My Franschhoek Story – Coming Home!
A condensed and rewritten version from my upcoming book titled
The times, trials, tribulations and ultimately the triumphs of the
Gentle Spearman of the Tattooed Warriors from the Ford at the River Craw.
The Dreams of the Afflicted
I walked the avenues, I wandered streets. The urgency, creeping up on me, to find a place to sleep. The night was coming as well as stormy weather. My legs felt like stone, my stomach tied up in knots. I was alone in my loneliness, helpless in my hopelessness, there were none to give me shelter from the coming storm. The night arrived with haste, the rain began falling on my shoes. The rain fell like buckets of tears, I was soaked in my own misery. I huddled in a corner, peering into the deep darkness, shivering with trepidation more than cold. Would morning ever come I cried out as the storm poured its fury out on me? A fever came upon me, burning me up inside. I tried to breathe in the air, but my lungs felt crushed by a band of fear. I… I… I felt myself fading away…
I gasped and sat up in bed, my heart leaping about in my chest. I could hear the blood in my veins, roaring in my ears like a river in flood. I was home, here in Franschhoek, the dream of affliction still racing through my mind. I arose and rushed to the window and pulled the curtains aside, the Franschhoek mountain was painted with the first touch of morning light. I breathed a sigh of relief, yes I was home, home indeed.
All Is Not Well In The World
Still, the dream bothered me. Was it a dream of the past when as a homeless man these things indeed happened in my life or was it a dream of the future? In these troubled times that we live in, one can never know what the day will bring and whether tomorrow will come. The fear of death stalks the land, economic hardship is the order of the day for many of us and uncertainty haunts our futures.
For twenty months in the Covid era the providence of the One Above always supplied enough. The hope of recovery was evident as the voices of German and French along with a smattering of American accents filled the air on the streets of the beloved village. And, there was the promise that soon the Brits would be back.
All too suddenly the hope was dashed in just a matter of hours and the cancellations came flooding in. I stared at my hands, my fists were clenched, my guts froze in spasm as desperation followed despair. And then I remembered…
The Dark Hours Before The Dawn Of Democracy – The Helderberg Tavern Massacre
30 December 1993
Extracted from my upcoming book:
The Tales of the
Gentle Spearman of the Tattooed Warriors at the Ford of the River Craw
There Is Always Hope
Yesterday on the 28 of November 2021, our Church celebrated forty years of life since it was born. The founders of the Church, Johnny and Deleste Bell along with Derek and Rosita of the Franschhoek Art House took us on a journey through the founding and history of the Church, a Church where love and acceptance are the fruits for which it is known.
As I sat there contemplating these things whilst watching the tapestry of light being woven on the mountain, my thoughts turned to my own Franschhoek story. Today, the 29 of November 2021, it has been exactly 21 years since I first arrived here in Franschhoek. I remember as clear as the growing daylight coming up the pass from the Villiersdorp side in a hitchhiked ride, my only possessions a few clothes in a worn-out backpack along with a newly purchased tent.
As we came over the pass and my eyes beheld the valley for the first time I heard the words deep within my being, “Welcome Home Son”. Tears flooded my eyes, and a feeling of peace I had never felt before in my life flooded my heart as I gazed at the beautiful valley unfolding before my eyes and the words echoing in my ears all the way down to the village below.
The driver noticing my reaction and noting my lack of worldly goods handed me an R100 note with a smile of sympathy as he dropped me off in the centre of the village.
What A Time It Was, It Was!. A Time To Remember Or Forget?
In order for you to understand the import of those words, let me take you back in time for a while. For more than 20 years I had been a pharmaceutical junkie, a vagabond drug addict, wandering the streets in search of a paradise lost, lost in time, in search of the meaning of life and never finding it. Homeless and destitute at times, I eked out a living doing odd jobs, washing cars and serving in restaurants, all the while floating through time on tranquillizers and stimulants, cough mixtures and dagga, a mind-numbing, pain-killing concoction that enabled me to live the most miserable of lives.
The new century arrived, the dreaded Y2K digital glitch that was supposed to crash the world’s systems never materialized and I breezed into the year 2000 by arriving in George to try and make an umpteenth new start at life after umpteenth failures of past new starts.
I arrived by ambulance having been discharged from the Knysna hospital for the fourth time for a spastic colon, a common side effect of withdrawal from codeine-based drugs, and referred to the psychiatric ward at George hospital. The psychiatrist, God bless his soul, took one look at me and stated that I was way too sane for this ward and would place me in a night shelter. I readily agreed with him and made my way gingerly out the ward through the unfortunate sad zombie-like creatures that inhabited it.
