A Good Home, Communication, Paintings, Partnership, South Africa

Days Off in South Africa – Part 2

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.

Crickets chirped.

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.)

43 thoughts on “Days Off in South Africa – Part 2”

  1. What a fascinating story and a privilege to see those wall paintings. But you are brave risking snakes, leopards and even worse; potential racist maniacs – worse than any wild animal.

  2. Listening to your friend Marie speak on the TRC site, I can see what a special person she would be to have by your side. And as the TRC knows, and as you rightly imply in your post, the true horror, the true enemy, resides in the silence, in the things we are too afraid to say, or cannot say. In this part of the world, many of us are disturbed by the new Border Force Act in Australia. “Under the Act, it is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, for any person working directly or indirectly for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to reveal to the media or any other person or organisation (the only exceptions being the Immigration Department and other Commonwealth agencies, police, coroners) anything that happens in detention centres like Nauru and Manus Island.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-28/barns-newhouse-detention-centre-secrecy-just-got-even-worse/6501086 With such restrictions, one can imagine the need for a TRC for refugees in Australia one day. 😦

    1. Silence can be deadly — some of it we enforce to protect wrongs, and some of it we impose on ourselves, out of fear.

      Amazing what we don’t tell even our close partners across racial/gender/other lines, because we fear that this will lead to something we cannot navigate.

      Marie and I were definitely stronger when we shared and dealt with problems together.

  3. It was an enormous relief to read this. I think I am more scared of angry humans than wild animals, because on the whole animals have nothing against me unless I disturb them or their young. We still have hot water bottles here in the UK!

    1. I like your rationale for being less scared of wild animals! Living in Canada all these years, it unsettled me to realize that I was going to a place where someone could hate me on sight and deliberately hurt me because of my colour. Perhaps part of my ‘bravery’ was just plain obstinacy. I’m sorry I took so long to tell Marie, but I’m also very glad we went.

      Hot water bottles – a great invention!

  4. What a story! I am glad you faced nothing worse than your fears. Though sometimes the fear of something is worse than the reality of it. And you wouldn’t have had to go through such agonies if you had spoken to Marie before you set out. Ah. We live and learn 🙂

    1. That’s for sure. We would have decided to either not go, or to go, but both be super vigilant. But we would have decided together, and that would have been smarter.

  5. What a wonderful reward after the days of fear and suspense. Everything was as simple as a rubber hot water bottle 🙂 Hope the drawings stay safe in this simple world – places like this one are priceless.

  6. Whew! I was getting worried! So glad your adventure had no untoward and/or unexpected surprises. Still, so much of the journey on edge. In the end, fabulous paintings and a lesson thrown in for good measure. 🙂

    1. Yes, indeed. I’m actually pleased that my heart-racing fear expressed itself in my post. (It really was a scary time.) And that my remorse also came across. Thank God for wonderful partners. I have had some great ones in my life and all are cherished.

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