The closer we got to our destination, the more worried I became.
A paved road took us to a small, whitewashed stone house similar to others in this mountain village.
It was modestly furnished.
I spotted something I hadn’t seen since my childhood in a mountainous part of Jamaica: rubber hot water bottles. They helped keep us warm on cold nights.
Smiling in recognition, I held one against my chest.
“Once a mountain girl, always a mountain girl,” I told Marie.
We laughed for the first time since we’d left Johannesburg.
The housekeeper, a kindly black woman, greeted us warmly.
So did the white owner-chef of the local cafe, where we had lunch.
We chatted with her as we ate homemade bread and squash soup.
I could have hugged these local women for their warm welcomes.
But I was still on edge.
I jumped awake at a sudden sound that night.
The hot water bottles, packed around me for warmth, went flying.
Marie murmured something and I murmured something back.
I stayed awake, tensely listening.
A car drove by.
A dog barked.
Much later, I fell asleep.
Sunday came and the highlight of our trip: visiting our friend’s farm.
He greeted us warmly. We set off up the hill.
A wafer-thin layer of ice coated parts of the hillside, but Marie and I smiled in anticipation as we climbed.
I stared, mesmerized, at a family of mere-cats, their heads popping from earth-holes in tandem. They’d disappear, then pop up again, movements perfectly synchronized.
“There’s a leopard living over there,” our host said, pointing to some trees on a nearby hill. He was remarkably casual about it.
He had given us sticks to beat the bushes, in case of snakes.
We were near the mountain top.
There they were.
On smooth, upright stone walls, the paintings.
Protected by the cliff overhead.
Human beings had created them thousands of years before.
Pictures, some of men with spears. And wild animals, some which looked fierce.
Turning my head this way and that, I stared in awe.
Walking downhill, I glanced in the direction of the leopard’s hill and wondered which was more frightening. Wild animals? Or angry humans?
We had shared everything, but not this.
Working closely together, Marie and I had resolved challenging situations in the training room. I always marveled at this woman’s skill.
We finally talked.
It hit me then: the problem was never mine alone. If I was at risk, then Marie — my loyal partner — was also at risk. But our partnership was strong and we would do our best to protect each other from harm. Sharing made us stronger.
Our host had asked us to not reveal the paintings’ location. That was a secret worth keeping.
We returned to Johannesburg safely, chatting and laughing companionably.
We continued to work closely with remarkable individuals at the SABC. We, and the rest of our Canadian team, felt greatly privileged to do so, at a crucial time in the country’s history.
Marie Wilson was later appointed to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC recently filed its report on the treatment of Aboriginal children in Canada’s residential schools and the impacts on their families and communities. (Click on “What has been the Purpose and Role of the TRC” and other videos to see her.)