Of yellow flowers and finishing a novel

by Joke Debaere

During the time that we stayed in the Bushveld, to take care of Francois’ mother, we experienced a severe drought, as so many regions of South Africa did and still do. I had been in the Bushveld during summer time for numerous times, but never saw the fields covered with such brownish, winter-like colours. Hardly any greens on the ground, which means no food for the many wild animals. Just like any of us, I have been confronted more and more often with the consequences of global warming, yet never to such an extent. More and more stories of farmers committing suicide, due to desperation, made it to the headlines. It left me with a deep sad feeling. Are we really so powerless, in changing this worrisome evolution?

Then one day, I woke up after a night of the first splendid rains. I walked onto the ‘stoep’ in front of the flat and the sight of the big tree next to the flat, covered with bright, yellow flowers hit me hard.

“It smells like shower gel! How great!” I first thought. Then I corrected myself, as it is of course the other way around: my shower gel smells like this tree. I took a picture and sent it to Francois’ mother, who was by now staying in the house of his second youngest brother, Johan. I described her the rain and explained how you could see nature changing, literally overnight. Mariana always cared so much for her Bushveld nature and garden, so I knew she would be so pleased to hear that the extremely dry veld that she had left behind so recently, had found some new hope again.

Yet it was by then already too difficult for her to reply to her emails. I will never know whether she read my message or not, but the image of the blossoming tree stayed with me for a long time.

On a walk through the nature reserve, I learnt that all the trees of this type, blossomed overnight, during exactly the same night. Everywhere I went, I saw trees with the same bright yellow flowers. This made me feel humble, to experience how nature has its own intelligence, more cleverly designed than us humans could ever imitate it.

On that walk, I thought of us human beings, how we can also experience certain droughts in our lives. Lack of inspiration, for instance. Or depression, illness, isolation, etc. I wondered whether we were just like those trees in the Bushveld, waiting for the right amount of rain at the right time, to blossom overnight. The trees didn’t whisper any straight forward answer in my ears, but certainly filled my heart with hope.

“Yes, let it be this way”, so I thought. “Let us be like those trees, waiting to be nurtured by each other.”

All of us are unsure what the consequences of this big drought and many other global warming symptoms will be. Food prices for some South African staple foods will rise next year, that is sure! As always, the poorest people will obviously suffer from this the most. But if we can be like the right amount of rain for each other, at the right time, we might be able to make each other blossom.

The deep warmth I felt, during the whole process of saying goodbye to Francois’ beautiful mother, from so many angles, not in the least from his siblings, is something I will never forget. This certainly made some flowers in my soul grow to the full, I am so thankful for that.

I write you this letter in a pub in Grahamstown while Francois is filming his good friend Nyebho in a township nearby. Our new South African tour has started last week. Concerning the evolution of my artistic products, I feel happy to share with you that I make and sell more and more handmade products. I have slightly fallen in love with ‘shwe shwe’, a traditional South African fabric, with a wide variety of geometrical patterns that never fails to move me somehow. I cover notebooks with it, and am still making book covers with it as well. I am currently planning to take some fabric overseas and sell some handmade products at local alternative markets in my hometown, Kortrijk and Antwerp, where I lived for about a decade.

Furthermore, I am as (and maybe even more) happy, to share with you the title of my first book: “Two Worlds”. It is the true story of the armed robbery we survived almost three years ago and the ripple effects of that. The story covers the robbery, my first journey through the States, my homecoming in my hometown – after not having been there for such a long period for more than a decade – and finally my tragi-comic experience going on a ‘law of attraction’ motivational course.

I started writing the book in April 2015. The Dutch version is now finished. I have sent it to some Dutch and Belgian publishers but am as open to the option of publishing it myself. I have actually signed a contract with a Dutch publisher in 2004 for a novel I was working on at that time, but was never able to finish that work of fiction. Yet so far, this publishing house doesn’t seem too interested in supporting my non-fictional work, though they have not read it yet. Time will tell what road to take in all of this. In the meantime, I am translating “Two Worlds” into English, as I am eager to share it with our South African and American audiences. Francois offered to do the first corrections of the text, as my English is not perfect by far. I am hoping to find one or two people who would love to go through the text once Francois has done the first corrections, to help streamline the grammar. It is mind blowing how many details are involved in making a proper translation. So if any of you feels like doing this in about six month’s time, please let us know! That would be so great.

That’s all from my side, for now. I will share the short content and some text fragments of ‘Two Worlds’ with you within some months, once the translation is finished. We do have a handful of performances in the Netherlands and Belgium. Independently of any publisher’s decision, I will be sharing the story there already. Looking forward to that!

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