GREETINGS FROM SOUTH AFRICA!!!
Sometime in the year of 1948 a little book was published somewhere in the world. It was a small, hard- covered, children’s picture book called “Toby’s Adventure”. I am sure that at the time of publishing, nobody would have imagined its influence, let alone its effect in time to come.
In 1959, eleven years after the publication of this little book, a little girl was born into an era of racial divides, in a remote corner of rural South Africa. She was a farmer’s daughter and was the “Laat-lammetjie” (Late lamb) of their three children. Not only was she the only daughter but her youngest brother was nine years older than her. She had certainly not been planned!
Although little “Janet”’s parents were happy about the event, the little girl’s arrival served to put strain on an already depleted, household budget. To ease matters her mother lovingly sewed clothes for her new daughter whilst she played with the cotton reels. She was always well provided and cared for.
Although her parents loved Janet dearly, she was usually left to her own devices during the day. She grew up to roam the farm and freely explored the surrounding bush whilst her brothers attended boarding school. By the age of 5 years Janet was fully fluent in the “Sotho” language of the local farm workers.
Her community was a peaceful community of the Lovedu tribe. The farm workers called her “Mabula” which means ‘Mother of rain’. At the time, her name was meant as a hopeful omen for the drought stricken lands which stretched across the Savannah. But she was a lonely child with little contact with children of her own age, so she endeavoured to make friends with the workers' children of the farm.
During "Apartheid South Africa", it was frowned upon to befriend children of a different race but, despite her white skin and with a turned parental eye, "Mabula" was accepted into their ranks. She spent a large part of her childhood hunting grasshoppers and edible ants. She climbed trees and roamed the thick bush of the African landscape. She sat around rustic fireplaces with her friends, moulding thick porridge in her hands and shared their meagre meals. The birds too became her friends and the dogs kept vigil by her side. In the evenings she returned home to the warmth and comfort of her white family whilst her companions retreated to their own clay dwellings.
In the evening after supper, she said goodnight to her little dog, kissed her Dad on the cheek and followed her mother down the dark passage to her bedroom. She said her prayers and then climbed under the cool sheets to listen to her mom's musical voice which had been transformed by words amongst a storybook's pages. Somehow the fluttering candle light made the stories even more magical.
Janet hadn’t yet discovered the art of reading and writing herself, but she had relished the tales of African folklore. A few of her brother's westernised story books were also retrieved from the dusty shelves of the farm house and her mom would read to her while she struggled to keep her eyelids open. One particular story however took hold of her vivid imagination.
It was a simple story about a little boy who decided to run away from home - just for a day. He was a pretty blonde boy with blue dungarees and a striped, red and white shirt and his character oozed the same freedom which Janet/Mabula herself was living. She loved that book and requested that “Toby’s adventure” be read to her over and over again, each night, whilst she relished the pretty images on its pages.
Janet’s freedom was rudely interrupted one day, when she was sent to school in the village which was reserved for only white children. Her little farm friends were left behind because it was said that education belonged only to white people. Her new environment felt strange and uncomfortable and despite the opportunity of learning to read, she felt a new loneliness amongst its walls.
As time went on, she drifted away from her farm friends and was directed towards afternoon homework and “more appropriate” activities. But the loneliness prevailed. One day, she decided to be like “Toby” and run away. After all, “Toby” had claimed “running away” as an adventure. So Janet made a sandwich, called her little dog Scampi and trudged down one of the isolated farm pathways.
For a short while the little girl was content. She found a place, far from the farmhouse, to mull over her life and her ‘differentness’. She was not the same as other white children and she was not the same as her black friends. She was a “Toby” who had no place to run to.
Like “Toby” however, Janet returned home that day. Her parents however had discovered her solitary pursuits and cautioned her never to run away again. It wasn’t long after that when her favourite book disappeared too. No one spoke about her attempt to run away again and gradually Janet forgot about her adventure.
It was only 62 years after the publication of this little book that Janet found it! The world had changed and had offered the blessings of cyberspace. Blessings included a wealth of cyber-friends, one of which helped seal off her adventure.
The book has been found and soon both the book “TOBY” and her new puppy, "TOBY" will be returned to "Janet’s" home....:)
This story is dedicated, with special thanks to my friend, Mimi – from LOVING FOR A LIVING – for being the amazing friend and cyber-sleuth which you are!