Audrey Jantjies was one of the writers in the mentorship programme for upcoming novelists, presented in partnership with NB Publishers. Suzette Kotze-Myburgh was her mentor.
After spending the past week at 49 Paulet House, I am battling to return to my normal. My suitcase is still unpacked two days after arriving at my home. There is this fog over my brain, almost as if I am orbiting around two planets simultaneously and l am undecided as to where my base planet is. I have to return to base, because I have an orbit to complete here. The more I tell myself this, the more I want to still hover at 49 Paulet House. I keep touching the books and painting I was gifted with reverence almost, and I lack the energy – and will – to just start being normal again.
At around 15h00pm, I remove my chipped nail polish in a desperate effort to continue with my life as it is. I overhear my elderly pa asking my ma what day it is today and finally the fog starts lifting and the recall commences.
The Jakes Gerwel Foundation found me. Via some higher intelligence far beyond my own understanding, I became part of the mentorship programme for emerging writers. I became part of a diverse family that has absolutely nothing to do with bloodlines. We simply connected. There is no pretence here. Around this group of people, in this residence, I found myself. I am no longer afraid to be odd and stand out. I can speak my Afrikaans in my dialect and bry away. Their effort in understanding me, astonishes me at times. They hand out advice to me, they compliment me, they inspire me, they encourage me. We birth new life rythms in each other, we – each in their own language, which has nothing to do with linguistic abilities – are heard and understood by one another. It wasn’t always perfect, but if it was, there wouldn’t be much to tell, would there.
We discuss the house and it’s origin and hear things go bump (and boooo) in the darkest hour of night and then have fervent discussions of whether the presence at any particular night was friendly, or whether the hostile one was just making a conscious effort to try and block our creativity and in thus manner keep us from continuing our devine purpose and the legacy of Jakes Gerwel . We tell this angry spirit, try again later bradder, nes my Derrie sê die sentrale het vir hom gesê toe hy mammie op haar selfoon bel om te hoor hoekom sy so lank draai innie dorp so paar weke trugJ
We pray at the dinner table – yes, we gave thanks for all of this Grace. Deidrè recited simple prayers in Afrikaans, English and Isi-xhosa and on the last night ended it with the /nuu welcome and with the inclusion of the latter, it felt like I have come full circle
I sat by myself through a thunderstorm on the enclosed stoepie next to the main bedroom and watched and heard all life go into hiding in the face of it so that only the roar of the skies were audible and the pattern of red lightning strikes in the ominously dark skies took my attention away from the serene beauty of the garden and involuntarily elevated my eyes heavenward. And then I watched and heard the life return in the cacophony of a perfectly synchronised song of cocks, crows, other birdlife and the sound of life giving water – flow, in the aftermath of the storm.
I explore the house anew and lay my hands on books I previously only saw virtually and I wished fervently I had time to read all of them right there what I assumed was JG’s chair. Then I looked in awe at the published works of those who recently were there as residents.
I see all the doctorates on the walls and then look at the photos of Jakes Gerwel and the intensity in his eyes, and a restlessness and crazy urgency roars within the deepest crevices of my soul to start continuing this great legacy.
On the day of our departure, we had time to take a walk through the Bosberge. We left the house at around 08h00 am. I could hear secret whispers when the slightest breeze picked up quite eerily only in certain parts, and I tried my damndest to understand the lingo, but then surrendered to it rather than attempt wasted deciphering. I saw the completed transformation of some exotic kind of worm curiously first in the whitest shade of white and then a few metres away, curled up in more or less the same position was the same worm in the blackest shade of black, a hitherto unbeknownst to me shade of red in the centre of it’s coil. We encountered cows and I was wondering what on earth they were doing so high up and the silent communique when they just went still until we passed, left me breathless. Near the cross we looked over the town of Somerset East and I was astounded by the expanse of the town – there were so much more than meets the eye.
On the cross someone wrote “ D + M 4Eva” in the centre of a heart and “always my queen” was written in the centre of a circle. And I couldn’t help but wonder when they wrote that and who they were.
We went downhill from there and I slipped, fell and got up twice. And from there we continued on level ground.
We passed a horse encampment. The others kept walking. I stood for a moment to capture the horses on my phone and then they started getting restless suddenly. One of them took the lead and started a wild runnik and stamping his right front hoof. I thought it was their excitement at seeing us, and walked on slowly, but I kept on looking back as they now have become almost anguishingly restless and the one whom I assumed to be the leader, was now perched on his back hooves – it was here that time stood still for me, because coming from the front were three riders on horseback and it hit me like a ton of bricks – the horses in the encampment were not excited to see me – they felt the earth’s tremble with their friends’ return long before they were visible – I shudder at the level of my conceit and also just the vastness of things that was way beyond my understanding – to think I was so arrogant to contemplate that these animals were acknowledging me. The unearthly quiet way in which the front rider looked at me, catapulted me straight into James Lee Burke’s novel, In the moon of the red ponies. I hovered in that world for a moment and returned to the reality of my ancient African rhythm when I heard dogs barking at the front.
I walk on perturbed and it is still on the forefront of my thoughts two days later.
An hour before we left, I took a last sabbatical walk, if you will, around the garden. I took off my shoes because I wanted to feel the crispy grass under my feet one last time. I wanted to take in the herby smell of the garden and to literally smell the roses. I continued my walk to the birdcage and stood there for a moment, just like I did seven days ago and I was enthralled anew by their dialogue and song. I called Lebo over and asked her to share in this moment with me, just listening to them. I noticed that as I was talking to Lebo, the birds became quiet and as soon as I stopped talking, they picked up and continued their conversation, as if they gave us a chance to join in on theirs. They were perched in the very same position as seven days ago. The two directly in front of us constantly kissing, the most beautiful one shying away in the right corner and two of them flying directly in full view. And I can’t help thinking about Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings: “The caged bird sings with a fearful trill, of things unknown but longed for still…”
What, will you perhaps ask, have wild things and worms and stray cows and caged birds have to do with the Jakes Gerwel Foundation and mentoring writers.
Well, for me it is in one of many lessons Suzette taught me – namely that the markings of a good writer is in capturing the detail. And finally, Lebo Mazibuko summed it up perfectly when she said, and I quote her:
“You have to live many lives to be a writer.”
To my fellow mentees, Miriam, Lebo, Deidrè and Zama – we know what we know now – may we keep on knowing.
To Stevlyn Vermeulen – it was with you this all started for me, thank you.
Theo Kemp, many thanks for the conversation and all that you do to keep this legacy alive.
To Suzette – my respect and admiration for you is boundless, thank you for everything.
Thank you Cae, an angel if ever there was one – command your seat, my darlieng. Thank you Gilbert for your easy way and lovely food and all the little extras. Thank you Gogo, your quiet reassuring presence reminded me so of my ma. Thank you Justin, for expertly taking us around those treacherous bends – no one can ever accuse you of not being punctual. Thank you Angela for keeping us giggling. Thank you Nisa.
Thank you Donovan, ek het vir Derrie die foto’s van die tuin gewys en hy sê wat ek vir jou gesê het, nl dat hy trots is dat jy voortgaan met dit wat hy nie meer kan doen nie.
Miriam, thank you for seeing beneath the surface.
Thank you Marguerite.
Zama Moyo, my friend, my brother – I am in awe of you.
Thank you, Mrs Phoebè, I have yet to find adequate words for you.
Lastly – kai gangans boeta Jakes. Just kai gangans – tuum est Victoria.