During the latter years of my stay in South Africa, I developed a deep affection for a young woman in the Transvaal who lived on a farm near the Zoutpansberg Mountains, not far from the mysterious Limpopo River. Although I certainly did not realize it at the time, I suspect that my feelings for her were to a large degree influenced by her environment and life-style. The bush-veldt in that part of Africa seems to give forth an exotic charm that may well have affected my judgment and the depth of my feelings for Magdalena.
The Limpopo, like the Zambezi, is one of the mighty rivers in that part of Africa. To imagine what the world looks like over there, think of the documentaries you must have seen about African wildlife. Then of course that fabulous movie: “Out of Africa,” which was filmed not far from there. This part of Africa is known for its prolific wildlife, its majestic Baobab trees and its endless savannahs with thickets of Mopani trees and the infamous “Wag-e-bietjie” (Wait-a-little bush) that comes armed with fishhook-like thorns that will grab and hold you in an agonizing embrace.
I should not stray from my story about Magdalena from the Zoutpansberg. She was like the country she lived in; wild, beautiful, and unpredictable, with an embrace that easily matched the passion and unyielding grasp of the Wag-e-bietjie bush. Lena was a well-proportioned blonde with laughing eyes, lean and strong as the horses she loved to ride on her parents’ farm of some 20,000 acres. That is a lot of land, enough to get lost on, and it was a good thing that we were together on our jaunts through the bush. On my own, I would have never found my way back.
But Lena had a third sense. She was one with that country. Nothing that occurred, or came within our range of vision during our horseback rides on the farm, ever escaped her attention. While I needed all my faculties to stay on top of the horse and out of the grip of the Wag-e-bietjie bushes (not always successfully), she happily galloped along, continuously commenting on the wildlife that was presenting itself to her attention.
“Look at that Springbok and did you see that Puff adder? No? But you nearly stepped on him, you fool!” She had little patience with my inability to see and observe the wonderful show of nature that her country had to offer.
Like so many true South Africans of European descent, she spoke the local African language fluently. She had a good relationship with the farm workers, who seemed to respect her for her ability to ride a horse and rope a heifer. These people just barely acknowledged my existence and, when they did, the remarks they made to Lena, made her laugh. I did, of course, not understand a word they said and, on one occasion, when I asked for a translation, was simply told; “They are funny and don’t be so paranoid. It is not always about you”!
Although I loved the bush-veldt, I was more at home in the big city of Johannesburg. On our one and only visit there together, I had to hold her hand continuously, or she would have gotten herself knocked over by the wild animals on wheels every time she tried to cross a street. It sort of made me feel good. At least this was one area where I was allowed to take charge. To be truthful however, I really preferred spending time with her in her own environment. Even if, in the beginning, I did not match her love of nature, it started to grow on me over time. Towards the later stages of our relationship, I had also learned to be more observant and started to notice things without her having to point them out to me.
“Look Lena, did you see that hawk?”
“Yes, of course I saw the bird, you think I’m blind? And by the way, it is not a hawk but a falcon.”
Yes, she was a little hard on me, but we had wonderful times together and I loved her dearly. Our rides on the farm usually took us to the bank of a beautiful tributary of the Limpopo River, where we swam, and in the shade of a giant Baobab tree, loved each other with passion.
Unfortunately, as most good things have a way of coming to an end, so did my life with Lena. The multinational corporation, I worked for, called me back to Europe and there was no way I could talk her into joining me there. I continued to write and even went back once to try to convince her, but to no avail. Also, as she was not a writer, the only mail I received from her was a Christmas card that was signed by the entire family and probably mailed by her Mother. You may well ask why did I not stay in South Africa? Lena was one with her land, but so was I with my powerful job and luxurious office on the tenth floor with a view of the Rhine as it flowed through the city of Basel.
All this happened some forty years ago, but it is often that my thoughts go back to Lena and the bush veldt of Africa. Good memories have a way of staying with you.
And then I had this dream, a really vivid dream. We were riding through the Mopani country again. Lena was on her favorite horse, an eighteen-hands-tall, black thoroughbred. She was ahead, and whatever I did, I could not catch up with her. I spurred on my horse and begged him to not lose sight of her, but in the end, she vanished and I woke up with a wrenching feeling of loss.
The memory of that dream left me no peace. I had to see her again. I am an old man now and what harm would be done by getting in touch? A little internet search revealed the email address of the family farm and I immediately wrote to her that I was planning a trip to South Africa, asking for permission to come and see her. I knew that the dream had been a signal and that I would hear from her this time. And I did, almost immediately there was a response.
Her son regretted to inform that his Mother had recently passed away from injuries sustained during a horseback riding accident. As an old friend of the family, I was very welcome to come and visit.