Saturday, 15 April 2017
How do you feel about yourself? Do you think you are a good person or a bad person? The way you feel about yourself determines your thoughts, emotions, and actions.
Your thoughts and emotions control you because you allow them to. When you give these thoughts and emotions (whether positive or negative) the attention they need, they thrive. They control you.
When you are bombarded by life, you feel overwhelmed. You look at life negatively and self-pity absorbs you. Allowing negative thoughts and emotions to control you makes you arrogant. You believe that you alone are right (the world is wrong) and you alone suffer (no one on earth can suffer as much as you do at that given moment). Within your comfort zone of arrogance, which protects you from the world, you refuse to acknowledge that you can be wrong and that there are people in the world suffering far more than you are. You revel in self-pity because no one enjoys suffering.
Your thoughts and emotions can be burdensome, but, because they’re not lethal, you can survive whatever you experience. Survivors don’t quit. They don’t roll over and die! They fight for something better. That’s what you do every day. When you hold your breath for as long as you possibly can, you will soon become aware of the pressure that builds up inside of you. When it becomes too hard to bear, the instinct to survive kicks in and you start breathing again. Relief is the first thing that flows through your body. Your instinct to survive is the most powerful motivation that keeps you going.
Instead of self-pity during times of difficulty, you need to accept life for what it is. It’s a rollercoaster ride that will have its ups and downs, turns and twists, and moments of sheer exhilaration or horror. That’s life. Life is what it is. Putting yourself in the center of all the events and experiences that life offers is wrong. Life isn’t just about you. Instead of focusing on the hardship, you need to look at the positive things in life.
If you look around, you’ll find a situation or person that needs your help. Instead of being self-absorbed and stressing about how you are going to get out of your own pool of fire, you should be a positive influence on those around you. Radiate your energy and light.
You give of yourself because you want to make the world a better place, even if it is only for a moment, for one particular person, and in one very small and seemingly insignificant situation. Your decisions and actions must be good and generous without the expectation that serves self-interest. You need to be selfless! Even when goodness and generosity are not reciprocated, you need to go forward, resilient, and focused.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but they will not diminish your spirit. You learn to ignore your own small personal problems and render your service to help people with their problems.
To live a fulfilling life means that you change your self-centered (me-first) attitude to a more mindful attitude, an attitude where you become aware of the needs of others. You can’t deplete your energy by helping everyone, but you can, even in silence, be supportive. Everyone on earth has a burden to bear. Instead of adding weight to these burdens, you should learn to show compassion.
It all starts with patience and gratitude. Once you exercise patience and show gratitude for life itself, you will always be ready to make a positive difference on a daily basis.
The books I write I leave in the care of my daughter, Jana Steyn. The legacy will live on. These books don't have to be published or sold. They don't have to achieve a 'top-ten best seller' list or any awards. They only need to be passed on.
My dad loved books. I still have both his encyclopedia sets and some of his classic novels. He nourished our minds from a very young age, all because of his passion for books and knowledge.
There's nothing wrong with trying to do things on a creative level. It just defines who we are. I used to sketch and paint, but I loved writing more. Now, my daughter paints. It was Henri Matisse who said, "Creativity takes courage".
So, we move forward, from one year to the next, curious about what we may achieve. It's curiosity that keeps us going. The only thing we need to ask is: what exactly are we curious about?
Too many people do things to achieve recognition: fame and fortune. They pursue happiness as if it's a goal they can achieve somewhere at the top of a ladder. Anne Frank didn't write her diary for fame and fortune. She wrote out of necessity. She only became famous after her death. One of my favourite poets is Emily Dickinson. She wrote more than 1800 poems, but only seven of her poems were published before she died.
When people hear about my books, they ask so many questions. Who published the book? How many books have been sold? How much money has been made? These questions just prove how shallow people are. They don't understand the essence of who I am.
I write because I enjoy writing. I don't have any plans or goals for my work because I'm writing for fun. It makes me happy. It's rewarding to know that I can finish what I initially started. I don't search for happiness. I live in the moment and all those moments of enjoyment create a book. You have to enjoy what you do, otherwise, it's just a form of punishment. I would never be able to sit down and write a book with the aim of achieving recognition.
When I look at my great-grandmother's Bible, which was passed on to my father and then to me, I realize how important it is to leave something of ourselves behind. She wrote down the names of her family in the Bible. Her handwriting is preserved as long as the Bible is preserved. My father also wrote a message in the Bible. This inspired me to leave something behind, too. I have about 14 diaries, which were written over three decades. I have given them to Jana. She has read all of them and found them to be extremely inspirational.
I want my books and poems to stay in the family. Because I teach, my sole purpose of writing is to leave a legacy. I don't want to write full-time. I've always believed this and will continue to say it: first and foremost, I am a teacher. I was born to teach. Writing is a hobby, not my career. When I retire there will be more time to write. Perhaps then, when I have the luxury of time, I will be able to write more substantial work.
Now, all I have is a passion for writing, so, whenever I can, I will write.
Friday, 7 April 2017
I do not ask to walk smooth paths
Nor bear an easy load.
I pray for strength and fortitude …
Nor bear an easy load.
I pray for strength and fortitude …
Gail Brook Burket
Mareijke’s arms were spread across the open sky in suspended animation. She was flying with the eagle, yet fighting to stay grounded. She wasn’t alone. Sensing another presence in the room, Mareijke frantically tried to open her eyes, but her body was paralyzed to sleep. She was a guest in her own unresponsive body.
She willed herself to move, if only her fingers. Nothing happened. From somewhere there seemed to be an enormous vacuum sucking the air out of the room as breathing became more and more difficult for her. The force pressing against her lungs made her panic. Was she dying?
Lost in a dream, she was running down a winding path within a maze of giant green hedges with the most intricate walls she had ever seen. Mareijke was listening to the gentle poetic rhythm of her English teacher’s voice. It seemed to fall like a feather from the puffy clouds above her:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light …
She couldn’t see her teacher, but she could hear her voice until it was drowned out by the shrill noise of the cicadas.
