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Friday, 8 September 2017

Learning about life, history and the West Coast at the K9 Pottery Studio

There are precious few times in life when we meet someone we simply have an immediate liking for, which only deepens as you get to know them better. Perhaps it has something to do with being kindred spirits, perhaps its about sharing similar opinions or histories, perhaps its about something else altogether, or perhaps it can not be summarized in one thing, but is rather a combination of various things. Whatever might be the reason, I felt immediately at ease with Elize and Ninette Hough when I walked into their Pottery Studio, in pretty Hondeklipbaai in Namaqualand. Allow me to share a little bit of the wealth locked up in these two people with you.

I have to admit that the first thing to have peeked my interest, was also the most obvious. This being a working pottery studio, there were numerous objects to feast your eyes on.

Yet, it was even better than that. I have an insatiable appetite for learning new things, especially pertaining to arts and crafts, and I know next to nothing of pottery. I fell into my unplanned, but very predictable, habit of asking every question that came to mind - and there were plenty. The moment Elize started answering my questions, I knew I was dealing with someone who was passionate, well-informed, and willing to share. That last aspect is one I hold very dear in people and have grown to appreciate even more than most others.

The topic soon expanded to more than just pottery, as I learned that Elize was also an avid hiker and part of a small team who was working hard towards establishing and registering a hike in the area that would span a little less than 2 weeks. I don't want to say too much about this as the final arrangements are being made as I type this. I will inform you about it as soon as they are ready to start publicizing it.

Yet, it was also not only the mutual like of hiking that we shared that had me interested in the conversation. It soon became obvious that Elize was an unofficial fundi when it came to the region, and its fauna and flora. She knows the plants and flowers by name, can tell you their culinary uses (if any), or even medicinal properties. I came to refer to her as Hondeklipbaai's walking encyclopedia, and immediately started referring all tourists I crossed paths with, to her door. No town needs a tourist center if they have someone like Elize on hand to share her wealth of information.

It was from Elize that I learned that I could use the sea bamboo to cook in, that the sea water was brilliant to cook rice and potatoes with, that I could eat flowers plucked in the field, or bring them home to cook in a stew, called Vaalkos (pale food). I intend to hold her accountable to all this information she so liberally shared with me, by inviting her over to cook for me - the way she taught me in words. If she accepts, I'll be sure to take photos and blog about it!

Elize is also extremely knowledgeable on the history and folklore of Hondeklipbaai. It was from her that I learned the tale of how Moordenaarsbaai got its name. Moordenaarsbaai (Murderer's Bay) is a small stretch of beach just outside of Hondeklipbaai with blood red sand, the result of sea currents depositing crushed garnets there. This is not the story the locals will tell you, though.

They will tell you the story of how Jan and Piet, two close buddies, went out to fish at Moordenaarsbaai one day. Unbeknownst to Piet, bachelor Jan had fallen in love with his wife. Jan hit Piet over the head, dumping his lifeless body in the ocean. He then consoled the grieving widow and soon wormed his way into her life. Before long, she agreed to marry him.

On the day that the wedding was to take place, in front of the minister and the whole congregation, as they were ready to say their I do's, who would pitch up to interrupt the proceedings, but Piet! It turns out he had survived somehow, though the details of the story are never disclosed, and you would have to content yourself with a good-hearted chuckle instead.

I love this about Namaqualand. There always seems to be time to tell stories. Jokes too. And, like a good story, these are never rushed. Instead, they are slowly developed with lots of repetition to keep you spell-bound. The punchline is almost never as good as the telling of the joke. But these are people who take their time in life, who do not rush to the end, but enjoy the journey.

If you come from a rushed life and you travel through the Karoo to get to Hondeklipbaai, you too should take your time. Don't rush past the beauty of the 'monotonous' Karoo. Let your eyes dwell on it. Notice the subtle changes in the landscape, the vast emptiness, and learn to enjoy it. When meeting someone who is a masterful storyteller, they will tell you that the dramatic pauses are as important as the words they use to tell the story. The Karoo is like those dramatic pauses. You have to savour them, to enjoy the punch line.

I learned from my hosts that Hondeklipbaai had its own real-life murder mystery that went unsolved. When I prodded them for details, who would they refer me to, but the lady in question! Again, it seemed that Elize was the keeper of all info.

I will not give the game away and tell you the story. I will go one better. I will invite you to stop by the K9 Pottery Studio in Hondeklipbaai and ask Elize to tell you the story of the headless body herself. You have to hear this story from someone who was in the area at the time and who takes her time to tell it. She makes a point of sticking to the facts, and then suddenly will veer off to conjecture and speculation, all the while telling you that she is doing so. This, I find, makes the listening more intriguing than when the teller assumes the facts. I know I sat at the edge of my seat and have vowed to use the skeleton of this tale to inspire a part truth, part fictional story that I will write one day.

There is still so much to tell about this unassuming little house cum studio with its two equally unassuming inhabitants, but I think it is best if I allow you to discover them for yourselves. Stop by, dip your hands in the clay, paint a pot, spend some money, but most of all - spend some time at the K9 Pottery Studio. You may even be lucky enough to book into the single unit they rent out on the premises, called the K9 Cottage. If you are interested in making a booking, call ahead at 074 135 7548 and speak to Ninette.

I have not told you a single thing about Ninette yet! You will find this compassionate woman with her heart of gold and bubbly personality a pure delight. Ninette has a unique take on life and lives it on her own terms, making no excuses for who she is. Not that she has to. Life would be better for more of her kind in this world! Ninette brims with sheer delight, passion and kindness. Her warmth seems to envelop you as soon as you walk through the door. What a true living gem to find along this stretch of the diamond coast!

Both Ninette and Elize have spent considerable time outside the borders of South Africa and have brought a wealth of experience and understanding back with them. This transcends mere facts, but includes an understanding of, and love for people and all things living.

If you make only one stop when passing through Hondeklipbaai, it has to be the K9 Pottery Studio.

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy my books here:
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