Just Knock on the Tree
The Odyssey of the Coddiwompling Tortoise – Rozinante – and The Storyteller
(Coddiwomple: to travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination.)
Opening their hearts to a stranger
Used to the impersonal ways of the Big Smoke, I was suddenly face to face with Bosman’s world and I liked it.
Enjoying the tranquillity of a Groet Marico sunset.
I trundled westwards to discover what all the fuss was about regarding Groot Marico, that, apparently, nondescript town made famous by Herman Charles Bosman in his stories about the area. He originally taught at a little school nearby but subsequently was so entranced by the town’s inhabitants that his creativity got the better of him and he felt he had to share in writing, what he’d experienced. A number of books on this little backwater sprang from his pen. He wrote about the people in a kind and humorous way. If you are unfamiliar with his works, your life is incomplete. His stories are rare gems. Try Stone Cold Jug and Mafeking Road.
However, my first impression of Groot Marico was a huge shock. I actually reversed to make sure the destination sign I had been reading was accurate. Never before had the quote, ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ been so accurate.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before I discovered that this little town, with the incongruous name of Groot (big) Marico was anything but and perhaps should have been named Klein (small) Marico. Only two hours’ drive away from three major towns, I was to be shown that the size not only belonged to the river but the large hearts of its inhabitants.
As aware as I was that Groot Marico was famous for Bosman’s depictions of the locals, their shenanigans with the powerful mampoer drink and even leopards, it still didn’t prepare me for the people themselves. I knew Bosman’s old schoolhouse had fallen down and had been rebuilt elsewhere. I recalled meeting the, now late actor, Patrick Mynhardt, who spent his life bringing Bosman’s characters to life on stage and how my Johannesburg writer’s group – Writer’s 2000 – had begged him to do a short presentation as Oom Schalk Lourens. How enthralled we all were and I vowed then and there, that one day, I would visit Groot Marico. It all sounded so fascinating.
Suddenly, there I was. The replica of the schoolhouse in town, (the original had decayed beyond repair). Bosman didn’t teach in the town, as the schoolhouse was apparently quite some distance away. There are the well-known photos of Bosman and of Patrick Mynhardt on stage depicting the character of Oom Schalk Lourens and even a photo of the latter’s tombstone, where the words inscribed relate how happy he had been to spend his life as an actor. It all became real and I was witnessing it. I couldn’t understand how others preferred being armchair tourists. It just doesn’t compete with reality.
What else lay behind the scenes? Far more than I imagined. This was my first port of call and being so close, it was reached very quickly. My caravan park perched on a lake and watching the sun sink behind the mountain while dappling the still water with its last rays of the day made every evening really pleasant. I loved the tranquillity. Gone were the traffic noises of a bustling city, the endless false alarms being activated, sirens and people shouting to intrude on your peace – as I’ve mentioned before. I was in my own little world and it was a winding-down process that I was enjoying.
Martinhus Nel at M&M Mampoer
One day I even visited a farm where Mampoer was made. Now that was an interesting experience. However, having once tasted the throat-burning liquor that was guaranteed to put hairs on your chest, I politely declined any more of it than a sip. I virtually never drink and I wasn’t about to go overboard with that potent brew. Bosman relates some amusing tales about this ‘moonshine’ as a similar equivalent as how you may know it. Each to his own.
Meanwhile, I had loosely planned to spend a few days in each place to find out the interesting aspects and what was worth an article. Bosman had been very accurate when he spoke about the wonderful inhabitants of Groot Marico. They’re unlike any other people I’ve met anywhere else. There really is something unexplainably magical in this town. I couldn’t put my finger on it but it proved to me that genuine people are what life is all about, not the social climbing issues that so many avaricious individuals hanker after. It also confirmed, without hesitation, that people are what matter in this world, not the fancy house etc.
I could not believe the warmth of the hospitality. I was meeting such interesting people who really cared about each other and their town. At the time, they were in the middle of a battle to stop mining magnates from ruining their precious eco system. All aspects of life were important to them. The underhanded machinations I was told about to try and persuade the Marico’s people to accept the mining company does not even bear to be put into print. The Marico inhabitants intended keeping the town as it had always been and when I had learnt more, I had to agree with them. There was even a resident lawyer who presented a long document to a judge as to why the Marico area should stay untouched and pristine. Fortunately, the judge agreed with the argument the lawyer presented.
Nevertheless, little did I know that in two weeks, more calamities would occur in my life. Like many small towns, there were many kind people who came to my assistance. However, the drama all started after my shower, when I wanted to blow dry my hair …
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