The buzzing noise became louder and louder. Feeling light years away from the dirty little town without a name, Mareijke was silently screaming for things to be normal. She would certainly rage against death. She was far too young to die.
“Mareijke,” a voice called softly.
The voice sounded familiar. It was pulling her out from deep space. Her mind was a spiral of disoriented thoughts as she anxiously tried to speak. Her muscles were weak. Again she tried to open her eyes only to have the heavy lids fall shut.
The room was dark and cool. She faded in and out of consciousness for what seemed to be an eternity. She was swimming in the swirling water of a dark and murky whirlpool. From the centre of the vortex, she could hear the voice calling her:
It was a slow, arduous process trying to wake up and still she had no idea where she was.
She recognized the voice. Opening her eyes slowly, she blinked a few times to clear her blurred vision. He wasn’t a dream. He was real. One of his caravaneer friends was standing behind him.
“Mareijke,” Béch spoke again.
“Béch,” she whispered softly … and drifted off.
There was no use in trying to wake her. Mareijke needed to sleep off her fatigue. Béch and his companion left the room quietly. He was filled with smoldering resentment for the people who had taken her from his camel-train and was determined to find out who had been responsible for the dune ambush.
Béch had been informed by the executor of Dawid’s testament of Mareijke’s condition. With strained stress levels, her sleeping patterns had been fragmented since the death of her father. Her sheer stubbornness had brought her in a state of exhaustion to Morocco and him.
He had booked her into a hotel so that she could rest for a few days, but Mareijke was insistent about leaving for the mountains immediately. Her impatience had made it impossible for her to recuperate. Their slow trip across the desert and the prolonged exposure to the heat had tapped her remaining energy severely.
Béch had promised Mareijke’s father that he would help her. He had come a long way with Dawid van Staalduinen and helping Mareijke find the artifacts was part of Dawid’s final instructions for him, on his deathbed and through the testament.
While Béch was committed to keeping his promise to Dawid, Mareijke’s life was now in danger and he needed to rethink his strategy.
Béch had been about seven years old when he first heard Mareijke’s name. Dawid had left Morocco to live in Cape Town, but returned a year later bringing the exciting news of his daughter’s birth. At the time and throughout Béch’s life she had always remained a name. Yet, he had constantly been aware of the fact that the person who bore the name was the daughter of a man he loved, a man who had been like a father to him. It was the only connection of her that he allowed himself to make.
Dawid’s lawyer had contacted him after the car accident. Taking the first flight from Agadir to Cape Town, Béch had stood next to the bed of a dying man, barely able to speak. Mareijke was in Australia at the time and her flight to South Africa delayed, taking her longer to arrive.
Béch remembered Dawid’s pain. He had taken Béch’s hand with forced exertion, begging him to help Mareijke find the artifacts. Shortly thereafter, Dawid had died. Consumed with despair, Béch had returned to Agadir with the sole purpose of travelling to the mountains to retrieve the artifacts. Before he could leave, a copy of the testament was sent to him and he was devastated when he discovered what Dawid had wanted of him.
Waiting patiently at the airport for Mareijke’s flight to arrive, Béch had no idea what to expect. He wondered how he would recognize her. Dawid was a dark-haired man with the bluest eyes Béch had ever seen, but Mareijke may have been blessed with her mother’s looks. Margaret van Staalduinen was a beautiful woman with chestnut hair and steel-blue eyes.
He had been standing casually against one of the railings when a young woman approached him. She had stopped a few meters away from Béch. Standing perfectly still, she had stared at him. Instinctively he had known it was Mareijke even before the concern that was etched on her face transformed to a visage of relief.
The young woman had a powerful inner strength that emboldened her weak façade and he remembered being impressed by her gentle courage. It had given him the confidence that he needed for the harsh journey that lay ahead. He knew then that she would not hinder them along the way and from that moment the pace was set.
Now, Béch’s thoughts lay stretched across the night. A few hours of restless sleep passed quickly and he found himself in Mareijke’s room before dawn sitting quietly next to her bed, watching her. He watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she lay sleeping. He was fascinated with her placid beauty. With soft golden hair, green eyes and a fine bone structure, she neither resembled Dawid nor Margaret van Staalduinen. Yet, the very essence of Dawid defined her.
It was the slow diffusion of something inexplicable and unfamiliar within him that made Béch stand up. He walked to the bedroom door slowly and crossed the lounge to the balcony. Standing outside in the fresh morning air, he watched the ocean as it slept lazily beneath a scarlet sunrise, his thoughts heavily preoccupied with Mareijke.
He had never really loved a woman. He had worked as a humanitarian in Morocco for many years, helping those who suffered from poverty, malnutrition, exploitation and ignorance. He didn’t have time for relationships and the few that had come his way over the years weren’t meaningful enough to make a difference in his life.
Mareijke was the first woman to rivet his attention. From the moment they had met, he had been attentive to her reactions and behaviour, curious about her thoughts. It was perhaps a mere association. The loss of Dawid had been profound and all that was left of him was Mareijke.
Béch knew that he couldn’t allow his mind to plunge into an analysis of his emotions. He couldn’t lose the equilibrium he had always been able to control. It was far more important to suppress his emotions at all costs so that he could focus on their assignment and the best way to push Mareijke to the back of his mind was to keep busy.
He left the apartment quietly for his usual morning run. By the time Mareijke emerged from the bedroom, he had already returned with tickets for their flight to Cape Town. He kept the tickets in his bedroom with the intention of telling her about his plans later that day.
She sank into the soft cushions of a comfortable sofa and Béch gave her a warm mug of tea.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Béch returned.
“How did you know where to find me?”
Béch frowned. “I didn’t find you, Mareijke. When I got back, you were already here.”
Mareijke looked at him in mute astonishment.
“What happened, Mareijke?” he asked, settling down next to her. He listened patiently as she told the story.
“Perhaps they want the artifacts,” she ventured.
“I don’t think so,” he returned.
“Exploitation,” she suggested.
