‘In Bruges’

Of ‘Bloemen, Dijken en Brugge’

The next morning was Sunday; Easter Sunday, the day of The Resurrection. We started the day with a magnificent sunrise sermon on the banks of the river Rhine, feeling the Good News and seeing His great works in nature. Pastor John and Amos were their brilliant self and fed us spiritually before the men fed us with pancakes, bacon and syrup, the way the Americans have breakfast.

 

Click on the photos to enlarge them

 

Ryn

Then we hit the road.

 

It was mid-April and the ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’ were standing tall, flowering in their full splendour and we were in the mood for some iPod ‘Ek-en-jy-en-die-highway’-family time on the road again. Thus, westward bound we took off with an initial stop logged as Lisse, the hometown of Keukenhof and the Tulip. We’ve been there before and were not interested in doing the entire garden walk again. We just needed a reason to drive a few 100 kilometers, see some Dutch ‘platteland’ (pun intended) and then see where the road will take us after that.

Keukenhof is beautiful (see my post ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’ dated 19 April 2012) but it is so crowded that one visit somewhere in your life is probably enough. However, do that one visit, if you’re in the area.

'Flower child' at Keukenhof
‘Flower child’ at Keukenhof
Blomme1
Keukenhof

This trip was one of those ‘drive in a general direction’ type trips. No specific destination in mind, just see what you’ll find to see. And for this, you need to get off the highways and tread on ‘de smalle weg’. The thing is, we’re in Europe. Its been decadently civilised for many years. Even ‘de smalle weg’ here is a tarred road, with plenty of civil engineering ingenuity to ease up the going! And that’s exactly what we found at Deltapark Neeltje Jans.

However, before reaching Neeltje Jans, I felt quite at home with the day’s drive. We missed Amersfoort but passed Utrecht, Dordrecht, Breda, Roosendal and Middelburg. Dundee was unfortunately over the channel in Scotland.

Neeltje Jans is an artificial island halfway between Noord Beveland and Schouwen Duivenland in Oosterschelde. It was constructed as part of the Oosterscheldedam, which is actually built as a storm water surge protection. After the mega floods in 1953, this well-known civil works construction was necessitated. ‘Most of Zeeland is at or under sea level. In 1953 the dikes were in poor condition and too low. In those days the chance of flooding was once in eighty years. Thanks to the storm surge barrier, this risk has now been reduced to less than once in 4000 years. Take the opportunity to visit this construction inside and outside. You will be surrounded by concrete with a 200-year guarantee, 45 meter wide steel doors are raised to let the tides rush through below them. A must to visit – a must to have seen!’ (www.neeltjejans.nl).

 

Wind turbine at Neeltje Jans.
Wind turbine at Neeltje Jans.

We were just in time for a stunning sundowner photo-shoot, amongst those monstrous wind turbines that nowadays spoil the entire European skyline. Sometimes I believe the scenic pollution of these monsters is worse than burning a few tons of good quality Waterberg steam coal. Unfortunately, we were too late to visit the museum and construction sites, which gives the added incentive that I’ll have to go there again, with better time management this time. Though we wandered (and not all who wander are lost!) through the beautiful little town at Vrouewenpolder (I’m not sure if the town’s name is actually Vrouewenpolder), we couldn’t find accommodation that late on the Sunday evening of Easter Weekend, and had no other option than to push on.Wind2

 

IMG_7565

Most of the times traveling without a plan and just driving is fun. However, we were now dead tired, it was late and dark and we still had no accommodation for the night. Only option, and I dread to admit that, was to head for the Formule 1 70km southeast on the outskirts of Ghent. Formule 1 hotels are not to be recommended as accommodation. However, if you arrive there after 23:00, need a shower and a bed and plan to hit the road by 08:00; it enables you to see places. In that case, its fine, if you can bare the smell of smoke in the carpets and duvets.

Bruges is beautiful, its clean, its fascinating and has great architecture with the prominent Belfry of Bruges being the most famous. It was famous long before Collin Farrel were even born, as this fascinating bell tower was originally constructed in 1240.

