from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: walking the dog and the leaving of Africa

Roy the Cairn terrier

May 8. Here in Adelaide walking our dog is a necessity and a daily enjoyment. Roy is an 11-year-old pedigree Cairn terrier. Mind you, his ears never managed to stand up, but he is a fine, much admired dog and knows his rights regarding walks after breakfast. We proceed on a regular route at about half normal walking pace as he is most interested in examining every bush, every gum tree for evidence of previous visitors. He is a determined dog and there is no rushing him.

During this time of Covid-19 life-change, many people are walking their dogs and perhaps even more slowly than normal. Dogs can go off-lead in our park. Regular dog-walkers greet one another at the prescribed distance. I know their dogs, but not their owner’s names. Roy, however, loves people and expects pats, but I notice that many won’t even touch him. Can a dog’s fur be infected? I suppose it’s a possibility.

Today, while watching Roy having an unscheduled swim in the muddy creek, I started taking photos of some vivid gum tree blossoms, and I got talking to a tall man walking his overweight King Charles spaniel. He commented on my accent and it turned out that he was an Afrikaner, originally from Pretoria in South Africa. We spoke for almost an hour. Like us, he left South Africa in the mid-1980’s. I am in the middle of a novel about the political situation in South Africa in 1985 and it was strange talking to an Afrikaner about those fraught times.

My new acquaintance is a doctor and we exchanged stories. As a young medic, newly qualified, he was conscripted into the South Afircan Defence force and spent 6 months in Angola during the infamous border wars. He remembered the beauty of the palm trees on the border; of how he treated a 17-year-old soldier whose damaged spine meant he would never walk again; of how lucky he was not to be sent into the townships to shoot at black school kids protesting . He said that when he visted Durban wearing his army uniform some white people spat at him believing him to be a supporter of the Apartheid regime.

This man looked at the towering eucalyptus trees around us and said he struggled to relate to the bush of Australia: what he remembered and loved was the bushveld of his homeland. He told me he was of Dutch origin, distantly related to the famous Doris Lessing by marriage.

How strange life is: you can leave a country and over thirty years later meet a dog walker and be taken back to those days. South Africa in the mid-1980 seemed headed for decades of violence, if not civil war. It was the time we decided to leave. Leaving your country is never easy. You are always a creature of two realities. No one in your new homeland really understands your background: the ‘shadows’ behind you as someone once said. Yet here I was talking to an Afrikaner and he understood.

You should realise that in those days we foolishly regarded all Afrikaners as being on the ‘other’ side, enforcing Apartheid.

Life sometimes gifts you such snippets of time –  to look back, to share the world you came from and see it in a different light.

All while walking Roy, the dog.

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