Monthly Archives: February 2014


Genghis Khan, my Brother: The Story of Temulin

Here is an excerpt from my book about Genghis Khan, as told by his only sister, Temulin:


“Her grandmother sighed, her eyes far away in the past, a life time of memories coming back to her in a flood of emotions. She blinked away her tears, her wrinkled face still beautiful in the soft glow.

She began:

I am Temulin, only sister of Temujin. The Great Genghis Khan.

Let me tell you this story, I hope you will listen well…It is a story of love and hate, battles and games, a life well lived and a time of grace.

Tsolmon leaned forward, for the old woman spoke softly. She shifted in her seat on the floor, anticipation and rapt attention giving way to the boredom she had felt when playing with the same old toys.

When I was a maiden, life was simple. I was free to do as I pleased, to run , to play, to ride like the wind. Here in the highlands, the Mongolian steppe, life has a steady rhythm. Birth, life, death. It is all around us, and if we heed the call of life, we know that too soon, the cycle will be over, and we return from whence we came. It is the wheel of life, the eternal spin of a cosmic spiral of time that dictates our coming in and our going out.

She sighed again, and shifted her seat, smiled and said quietly:

Sometimes that cycle is interrupted, cut short through the wiles of others. But that is a story for another time, another season, perhaps…”


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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


Not Sochi, Sushi

Reports have been rife about the appalling conditions at Sochi. The stadium is littered with debris, toilets are side by side in one stall, the water looks as if it comes from the sewage system and the hotel rooms, apart from being sparsely furnished, lack doorknobs and the curtains are falling down.


How much are we supposed to believe?

What is the mission of the media? To dis a country that has staked its pride on showing the world what they can do?

Russia, the former USSR, has not managed to achieve what the People’s Republic of China has managed to achieve: an economy that rules the world. Russia, since the collapse of the Berlin Wall (“The Iron Curtain” to those of you too young to know anything), has never stopped having problems with its former satellite states who achieved independence at great cost. Russia went to war with Afghanistan, and we know how that can ruin your economy, now, don’t we?

That there is great wealth in Russia cannot be doubted, one is just not quite sure where it is. And if you put people in charge of creating a world class venue when you have never been outside of your country to see how it is done, what can you expect? If you live in a house that has no plumbing, how the heck are you to know that pipes need to be installed?

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Stop seeing everything in terms of “They’re idiots”. Open your mind to the fun you could have when sharing a bathroom stall with a stranger, or drinking beer instead of yellow water. As for finding bees in the honey, at least we know the honey comes from bees and not from corn syrup and sugar. Stop whingeing for god’s sake, and go out and enjoy yourself if you are lucky enough to be there.

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Cut them some slack, and enjoy the games from the comfort of your own living room. It’s always fun to watch people falling, crashing and sliding on the ice. Here’s to Sushi. I mean Sochi.


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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Bitter Laughter

Every culture, every country, it seems, has to undergo a period of strife, war, rebellion and suffering to forge a new identity. The United States had its Revolutionary War and its Civil War, Europe had more wars that we can even begin to count. They have names such as “The Hundred Years’ War”, “The Eighty years’ War,” “The Thirty Years’ War”, and of course all the others that followed and became global conflicts, World War I and II. There has in fact not been a single day of peace since then, and there probably never was before then either.

South Africa was no exception and the history of the country is bathed in blood, strife and pain. I grew up in the early sixties, in a country stratified not only by class, but separated by color, and even worse, language.

The country underwent a terrible time in the Boer Wars against Britain. I have mentioned in another, earlier blog, that my grandmother had been incarcerated in a British Concentration Camp.


The Brits practiced a “scorched earth policy” which meant they burned every farm down to the ground, if it suited their purpose. That meant crops too, and they would take the cattle.

I came across this incredibly sad excerpt by Emily Hobhouse, 

an Englishwoman who had fought against the cruel treatment of women and children in the camps. She describes the survivors of the war in this article that brought tears to my eyes.




