In the beginning of 2014 I visited Nieu-Bethesda for the first time.
I walked around for hours exploring all the corners and dry patches of the dusty streets. I ran my fingers gently over shattered pieces of glass and concrete at the Owl House. I gulped away a Karoo ale in the merciless heat under a Weeping Willow’s shade. I devoured Karoo delicacies from goat cheese to home baked bread to slow-cooked lamb. I took a lonely stroll around the graveyard in search of Helen Martin’s grave. I got tears in my eyes when I found it. I talked to the kids of Nieu Bethesda, their mothers and bought an owl from one of the grandmothers. I learned that what may seem simple to some can be an every day struggle of survival for others. I had a moment with a cat, a sheep and yellow flowers. I slept in the car due to a heavy rain storm that left my tent in a dam-like-state. I woke up the next morning and found myself, from head to toe, saturated with Nieu-Bethesda; soaked in the little Karoo hamlet, wrapped tightly around her arms of tranquility and completely lost.
Lost in time. Lost in thought. Lost in her beauty of nothingness.
Twenty months later, September 2015, I met her again. And as excited as I was to get the same emotion of “lostness”, I couldn’t help but to keep my fingers crossed that everything stayed the same. The unfortunate part of travel is that its devotees can so easily drive a place to a commercial madness, unknowingly.
I stepped out of the bus onto a dusty street and everything went quiet again. My head shut down, my mind came to a halt; the aesthetic touch of “lostness” came rushing back.
The owl house whispered quietly louder this time, as if Helen Martin’s heartache got deeper; as if the cuts got sharper, the abandonment more severe and the message more intense.
As I turned my back on the Owl House and returned to the dusty streets, the silence overwhelmingly crawled into my ears again. Abandoned houses were covered in Wisteria Sinensis, the Karoo smiles peeked out around every corner, the kids were still just as curious, the mothers and the grandmothers still as soulfully eager. The yellow flowers were back and the sheep got more.
I got drenched again by Nieu Bethesda’s gentle spirit, dipped in her silence and covered with her beauty of nothingness.
Did Nieu Bethesda lose her charm?
No, Nieu Bethesda stayed exactly the same.
Unmanicured, unrefined, untouched.
Nieu Bethesda stayed the place to get lost in the beauty of nothingness because here, in the dusty streets of the Karoo, it’s in the nothing that you’ll find the most beautiful something.
Disclaimer: The trip to Graaff-Reinet was part of a #MeetSouthAfrica road trip sponsored by South African Tourism; views expressed are my own.