The Belfry of Brugge
The Belfry of Brugge

The ‘little red brickwork’ architecture in this part of Europe must be extremely inspiring for an architect to visit, photograph, copy or simply just admire. I loved our morning ‘in Bruges’. I just hate those plastic silly traveling merry-go-round fun park junk Europe allows on all its magnificent old town squares. No proper angle to take photos, the magnificence of the square spoiled completely by plastic clowns and little bumper cars with irritating continual music sounding worse than those ice-cream Combis from the 70s. I cannot believe in this day and age that there are still people who spend money on those.

Bistros, coffeeshops, restaurants galore
Bistros, coffeeshops, restaurants galore

 

And fancy that, being served at the restaurant, by a Belgian waiter who grew up in Rwanda and spent his first 35 years there. We were so intrigued with each other’s stories and political commentary that the poor man was in trouble with a few of his other customers. Here was a man who saw serious genocide and had to escape it himself, but who also saw and experienced that magical natural beauty and splendour of the African bush to such a level that he does speak fondly about the place. But, it’s the politics he hates.

1000km in 1 day 6:22 hours and a successful sightseeing family bonding weekend behind us!

Life is good.

 

Roundtrip route from Köln. 1000km in 1 day 6:22 hours. There's just so much to see
Roundtrip route from Köln.
1000km in 1 day 6:22 hours.
There’s just so much to see

Costa Brava, taking the plunge ….

The Europeans are a classy bunch, well, mostly. The high fashions of Paris, Milan and London are well known across the globe and browsing throung the streets confirm this. At this very moment I’m sitting in Extrablatt am Neumarkt in Köln having a breakfast and I’m amazed at how well dressed every-one around me are. Scarfs, jackets, boots and cardigans of the highest quality, design and fashion are in abundance. Even jeans are wore with style so typical of European way and not in the casual way the Saffas will wear them. Its not always easy to put your finger on the exact difference, but the general look certainly is different.

But, ‘o my word’ the Europeans are bad at beach attire! The men, I specifically mean the men, are incomprehensibly bad when it comes to dressing for the beach. Let me put it clear that I find very little fault with the swimming attire the European beach-going ladies wear (or not wear). But why the men have stuck on wearing only ‘speedos’ or even worse, those tight fitting little trouser costumes with the short straight ‘legs’ sometimes even with the little fish belt and buckle, that I last wore as a five-year old boy back in the sixties, I simply cannot comprehend. As soon as a boy turns 7, the mom should put him in baggy shorts, and nothing else, and that is what he should wear to the beach for the rest of his days. But then again, its probably better for them to wear those ugly costumes, than the few (mostly guys, it seems) who wear nothing and parade around on the fringes of some normal family beaches in the Adam suits. These Europeans surely have some strange habits.

My preference, though is travel, photos and stories, not fashion. So travel I did once more during the past summer holidays. With parents visiting and us having to hit the road all the way to the Costa Brava in Cataluña, that stunning country bordering Spain,

The day before yesterday the Catalan people formed a human line 400km long, from the Pyrenees to Valencia to support their quest for independence
The day before yesterday the Catalan people formed a human line 400km long, from the Pyrenees to Valencia to support their quest for independence

we decided to try out the very popular RV (recreational vehicle) or camper van as they are also called, as means of transport and accommodation. I am used to camping; in South Africa, I own a 4×4 trailer and we have done many off-road camping trips to nature reserves, wild life areas such as Baviaanskloof, Marakele, Mapungubwe, Kruger National Park, Botswana and Swaziland. Take note, these are all remote wilderness type destinations, none are beach holiday ‘caravan parks’, which means the shear thought of camping in the RV in a crowded caravan park where the tent ropes of your neighbour stretches into your braai area was daunting, to say the least. I do, however, believe in trying out new things first and then decide whether its good or not in stead of just writing them off from preconceived perceptions, thus entered behind the wheel of the monster camper with some uncertain anticipation and hit the road.

