Today, I heard that one of the members of my extended family passed away. I hadn’t seen him in over 20 years, but he was the first family member I met from my father’s side of the family, when I touched down in South Africa. Weppie was vibrant and jovial, and had a smile for everyone he met. I couldn’t help but be enchanted from the word go.
Thank you for touching my life Weppie. I know you will be missed by many. To honour you, I share the story of when we met. This is an excerpt from a larger story of my travels through Africa. The moment warms me even still…
RIP Weppie De Klerk
I blinked in the glare of near-forgotten sunshine, as I stared out at a new world. The moisture that escaped my strained eyes had more to do with a need for shade now, rather than sorrow. My home on the other side of the world approached the cold embrace of winter. Here in Africa, the spring rays drove sharp daggers into my tender eyes. Already there was a need for adjustment, for change.
A set of stairs was pushed up to the waiting airplane. This was a novel experience in itself. Back in Canada people exited the parked plane through a long tunnel that wound to the building proper, before rushing pell-mell to arrive first to the luggage carousels.
Not here though.
On this day, a flight attendant called my name before I had a chance to exit the plane.
“Katerina Krreeha, please report to the flight stewardess.”
Several summons went out in both English and Afrikaans before I realized it was me being paged on the intercom. It was my first awkward language lesson, as I had never heard my last name pronounced in anything other than a garbled Canadian version before. I finally raised my hand and the smiling attendant gathered me up. In a daze, I trailed behind the pretty woman who directed me off the plane. Once outside she stopped in front of a burly, goateed man. Not sure what to expect, I stopped too.
“Velcome!” the man fairly shouted as he scooped the carry-on bag from my arm. He wrapped me in a bear hug, before standing back to look at me.
Pure joy and vibrant life sparkled in his eyes. Apparently, he was happy to see me. His job at the airport allowed him to get me off the plane first, so I was pretty pleased to see him too.
“I’m Weppie,” he said. “Your cousin Marianne—your Uncle Jock’s oldest daughter—she is my wife.”
Before I knew it, he had whisked me through security with much laughter and pleasantries to all and sundry. It seemed he knew everyone we passed.
“How is your wife, Willem? Has she forgiven you for your bit of fun at the braai last weekend?” he laughed.
“Good to see you, Jakob! Don’t you give my friend a hard time today. She has come all the way from Canada,” he admonished. “Ja!”
The stories flowed fast and furious. I was the centre of it all and couldn’t help but feel bedazzled.
I desperately tried to keep up with the jovial banter and quick pace. Not easy, but Weppie’s open nature was infectious. With Customs cleared, we gathered my luggage and continued to chat as we walked. Despite my sleep-addled brain, it was impossible not to like him already. I nodded and squinted through bleary eyes, but was happy to be there regardless.
Before my exhausted brain could catch up, we stopped again. This time it was in front of another group of strangers. Their faces seemed somehow familiar though.
“May I have the pleasure to introduce you to your Uncle Jock,” Weppie declared as he introduced his father-in-law with a small bow.
Here was my father’s brother. Beside him stood his wife, Elsa, and beside her my father’s sister, Aunt Linn. They were the closest relatives I had on my father’s side and they were alive and finally in the flesh in front of me.
A crooked smile crept across my face. I was home.