OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.
When the President tells the nation you call home “we dare not fail”, you pull up your socks and get on with it. Talking on the phone to Mom and to my love last night helped, too. I did take something to assist in my sleep and the night passed in peace. But it took me a while to open my eyes and get coffee going in the morning after listening to the news from around the world. I am equally in awe at what we are capable of as humans in a moment of crisis and appalled at what some of us, especially some so-called leaders, are doing to crush that incredible drive to survive, do better, be kinder. If there ever was a time to allow logic, kindness and empathy to prevail – it is NOW. Let’s not allow psychopaths to thrive. They don’t thrive where transparency and accountability are present, where people are orientated towards communal rather than individual goals. And we have a goal as a global community right now that needs real leaders, and a lot of kindness from all of us… Mostly very simple kindness: staying at home.
Salieri and I spent the rest of the morning in bed, with coffee and breakfast and social media updates between the rest of the brilliant short stories in Keletso Mopai’s debut collection, If You Keep Digging. If you keep digging, you sometimes find diamonds, and this is a literary gem I am extremely happy to have discovered.
I discovered something – or rather someone – else in my kitchen today, and remembered being told that a praying mantis outside the house brings good luck, one inside the house brings bad luck… I try not to be superstitious, but it is harder than usual during this eerie time. I am surrounded by hundreds of lucky coins, so let’s hope there is an equilibrium of sorts in the house.
The weather forecast is threatening with colder and wetter days, so I wanted to use the opportunity to still bask in today’s sunshine and to have a swim. The air and the water were cooler – autumn was palpable in both – but I swam longer than usual, and then sunbathed with Glinka while reading and enjoying a beer. I never thought that a beer could become such a cherished possession. I had eight cans of beer in my fridge at the beginning of lockdown. Three remain. Probably worth gold right now. And I still had a chocolate from Krystian and Verena, an Austrian treat that was happily devoured today. Otherwise my meals were unfussy leftovers.
After the swimming and sunbathing I had a shower and washed my hair. I opened a new bar of soap yesterday, a magical one. When I smell it and close my eyes, it transports me to a different place – where I brought it from – within a split of a second: Oudrif.
All day long, I have been thinking about Oudrif because this is where we were supposed to be for Easter. Lying in the sun next to Glinka today, I thought again that we should have been there together, my partner and I and our friends, not in Cape Town in our separate homes taking care of our separate human and feline families. But then I thought, if we humans were in Oudrif right now, Glinka and Salieri and Mozart would have been in the care of a house- and catsitter, and I would not have been able to cuddle with Glinka all afternoon in sun. I want to be aware and grateful for these blessings. This present, here. It is not the Easter I’d imagined and it is human-lonely in a way that is difficult for me to cope with, but I am not alone. And I have my memories with me, all captured in something as simple as soap bubbles and their magical scent. When I close my eyes, this is what I see under the shower in our cottage at Oudrif. One hardly ever showers there alone…
Towards the end of last year, Getaway Magazine asked a few authors to write about their favourite travel destinations in Africa. I knew immediately which place I would write about… Here is the piece, which was published (sans most photographs) in the January issue of Getaway Magazine. I wrote it just before our last visit at the end of 2019.
Oudrif. Oudrif. Oudrif. A spell. A promise. Every time my partner John and I are about to embark on another trip to Oudrif we keep repeating the word to each other with longing. He had been visiting the straw bale cottages located in the Cederberg near Clanwilliam for a decade before we met, and it was one of the first places we travelled to together when we became a couple nearly three years ago. It is the only destination in South Africa we return to regularly, whenever we are desperate to get away from the perils of the everyday.
‘Our’ cosy cottage, the one the hosts Jeanine and Bill Mitchell always reserve for us, awaits at the end of a long and winding dirt road which leads through fynbos country to the banks of the Doring River where the lodge is perched, overlooking the unpredictable river bed, silent after periods of drought and burbling with delight after rainfalls. Cape leopards and aardvarks still roam in this landscape and the veld smells of earth, smoked honey and quiet content. The light is kind here, the peace absolute. No cell phone reception, no Wi-Fi, no worries. The isolation is perfect.
Each time, Jeanine and Bill greet us with ice-cold beers and welcoming smiles. Delicious food and wonderful stories follow. Their knowledge about the surroundings is spectacular and their environmental consciousness something to aspire to. The place is totally independent of the municipal electricity and water grids. Any negative environmental impact is kept to a minimum.
A mug of freshly brewed coffee on the stoep of our cottage gets us going every morning. After breakfast, there is the possibility of a walk. Whether it is to see the rock art sites nearby, or the Chandelier Lily in full bloom, or a flock of Speckled Mousebirds, the hikes are soul-restoring. All around rooibos is grown and every breath you take is infused with the typical, soothing scent of the tea bush. The hills of Oudrif speak of pre-historic times; each layer of dust and ochre records human activity and holds a different secret.
In the afternoons, after a light lunch, dry heat lures us back to bed and the setting sun invites for a swim in the rock pools of the Doring, usually full of balmy waters. The laziness of those tipsy hours of sleep, lounging about, sunbathing and playing cribbage is priceless. A well-curated library keeps readers happy.
Dinners are enjoyed in the company of fascinating, like-minded, solitude-seeking guests from around the world and end each day with laughter and stories exchanged around the communal table in the boma. In Polish, we speak of such secluded spots as ‘the places where the Devil says good night’. But Oudrif is paradise on earth, day and night. Late in the evening, solar-powered angel lights and the Milky Way guide us to our dreams.
A collection of heart-shaped stones of all sizes decorates the central dining area and all the cottages. The ones I found on our walks are beside my keyboard as I type and remind me of how my own heart refuses to leave Oudrif whenever it is time to go home. But at the time of writing, our next visit is only three weeks away and I whisper: Oudrif. Oudrif. Oudrif.
Contact Bill or Jeanine Mitchell on (027) 482 2397 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org for bookings.
Rates are all inclusive: Accommodation, meals, drinks and a guided walk.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.
“We dare not fail.”
The heart-shaped stones are still next to my keyboard… Good night.