The terrible laughter of the Afrikaner

A young Boer guerrilla fighter, Deneys Reitz, described the defeated Boer commandos drifting into the camps in May 1902, as a rabble of “starving, ragged men, clad in skins or sacking, their bodies covered with sores, from lack of salt and food…their appearance was a great shock to us, who came from the better conditioned forces in the Cape.” In the aftermath of the South African War (1899–1902), the Afrikaner seemed defeated—the rural economy was shattered, family farms were destroyed and more than 25 000 Boer women and children were dead in the concentration camps. Yet in this apocalyptic post-war world, something strange was happening. Afrikaners were laughing.

This phenomenon was observed with wonder by English philanthropist Emily Hobhouse, who had reported on the conditions in the camps and the aftermath of the scorched earth policy. She wrote, for example, of the Van Graan brothers, who had both suffered enormous losses during the war. One “had seven little mouths to feed. He got seed potatoes from Repatriation for a promissory note, but the drought killed them. His brother lent him oxen to plough with, so he put in a little seed, but till it is ripe he has nothing to live upon. His beautiful house is in ruins, his blue gums all but two cut down, his fruit trees chopped.” “But”, Hobhouse continued, “how he laughed, and how his brother laughed.” Hobhouse further observed that “[l]ike all the other burghers [Boer General] De Wet is laughing. If he did not, he says, he should die. It makes him great fun. I do regret not being quick enough to catch all the Dutch proverbs which spice his conversation, nor the humour which runs through all the family talk— they speak so quickly”. In a rural hamlet in the Orange Free State, Hobhouse encountered “a poor man”, who—when she offered him some meal—said: “I shall be so glad that I shall laugh without feeling any inclination to laugh.” In Pretoria, Hobhouse noted, the Boers “say little and only laugh.” She concluded:
“There is getting to be something quite terrible to me in this laugh of the Boers which meets me everywhere. It is not all humour, nor all bitter, though partly both; it is more like the laughter of despair.We sit in a row by these stable walls and discuss every project possible and impossible, and then we laugh. Now and again the tears come into the men’s eyes, but never into the women’s except when they speak of children lost in the camps.”


This attitude, this grim laughter was the strength that saw them through, and made them strong in the face of opposition. It made the nation determined to rise from the bitter ashes of defeat and create something out of the ruins of the country.

South Africa gained its independence from Britain in 1960, and then another era of oppression began, when Apartheid was written into the law books. Was it to protect themselves, was it fear or was it truly racial hatred? Of course the question, and the answer is far more complex than that. It is rooted in the history of European greed and expansion, a belief that Africa, and in fact, India, North and South America, China, Australia, all were fair game for the taking, abusing and plunder. They established themselves as rulers, suppressed the native people and took what they wanted.

The legacy of this is the immense poverty and suffering in many countries in Africa that have never really recovered from colonization. In Australia, the Aboriginals were only granted CITIZENSHIP in the 1970’s. Elsewhere, such as Asia, there is still immense strife after boundaries were enforced by the the European colonizers that caused tragic rifts and divisions.

What made the world focus on South Africa as the scapegoat? The fact that the country was richly endowed with gold, diamonds, uranium and other precious metals? It is laughable, and I can hear those old Boers laughing right now, that the country developed their own oil from coal, their own armaments (which they sold to the Israelis, one of two allies during Apartheid), and an infrastructure of roads, harbors, and cities that made it the jewel of Africa.

The release of Nelson Mandela and the subsequent rise to power by the African National Congress has been marred by the terrible corruption and murder and crime rate in the country. I do believe that someday Africa will regain its honor, that the violent history that seems to self perpetuate will come to an end, that there will be peace on this beautiful planet we call home.


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Posted by on February 4, 2014 in Uncategorized


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From the Polar Vortex to my Arse

This little catch phrase, the darling of all weather people has to go. It has to be expunged from the Dictionary of Meteorological Terminology, and just go. We, the people, have spoken. Call it something else. Please.

The notion that it is so freezing cold while we sit in houses with central heating has not helped my burgeoning derriere. I BELIEVE it’s cold outside, therefore I have to eat as if I am going on an Arctic expedition. I will never see food again, according to my inner hunger dial.

I have made chicken pie, curry, stews, soups, baked bread, made brownies, fudge and chocolate cake. I have eaten and made and baked and drunk things I never normally do, because it is cold outside.