“No,” Béch answered. “Most traffickers operate clandestine.”
“Then what?” Mareijke asked in confusion.
She looked at him questioningly, but Béch was at a loss for an answer and even if he could find some sense in everything that had happened the previous day, he didn't want to explain anything to her at that moment. He looked at his watch.
“I have to go,” he said suddenly.
“Why?” Mareijke asked, as he got up to leave.
Feeling awkward for having asked, Mareijke stood up almost too quickly. Her head started to reel and she swayed dangerously. Mareijke caught Béch by the arm to steady herself and felt his taut arm muscle flinch at her touch. She was suddenly aware of his masculinity and stepped back, putting distance between them. For a brief, fleeting moment they were caught in a wave of consciousness as their eyes locked.
“Please find something to eat,” he said quickly, adding more space between them. “The kitchen has plenty of supplies.”
He turned and walked out of the room, leaving Mareijke dazed. She tried to make sense of what had just happened. Confused by her own emotions, she went to the kitchen and made a sandwich. She sat on the balcony of Béch’s apartment and ate slowly.
She looked at the flat beach that stretched out in front of her, disappearing into the sparkling Atlantic. The people on the beach were immersed in their own activities. The beauty of the white sand and blue ocean made it difficult for Mareijke to imagine that the city had once been destroyed by an earthquake.
Her mind kept wandering back to those fleeting moments before Béch had left the apartment. Her actions had been so innocent, a response to a situation. His reaction to her touch was completely unexpected. The sensation that had passed through her the moment he flinched was uncomfortably real.
She suddenly regretted everything that had happened. She was afraid of the effect it would have on their relationship and inadvertently, the rest of their trip.
Later that evening, one of the caravaneers brought Mareijke a prepared dinner. He made an excuse for Béch’s absence and stayed at the apartment until Mareijke retired for the night. When she awoke the next day, Béch was still not at the apartment. She ate a light breakfast and decided to take a walk.
The apartment was in close proximity to the beach and shops, and the cool Atlantic breeze lifted her mood as she walked down the wide street. It was her first visit into the vibrant Moroccan city. She ambled along the bustling boulevard where sky blue taxis and other vehicles were competing in honking and screech-braking competitions as far as they travelled.
The stench of drain water filled the air and Mareijke found herself constantly harassed by dirty hands begging for “inglish munny” or locals trying to sell something to her. Deciding to extricate herself from the ensnaring trap set in Agadir for foreigners, she impulsively hailed a petit taxi. The driver spoke of a souk and she nodded. Mareijke had no idea what a souk was, but didn’t want the driver to take advantage of her ignorance as a tourist.
The souk was nothing other than an enormous market. It was a hub where tourists were being bantered into various kinds of negotiations by Moroccan hawkers and food cart operators, while little children darted between the people and stalls. She was fascinated with the various products that dominated it and slowly mingled with the brilliant smells of leather, incense, oils and spices.
She was constantly hassled by a merchandiser to purchase something and soon found the experience of being at the souk as daunting as walking the streets of Agadir. She saw a merchandiser approach an elderly woman. The woman lifted her hand and said ‘No!’ quite firmly and the merchandiser seemingly backed off. Mareijke decided to do the same and soon was able to enjoy looking around with much more confidence.
After several minutes of practicing firm and very conclusive assertiveness between the stalls, Mareijke approached a stall where mint tea was available. Mareijke accepted the woman’s offer immediately and stood fascinated as the tea was poured from a fulgurous height. It was done without any mess. Mareijke knew it was poured that way to aerate the tea. She had seen it being done in the nomad camelhair-dining tent at the oasis and Béch had explained it to her. Mareijke drank the sweet refreshing tea, thanked the woman, paid and moved on to another stall.
“No!” she said firmly for the umpteenth time and truly enjoyed the response she got as the merchandiser turned and left her alone.
Admiring a leather handbag, Mareijke suddenly experienced a strange, yet intense feeling that she was being watched. She stopped and scanned the area subtly. Startled suddenly at seeing her abductor, Mareijke was uncertain whether to return to Béch’s apartment or confront the man who had made absolutely no attempt to conceal the fact that he was watching her.
She wasn’t given much time to decide as he casually started walking towards her. She darted behind a carpet. Beneath the prodigious sun, Mareijke started to weave her way through the stalls and people. She found herself running past fresh produce and chickens and goats and goofy smiles. Her feet kept moving in reckless directions. Refusing to look back, lest she stumble and fall over some obstacle or person in the overstocked market, Mareijke kept on running only to stagger eventually into a squalid alley filled with the stench of urine.
She stopped for a moment, bending forward with hands on knees. She was an extraordinary picture of pathetic inability, dry-heaving like a dog. Her legs were heavy and her lungs exhausted; she knew she wouldn’t be able to run much longer. More importantly, she realized that she was lost and would soon be unable to extricate herself from the labyrinth of stalls and walls.
“We need to talk,” a casual voice said from behind her.
Still heaving, she turned to see him standing behind her as casually as he had spoken. Not a hair was out of place and his breath was intact. She straightened her back and stood in front of her abductor, desperately trying to control her breathing.
“I know a nice little café just around the corner,” he said, a wretched smile splashed across his face, “and if you want, we can run there.”
He turned and walked in the direction she had come. She stood for a while, infuriated with his arrogance. She knew now that she had been running in circles and realized there was no escaping his omniscient presence. She followed at a distance and was intrigued with his confidence that she would in fact comply.
Mareijke didn’t know why, but sensed that she could trust the man with the stern composure. He entered a sidewalk café and, pausing outside to glance quickly at her reflection in the window, Mareijke followed. She was a mess, but there was absolutely nothing she could do to change that.
The delicious smell of the grill was very appealing to her hungry stomach. She crossed the room slowly. It was filled with Agadir's smart set and there seemed to be no tables available. Nevertheless, she found her abductor comfortably seated in a far corner, waiting for her. It seemed as if there was method in the madness: while she was running in circles, he perhaps had booked their table.
