The road to Middelpos by way of Williston lies draped over the flowered hills like a dusty shoelace. At the journey’s end, on the other side of a brimming vlei where children play like watersprites, lies the tiny settlement of Middelpos – an oasis in a brown land.
The famous Britain-based actor, Sir Anthony Sher, has family roots that once sprouted in this place, the middle of nowhere, just east of the Tankwa Karoo. His kin were the Jewish smouse, the wandering traders so well known and once beloved in the desert corners of South Africa.
Helena van der Westhuizen works behind the counter at the Middelpos Trading Store, alongside Sarie Mattheus, who twists old pages from Die Huisgenoot magazine into cones and fills them with assorted sweets for the kids who come to buy with their two-rand coins.
After a day’s work in the onion fields, the owner of Middelpos, Koos van der Westhuizen, is only too happy to serve you a beer and talk about his breeding of the Boerboel, one of the favoured dogs of the Karoo. He quotes Lukas van der Merwe, co-founder of the breed: ‘A boerboel will run all day with you next to your horse. On the way back home, he’ll catch a scrub hare for your supper. And that night he will guard your wife and children.’
At supper you encounter the handsome Schatzi, an African Grey parrot whose trick is to mimic cell phones and talk in the voices of his two previous owners. And that SMS you think you just received? That’s old Schatzi having you on …
This is an excerpt from Karoo Keepsakes I – A Traveller’s Companion to the Heartland of South Africa, by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit (MLM Publishers, 2009).
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