Friday, 27 February 2015

Pioneering days from The Housemaid's Daughter

I am just about to head off on a hiking trail through the Cape fynbos and it struck me that what for me will be pleasure, surely was quite daunting for my family when they arrived in South Africa over a hundred years ago. They didn't have the gentle delights of lush mountains and fynbos to ease them into their new country, but rather the stark challenge of the Karoo.

I remember my grandmother - the inspiration for Cath in The Housemaid's Daughter - telling me that the contrast with Ireland was almost unbearable. The lack of rain, the yellowness of the grass... In the early days, before she grew to love the wide open spaces of the Karoo, she used to fantasize that behind every rocky koppie, or just around the bend in a dusty road... were the green hills of Ireland. This was what kept her going. I used this recollection in the book, and every time I visit the Karoo, it strikes me afresh.

When we look back at the lives of our pioneering forebears, we often only look at their achievements, what they built and perhaps left behind materially for those who come after. We don't tend to wonder whether they were happy, or homesick - as was the case with my grandmother - or how long it took them to come to terms with their new environment. For, in those days, there was no going back. My grandmother and her generation couldn't say: Enough! I'm going home! They were committed for life.They'd traveled across a hemisphere to start a new life and there could be no going back...

Would we be as brave?

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