Photo: Lisa Hagan, I did it!!!'

If the world should end, I may survive longer than any of you skinny people, but I’m warning you, I may have to eat you too.

Cold on Lake Gaston

By the way, that bread is fabulous, and the more butter you can eat with it, the better it is.

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Posted by on February 1, 2014 in Uncategorized


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My Grandmother




Ouma Rose, as everyone knew her, was born on May 7th, 1892, in the Eastern Transvaal, South Africa. Her parents were pioneers (“Voortrekkers”) who had left Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape in an oxwagon, her mother’s piano part of the possessions they decided to take with them on the lumbering, painfully slow journey to the uplands of the North. They settled near a town called Dullstroom and farmed the land. They had two children, Peter and Rose.





 Rose, Peter and their father, Leopold Rautenbach


During the Second Boer War they had received advanced warning that the British (“Rooinekke”) were coming. The Brits practiced a scorched earth policy which meant they destroyed farms, burnt crops and killed all the animals in their path. Rose and her family fled to a hill behind the farm homestead and watched as the British soldiers plundered their home. Everything was destroyed, and later she would tell the story and end with the words, “There was not even a scrap of fabric big enough to make a dress for my dolly.” Shortly after that her mother died and her dad was captured by the Brits. The children were placed in concentration camps: yes, you read correctly. The British were the first to do this. They wanted to annihilate the Afrikaner race and claim for themselves the riches of the gold and diamond mines that had been discovered in South Africa. Many thousands of women and children died from cholera and dysentry. 

Two incidents occurred while they were in the camp, small incidents that she remembered always. Each person was given a small paper twist of salt. They were told it was the only salt they would get for the duration of their time there. Rose hid her little stash in a hole in a wall and someone stole it. For the rest of her life she always made sure she had enough salt, she would cook with it and place a teaspoonful of it on her plate just in case the food needed more salt. Her brother-in-law made her a little salt brick which she carried in her purse and would occasionally lick. (And for the record, she never suffered from high blood pressure!)


The other incident occurred when her father was asked by a British Captain if he would train the horses for the troops. He said that he would, on condition that Peter be released from the Women’s camp and come and live with him. The deal was agreed upon and Peter went to stay with his dad. One day Peter happened to be walking past a soldier’s open tent and he noticed a photograph on the soldier’s trunk. He asked the soldier who the people in the photograph were, and was told that it came from a farm they had sacked and destroyed. The photo reminded him so much of his wife and children that he had decided to keep it. Peter took it in his hands and exclaimed that the picture was of his mother, father, sister and him! The soldier gave Peter the photograph which survived the war, the internment and was finally given to my aunt, and now one of my cousins has it.




 Rose and a friend enjoying a smoke break, Durban, circa 1912/13


 After the war ended, Rose was raised by the family who had taken care of her in the concentration camp. She went on to become a nurse and got engaged to a Scottish doctor, Dr. Donal Mahoney Barrie.



Dr. Donal Barrie


He died during the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Rose fell ill as well but mananged to survive. She said they gave her champagne to drink, and she believes it cured her as there were no other medicines available to combat the ferocious, deadly flu.


Rose married my grandfather, Pieter (Tickey) van Der Bijl. He had returned from studying at a university in Toronto, Canada, prior to WWI because his father had fallen ill and was not expected to survive. Rose was nursing him. According to her story, my grandfather had marched into the kitchen where she was making tea for her patient, swept the hat off his head and kissed her. He was smitten! Although they had a long and happy marriage, she always talked tenderly and wistfully about Dr. Barrie, as if he were the one love she never forgot.




 My grandfather, Pieter (Tickey) Van der Bijl

Rose lived through the Great Depression, had two daughters, my aunt Poldi (Regina Leopolda) and my mom, Elizabeth (Bettie).




My mother and my aunt, circa 1933 

She passed away at the ripe old age of 94, in 1987, a petite little bird of a woman who had lived through some of the biggest changes and challenges of the 20th Century.




 Rose (on the right) and one of her sisters-in-law, Lettie


She was survived by two daughters, six grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. 



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Posted by on February 1, 2014 in Uncategorized


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