Many of my travel companions in the past must have rued traveling with me, as I tend to add time and kilometres in curiosity of places and other roads than the obvious straight line. The result of this was that we added 600km to our already 1200km trip from Köln to the Costa Brava but the positive is that we were able to explore the Loire Valley of France and to witness the decadence of the royalty of 16th century France. The architecturally magnificent Chateau de Chambord being one fine example of this decadence. This castle was built for François I in the 1500’s and took 30 years to build. It was built as a ‘hunting lodge’ and apparently with money laundered from the church. Must have been some hunting party when these guys came together to shoot boar as this chateau has 440 rooms. Since it was built in the wild and for hunting purposes, the effort and cost to furnish it was so vast that it was never furnished on permanent basis. Each time it was used, everything was brought with the hunting party; imagine that! No wonder François spent only 7 weeks there in all his life, and no wonder the French revolted some 250 later.

The 'hunting lodge' of Francois I, Chateau de Chambord
The ‘hunting lodge’ of Francois I, Chateau de Chambord

Our end destination was Lloret de Mar (pronunciation lesson nr 14, Lloret is pronounced Joret as double ‘l’ in Spanish is a ‘j’. Disclaimer though for the Capetonians, please don’t start calling Llundudno Jundudno as it is named after a Welsch town, not a Spanish one). Lloret is a smallish town on the spectacular Costa Brava, some 70km north of Barcelona and this is where my daughter decided to spend the next 8 months to learn Spanish. I too asked the question ‘why learn Spanish in Cataluña?’ but when I saw the beauty of Lloret de Mar, any other reason wasn’t required anymore. With beaches (ignore the men in their bathing shorts for proper comprehension here), cafès, villages, parks, horse-riding and Barcelona at her doorstep, it will require some discipline to focus on the studies, thus preparing her well for what lies beyond being able to speak Spanish.

Lloret de Mar beach
Lloret de Mar beach

And exactly here, at Lloret de Mar, is where we camped in our RV for a week. The RV camping went well, as its very easy camping with everything in its place. Setting up camp very much consists of

RV Campsite
RV Campsite
  1. park your vehicle,
  2. turn the fridge from 12V to 220V,
  3. stack out your chairs and table
  4. and open a beer!

Lloret de Mar, as most of the towns on the Spanish coast, stems from old fishing towns where some remnants of the days gone by are still visible. A pristine example of the ‘old town’ still relative intact is the walled old town of Tossa de Mar, a few kilometres north of Lloret. With a sandy stretch of beach lined with multiple restaurants where the tapas, wine and beer are excellent and the view across the sandy beach from your dining table exquisite. To the south the beach is intercepted by a rocky hill with the old walled fishing town and remains of the church still beautifully preserved. Walking the inside path of this old village provides the most stunning views across the roofs of the town to the west, the sandy beach to the north and the pristine rocky seaside to the south, and when we were there, the rising full moon over the Mediterranean to the east.

The walled old town of Tossa de Mar
The walled old town of Tossa de Mar

IMG_2917We had to return home, the holiday was over, and Köln a long drive (10 hours for 450km in the August holiday traffic of southern France just to get to Lyon) away. Then the reality shock of returning home hit me and I realised that my family has now reached that first major change which happens to all families, but for which we were not nearly sufficiently prepared. We had to leave our eldest behind. Cara finished school in June and her first ‘after school’ objective is to learn to Spanish. This is why we headed to Lloret specifically, because this is where my daughter will stay for the next 8 months to learn Spanish before embarking on her university studies. It was one of the hardest parenting duties I have ever had to do, driving back home while your kid stays behind, in another country, nogal!

Incidentally, while we were in Lloret, a Facebook friend felt similar sentiments
‘Pappas ook nie’ Incidentally, while we were in Lloret, a Facebook friend felt similar sentiments

But then, thinking about it rationally, I realised this is exactly why we moved to Europe originally. We came here for new challenges and opportunities and this has always been a major item on Cara’s bucket list, to live in Spain, learn to speak Spanish and to work with horses. That is precisely what she is now doing. Thus, slowly but surely we are fulfilling what we set out to do, sometimes with a very serious emotional shock accompanying the reality of our decisions, but also with the gratitude and a sense of achievement overshadowing that emotional hesitation. Still, as her younger brother said when we arrived home and the visiting grandparents also left for South Africa ‘our home is suddenly weird’.

So, you go girl, take that plunge …..

It’s Provence, not blerrie Prôôôvince ….

