Thursday, March 26, 2009

Night in Paternoster

This is a long post, born of fear. Skip to the next one for happy stuff.

As it grew dark and our three little gas lights started to blind us if we looked at them, and the lighthouse became a symbol of safety, I started to feel a bone marrow chill. The boom over the entrance to the reserve had been lifted after hours, and this made me nervous. Obviously it allowed campers in and out: there were a few tents much farther down, at Titiesbaai. But the lovely privacy of our little bay started to feel like accessible isolation in a bad way.

We were now on the outskirts of a town. Not in the middle of nowhere. A town where poverty and wealth co-existed. We were close to people, now.

Here's the contradiction.

In Cape Town this is the drill at night, in a brick and mortar house: lock the doors. The front door gets a deadbolt plus another lock. It faces the street - a cul de sac, and is so visible that I think it is very safe. The front of my parents' house has no fence or wall, and may be the only suburban house in South Africa to be so. Two other doors, to the garden and kitchen, have metal gates that are pulled across and locked at night, too, or during the day with the door open, if someone is alone in the house. Two doors that lead to the garage area of the house from the herb garden and street are also double locked with metal gates at night. All the windows have burglar proofing. I lock my bedroom door at night. There are panic buttons in the house that send silent signals to a private security company. And two light switches are actually alarms that sound sirens somewhere in the roof. There are floodlights onto the garden. The house is armed. I hate handguns.

That's the drill and I slip into that mode naturally when I go home. If I come home late at night I drive around the cul de sac once with my beams on bright to check the driveway and the bushes in the neighbours' gardens. As I pull into the garage I click the automatic garage door shut as the car is still moving in so that I can't be hjacked while I am in the garage with the door open.

Is it overkill? It may be. We will never, I hope, know. The razor wire over the low fence at the bottom of the garden was snipped one night and persons crossed the garden in the dark - the garden where we eat at night - to scale the neighbour's wall while we slept. Dogs barked. Lights came on. Nothing happened. My brother's wife woke to armed men climbing the stairs in their house one night last year. Downstairs they had jammed the safe. She woke in time to lock the bedroom doors and call the security company and police. They have no burglar bars, and the electronic alarm system was off. A few streets away people have been hijacked in their driveways. And shot dead.

None of this happens often. It is not the norm. But it does happen and it creates fear.

And here we were. Hours from Cape Town in a cloth tent.

I heard a car idling in the night. Like deep in the night. Idling for a long time, above us on the sand road. Why? It seemed so sinister. Earlier a sketchy man had been driving slowly from site to site in a pick up truck. Why? Were the lone crayfisherman with their inner tubes and nets and knowledge of the coves a threat, or just fishermen? Was I being paranoid? And because I had never camped before I didn't know the territory. Was I being ridiculous? Is this why people congregated when camping?

I worked myself into a state of suppressed terror. The whole of my country's sorry history came crashing into our little tent.

Vince got up, dressed, and spent the entire night outside, standing guard for me. If it were possible, I fell in love even more. This was the man I had been looking for all my life. Whether he thought Iwas being ridiculous or not, he spent the night, in chill mist and rain, patrolling the perimeter.

I got some sleep. Prepared, in the jumpy recesses of my mind, to jump up and fight.


  1. Fear is a powerful force.
    It seems that dark is not your element, creating unease as the sun goes down, like in those vampire movies, when you see the sun setting, seems to be moving in fear itself,hiding below the horizon from the darkness and its demons.

    I found climbing trees in the dark to have been freeing when I was young. Elevated, a sense of control over my immediate environment, while well hidden above the eyes of others.In looking out in the dark, I saw little to be afraid of.

    In broad daylight, in the desert, a car or truck on a BLM road would stir me to quit painting and take a long walk. Out of ones element, you don't trust your senses, feels unsafe.

    I often wondered about S.A. All your locations are so beautiful, but where was the negative side. There, perhaps it is.

  2. "Prepared, in the jumpy recesses of my mind, to jump up and fight."

    That's what matters.

  3. When this subject comes up I sometimes say, not entirely facetiously: John Lennon thought he lived in a good neighborhood.

    There is no safety anywhere. Some places are less overtly dangerous than others, but there is no safety anywhere.

  4. Yeah, though he IS my brother, he's pretty cool huh?

  5. I think we all know that fear to one degree or another. But the world is complicated and emotions often bleed into each other. Fear, beauty ... and love.

  6. A fascinating and touching post. I don't know him but I love your husband too.


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