The Train Station Between Two Worlds
Soon after, I found myself working at the Station Restaurant, that is, a restaurant on the railway station in the small town of Wilderness outside George. Now when I say “restaurant”, I don’t mean restaurant in the normal usage of the word. Tables were strewn about on the covered station platform with great views of the rails in both directions, unfortunately, one did not even get to see a train pass through as the Knysna/George steam train only passed through twice a day and never at night. There was no kitchen and all the food was prepared by a company that catered for the few flights out of the George airport. So the food, which arrived in the same trolleys used for aircraft catering, was generally not all that palatable along with cheap wines, desiccated deserts and suspect coffee. Nevertheless it still somehow seemed peculiarly popular, like it was some kind of Wilderness institution for visitors to go through when staying in the town. As usual, my new start in life had quickly failed and I was back on the drugs.
One Friday night in the autumn of 2000 a couple came to dinner, not that one could call what was on offer dinner by any means. Like on many low-cost airlines, it was a Chicken or Beef affair that weekend. The chicken looked palatable, but the beef looked like it came from a can of dog food and did not look fit for consumption even in a soup kitchen for street people.
They introduced themselves as Jack and Rika Louw from Franschhoek. I introduced myself with a flourish and then offered them the Chicken with a grand voice of recommendation or the Beef in a low tone of caution. They chose the Chicken based on the recommended tone of voice, a wry smile on their faces. They chose a white wine to go with the white meat dish. I poured them a cabernet sauvignon that looked a bit corked with sediments collected at the bottom and bits of cork floating around. I then left them to try and enjoy, if possible, their meals on wheels.
I sat on a nearby chair and pulled out the book that I was reading at that time titled – Are These The Words Of Jesus, whilst contemplating the unpalatable prospect that there was only going to be beef left for my own dinner.
On noting that they were done eating, not they had eaten all on the plate, I sauntered over, collected their plates and offered them an SAA pudding that did not make it onto the plane. They declined and requested a coffee. I grabbed the pot of what I am sure was a high concentration of Ricoffy masquerading as a filtered brew and poured them a cup. Whilst doing so Jack asked, on noticing the book that I was reading, if I was a Christian.
I looked into their eyes and recognized genuine interest and I felt the sudden urge to be honest in my answer. Time seemed to stand still as thoughts and feelings raced through my drug stimulated mind. The moment seemed fraught with destiny, something that would come once and never again. Fate seemed to hinge on the decision to tell them the truth or not, it was now or never, do or die. I began to suspect that they may be angels in disguise.
So I replied that I was a Christian drug addict, that is a drug addict who believed in Christ. Whilst they drank their filtered Ricoffy I told them of my woeful life. They listened with great sadness evident on their faces. When they left, they left a very nice tip.
The next night, to my disbelief, they returned for dinner, gluttons for gastronomic punishment. This time they ordered the beef which I placed gingerly before them whilst pouring them a red from a fancy bottle that I am sure was filled from a box of wine as the cork was out when it arrived. They bravely ate it all but declined the SA Airlink pudding that looked like it fell out the back of the plane on takeoff. Over a Frisco disguised filter coffee, they told me all about themselves. Jack was the curator of the Afrikaans Language Museum in Paarl and they lived on a smallholding on the Wemmershoek mountains in Franschhoek. They left me their number and said to call if ever I was in Franschhoek. I was relieved that they were people and not angels.
To Be Or Not To Be
That first winter of the new century was cold wet and lonely. The restaurant closed for the winter and I became weary and despondent. Twenty years of taking vast quantities of tranquilisers, slimming stimulants and codeine cough mixtures were taking their toll. The will to live seemed to be ebbing away, the future looked dark and hopeless, severe depression took hold of me. I felt like an Israelite doomed to wander the wilderness with the promised land right there all around me but unreachable. I felt like the old Job at the height of his troubles cursing the day of his birth. I was tired and wished I could just go to sleep and never awaken.
So in the spring, the restaurant opened again and I began to save up some money. I had a plan. To buy a tent for a tomb, a load of drugs and disappear into the mountains and never come down. In my delusional state of mind, I pictured myself a failed Moses, who after being told he would not get to enter the promised land, went up the mountain and was never seen again. In November I left my Job serving chicken or beef, bought my tomb, collected a three month supply of drugs from doctors and pharmacies and booked a one-way bus ticket to Grabouw.