She didn’t want to waste any time deliberating the matter. Confident enough to approach him, Mareijke remained wary as his foiled attempt to kidnap her still lingered in the dark recesses of her mind.
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
But to be fearless in facing them …
The encounter was quick. A masked man took Mareijke forcibly from her camel and shoved her into one of the vehicles. Tirelessly struggling for freedom, screaming and kicking, Mareijke soon realized that she could not prevent her abduction. Her relentlessness waned in a wave of exhaustion.
The land cruiser pelted across the desert with the rest of its herd, leaving clouds of dust hanging in its wake. Mareijke was overwhelmed with anxiety as her heart pounded in her tightening chest. She felt claustrophobic and couldn’t breathe. Desperately wanting to break free from the confines of the vehicle, Mareijke realized there was no means of escaping.
“Please!” she started to scream hysterically, trying to open the locked door next to her. “Let me out!”
Dizziness and nausea overwhelmed her. Her abductor emptied the contents of a huge brown paper bag onto the vehicle’s floor. He scrunched up its neck and held it over her mouth.
“Breathe slowly,” he said. “Five counts, Mareijke. Five counts in and five counts out.”
With wide-eyed amazement, she looked up at the masked face into visibly blue eyes. He knew her name. A frown marred her beautiful face as she tried to make sense of what was happening. Who was this stranger and how did he know her name?
She counted slowly, concentrating on her breathing. After a while, her breathing became slower and Mareijke felt her anxiety ease. When she was calm again, she slowly pushed the bag away from her mouth. She moved closer to the door. Looking out of the window at the hazy horizon, Mareijke felt extreme exhaustion. The man offered her some water, which she accepted gratefully.
He knew her name. The thought kept recurring like a bad dream. She looked at the man and asked quietly, “Who are you?”
The man kept his intentions obscured. He was watching the vast desert plains from the window of the vehicle, deliberately ignoring her question.
“How do you know my name?” she asked.
Sworn to silence, the man kept his attention on the desert and she realized that he was not going to answer any of her questions. She would have to wait until their journey across the sand ended. Hoping with all her heart that it would end soon, Mareijke watched the dunes flash by as the land cruiser hastened towards dusk.
Mareijke was exhausted. Her fraught nerves kept her awake as she fought with a mind of steel not to lose consciousness in the presence of her enemies. She could not fall asleep. She needed to stay focused every minute of the journey, remaining hopeful for a positive outcome.
Béch had warned her of these sudden dune attacks and even knowing about their existence, he had been unable to prevent it or chase after her abductors. He would eventually return to the oasis and then Agadir. There would be no sense for him to continue the journey without her. She blanched inwardly at her desperate plight and wondered if she would ever see him again.
The seat on which she sat was warm and her body discomforted. She had been in the vice grip of stress for too long. Mareijke had no strength left to fight the war she had waged against sleep and finally it came to a standstill as she slowly and reluctantly surrendered.
By the time she opened her eyes, the headlights of the land cruiser were two beams cutting through the dark that enveloped them. The man next to her had taken off his mask. He was not native to the Saharan region; his light hair and fair skin were testimony to that. His expression evaded her in the shadows of the vehicle, but she knew he was awake. Hearing movement on the seat next to him, he turned to look at her.
“Who are you?” she asked defiantly.
“The rest has done you well,” he answered. There was familiar agreeable warmth in his voice.
“What do you want?” she continued her feeble interrogation.
Again, a frown fell across her soft brow as he continued to ignore her questions. Consumed with anguish, her mind searched in endless circles for her captors’ motive.
While travelling to the oasis, Mareijke had been enlightened about the fallacious activities that prevailed in the country and she wondered if her abductors were part of a criminal network.
According to Béch, Morocco was one of the world's largest hashish exporters. There was a nexus between crime and terrorism in the country, which had complex criminal networks that laundered money, committed fraud and shipped arms, drugs and people across borders. Most of the networks were established in the northern parts of the country where roads were bought to get cargo across the Mediterranean to Europe. The flesh-trading industry generated billions of dollars in yearly profits as men, women and children were trafficked for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
Béch had spent many years trying to protect children, especially young girls – some being merely ten and eleven – from being trafficked within the borders of their own countries. A main source of concern was from poverty-inflicted areas where parents sold their daughters into prostitution networks or marriage arrangements.
The money or bartering settlements for marriages were usually made with older men who had absolutely no respect for women. The fact that they were robbing a child of her innocence made it a heinous crime.
The overall violation against women in the networks was appalling. The women were raped and tortured and kept in confinement for many hours before reaching a destination only to be sold and exploited over and over again.
Even though they were travelling in the southern parts of the country, Béch had warned her that their journey would remain dangerous. He had clearly emphasized his disinclination of subjecting her to such perils. Unfortunately, the testament had bound them together and they had little choice regarding the matter.
Mareijke feared the worst. She was no doubtedly in the process of being sold to a syndicate. To these men she was nothing more than a business deal and their greatest concern would be the smuggling fee. She wondered what her life was worth. What price would the syndicate pay for an educated white South African woman in her early twenties?
The vehicles started to slow down, wrenching Mareijke back to reality. They stopped in the dead of night and her abductor told her to wait in the vehicle while he joined the men who had convoyed them. The moonlit figures stood with remarkable patience in absolute silence and Mareijke wondered if they were lost … or waiting. It wouldn’t really matter if they were lost. She was sure she would die of hunger pangs, which seemingly was her only hope at that point of gaining freedom.
Her back-seat companion returned to the vehicle.
“If you need to go,” he said, an elusive smile dancing on his lips, “then I suggest you go now.”
She looked at him with disbelief in her eyes. Go! What was he suggesting? Did he honestly think that she would try to escape in the middle of nowhere? Where would she go? How would she survive?
“Do you need to go?” he asked with a subtle hint of sarcastic taunt.
The revelation of what he was asking made her face flush red.
“From here it’s a long stretch and I don’t think you will be able to hold unless you have a bladder that concentrates its contents,” he mused, smiling at her disdain. “You know, much like a camel’s does.”
