“ALIWAL” by Adam YAMEY is available on Amazon websites (Kindle and Paperback) & also on:
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The smooth, well-surfaced streets of Port Elizabeth ended at the edge of town,giving wayto a rutted track that led away into the countryside. The way was lined with aloe plants whose leaves edged with sharp spikes looked menacing to Heinrich. The countryside was deserted. There were few fields, and for long distances no buildings. The few they did see became rarer the further they travelled from the coast. Heinrich was intrigued by occasional clusters of small round huts with conical straw roofs that punctuated the otherwise empty landscape. Caro explained that they were rondavels and that it was only natives who lived in them.
They travelled for well over a week, lumbering from one pot-hole to the next, leaving behind them clouds of dust that hung above the road along which they had come. Heinrich hung onto the bench on which he was perched in order not to be thrown to the ground. This journey was more uncomfortable that any he had made in Europe. He thought that even the worst tracks around Dittenheim were not as bad the one along which they were travelling, and this was the main road to Graaff Reinet! Theycrossednumerous dried up streams and river beds. Most of these were without a bridge. This made the crossing slow and dangerous. The wiry, muscular African helpers sweated profusely as they eased the wagons down one bank of a river bed, and then steadied them as they were hauled up the other. They had to take care to avoid damaging the wheels and axles of the wagons. Whenever they reached a pool or any other water, Caro ordered the convoy to stop in order to allow the oxen to rest and drink. Heinrich used these breaks as an opportunity to stretch his legs, and give his aching backside a rest.
The days slipped by. They met few other travellers apart from the infrequent wagon trains heading back to the coast, and post carriers who hurried past them on horseback. The few Europeans they encountered were mostly Dutch speakers, eking out a living on their isolated farms. After having drunk coffee with of these farmers, Heinrich remarked:
“These Afrikaners are friendly, open, and welcoming.”
“Yes, Heinrich, they are, especially to us Jews, because they regard us highly.”
“That makes a change!”
“They welcome us because they read in Old Testament, whose words they follow closely, that we are God’s ‘Chosen People’, and understand our flight from Egypt.”
“Not so long ago, many of them fled from the British, whom they regard as oppressors. They piled their possessions in to wagons like ours, and fled from the Cape, across the Orange River – their ‘Red Sea’ – in search of their ‘promised land’. They are trying to live the way they choose, without interference from outsiders. The main thing is, as far as we Jews are concerned, that the Afrikaners respect us as fair and honest people, and like doing business with us.”
“And how do the English regard us?”
Caro did not answer immediately. He looked ahead towards the flat horizon, and then said:
“They are not easy people. They say one thing, but often mean something else. Mastering their language is one problem, but deciphering it is quite another. Their attitude towards us is more of tolerance than acceptance. I find it surprising that the British who have spread themselves all over the globe are wary of foreigners and what they consider to be foreign ways. They put up with us Jews because we are useful to them and we don’t make trouble, but they’re not at ease with us.”
He turned away from Heinrich, and, standing precariously on the wagon’s seat that tilted as the vehicle crossed a pot-hole, ordered the men to stop and set up camp for the night. Then, turning to Heinrich, he said:
“To succeed with the English we need to try to be, or at least to seem to be, more British than they are. We must emulate their ways when dealing with them, so that they feel that they should treat as equals rather than ‘inferior foreigners’.”
After the sun had set, Heinrich and Caro sat by the embers of the fire having just eaten tasty steaks from a small hartebeest that Caro had shot earlier that day. They were enjoying a post-prandial brandy when Caro announced:
“We must do something about your name.”
“My name, what’s wrong with it?”
“Even when your accent fades away and your English improves, your name, ‘Heinrich’, will always label you as foreign.”
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