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. She didn’t live here – this was an all-White neighbourhood. We chatted with her, relieved to see a Black face.
At the local cafe, we were greeted pleasantly by the White owner-chef.
At our request, she gave us the recipe for her homemade bread, which we ate with delicious squash soup.
I could have hugged these 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.
It took a long time for me to fall 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 both boardroom and training room. I always marveled at this woman’s skill.
As we neared the end of the visit, I knew I had to explain my strange behaviour. So I did, starting with the warning I’d received. We finally talked.
As Marie and I talked, true partners again, it hit me: the problem was never mine alone. If I was at risk that entire weekend, then Marie — my loyal partner — was also at risk. It was essential that, in a strange country far from home, we shared what we knew or feared. We would always do our best to protect each other from harm.
Our host had asked us to not reveal the paintings’ location. And that was a secret worth keeping.
We returned to Johannesburg safely, chatting and laughing companionably as we usually did.
We continued to work closely with remarkable individuals at the SABC and some of them became our friends. We, and the rest of our Canadian team, felt greatly privileged to make a contribution 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.)