Thursday, 20 March 2008


Driving through the Free State. Or the Northern Cape. Up near Kimberley. The road is long, curving gently around the hills and dips, on and on, like a black ribbon twisting into the distance. The heat radiates off the surface and makes the land shimmer like a mirage.

To the left and the right are farmland. South African farms. Farms that stretch away from the roads for miles and miles. Not the neat patch-work-quilt, postage-stamps of farms. These farms are more rugged, more rural, more lonely. Maize or cattle in the Free State, sheep in the Northern Cape. Open farmland stretching as far as the eye can see. Marked out with draad-fences. Occasionally a windmill turns lazily in the veld and pumps a trickle of water into the reservoir or the trough.

The telephone poles run beside the road here, where they're easily accessed to fix. Or to steal the copper-wire, these days. In the distance, on the top of the hills, the occasional microwave or cellphone tower.

When you stop, the heat is almost oppressive. Not in a Durban-humid kind of way - it's a dry heat - but it feels as if you could cut blocks out of the thin air and it's so hot and dry it would be almost solid, tangible. Bare feet scorch on the hot tar and the sharp gravel beside the road as you try and steal a little shade next to the thorn tree.

Above you, the sky stretches on so far it seems impossible. Most places the sky looks like a heavy layer of blue. You can almost imagine a solid layer of Ozone (except for the hole), around the whole Earth. In this part of the world, the sky is too big to be solid. There is a translucience to the blue, as if it's almost thin enough to see through. There is so much space, so much emptiness, that even when you stop in a town, you're constantly aware that the sky goes on and on.

As you pass through the wide streets of a town, ordinary houses stand behind low walls - this one in need of a coat of paint, that one with a pretty little garden - and back onto the long, open road. The town passes out of sight and there is nothing until the horizon on all sides but farmland where the sheep search for shade, a long strip of road running far, far ahead and the empty sky that goes on forever.

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