… where purple is the reigning colour, kind soft, nice smelling lavender purple! Thus you can see it can never be Prrrôôôvince as the Capetonians would so love it to be.

Rather try the correct Pgôwaañs pronunciation with your lips truly spouted for that French flair effect. And then clutch your baguette under your arm, whether you’re wearing a shirt or not, and munch on your early morning croissant (apply same pronunciation rules as above) with a good, small, strong coffee and just look, smell, drive, walk, photograph and discover the real Provence.

It’s so clichéd to try and write something extraordinary on topics such as Provence and the joys of sniffing out those little-town gems and little mountain roads since even old Julius, Brutus and the other Roman emperors spent their weekends enjoying the Provencal cuisine, baths, gladiator blood-sports, sights and sounds. Jip, this part of the world is truly part of old civilisation, which means there’s so much more to see than lavender. Don’t get me wrong on the lavender thing, though. If you plan to visit Provence, it will be worth your while to plan your visit for late in July, early August, as the spectacle of blooming lavender fields and the ripe wheat fields adjacent are right up there with the likes of Namaqualand, Cape fynbos and Overberg canola fields in springtime. IMG_1712

As with all quality tourist destinations, the big bugging factor is always the tourists! Here it’s obviously continuously present as well and it had me ponder the logic of a big bus tour-package rushing through rustic little roads with hordes of, …. well tourists being dropped off with a ‘be back here in 90 minutes cause there’s still plenty of places to see’ instruction from the guide with the little flag held up high. Provence is not a place for this kind of travel. Provence must be taken at leisure, with a glass of wine, something to chew on and with no fixed itinerary because you never know when you stumble onto that picnic spot that just needs to be tested with your baguette, Provencial sausages and cheeses, olives with herbs, salads and to be finished off with the local nougat for something sweet.

Arles rooftops from the top of the amphitheater
Arles rooftops from the top of the amphitheater

We were very fortunate to have the company of a sister and brother-in-law who accompanied us for a week of traveling Provence, likeminded travellers with very little emphasis on speed and plenty of focus on seeing, learning, tasting, and sipping the local stuff. This resulted in us very quickly becoming too slow and enthralled for our rough initial itinerary, so much so that I had to bully them out of a Paris and Aix-en-Provence stopover to ensure we see the rural area ‘must-sees’.

The Palais des Papes, where 7 French born Popes lived in the 1300's
The Palais des Papes, where 7 French born Popes lived in the 1300’s

When I grew up in the 70’s and South Africa started our television broadcasting, one of the household favourites was a French translated series ‘Die meisie van Avignon’ (La demoiselle d’Avignon). South Africa was in love with the series, and probably the ‘mademoiselle’, thus I simply had to see if we could find her in Avignon, and planned our Provence trip to start there. We did not find her, but what I did find was the immaculate walled town, stunning half bridge over the Rhône River and the incredible square and Palais de Papes. This is the papal palace where the Pope Clement V and his court settled when they fled Rome due to political turmoil. From 1309 to 1377 seven French-born Popes lived in Avignon, and even after Pope Martin V returned and settled in Rome, Avignon remained to be an important cultural centre.

The Roman gate still beautifully preserved outside Saint Remy de Provence
The Roman gate still beautifully preserved outside Saint Remy de Provence

But way before the 1300’s this was the playground of the Romans. Though further north in Gaul some little village famously held out against the forces of the Roman Empire (with a little help and nutrition of wild boar and their druid’s magic potion), here in the south the Romans reigned supreme and build roads, aqua ducts, theatres and even an amphitheatre where they quenched their blood thirst on Saturday afternoons before going out on the town for an evening meal. Magnificent remnants of those days are still widely visible with extraordinary views from the top of the amphitheatre over the rooftops of Arles, and a beautiful roman gate at the quaint town of Saint Remy de Provence.

Provence scenery
Provence scenery

Many years later, here, at Saint Remy de Provence, just over the main street from the roman gate is where Vincent van Gogh voluntarily booked himself into an asylum in May 1889, just after he cut off part of his left ear in some bout of ‘eccentricity’.

Gordes, a town on a hill
Gordes, a town on a hill

Though he was obviously in despair, he continued to be extremely productive, producing more than 200 paintings in a year while living in Arles.