Mareijke scrunched her face in absolute disgust and decided to deal with the embarrassing ordeal as quickly as possible. She climbed out of the vehicle and looked at the circle of men, not one interested in her plight. Engrossed in their own little world, the men were oblivious to her existence except one: the man who stood next to her with a roll of toilet paper in his hand.
“Where can I go?” she asked the man.
“Well …” he said audaciously, looking around, pretending to mull over the non-existent options.
“Oh, never mind!” she mumbled in exasperation and stomped across the sand in the direction of a dune-like hill.
“Hey!” she heard him call. “You might want to take this with you.”
She turned and became the target of a missile attack. She ducked and the roll of toilet paper landed in the sand. She picked it up, dusted it and wandered off behind the dune, some scanty scrub providing her with a sense of privacy.
He hadn’t said anything about the disposal of the tissue and she didn’t have a paper bag in which to put it. The idea of transporting the tissue waste with her was unbearable, so she decided to bury it in a small hole as purposefully and carefully as possible. The tissue would decompose, she thought, in a feeble attempt to console herself.
Dignity intact, she wandered back to the vehicle. Her abductor had placed a bottle of water and paper cup on the roof of the vehicle before returning to the group of men. She rinsed her hands with some of the bottled water and then rewarded her parched throat.
It was cold outside on the desert plain. Mareijke returned to the warmth of the back seat where she sat in another suspended frame of inertia. Her patience was spent by the time the men started to move. They were reacting to something. She searched the dark sky and found a distant droning light approaching them. The artificial bird came closer disturbing the desert’s rest with its oscillating cry. As the helicopter landed, a stubborn Mareijke was eventually pulled out of the vehicle.
The abusive blades created clouds of desert sand and whipped her golden hair into disarray. Caught in the whirlwind of sand, she was escorted from the vehicle to the helicopter. Her back-seat companion joined her and they were airborne before she could blink or open her mouth to cough out the sand that had filtered in through her nose.
Instinctively, she looked at the pilot. Béch’s chariness had become akin with hers. Perhaps the pilot was the same man who had collected them at Agadir. His head gear and night goggles made it difficult for her to identify him and after an unavailing attempt to find any resemblance, Mareijke reclined her head against the window.
Daunting thoughts pummelled all reasoning from her mind and the flight became yet another slow process. Eventually dawn broke over the distant horizon and the desert sky became a palette of mixed colours. The experience for Mareijke was pure. It was absolute and perfect.
Involuntarily and most inexplicably, her mind raced back to Béch. Mounted on his camel, he had surveyed the land cruisers at the top of the dune. Each visible muscle in his body had flexed as he brought the camel-train to a stop and dismounted from his descended camel, its bony legs folded comfortably beneath it.
With sweat shining on his tanned skin, he had turned to look at her. They were heavily outnumbered. The engines were already ignited and their assailants had closed in on them. Mareijke’s camel had descended unexpectedly, pitching her forward. She had leaned back, exerting herself beyond measure to maintain her balance.
Béch’s movements to save her from falling from the camel had been quick, but before he could reach her side, she had regained her composure and their assailants were upon them. The men had detained Béch while she was taken from her camel. His silence, etched in her mind, made her realize that nothing said or done under those strenuous circumstances could have possibly saved her.
Mareijke was resigned to her fate as the helicopter continued to fly towards the burning fireball that was progressively crawling to a lazy height above the horizon. There was no point in clinging to Béch emotionally. He had no way of rescuing her.
The sudden turn of events was more than unsettling and Mareijke wondered if they were after the artifacts. She was under the impression that the artifacts were worthless, of mere sentimental value to her father. Personally, she was devoid of interest in both the artifacts and the journey.
She had spent many protesting hours in the office of her father’s lawyer looking for a loophole in the testament, but it had been impossible for Mareijke to evade her obligation. To inherit Dawid van Staalduinen’s wealth, she needed to find the artifacts. The inheritance itself would be a difficulty with which to contend because she was young and lacked an enterprising spirit, but the very idea of running her father’s company successfully was a formidable prospect she refused to acknowledge until she had found the artifacts.
Suddenly the artifacts became less significant. With fear-ridden thoughts, Mareijke contemplated human trafficking again. The dune attack had been pre-planned. They knew Béch’s camel-train would pass that way and they knew she would be travelling with him. Her abductor knew her name. If she were being trafficked, where were they taking her?
She remembered her fury at blatant newspaper reports about legalization of prostitution in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Warnings about human trafficking had swept across South Africa like a blazing fire out of control. While arguments were being thrown about, Mareijke was convinced that legalizing prostitution in any part of the world would not protect women in the industry. It would neither decrease the trafficking of women and children nor prevent HIV and aids.
Mareijke looked down at the place where they were about to land. The small village seemed to rise from the sand, an unfortunate phoenix robbed of all its magnificence. She had no idea where they were, but disembarked gratefully. She tried to coggle across the sand away from the helicopter and commotion of dust its whipping blades were creating.
An invading army of dark inflated beetles was making its way alongside the road. Before Mareijke could give heed to its presence, a devastating crunching sound beneath her feet made her entire body shudder involuntarily.
“Yuck!” she cried and ran to the middle of the road, wincing all the while.
By then, the helicopter had taken to the air and the road was open again for traffic. A small junk-heap on wheels that rickety-racketed along quite loosely was moving through the cloud of swirling dust and almost knocked Mareijke over. Not that much would have been left of the decrepit vehicle, she thought, had it bumped into her. She was sure it would have fragmented into a pile of disintegrating pieces only to be blown away by the first gust of wind.
She moved out of the way quickly and succumbed to sudden nausea from the smell of carbon monoxide mixed with the dust in the air. The rattletrap stopped.
“Get in,” her abductor said.
“You have got to be kidding!” she exclaimed, affronted at the idea. “I can walk faster than this contraption!”
“I’m sure you can,” he said, derision dripping off his tongue. “Get in!”
