Wednesday, May 6, 2020


Dear Readers,
This makes a change from the usual DearJon Letter – a post written by Jane my publisher of Boutique Books fame. She is so efficient that I got replies to my emails almost before I sent them 24/7. Anyway here it is from the little dorp renowned as a birder’s paradise where 370 different species have been recorded.
"Jon rather rudely said that we in Wakkerstroom were no doubt safe from Covid-19 as he was sure that the virus had never heard of our little town. And it is true that very few people know its name. I suspect, though, that viruses don’t need to know the name of anywhere in order to infect them. A town like Wakkerstroom depends on tourism for its survival, and that means that we have a fair number of people visiting from overseas. This meant that particularly the staff and owners of the restaurants (of which we have a large number, and very fine they are too) and the guest houses had been recently exposed to quite a lot of people from Europe. So, in fact, there was a fair chance that the nasty germs could have snuck their way in. And had they snuck in before the lockdown, there would have been a very good chance that it would have spread quickly, as ours is quite a close community.
            "Of course, lockdown in a dorp is a bit different from lockdown in a city. On day one, I imagined what it must have been like in Jo’burg or Cape Town. How quiet. How still. I never imagined that we could get any quieter or stiller than we usually are, but we did.
            "The dorp of Wakkerstroom consists of a total of 595 large plots in the town proper, and then eSizamaleni, the township at the far edge. In total, there are about 600 people who live in Wakkerstroom, and about 7000 who live in eSizamaleni. At first, some of the less generous people in town felt very sure (without having verified it) that everyone in eSizamaleni was wandering around their part of the town, taking no notice of the lockdown regulations. I, however, checked in frequently with all my staff and they were quite clear that they and everyone else were staying in their homes. There was a very noticeable police presence (because of stock theft, which is huge around here in farming country, we have quite a large police force) in both eSizamaleni and on the streets of Wakkerstroom and anyone rash enough to wander was soon sent home.
The 'away from it all' that so many of us are trying to get used to in much of
 South Africa is nothing knew to the residents of Wakkerstroom
            "Those of us who are privileged enough to live in the dorp itself all have quite a lot of space as our properties are generally quite large. I have a flourishing vegetable garden and a young but developing fruit orchard, and a large number of people here do grow at least some vegetables. I am almost self-sufficient as it is, so have found it quite unnecessary to go to the shops at all, except to get milk so that I can continue to make cheese, kefir and yoghurt as I usually do.
            "We are all, however, quite used to not having easy access to shops as our closest Spar is twenty-six kilometres away (and, something which many incomers to the town find very difficult to deal with, our closest Woolworths is seventy-five kilometres away, and in another province, nogal). In the dorp itself, there are a few general dealers and a quite-recently-opened but small grocery shop, but all of these either stayed closed or ran very short hours.
            "In the main shopping street, the bakery opened three mornings a week and the dairy was open every morning. And apart from that, there was the internet café, also open only a few hours a day, where at least people could buy their airtime, data and electricity, and the garage. Otherwise, everywhere was closed.
             "The internet café is called Wakkerstroom Central, and it provides basic services like photocopying and (amazingly still) faxing, as well as access to PCs. It is something I started to help the many young people in the area who have little or no access to computers or the internet, or to basic facilities that allow them to send out CVs and so on. We are one of the only places in the area where you can buy airtime and electricity at face value. I employ three young people who do a great job of running the place. Because it has to be staffed full time (08h00 to 18h00, every day except Christmas and New Year’s days) it loses quite a lot of money, so Boutique Books subsidises it.
            "There are no banks in Wakkerstroom. There is a Standard Bank ATM, but it does not accept deposits. There is also an FNB ATM, but it is mostly locked away and it also does not accept deposits.
            "Our dorp was like a ghost town. There were no cars to be seen anywhere, and no people. There were definitely more birds in town than usual, though.
            "I was forced to go to Volksrust twice, in order to deposit money from the internet café into the bank, and I saw no-one on the road until I got to the town. The road was, however, full of birds that flew up as the car approached. It felt quite Hitchcock-ish. In Volksrust, the Spar and Shoprite (the only two grocery stores) were busy, and there were extremely long queues snaking along the pavements as people waited patiently to get in. But almost everywhere else was closed. I was extremely glad not to have to buy anything.
            "Both shops were closed down (on the last day of level 5 lockdown) because a merchandiser who had been unpacking stock in both stores was found to be infected. As it was month end, this was a quite dreadful blow to everyone as the next-closest place in Mpumalanga is Ermelo, which is 125 kilometres away, and really not reachable by the average person in eSizamaleni. They are still closed but will hopefully open soon.
            "I am told that many people have been very busy getting together on the Wakkerstroom Facebook page, and that there have been interesting challenges and competitions and some wonderful photographs uploaded. I don’t “do” social media, so I have been left out of those opportunities to socialise. However, I spent a lot more time than usual on the telephone and was surprised by the people who popped up at the end of the line.
            "Most people around here are retired, but I still have to work every day, and was fortunate to have a lot of work to do, so for me things went on pretty much as normal. Oddly, though, I still felt it necessary to cook up treats that I would never normally contemplate – Feijoa with meringues and cream, muffins with rhubarb and raspberries, blackberry fool. Somewhere I guess I still felt the need for some kind of comfort.
            "My dogs took lockdown badly. They were used to going out for a walk in the late afternoon (after the goats have gone home to bed) and on day one they were extremely perturbed when instead I walked round and round the garden. On day two, they were more than perturbed; they were incensed. My younger dog is a real handful and it has been difficult to keep her properly exercised. I continued to walk my usual eight kilometres a day every day, but round the garden, which now has a deep track circumventing the property. Quite soon, the dogs decided that this was just silly, and they took to just running from one corner of the house to other, watching me disappear around the corner as I started my circuit and then taking the short route to watch me coming round the other side.
Her dogs Emma and Sukey
            "At 06h00 on May the 1st, allowed at last to leave the property, we were out and racing up the hill. It had to be 06h00 so that we could be up the hill and back again before the goats got out of bed and started wandering around. My dogs have a passionate dislike for goats."
Thanks for the contribution Jane,

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