I get itchy for the rural areas and small roads very quickly and thus misused my position as driver cunningly by turning north-east and heading for the quieter Vaucluse area where the lavender fields were in full bloom, in abundance and surrounding age old towns of Gordes, Venasque and the amazing Abbey de Senanque. We pitched base camp in the gorgeous Malemort du Comtat. Malemort is slightly of the beaten track which means you can enjoy time away from the tour-bus tourists jumping into the frame of each and every photo opportunity, fiddling there hair into place, making themselves big into some Alexander the Great type pose just to run off to the next photo shoot, not even taking a look at what exactly was their background in the photo just snapped of them. Here we could spent two long evenings at two different venues amongst locals coming back from a hard days work and sitting down for a semi communal beer drinking evening, observing and interacting with them while enjoying the local herbs and flavours on olives, pizzas and hams (somehow I prefer the term jambon over ham for these local delicacies).

Abbey de Senanque
Abbey de Senanque

Before heading back north after a hugely enjoyable week in Provence, we had to stop in Carpentras for the weekly market day. Maybe here a tourbus dropping you off and picking you up would not have been such a bad idea due to the parking problem; such is the popularity of the market. From clothes, fish, fresh produce, meats, nougat (extremely expensive if you don’t bargain properly to the amusement of Heleen) to antique tools, baskets and even bunches of lavender are on display in huge quantities.Portfolio

It was a great week, though a tiring week of traveling roughly 3000km, listening to 355 songs (trust me, I set-up the iPod playlist, it was 355 songs), having a beer or two, scratching many mosquito megabytes, blowing up matrasses, chatting in cafés, awing the lavender, following the Romans, celebrating van Gogh, dipping our toes in the Mediterranean, enjoying pizza and Provencial tastes over a glass of wine or two or six. It was a successful trip.IMG_1793

It was only the western part of Provence and a week was not enough.

We’ll be back.

The Provence route we did
The Provence route we did

He’s great, he’s feared ….

… and yes, he’s got a cool beard, Hashim Amlaaaaa.

He's great He's feared He's got a cool beard Hashim Amlaaaaaaa
He’s great
He’s feared
He’s got a cool beard
Hashim Amlaaaaaaa

But greater than he’s beard was the Proteas’ visit to Amsterdam to prepare for the ICC Champions Trophy and their preparation included an ODI against the Netherlands. This provided the opportunity for many Saffas to see ‘their boytjies’ up close and live. Kitman says in 45 years it’s his first live match attendance of his team, and in Amsterdam nogal!

What an exciting and unique outing to be part of the small crowd at VRA Cricket ground in Amstelveen, in Het Amsterdamse Bos.

VRA Cricket grounds, Amstelveen
VRA Cricket grounds, Amstelveen

Sitting on the small stand (the ground has a capacity of just 4500 spectators), in this beautiful cricket setting felt like watching international cricket at the Irene Oval or some rural venue like, say Bergville or Himeville. There were obviously plenty of South African flags and colours, though most of us (yes, me too) had to wear our Springbok attire, as we don’t own Proteas clothes. Maybe, just maybe the boys will deliver in the final and bring home (err sorry, I mean take home) a trophy, which will force my hand. IMG_0288However, what was more enjoyable than seeing the many Saffas around the stadium was the actual Dutch support for their team in this perceived foreign game. And how the Saffas grouped their neutral friends to be South Africans for a day. In front of us sat a group of international students of which two were South African. There they were, a Swede, two Canadians, two Americans, IMG_0290some-one else and even a Britt, al ‘proudly’ wearing their SA flags on their cheeks. It did take explanation on the nuances of this odd game for the entire day to the Canadians and Americans but on their support for South Africa there were absolutely no doubt.

