests, he was also popular with the other strays. A sort of kitty ‘God father’, deciding who could stay and who could not. Sadly Meow cat had to be put down recently because of feline leukemia. To say that we were heart broken would be an understatement.

Meow cat

Noodle is the latest addition. Another donation. How could we possibly say no to this cutie pie. The tiniest little scrap of a kitten, her fur looks as if it has been knitted in multi color wool. She is grey ginger and white, her beautiful green eyes fringed with pale ginger lashes. She has a foot fetish, and being small enough will happily curl up on whom ever’s foot happens to be near by.

Fortunately the grounds and house are big and spacious with plenty of trees for our collection of cats to enjoy. Sitting out on the veranda in the early evenings and watching their antics and fun and games has provided much laughter and entertainment for us and the guests. Life would not be the same without our feline family.

Noodle

‘Mchulu’ – The African magic far away tree

This morning Mathew and I decided to hike out to our favorite Mpati mountain tree – Cussonia Spicata, or ‘mountain cabbage tree’.

The shortest way to get there is to park at the top of the mountain and make your way down a rocky and partly forested piece of the mountain. There is a path here thankfully although quite overgrown. It used to be part of the Mpati hiking trail many many years ago, now it is only really used once a year during the ‘death by mountain’ Mpati trail running race which happens every September. It is also used by a few people still enjoying nature and the beauty of the trails.

The path is clear enough to find but it is quite slippery in places. Once out of the forested bit one clambers down a thick grassy steep hill to get to the plateau below where this particular mountain cabbage tree is growing.

The path through the grass is quite overgrown and slippery. This Eastern slope is sheltered and the soil stays damp and rich. The number of shrubs and plants growing here is staggering, a real treat. Each season bringing something new to delight in.

Today the Buddleja salviifolia shrubs are flowering – taking over from their cousins the Buddleja auriculata. Every now and again their sweet honeyed fragrance is wafted over on the breeze. I notice for the first time that there are lavender flowering ones here in this section amongst the more common cream flowering ones.

Buddleja Salviifolia

Poking through the grass are a few patches of Helichrysum cooperi plants. Their bright yellow papery faces like miniature sunflowers popping up through the tangled vegetation.

Helichrysum cooperi

I am also pleased to see the first Polygala virgata starting to flower. These have dainty bonneted fluffy lilac tufts at the end of their graceful stems.

Polygala virgata

After a bit of a slip and slide we are at the bottom and there, finally, is our ‘magic African far away tree’ – Cussonia spicata. Commonly known as the giant mountain cabbage tree.

According to SANBI PlantZAfrica, there are eleven different Cussonia species in South Africa. They are variable, some being more frost tolerant than others. Our Cussonia is growing up and out from the side of a huge slab of rock, which possibly provided shelter in the beginning years.

To say that it is huge is a gross understatement and sadly our photographs do not do it justice. I have taken one with Matthew in the foreground to give a sense of scale.

Matthew in front of the huge mountain cabbage tree

The trunk has divided into two huge stems quite low down. Matthew and I measure the base with my tape measure – which has been bought along for this purpose. It is just under 4 metres wide! The two stems have spread to each side and have created an enormous canopy. The bark is pitted and rough, corky almost. I love feeling the deep gnarled grooves under my fingertips.

Spot the gnarled face in the bark

Matthew and I clamber up onto the huge slab of rock that is conveniently growing under our tree, to explore and investigate all we can. We decide that our tree needs a name.

‘Mchulu’ is a Zulu reverential term , meaning ‘majestic’ and ‘great’. This particular Cussonia is both ‘majestic’ and undeniably ‘great’- ‘Mchulu’ it is.

After our exploring session is over and many photographs have been taken, we bid Mchulu a cheery goodbye, and begin our climb back up the slippery slope.

A few younger Cussonias – the typical shape reminds one of Dr. Seuss trees!

A serial thief and ‘desperate times’ – a true story.

A few short years ago I found myself the victim of a spate of robberies at the guest house. These ranged from television sets being stolen out of the rooms, to my bag – twice, and one night even my car was stolen out of the parking lot! After each incident we would fortify as best we could, hoping to solve the problem, but the thief or thieves surprised us by brazenly trying new ways to get inside. On one occasion breaking my office window and on another forcing the front door open with presumably a crow bar! This all whilst my children and I were sleeping upstairs.

