The forming of the new Gather International Group made me think of publishing this.
South Africans are fairly out door living inclined. The great climate is responsible for that as well as well as the mountains, the valleys, the vineyards, the farmlands, the deserts, the beautiful coast lines and the bush veld.
For 8 years of my youth, spent in Pretoria, I slept outdoors under a thatch roof standing on 6 columns. Sometimes when it rained and gusted the rain would be blown right across the beds of we three two brothers.
At such times we would cover our beds with tarpaulins and with all the wind and thunder around us, we would lie under our blankets perhaps reading books like Lorna Doone by the light of a torch. We loved the spookiness of those occasions.
From my earliest days I was a voracious reader devouring absolutely everything that I could find in the house and later in the public library.
At that time I also read several Afrikaans books as some of these books and poems have an amazingly rich depth. Ingrid Jonker, of course, but a writers like Jan F Celliers and Sangiro who could weave magic spells with their words. Afrikaans was the language of some of the great poets of the time.
My startling wake up call to become aware of the world out there was The History Of Civilisation by Hendrik van Loon. It made me aware of something big out there. A world to be discovered. Mysteries about how it had all happened. I was instantly hooked and his thoughts burned inside me then and perhaps in some way formed the pattern of my life
I was fortunate enough to be able to do the first two years of my B Sc part time while working as an apprentice at a large steelworks during the day. When eventually that momentous day arrived, te day when I was awarded a scholarship to study at the Natal University full time.
It was for me as if I had been released from a cage. Here I was, far away from hellish working hours and frenetic late night studies, in a world of tropical beauty with wonderful young people around me and lecturers on whose words I hung.
While there, during one od the Varsity vacations, I was given work as a surveyor on the banks of the mighty and tempestuous Zambezi river in faraway Zimbabwe. For three months I was alone in the bush far off from any beaten tracks. The only people around me were the black men working in my team.
Africa has hundreds of local languages but one is able to make oneself understood anywhere in Southern Africa by using a type of African Esperanto called Fanagalo. I always had a Fanagalo phase book in my back pocket and it did not take long for my African name to become Dikshinry ( from dictionary).
Around our camp were many African animals ranging from wild boar and varieties of antelope to cheetahs, leopards and rhinos. The region swarmed with lions and elephants and in the mighty Zambesi were incredible numbers of hippos and crocodiles.
The morning swim cum bath was an extremely dangerous event but in those days I had almost no fear.
In fact, when we did our morning 14 km to 28 km walks to our work areas , sometimes wading through rivers because of the dense undergrowth, I never carried a rifle as I was convinced that if I had no harmful intentions towards animals they would have none towards me.
With hindsight, I realise that I was being damn foolish but it worked for me then and somehow, because it worked, my philosophical attitude may have been developed by the experience.
While there in the African jungle, I read whatever books that I had with me by oil lamp light. The exotic atmosphere lent a mystical other worldly air to whatever I was reading such as the strange stories by Voltaire and the Eastern poems by the philosopher Omar Khayyam and the Eastern poets Kahlil Gibran and Rumi. I was at an age when learning about the inner thoughts of others was irresistible.
On my return to Varsity, I resumed my life on the campus. There it somehow happened that my buddies were from the Architect Faculty and nt my own. I became fascinated by their art projects and, whenever I could, I would work with them and enjoy the infinite pleasure of creating things of "beauty" with my own hands, such as paintings and three dimensional models. One of the things that I learned from them was how one can use art media to add a new excitement to communication.
In the common room, where teas and coffees were served at all hours. I would usually gravitate towards the speech and drama students as they would usually be talking about subjects that began to interest me more and more. I would listen to them and respond to their enthusiasm by joining in their discussions about John Donne, Dylan Thomas, T S Elliot, C S Lewis and all the others.
I became fascinated by their discussions on acting techniques. I remember how on one occasion one drama student told me how you can completely disconcert a rival by looking fixedly at a spot about six inches above his or her head while doing dialogue on the stage.
I had a rather outrageous nature in those days and bizarre deeds weren't unknown to me.
Once at a hostel dance, I asked the Prof of the Arts and Drama Department to dance with me. She was an elderly spinster type who had hair that radiated upwards as if she had just stuck her fingers in a power socket. Before she could decline, I had taken her arm and led her onto the floor.
While on the floor, I recited a poem that I had written especially for her. That poem was, incidentally, the first one that I had ever written in my life. I still think that it was pretty good. Knowing that I was a "semi-literate" engineering student from the "barbaric" engineering side I‘m sure that she must have been caught off her guard but she was a sport and throughout the dance looked as if she was actually enjoying the moment. That showed me how useful Speech and Drama training could be at times.
After that, she invited me around to her office for tea many times for casual chats about literature. I think that she wanted to know how it came about that I was so interested in "her" kind of business. During these talks, in turn, I became aware of the many ways of teaching literature. It seemed that she was horrified by some of the methods used by her own lecturers and dearly wanted to do something about that.
She told me that lecturers should be inspiring. She added that what was important was the way in which the students were guided and motivated. The lecturer had to stay in contact with the writer's heart and mind at all times and, furthermore, the students had to walk out feeling that they had been on a mind boggling trip and that they to carry on with the subject matter in their own time.
She said that the lecturer had to be both honest and also lucid at all times. It could smother a student's ability to enjoy writing if passages are given meanings by the lecturer which the writer had not intended. The student would then probably experience a moment of misunderstanding or a feeling of not being with it.
During my first year on the campus, I might have been a little wild and uncontrolled. Could I help that? I mean I wasn't really house trained seeing as I had slept every night for 8 years under a roof without walls. Doesn't that do something to your psyche? Perhaps it was als as a reaction from being suddenly released from my drudgery at the steelworks.
Once, while they were playing Beethoven's 9th in the common room. I was playing table tennis in the passage alongside, bare footed, and whooping with every winning stroke.
I gave no thought to the fact that I was disturbing anyone's pleasure. Of course I knew the great 9th but youthful fires were burning inside me in those days.
A day later I was called to the hostel kitchen by the matron, a Mrs Gold. She looked me up and down as f I was from another planet but nevertheless asked me to sit down and offered me a glass of milk. I took it with gratitude as anything edible or drinkable was very welcome in those. I did not know that a tirade was awaiting me.
I was told in no loving manner that I was abusing whatever God had given me. She told me that I didn't know who I really was. She asked me why I hadn't noticed that I was a cultured person with a rich cultural background. That gave me reason to pause and think abut what the catch was. She asked me imponderable questions like why I was roaming around in the passages roaring like some Neanderthal savage.
Eventually, there was some respite. She told me that I could still be saved and the way to do it would be to come and have tea with her every Sunday afternoon. She promised me some interesting discussions. And, I can tell you this, they certainly were.