Cricket is not big in The Netherlands, though they have played cricket at this specific venue since 1939. The die-hard Dutch enthusiasts that were there are all huge cricket fans, passionately supporting their team and seriously hoping for another upset, as they have done in 1994 when they beat South Africa in an ODI. And while pondering this stunning event with my Dutch neighbour on the stands over a large local brew (reminder, the venue is set in AMSTELveen) in the very welcome and long overdue European sun, my said neighbour (to my shame I forgot his name) introduces me to a Dutch cricket legend Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk. So there I am, chatting away (as if I’m a Robin Jackman of some sorts) on the tactics, strengths and weaknesses of the 22 players in action with a guy who has scored a 4 off Allan Donald and who has gotten rid of Brian McMillan through a catch on his day. Klaas-Jan is certainly a cricketer of note; still holding the Netherlands’ individual highest score of 134 not out in the 2003 World Cup and being remembered for his 64 against England in the 1996 World Cup and obviously still a hero in the local cricketing fraternity as was evident in how often he is stopped for a few words where-ever he goes.

The waving flags
The waving flags
and missing a few things from home
and missing a few things from home
Ek en Vlag
Foto courtesy of Amanda Weideman

As with all sport, cricket can be such a cruel reality, as I am sure Dutch number 2 batsman Eric Szwarczynski (ironically born in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa) will still be thinking in weeks to come. After a brilliant spell of 98 against the current number 1 team in the world to then be run out from an excellent straight drive from your batting partner unfortunately through the fingers of Behardien, the bowler, onto the wickets to catch you out of the crease is probably the cruellest way to get your marching orders; a chance in a lifetime gone begging.

Hup Hup Holland
Hup Hup Holland

In my humble opinion (I’m not really on the Robin Jackman level of cricket knowledge) I am however worried that, though they won on the day, the Proteas are not where they should be. Thanx to JP Dumminy, who stood tall for his 150 not out the win ended as fairly comfortable, yet not too convincing. For us, however, the result was academic, as the outing, the sun, the sights and the pure delight was what made the day. This is what needs to be enjoyed when presented, results can be fixed.

JP en route to his 150 not out
JP en route to his 150 not out

While living in Europe, every opportunity must be utilised, and this was no different. We had the opportunity to buy some real Boerewors from http://www.boerewors.nl and chucked in a couple packs of ‘karnemelk beskuit’ from www.beskuitblik.nl too. Can’t leave Amsterdam with just satisfaction and a cricket win under the belt; you need something tangible too even if I clearly know it will not last very long.

Support from far away places
Support from far away places

My sincere thanx to the Proteas for playing this game, getting amongst the fans who don’t often have the opportunity to see them other than on the telly, but who never lose the urge to support and appreciate Proteas cricket. Now, boys, go ahead and grab that trophy, even if your current warm-up against Pakistan doesn’t look too good.

Not a nice picture, but its only a warm-up
Not a nice picture, but its only a warm-up

I mean, after all, …. ‘he’s got a cool beard’, you boys are feared.

Poster also courtesy Amanda Weideman www.amsterdam-photo-art.nl
Poster also courtesy Amanda Weideman
http://www.amsterdam-photo-art.nl

‘And I think to myself ….’

I love music. I listen to music and it makes me think. I hear the words, I link it to real life issues and happenings and I get inspiration, motivation or sometimes simply a smile. Most songs actually have a useable message in there somewhere; think of the profound life lessons in classics such as ‘Oops, I did it again’, ‘Papparazi’ or ‘Daar onder lê drie pikkewyne’ (Down there lies three penguins) and ‘Baby Tjoklits’.

Me? I tend to prefer the real stuff. The Linkin Park, REM, Jan Blohm, Valiant Swart and of course Meatloaf type of stuff that is simply the inspiring uplifting songs with meaning, questions or philosophy entrenched in deep rhythm, rock, blues ……….. and ‘time’. I can’t stop wondering about some mystic ‘boer’, what I’ve done, in the end, a Van Goch touched canvass, those local odd-fellows behind the firehouse and how terrible it is to waste a kiss!

And that is the one song that I often refer back to when I’m hesitant to jump on a new opportunity, ‘A kiss is a terrible thing to waste’, as performed by Meatloaf and written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman. This song is about letting the future in, and not allowing the things you leave behind to drag you back.