High in the mountains above Theewaterskloof dam, I pitched my tomb. I sat and watched the sun go down in the cloud studded sky and started taking the drugs to put myself to sleep. The last thing I remember was crawling into my tomb as the memories of my life faded away. I lay myself down to lie and closed my eyes.
Destiny Is The Journey To The Destination
I heard voices, I thought they were voices of friends, vanished and gone, voices from the place of eternal rest. But these voices pulled me out of the void I was in, up into the light. I opened my eyes and there peering into my tent were a couple of game rangers. I sat up shaking my head, unable to think clearly. They asked if I was alright, I quickly said yes. They asked me what I was doing there, I just said that I was travelling through and did not want to sleep by the road. They told me I needed to leave and they would be back later to check that I was gone.
After they were gone I crawled out of the tent. I felt a rage building in my mind, a wave of hot anger rising in my gut, but I could not express it, I just sat there trembling as the emotions ran riot in my chest. And then I wept great heaving sobs, I wept until I could weep no more.
And then, I said out loud – what a failure I am, I cannot even end my life. A miserable wretch with no home, no prospects, no real work, no wife, no woman who even cares for me, nothing ahead but endless wanderings in the wilderness. I stood up and stumbled to the edge of a steep drop. I cannot go back to the wilderness I shouted feeling the gravity trying to suck me off the mountain. I stood there, staring down the mountain, the silence was heavy, all seemed still, and then I froze as an audible voice came from somewhere behind me saying – why don’t you go to Franschhoek and there I will give you all these things.
I whipped around, fear tingling up my spine to see who had spoken but there was no one there and then when I comprehended what was said a strange peace came over me. I packed up the tent and began the long walk to Franschhoek. I reached the pass at dusk and pitched my tent. The next morning I hitched a ride up the pass.
The Village People
The man dropped me off in the village, a village at the beginning of greatness. Everyone seemed to be smiling and full of energy. The main road was being upgraded, some buildings were getting a make-over. I walked down the main road saying over and over to myself, I’m home. It was like a dream come true, a fantasy realised, a hope fulfilled a promised land found. Like any good drug addict, I went into the pharmacy and asked the owner Karina for a bottle of Linctifed cough mixture. Her welcoming smile dropped a bit. I coughed and it did not sound too good so she relented.
That night I pitched the tent in a grove of trees somewhere outside the village. The next day I phoned Jack and they picked me up a took me to their home. I told them what had happened, they told me that they had been praying for me since they met me at the restaurant. I told them I was likely to get very ill with withdrawal symptoms. They said they would pray and I would not get ill at all. They were right. I slept for 36 hours and at times would hear them come into the room and pray for me, the expected fits, spastic colon, constipation and extreme nausea never materialised in the days that followed.
After two weeks I began to meet the wonderful people of the village. There was Lawrence and Adrienne Anger and their children, the first to invite me for supper. There was Wessel and Mercia Croukamp and their children, then Koos and Esme La Grange. On the third Sunday a week before Christmas, Jack and Rika took me to their church, the Franschhoek Community Church, affectionately called the Bos Kerk due to its location in a forest and soon to become a Shofar church. There I met Pastor Anton Myburgh and his wife Christelle, Tannie Blanche and Tannie Betsy, Charles and Belinda Bailey, Pam and Dave Stubbs, Derek and Rosita Manser and a whole Church of loving kind people. I had never experienced such love as these people showed this vagabond from the wilderness.
How A Dream Came True
After the Church service, Charles and Belinda’s son was to be baptised at the home of Dave Stubbs on the Three Streams Farm. There I saw for the first time a beautiful blond named Jo with a guitar slung on her shoulders belting out praises to God whilst the youngster prepared to follow the rites into Christendom.
I stood there mesmerised, a vagabond man, with a few teeth left in my mouth, my heart thumping in my chest with the hopeless longing for something way beyond my grasp. I looked away, ashamed, as she glanced my way. That night despair came to visit again, screaming at me to run to the safety of oblivion.
At the Christmas service, Jo was upfront playing the guitar with another lady Tara Lee doing the singing. I tried not looking at her, my mind battling my heart and losing to an impossible dream that resided somewhere in its depths. Pastor Anton announced there would be a carol service at the Methodist church just up the road that evening. I decided I would go.