There is nothing more terrifying than being woken up by the sound of shattering glass. I can still remember the feeling of utter panic and the overwhelming sensation of my heart racing and pounding in my chest, while I crept from room to room upstairs, my hands shaking so much I could barely dial for help.

Over the next few weeks I did what I could to keep the intruders out. The palisade boundary fence was raised and fitted with rolled barbed razor wire, making the whole property look like a mini Fort – knox. The windows were all burglar – guarded. Eventually an alarm system complete with panic buttons was installed at great expense.

The agony and inconvenience of having to apply for new Identity card, bank cards, and drivers license not once but twice in six months, I am convinced has shortened my life span by a few years!

The procedure of finger prints being searched for and statements being given each time felt a bit like a lost cause to be honest. Somehow however, the wheels of justice kept slowly grinding away and eventually a Mr. Ngwenya was arrested for a number of house robberies in the area, including those at Penryn.

Myself and a neighbor received a summons to appear in court to testify against the notorious Mr. Ngwenya. The first time the accused, unsurprisingly, did not bother to show up. The second time, some of the evidence had been mislaid or left behind and once again we spent a morning wasted in court. We were informed however that the accused had pleaded guilty anyway, without our needing to be there eventually. Much to our relief!

Things settled back into there normal routine thankfully and as the months past Mr. Ngwenya was forgotten about for a while. That was, until I received a phone call one morning from our local prison.

Mr. Dube the prison warden, politely inquired as to my health. I replied that – yes thank you all was well, and how could I help Mr. Dube. Did he perhaps require accommodation? No he did not require accommodation, but would it be possible to see him the next day at the prison? When I hesitatingly asked  in connection with what. He very jovially replied that there was nothing to worry about, he would explain all when I got there the next day. This had exactly the opposite effect and I worried all afternoon and had a sleepless night to boot!

My head was spinning by the time I arrived at the prison and I had managed to work myself up into a bit of a state! I was informed that my cell phone and bag would have to be stored in a locker whilst I was inside. I was then led down a series of long corridors and through a courtyard, finally to be shown into an office. I was told to wait, Mr. Dube would be there shortly.

After about a twenty minute wait, In strolled a large, spectacled friendly looking man. Mr. Dube. Close behind followed another uniformed man, presumably an officer or guard, and with him, a prisoner wearing  bright orange overalls and handcuffed. Mr. Ngwenya!

Introductions were made, all the while Mr. Dube keeping up a sort of forced over friendly banter, perhaps to make me feel more at ease. It was all very unreal and disturbing. If he had sported a grey beard and chuckled “ho ho ho” at this point it would not have seemed out of the ordinary. The whole experience was beginning to feel like a Mad hatters tea party and I was Alice trying to make sense of it all. I listened in a daze to what was being said, and tried to piece together why I was there in the first place. This was difficult as the explanation was long winded and dramatized for effect.

First Mr. Dube took great pains to explain how full – in fact, over full, the prisons were, and prisoners were being given the opportunity to come forth, and did I know, he went on, that these were desperate times! This last bit was said with great emphasis and a raising of his voice. I still did not know what the prisoners were coming forth about, but I nodded my head nervously in agreement.

He then proceeded to go on at great lengths, extolling the many many virtues of forgiveness. This solemn sermon would be interrupted every now and again by a “Thank you Jesus, thank you!” from Mr. Ngwenya – Mr Ngwenya who had now been reformed it seemed by his short spate in the ‘over full’ prison, in these ‘desperate times’.

After this long winded sermon like speech, they all turned to stare at me, and I realised that I was now expected to say something. Still feeling a bit dazed I stammered something to the effect that – yes it was a good thing to forgive another human being, especially if that person had changed his ways and was remorseful. To be honest I could not wait to get out of there. I was uncomfortable with the whole thing and I had very unfairly been put on the spot.

There was obvious relief at my reply because the whole atmosphere relaxed and changed again. The other officer in the room even went on to give Mr. Ngwenya some practical and sound advice. Mr. Ngwenya was to tell his friends that the next time they wanted to steal, they should at least leave the identity cards and drivers license cards behind. Did he not know what a great inconvenience this was for the poor people they were robbing! Very inconvenient he repeated while shaking his head sternly.

This should have sufficed as the cherry on the top, but no, there was more.

Mr. Dube then turned to me and in total sincerity, asked – if  “mamma Carol” did not perhaps have a job for the poor Mr. Ngwenya.  After all, he sighed sadly, these were very very desperate times indeed.

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