It is with great pleasure that I announce the publication of the Afrikaans edition of Skyline. It is titled Horison and was translated by Carie Maas.
I introduce Horison on this blog, with warm thoughts towards a certain group of English-speaking, Afrikaans women. These ladies helped my mother, newly arrived in Rhodesia from Italy in 1950, to negotiate a way through her new environment.
They all lived in Queenspark, in Bulawayo. This was a small suburb of prefabricated houses inhabited by English and Afrikaans families, most of whose men worked on the railways. My parents stayed there until I was about two years old.
Each building accommodated at least two families, perhaps four, with all rooms opening onto a wrap-around, front stoep. A row of low, desiccated, olive-green aloes alone survived the heat of outdoors. I think we had one room, maybe two, and shared a communal bathroom. There must have been a kitchen, but I can’t recall it. I don’t remember the neighbouring dwellings – the mental picture I have is just of the one building, surrounded by wide, flat, open veld.
From these Afrikaans mothers, my own mother, aged in her early twenties, learnt certain primary, formative information necessary for raising children in Africa.
They told her to give her babies biltong and rusks to chew to ease the pain of emerging teeth. From them she learnt to iron all laundry that had dried outside in the sun, even underwear, in case putzi flies had laid eggs on the fabric. They identified for her the ferocious Matabele ants, which marched in tight columns, devouring everything in their path. They advised her to check inside shoes for scorpions before putting them on and to check under beds, and even under the bedspread itself, for snakes that might have slithered indoors, unnoticed. They taught her to spray Flit against mosquitoes harbouring under the beds and behind curtains, and told her that if she moved away into malarial areas, she should rub quinine into the elbows of her children who would absorb it and resist the disease. Her Flit pump – an actual hand-pump, not an aerosol can – would have contained DDT and it accompanied us through all our households, delivering horrible deaths not only to mosquitoes and flies, but spiders too. She called it La Pompa. La Pompetta was the little devise she used to administer soapy enemas – prepared from grated green-bar Sunlight soap – also on instruction from these ladies, who told her to keep her children ‘regular’ and to de-worm them now and then. One of their lessons was to burn one’s cut hair, or the hair retrieved from a hairbrush, as well as cut fingernails, because they were used in witchcraft by Africans. The unbreachable social barrier between races needed no explaining.
All this information, my mother conveyed to me as soon as I could understand and take heed. When I was much older, she told me that all those women had lost family in the concentration camps of the Boer War. They were people who carried a lot of suffering. Their experiences had made them tough and uncompromising, yet they had befriended her, a stranger from a far-off land, without prejudice, but with warmth and generosity. They had given her important first lessons for her life in Africa.
Now, as I post news of Horison, I look back and pay homage to their goodwill.
This is an extract from a work-in-progress On Writing – An annotated African Memoir by Patricia Schonstein
Translated by Carie Maas
African Sun Press