A hot world

When we arrived in Upington, waiting for the multitude of town trip tasks to be completed, I got chatting to an elderly man outside Pick ‘n Pay as best as my Afrikaans could carry me. A sad case – he was a vagrant of sorts, but had not always been – his face lit up when I said I was going to the Kalahari, and he told me he’d farmed there, until, after too many harsh dry seasons, he’d been unable to afford a borehole. Another dry season finished him, and the dark leather of his skin seemed to attest to his beating at the hands of this unforgiving land. Nevertheless he spoke of it as if talking of some magical place.

“Dit is my wereld,” he said, before adding, “maar dit is ‘n warm wereld.”

At the time this assertion seemed like a pointless statement, but now that summer’s heat is starting to insinuate itself into the long afternoons, I remember of old that this is indeed another world, where it’s impossible to imagine borders, or cities, or anything but endless veld. And its heat defines it, shapes it, and lays down the daily routines that after all, we are here to follow. The feeling of sweat on your clothes becomes so normal it’s no longer repellent. Chocolate ordered from town arrives in the shape of whatever tin it melted around. Moisturising is like pissing on a bonfire. Those who say that South Africa is tamed and civilised, let them come to the Kalahari, this wilderness kingdom of fire.

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