I arrived early and selected a seat at the back. The place filled up until not a seat remained. Suddenly a man who was sitting next to me got up and moved to where some friends made a space for him at the very moment that Jo walked into the hall.
I noticed that she noted that there was a chair open next to me and watched in anticipation as she desperately searched the building with her eyes to see if there were any other seats available. Alas for her, but not for me, there was not a single seat open other than the one next to me. I saw her shoulders drop in resignation and she turned gave me a reluctant smile and sat down.
Of course, it was pure fantasy. I was a pauper sitting next to a princess. I sighed inwardly and tried to focus on the service instead of her presence next to me. I snorted at myself in my mind even as I pondered why on earth the seat that was filled suddenly became vacant the minute she walked in. I thought of all the years of loneliness and bitterness, the countless hopes and dreams that had been dashed on the rocks of my own drugged madness. I heard my own internal enemy laughing and mocking me – no one could ever love you, miserable wretch. I felt the terrible urge to flee the room, to run away from the astounding presence next to me.
Then Pastor Anton asked everyone to stand and then told us to hold hands. I reached out and took her hand, not daring to look at her – and then, I heard the voice of the one who had spoken to me on the mountain saying “do you know you are holding the hand of your wife.” My heart melted like wax in a fire. I looked at her and all the years of sadness fell away from me.
Back To The future
And so I sat there on my bed this morning, thinking about these things that happened 21 years ago History carries the keys to the future whether in the wider context of the world and also in our personal lives. We can learn from past mistakes or even repeat them over and over again. We can also get fresh hope from past rescues, when despite all being against us, things turned out alright, sometimes even for the better.
Life for most of us have never been a bed of roses, my life had mostly been a bed of weeds and thorns. Even here, home in Franschhoek, after my former homeless life, the garden has been a mixture of weeds and roses, the good along with the bad and things are looking far from rosy in the near future for my business and who knows when the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset plan (if you do not know what it is and if it is real, just Google it and you will find nearly 8 million WebPages that will tell you what it is) will wreck the economic foundations of the global capitalist system.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason, A Lifetime Of Pain
That is why this year I decided to write a book about my life. I have much to say about very difficult topics as seen through my own experiences in the darker side of life, such things as medical ethics or like the topic of suicide or the attempt thereof, that forms part of this episode in my life.
Suicide or even the attempt to end one’s life is one of the most difficult topics in life to address, because of the terrible pain inflicted upon the loved ones of those who do it or attempt it. For me, had I succeeded, there would have been none who would have directly cared. I was well and truly alone in life with no connection to family.
For most, it is the ultimate betrayal of life and love, a festering wound that never gets healed. One can never fathom the terrible breakdown in mental health that ends in such self-hatred and loathing of life. Like all such mental aberrations such as chronic drug addiction, depression, suicide and murder, the seeds are all sown early in life all made worse by a society that sees these things as taboo, a weakness to be covered up and not exposed to the light of day, Open discussion about mental health, although becoming somewhat more acceptable in this connected world, is still largely frowned upon or too painful to bear, yet open discussion, ready acceptance of peoples mental state and intervention on a relational level is the only remedy for those on the path of suicide.
The world has fallen into a dark space. Fear and trepidation have taken root in the hearts of people, simmering just below the surface of our everyday lives. Mourning is heard in the land for those who have passed on, many have run aground of the rocks of economic ruin. As a consequence mental health is on the downward slide for so many. Nothing destroys mental health as quickly as fear and feeling unloved is not far behind in its destructive consequences.
Franschhoek has been known as a place of healing and restoration. It was a seed sown by the Huguenots who fled here centuries ago amidst a genocide for believing in a certain way that those in religious power in Europe considered apostate. They came here and restored and rebuilt their lives, leaving a spiritual legacy that is at work to this very day. Whether one believes in God or not, this spiritual seed has grown into a large tree of healing and restoration that affect most people who come here.
I, for one, am one of those, so too is my brother, so too is my dear wife Jo, her nephew Simon, and so many others I have known through the 21 years in the valley. Many of the tourists who come here find a sense of peace and security, a stronghold as immovable as the mountains that surround the village, a small village with a huge reputation for Love and Life.
We are certainly glad to know that Shofar Franschhoek is opening a healing centre on its property. We are going to need it in the coming years.
Lastly, we will not forget those who have passed on, those who have left these earthly shores. Though sad that they are gone, we will remember them and celebrate the lives they lived among us. They were all precious living parts of a dynamic community. No, we will never forget, not even the least of them, until we too go the way of all mankind.