She climbed into the car, which had a noxious air to it … much like the company she kept. Fortunately, the journey was short. They travelled along a bumpy road and Mareijke looked out at the flat land where no grass seemingly had ever grown. There were no trees, not even a shrub of any kind.
They arrived at a low house built in adobe and a young woman escorted Mareijke to a cool, dark room to freshen up and rid herself of her glaucous appearance. After changing into clean clothes given to her by the kind woman, Mareijke’s nose guided her to a table where food beckoned for her immediate attention. She welcomed a warm cup of tea while her eyes admired the spread of food that adorned the table.
Mareijke realized, perhaps for the first time since the death of her father, that her health had suffered a tremendous blow. She wasn’t used to travelling and sleep didn’t come naturally during the heat-induced nights. It had affected her appetite and while she realized the importance of eating, she knew that her stomach would only take a small amount. After the long and torturous journey, Mareijke was ravenous, but she chose a humble selection of food and ate slowly.
When she had finished eating, she went out into a dismal looking courtyard drenched in bright sunlight and gazed through her sunglasses at the equally bright mineral sky. The hemispherical roof was painted blue with little company of cloud. An eagle circled the air and then, with wings defiant of gravity, hovered over the little town. For a split-second, Mareijke was riding the wind with the massive bird. She needed inner strength to carry on. She needed the tireless wings of the soaring eagle to face her enemy.
Her abductor joined her in the courtyard. Mareijke was determined to find out why he had taken her from the camel-train. She turned and watched the man pensively as his eyes caught sight of the eagle. His presence seemed to be conciliatory.
“Who are you and what do you want with me?” Mareijke asked impatiently.
There was sudden movement and chaos about her. A man grabbed her less graciously than her previous encounter and smothered her breath with an overwhelming chemical-lined cloth. Her thoughts started to reel as two men held back her abductor.
Mareijke struggled in vain against the overpowering force that was taking control of her entire being until she finally collapsed into the great oblivion of a deep sleep.
Thursday, 6 April 2017
He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
That puts it not unto the touch
To win or lose it all …
James Graham, Marquis of Montrose
Standing on the hot sand sheets of the Sahara, Mareijke silently acquainted herself with the parched personality of the forbidding desert. The sand-laden wind burned her soft skin as she scanned the dunes in front of her. She knew she could stand there for days with the ever-migrating landscape staring back at her, always a foreigner.
The caravaneers with whom she was travelling were used to the harshness of the Sahara. Unlike them, Mareijke was sensitive to the dry land and wind-blown sand. Her breath burned in her throat. Who could possibly live in the Sahara for a lifetime, she wondered, as she looked at the barren string of undulating dunes?
Watching the camels lope past on their gangling legs, Mareijke longed for the cool Atlantic breeze in Agadir. The thermometer had burned at 54 degrees Celsius on their arrival at the oasis, but now the sun was setting on amber and pink dunes and her blistering day was finally coming to an end. Her reverence for the open space that stretched out all around her strengthened her appreciation for water, a scarce and frail resource for the denizens of the arid and mystifying Sahara.
The isolated oasis itself was nothing like any picture-book impressions she had ever seen. Humbly keeping its ground beneath the tormenting sun, it lay camouflaged against the sand-tolerant land. Stripped of all dignity, the oasis was vulnerable and unprotected from the ravages of the desert.
Other than the few miserly scattered date palms to warrant shade and dwarf variants squatting nearby, there was a mud-dried house with thick walls.
“Ta’alay ma’ee,” an elderly woman said, beckoning Mareijke to follow her.
She took Mareijke inside the house. Entering the cool interior, Mareijke was glad to escape the glare and heat of the day. Even though water was scant, she was able to wash off the sand that had stung her skin. Her reddened green eyes hurt, even when she closed them.
With night and temperatures falling fast, Mareijke found life tolerable again. The greatest relief was that the humming fly-swarms had all gone off to rest. Leaving the house reluctantly, she joined her travelling companions in a nomad camelhair-dining tent. She sat down on a beautifully woven rug and accepted the warm bowl of soup given to her by the elderly woman. She ate slowly. There were flour-cakes dipped in a fruity olive oil, couscous, meat, vegetables, bread and fruit. It was a colourful array of dishes, but with drained energy Mareijke had no desire to move and even less to eat.
After dinner, they left the carpeted tent to sit beneath the fresh and clear night dome. Mareijke looked at the distant deckle-edged mountains painted black against the fiery canvas of sky, while the melancholic cry of a lone fox lingered eerily in the silence pervading the air. Too exhausted to enjoy the company of the caravaneers on her first night in the desert bivouac, she quietly bade them goodnight and crawled into her tent to find solace in sleep. Mareijke fell asleep almost immediately. Not even the laughter and intriguing conversation of the caravaneers could keep her curious mind awake.
The night was long and even though she had hoped to wake before dawn to enjoy some new morning air before the intense heat of the day stumbled in, consciousness had evaded her. By the time Mareijke opened her eyes, the heat-evoked day was upon her quite unexpectedly and her skin already damp with perspiration.
It would have been more desirable if they had left the oasis before the sun had made its eastern ascension on the whitened horizon, but Mareijke’s travel guide had postponed their travels so that she could get all the rest she so desperately needed.
Hesitant and despondent, Mareijke listened to the activities outside her tent. Preparations were underway for their departure. She sat up and dressed in the small confined space. Like most of the native women, she covered much of her body puritanically with fine woollen clothing.
She emerged from the tent with strained eyes. The glaring day came as no surprise; there was sand everywhere. Mareijke had a sudden burning desire to take refuge beneath the surface of the sand, anything to escape the omnipresent blinding light.
Had the morning occurred during any other period in time, Mareijke may have found herself marvelling at the vast openness that spread out in front of her. Unfortunately, life had dealt her a tragic blow and her suffering now blinded her to the beauty of the desert.
“Good morning,” her handsome travel guide greeted affably. “You have rested well, but we must eat and leave before we swelter in the sun.”
“How much farther do we have to travel?” she asked, inwardly berating herself for her restless desire to end the jaded journey.
“It’s not that far, but we travel slowly.”
