- Still reeling from the 2004 Boxing Day Tsumami that lashed the shores from the East and the Indian sub-continent all the way to Africa, 2005 was peppered with natural disasters as well as the April 3rd death of Pope John Paul II. Late August – Force 5 Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Mississippi Alabama & Florida; most of New Orleans was evacuated. There were 26 major storms that year, a record. 13 became hurricanes and 3 were Force 5. The major earthquake in Pakistan exacted a deathtoll of 73,000.
Sheila needed some small tables for her Art & Craft shop, The Pumpkin, which was catering for teas, coffees, breakfasts and snack meals. We heard the Haarlem High School woodwork department were allowing school-leavers to make such furniture. Our first visit to the little village twenty-six kilometres from Uniondale on Route R62 was to view their work and place an order for three tables. Sheila fell in love with the rural community at first sight.
I thought of it as a friendly smile with a mouth full of broken teeth. Many of the poorly maintained cottages were falling down. Mostly built of sun-baked mud-bricks, as soon as the plaster protecting them fell off, they dissolved and collapsed. Which, because most of them were over 100 years old, was very sad.
The village lies on the southern bank of the Groot River and is accessed from the R62 by a low-level ford that is prone to flooding in the rainy weather. Reputedly laid out in one acre plots around 1850 by surveyors Heyns and Traut for colonial settlers, Welgelegen, the farm in which it lay, was bought by the Berlin Missionary Society and established as a Lutheran mission station with agricultural plots to be irrigated by furrows from a dam in the Tsitsikama Mountains nearby.
As the population was predominantly Coloured when the Nationalist Apartheid government that gained power in 1948, following its policy of separate development, it eventually proclaimed the town to be Coloured, and the white families resident there were removed, including several Jewish shop owners. Naturally, in 1994, with the coming of the New South Africa, this no longer applied and after the turn of the millennium, a few whites bought properties there. (Sheila and I were to be amongst the first re-Settlers when we managed to shed our Uniondale acquisitions, the following year.)
In June I had completed enough of my Backpacker Hostel to accommodate the first customers, and the numbers increased slowly as more rooms came available.
Much to my astonishment, on September 3rd I failed my driving eye-test. Advised that I could have my sight checked by a specialist, I went to an optometrist in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape to have it done. Photos showed scarring on my left eyeball, but, provided I wrote a letter waving my heavy-duty licence, I could still retain my light duty one. Phew. And it was only when I tried shutting my right eye, driving home, that I discovered that the road centre-line disappeared! However, my peripheral vision in that eye was still okay.
Due to having to replace the engine in my bakkie with a new one, I needed to return to Maun in Botswana in October to register it on the licence. This gave me a good reason to catch up with the so many friends I’d made there. David Tregilges, ex-headmaster of Maun Senior Secondary School, was by then headmaster of Moading S.S. School in Otsi. I overnighted with him on my way past, both ways, and caught up on news. He was having a serious problem with overcoming a brutal initiation tradition by senior boys to juniors; only solved with the employment of a security team.
The year closed off with attending the wedding of Gay Sabatier to a Jewish fellow, Jonathan Silverberg in Johannesburg. Sheila was unable to get away, so my daughter, Nicci, kept me company. It was a curious mix of Christian and Jewish ceremony. I found myself acting as one of four tent poles to the ceremonial tent under which the couple made their vows! It was great to catch up with the Sabatier family who are lifelong friends.