However, last night on my way to my German lesson, as part of letting my future in, I was rudely taken back to the past and I realised again that we couldn’t ignore nor forget the past. We have to learn and improve from it. As I stepped off the bus at Sülzburger Gurtel a small little plaque in the pavement caught my eye. It was the commemorative plaque of Benedikt and Lina Juhl, plastered into the pavement tar and which simply stated that this is where the couple lived, before they fled to Holland, were imprisoned to Westerbork (see my blog posting Hup Hup Holland) and then deported to Sobibor, Poland in 1943. There they died on 21 May 1943, next week 70 years ago.

Here lived Benedikt and Lina Juhl
Here lived Benedikt and Lina Juhl

And then I sat in the class, sharing the confusion whether its ‘die, der or das kugelschreiber’ and how funny it looks when you write out 999 in German (pretty much in Afrikaans too) as ‘neunhundertneunundneunzig’, with an American, an Aussie, two French, three Spaniards, a Cameroon, a Romanian, a Bulgarian, two Italians, two Greeks, two Zimbabweans and a Pole and I thought to myself ‘what a wonderful world!’

The above paragraph-long sentence at least shows that my German lessons are working.

 

‘Johan is ook weg’ (Johan too has gone away), ….

…the simple words of a father laconically stating the obvious.

 When I decided to start this blog, it was about the excitement of a new life, living and traveling in Europe. And most of my posts so far focused exactly on that, so much so that I believe I actually lose readers as each story is about ‘yet another De Wet trip somewhere’. However, living in Europe also has its normality and mundane day-to-day tasks which need to be done to ensure a sane living environment. I do believe most people embarking on expat living realise this and prepare for it, maybe even going to the extreme of taking ironing lessons before packing your bags.

 However, it’s not always easy going. Distance in times of sickness is a very difficult thing and though the modern era of Skype, email, flat rate telephony and all the other methods of communication available, it still is no substitute for that personal touch often needed to console emotions.

Johan in Sorgfontein ‘walk with the lions’

And that is what this one is about. Its my tribute to my brother Johan, a 46 year loving father, husband, brother, child and friend who last week lost his fight against cancer, and the emotional dilemmas one experiences when you’re so far from loved ones.

 Johan was aware that he had stomach pains for quite a while, and have been at the doctors for a couple of visits. Bacteria, hernia, spicy food were some of the prognoses, but then suddenly in January it was diagnosed as cancer, and quite progressed already! That was the start of a scary and tough, though also in a sense fulfilling 10 months which followed. I have learned in the past 10 months how the grace of God works through adversity to bring comfort and peace. I have also seen how friends and family come closer and closer and the good in people come to the fore when someone is in distress. I have seen how my friends, not having met my brother, stand up in support and going out of their way to comfort us as a family. AND, I have seen how he, Johan, the sick and dying one amongst us became the strong one, keeping his smile and positive attitude and even, on his deathbed comforting and praying for those around his bed.

 I got the message three weeks ago, though not explicitly that Johan was dying, but that he was getting very weak. He has lost in excess of 30kg in the past 10 months and had very little strength left. At that point he was taken to hospital again and I had to make a call of visiting him.

 My dilemma to myself was that by going to SA to visit him; was I admitting that he was dying and that I must go and greet my younger brother? And by not going and not seeing him I will have to go and attend a funeral without any last words later!

 I chose to go and will forever be thankful to my wife, Heleen for convincing me to do so. I had 10 days of stunning time with my brother before he passed away on 22 October 2012. I had the privilege of braaiing with him, even watching an episode of Dallas (figure that!) with him and having deep serious conversations about life’s regrets and opportunities while we even solved the Springbok coache’s problems in those 10 days. Heyneke should now just listen!

And then, yesterday when I phoned home, speaking to my Dad as my Mom was not home, I asked him about the quietness of the house after the two weeks of many feet entering and leaving their house and his answer was simply: ‘yes its quiet. Everyone’s gone home, and ‘Johan is ook weg!’ (Johan too has gone).

 So, Johan, I know you’re sitting smiling at our grief in heaven and I know it’s a much better place to be. I also know we will see each other again, and I know how great and comforting God’s grace is. But still it hurts, it hurts with a burning heavy pain in the chest type hurt and we miss you.

 I do whish we had more time.

 Rest in peace Broer.

Rus in vrede Broer

‘(9) And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefor will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.’

                                                                                                – 2 Corinthians 12 : 9-10