Less enthralled to hear that they would be crawling at tortoise pace across the foreboding sand, Mareijke swallowed her dismal apprehensions. She had barely arrived in Morocco and was already living the life of a sloth, dragging herself from one heat-impaired moment to the next.
Fortunately, the wet rest stop had made it possible for her to regain some of her sapped strength. Her parched throat welcomed the cool liquid that tumbled gently into her empty stomach. She had no idea what she was drinking, but the cool sweetness quenched her daunted nerves.
After breakfast, the ineluctable journey started again. The heavily loaded camels got up onto their spindly legs, whining and moaning very loudly. Mounted on one of the camels, which was part of the camel-train south, Mareijke watched her travel guide lead her away from the oasis. He had warned her that travelling across the wide-open plains would be dangerous. Yet, the perilous journey had to take place.
As the sun mercilessly scorched her view, Mareijke took a mental journey back to the early hours of that morning when her flight had departed from Cape Town.
It was a twelve-hour flight to London. Mareijke hated every minute of it. Throughout her life, she had never liked confinement. She had liked neither sitting inert nor waiting. Being stuck in the aircraft with its limitations made the flight an indolent tumour in her mind. The plane seemingly made little advancement across the stretch of sky and her thoughts charged up and down the aisles of her exhausted mind like little raging bulls in a china shop, shattering all optimism as far as they went.
The painless minutes sat on the face of her watch, lethargic like most of the passengers. The less Mareijke wanted to think, the more she was bound to thought. Her deep concerns about the Moroccan assignment became constant companions throughout the flight. It was the uncomfortable idea of travelling alone across the vast and isolated territory with an assigned travelling guide that weighed her down the most. Mareijke based her fears on her knowledge of Arabian men who dominated their women with disrespect. She knew the travelling guide was neither Arabian nor Moroccan. Yet, the thought of travelling with the stranger who had spent a lifetime in the company of these perceptions – against equality and women – was very discouraging.
She arrived at Heathrow Airport, pleased to find herself on hitch-free flight schedules to Casablanca and Agadir. Mareijke disembarked from the airplane at the Al Massira Airport feeling depleted and amort. The long procedure of entering the foreign country prolonged her meeting the travel guide, but after entering the terminal in Agadir, Mareijke’s mental metamorphosis became clear when she saw Béch Rousseau for the very first time.
Mareijke realized that he was nothing like she had expected. She found herself mesmerized by the stalwart man who stood against the rail in pensive mood. His white shirt enhanced his dark brown wind-tussled hair and bronze tan.
Béch stepped forward and inquired, “Mareijke van Staalduinen?”
“Yes,” she replied and wondered for the first time what impression her own dishevelled appearance was making upon the young man. She was comforted by his warm disposition: the glimmer in his light brown eyes, and his suave and cultivated voice. Her self-inflicted fears diminished within seconds, leaving her less reluctant to endure what lay ahead.
“Welcome to Morocco,” he said warmly. “I’ve booked a room for you at one of the hotels here in Agadir.”
“No!” she exclaimed imperiously.
Almost immediately she was embarrassed by her injunction, but her embarrassment evaporated quickly when an amused expression flickered subtly on Béch’s face. Mareijke was infuriated by it. Exhaustion was making her emotions mercurial and she realized she was in danger of exposing her vulnerability.
“You need to rest. The journey will be difficult and …”
“We must leave immediately,” she interrupted.
Their eyes locked. She was convinced that there would be a play for power, but Béch stepped back.
“I will see what I can arrange.”
For a moment, Mareijke was disappointed. She expected him to flout her orders and was prepared to take him on, but he gave in so easily. She watched him as he walked away. There was an air of supremacy in the way he walked. She continued to watch him until he disappeared from view. Having no strength to dwell on his subtle act of surrender, Mareijke walked towards the bathroom to refresh and again, like so many times before, considered her father’s testament.
Dawid van Staalduinen had instructed Mareijke, his only child, to travel to Morocco to retrieve three specific artifacts he had left behind the year of her birth. She had to return to Cape Town with the artifacts in order to receive her inheritance. Through the written testament, Dawid had assigned Béch Rousseau to assist her in her travels across the desert. After reading the testament to her, the executor of her father’s estate had arranged the entire journey.
Her father had always spoken about his adventures in Morocco. The Arabs had brought Islam to Africa many centuries ago and for Dawid and some archaeology students from Stellenbosch, it had been a challenge to visit Morocco and preach the evangelistic message. It was on their travels through Casablanca at the start of the nineteen-eighties that Dawid had met Béch’s father, Armand Rousseau.
Armand had been working on an archaeological research programme at the time. Upon learning that the young missionaries were archaeologists, he had invited them to join him in his travels to the more remote areas around Casablanca. The young archaeologists had worked quite eagerly with Armand on his project, while Dawid preferred to spend his time preaching to the nomads. Béch spent his early childhood years growing up around the archaeological sites where his father and Dawid had worked.
Béch had turned six years old when Dawid van Staalduinen returned to South Africa to take over a family export business. Mareijke was born a year later and raised in Cape Town. While Dawid had spoken of Béch Rousseau many times, she had never met him. His visits to South Africa were rare, mostly because her father had preferred to do all the travelling.
Her father trusted Béch implicitly and had assigned him the mission because he knew Béch would keep Mareijke safe. But to her, he remained a stranger. With this thought hanging in her mind, she slowly returned to the air terminal. And there he was, waiting for her – as if he had never left.
“Well?” she prompted.
“I have made several enquiries,” Béch informed her. “There’s a helicopter pilot here at the airport that may be able to help us. Would you like to wait here while I speak to him?”
“No,” she said quickly and followed him closely to where the pilot was waiting.
The French communication that took place between the two men was as incomprehensible to her as her father’s written testament. She didn’t understand why her father wanted her to personally retrieve the artifacts. He knew how she felt about travelling and his business. She didn’t know why having the artifacts would qualify her to inherit the business. It would have been so much easier just to give the artifacts to Béch. Surely he would be more interested in them.
