By Tanya von Ahlefeldt ~
After leaving behind a cold, wet England recently to embark on an epic journey to Smithfield that took me via Ireland and Abu Dhabi, I made sure that I took advantage of a shower at a guest house in Bloemfontein before landing in Smithfield in the middle of a devastating (in my opinion) water crisis being experienced by many towns and cities in South Africa.
I was visiting my parents, at last, who are about to celebrate living in Smithfield for 20 happy and most interesting years, ten of which owning and running one of the first Guest Houses in the town and for the past ten years, owning and running the now famous monthly Smiffie Newspaper which has been gently retired but reincarnated into its new guise as the social media version in this Smiffie Magazine. My mother’s gallery, Biba’s, was also about to launch a new exhibition.
Instead of long, miserable expressions about the present situation, everyone I met seemed to have that South African pioneering spirit of old. Warm welcomes, and jokes about bucket-baths - which I experienced without a problem by the way, feeling like an extra in the movie Witness but minus Harrison Ford as my leading man - abounded and a strong feeling that everyone was coping, including visitors, like me, from afar. The locals, including restaurateurs and guesthouse owners, were optimistic and extremely cheerful and friendly, given the situation.
Living in England, I’m sure I have bored people with tales of African skies. I risk sounding like the movie version of Karen Blixen,s “Out of Africa” in the dramatic way I try to describe the beauty. But in truth, there is no describing an African sky adequately. However, among the many things that social media has given me, illustrating exactly what I have been wittering on about is probably one of the things I’m most grateful for. Well, that and keeping in touch with far flung family - and the joy that is citizen journalism. At last, instead of committing the ultimate in social suicide (showing holiday pictures to dinner guests) I can now post pictures of whatever I desire and people can choose to look at them or not, like them or not, and comment or not - A win/win situation.
During my wonderful but heart-breaking trip to Smithfield; wonderful to get some quality time with my parents and brother; and heart-breaking to witness first-hand the diabolical water challenges being faced by all the residents, I was afforded the opportunity to visit a stunning, if partly dried up, oasis in the desert.
Tussen-die-Riviere is an extraordinary game reserve near Smithfield. The joy of running water was a bonus, but what I didn’t expect was a truly spiritual experience while there. Watching from the most perfect vantage point the full moon rising from the horizon is something I hadn’t ever considered. Yes of course there was going to be the magical sunset of the kind I eulogise about and each night saw from Brett’s hillside balcony, THAT night sky was something else!
With my parents wrapped up in blankets to fend off the cold night air (as my brother put it, wrapped up like ‘take out’ for the animals), we planted ourselves in the still of the night and waited and watched. The stars came out in their billions, with a few shooting past at speed. We all tried to work out which was what constellation and failed miserably. Then - the stars went quiet as if to just make way for the moon.
It started with a glow on the horizon, then in the distance the tip of the top of the moon poked above the horizon, followed by the BIG reveal. It was like something out of a really good CGI enhanced movie - out of this world in fact. We all watched, in awe - inspired by the magic.
To be surrounded by some of the people I love most in this world, in an environment of pure natural beauty that is out of our reach or control and to feel, but I really mean feel, grateful and blessed, is not something that happens to me often. Definitely an experience I will take with me and call upon in moments when I need a gratitude fix.
Tussen-die-Riviere - thank you; my amazing family, thank you and, how this ever came to be, thank you.