Mareijke watched the pilot intensely and soon discovered that he was not particularly well-disposed towards helping them. The pilot’s phone rang and he excused himself. She continued to watch him. The telephone conversation appeared to be very argumentative and the pilot’s unhappiness was evident, but then quite unexpectedly he looked at her. He listened, agreed to something and ended the call. She felt extremely uncomfortable beneath his scrutiny. He returned to Béch and agreed to take them to the designated oasis in the desert.
Béch’s foresight had made him send his caravaneers on the long trip to the oasis a few days prior to Mareijke’s arrival. He knew exactly what Dawid’s testament stipulated, which required them to make the journey by camel. While the experience was one that Dawid had believed would be appreciated in years to come, Béch was more concerned about the risks involved.
Times had changed and desert travel had become hazardous. With Mareijke being a woman, the stakes were higher. A newcomer to the desert region would also find it difficult to endure such a harsh journey. Dawid had been living in Morocco for almost seven years and was well acquainted with the desert and climate when he first joined a camel-train to the south. They also had more time in those days to travel the treacherous distance to the mountainous region.
In present times, given the circumstances, time was an archenemy on the vast open desert plains and Béch was unable to make it easier for Mareijke because his camels could only travel as far as 30 kilometres per day.
The helicopter flight seemed endless. Mareijke was too tired to enjoy the landscape and wished they would reach the oasis. She had no idea what to expect, but wanted the flight to end. Suddenly, the pilot received an urgent summon to return to Agadir. Béch understood the message clearly.
“He has to return to Agadir, Mareijke,” Béch informed her.
“How far is the oasis?”
“Not close enough, I’m afraid.”
“We can’t go back,” she said.
“Did you see the camel train that we passed a few minutes ago?” Béch asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“It’s travelling in the same direction as the oasis,” Béch continued. “The choice is yours. We can return to Agadir or travel with the caravan.”
“We have an agreement. He can’t just leave us here in the middle of nowhere,” Mareijke exclaimed.
“I don’t think he has much of a choice, but we do. Do we go back or travel with the caravan?”
“I’m not going back,” Mareijke said adamantly.
The helicopter had turned and was already heading for the coast. Once Béch spotted the camel train, he asked the pilot to land on a dry stretch of flat land. The pilot waited for Béch to reach an agreement with the caravaneers before lifting into the sky and leaving. The friendly young men welcomed Béch and Mareijke very warmly, but she knew their hospitality was misguided as soon as Béch started handing out wads of paper money.
As they approached the camel on which Mareijke was to travel, Béch warned her of the animal’s anti-social tendency to spit. She approached it with even greater care. It was the first time she had ever seen a living camel. She found nothing attractive in the way the tall beast stood sneering down at her with its enormous yellow teeth and breath that had been hung out to die. It was potently pungent.
The camel dropped gracefully onto its haunches to accommodate her. Béch told her that the camel’s ascension from the ground would occur in phases and explained in detail what she needed to expect and how she would have to react to prevent herself from falling. She climbed onto the leather saddle quite easily, but when the camel got up onto its spindly legs, she was lurched forward and thrown back. As it ascended in its phases, the whole procedure of being thrown forward and back was repeated. Alarmed at the prospect of losing both her balance and dignity, Mareijke was relieved to find herself still seated in the swaying saddle by the time the camel was up and standing on its broad feet. The camel-train then moved forward and Mareijke was gently lulled into the swaying rhythm of the camel’s gait.
“The money will prevent us from being marooned on this vast ocean of sand,” Béch said.
“That’s a relief,” Mareijke answered.
“I know that landing in this desolate area is not part of our plans,” Béch said warily. “But if I have to be honest, I prefer it.”
“Why?” Mareijke asked.
“There’s just something about the pilot I don’t trust.”
The only thing that comforted Mareijke at that point was her knowledge that the caravaneers at the oasis were Béch’s companions. They were people he trusted.
While trust did not come very easily for Mareijke, it was her father’s high opinion of the young man that had formed the basis of her trust in Béch Rousseau. It was the only reason why she had embarked on the journey in the first place.
Mareijke had no desire to travel across the desert to look for the artifacts her father had left behind. Long before arriving in Morocco, she had already decided that she would not like the heat and discomforts that desert travelling offered and she preferred to stay true to her initial instincts.
Having rested at the oasis gave her new perspective and now, travelling away from it on a different camel, Mareijke sat quietly in awe of the vastness of the desert. She was living her father’s dream. She was experiencing the same immense infinity of sand-swept terrain as he had done so many years ago, her thoughts constantly shifting with the sand.
“Your mind is never in one place,” he had said. “Different thoughts filter through it on such a long and unique journey. It’s a journey, my child, where you learn to discover your true self.”
As camel hooves padded comfortably across the soft sand, a perfect line of dunes with endless red curves loomed on one side. A sea of sand on the other side swallowed Mareijke’s fears and thirst. She knew Béch would not make another desolate stop because of the contingent dangers that lurked behind the dunes.
As if anticipating danger, she looked up to the top of the nearest dune where a line of metal predators intruded on her thoughts. Carefully scanning the length of territory invaded by the unexpected visitors, Mareijke turned to look at Béch. He was wary of their company. He looked at her and his visage acknowledged his concern.
“Unfortunately, this is open territory,” he said calmly.
Mareijke’s imagination was given reins. It was the genesis of being preyed upon without safehold. They had nowhere to flee. They weren’t moving along a given track. They were mere specks of dust on the surface of the desert’s scale, yet visible and victim to a much greater force: the power of knowledge. The enemy had known about their journey and patiently anticipated their arrival.
The unsubdued sea of sand glistened as the Saharan light danced on the metallic pack of land cruisers. She was given no time to contemplate an outcome as the sudden sound of engines tumbled down the side of the dune, vehicles in pursuit. There was no point in moving forward and Béch brought the camel-train to a stop.
Mareijke looked up at the cobalt-blue sky and left a prayer on the wind as she watched their assailants approach with noise and swirls of sand.
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