The Lost Treasure of Storytelling

Women drinking tea

My Weekly Musings #13/2017

 

I am from the lucky generation who still grew up without a TV. Well almost. TV arrived in our town in South Africa in 1976, when I was in Grade 2. Or it might even had been a year earlier. I can’t remember. My dad didn’t buy one, “because they didn’t show the rugby”.  Actually that was his way of saying that he didn’t have the money to buy one. Not that I held it against him. We never had money, but we always had food, shelter and clothes. And love. We, television-less children had to gather at a house that had a TV every Tuesday at six to watch Haas Das and Heidi. I had to wait until my oupa sold his second-hand TV to my dad years later to have the privilege of staying at home to watch it alone.

I only realised much later in life that not having a television set in the house was actually much more of a privilege than having one. We ate together at the kitchen table, where we talked about our days and then listened to the aandgodsdiens (Bible message) and the ten minute story on the radio. And then we washed the dishes and we all retreated to our rooms to read.

Don’t get me wrong – I love technology to a point where I have to admit that I am addicted. I struggle with it and hope that when our living arrangements change in a year or so, that I will be able to be less dependable on social media and will thus use my phone in a more constructive and balanced way. But for now, I have to live with the addiction, because when you live abroad, that piece of electronics is your life-line to family and friends back home.

One thing that technology killed in our day, is the treasure of storytelling. It’s no shock anymore that when you go to restaurants, you find that people are there to work on their laptops. If they aren’t working, you find big or small groups sitting together, but conversing inwardly via their phones with other people than the ones they are physically with. The same thing happens when children visit each other. They ‘play’ with each other through phones and gaming equipment. Parents prop iPads and tablets into two year olds’ hands to keep them busy, instead of teaching them to play and use their imagination. We had become a strange lot.

When we grew up we still knew boredom. We had no entertainment at home or at school. If we wanted to be entertained, we had to do it ourselves. I came late into our family, so I didn’t really have siblings to play with. My dolls became my friends and all the trees in our garden had names. I could sit for hours in my tree and watch people in the neighbourhood go by – without them spotting me. I loved it. I even packed rations to spend afternoons in my tree. I also made a ‘saddle’ for my tree trunk ‘horse’, because otherwise my bum got numb. And I always had a kettie (slingshot) with me, because the Sering tree (I don’t believe the word I found in English is the correct one) provided me with green, round, hard seeds as ammo. (As the only young girl living in the street I learned to be prepared at all times.)

In that tree I dreamed up stories by the hundreds. My mother was the busy sort, so I don’t remember her ever telling or reading me a story. But there was a lot of storytelling around me – not as much as I wanted it to be, but nevertheless. I went to the farm on some Tuesday nights with my grandparents, where my grandfather, grandmother and uncle played cards. Nothing fancy – just boring Rummy. But they played while drinking very, very strong coffee. I drank with and was always sorry afterwards when my stomach cramped. But I loved it, because I loved sitting there, listening to the old people talking.

My brother, Willa, was the first one to read me stories. He read to me from the Bible and he preached to me and my dolls after school in the sitting room. I loved listening to him and the stories he told me. I think I became a Believer because of him. He practiced so well, he became a pastor in real life.

My Grade One teacher, Juffrou Ieta Boshoff, was the first of the great story tellers in my life. She had the most soothing voice and some out-of-this-world stories. She would let us lie down on the carpet in the classroom and tell us a story. And if some fell asleep, she let them. But I never fell asleep. Stories awed me too much to let my brain go to rest. Instead, it triggered my imagination and I would later play out the stories in my room or in the garden with my dolls, my trees and characters who eventually took permanent residence in my head.

Both my primary school teacher – who later became my sister-in-law, Hessie (De Clerq) Breytenbach, and my high school teacher, Attie Saunders, were good enough storytellers to get me interested in history and to this day I still love the subject and it had quite an impact in several of my life choices.

I started writing my own stories and in high school a few of my friends and I even had our own little ‘library box’ with self-written stories, which could be borrowed by others. I’m not verbally good at storytelling, so I am in awe by people who are natural oral storytellers. But they had become very few. And if they still exist, there is no real place for them to practice their art in everyday life anymore, because story time is now watching-TV or spending-time-on-our-phones-time.

Today, we live in an instant world, where entertainment is literally at the tip of our fingers wherever and whenever we want it. We don’t have to go somewhere to a social gathering or wait until it is dark. We push a button wherever we are and have choices. Too many choices. We actually have so many, that we can’t always make up our minds.

I’m not against it. I do it too and I enjoy it, but I think that we have lost something very important with the way we are entertained in our day. We don’t need our imagination so much anymore, because all the imagining is being done for us already. That book that we should have read and the world in it we should have imagined, is now a movie and we don’t have to go through the trouble, because someone else have decided for us what it looks like. We just have to sit back and watch without any effort on our behalf. And then forget it again. Because tomorrow I will have some more choices and I will be bombarded with some more special effects and I’m getting so overly stimulated, that my brain didn’t have any time to enjoy and process the last thing I’ve watched, watching the next.

Our friend, Abri, is a good storyteller. He can entertain one in such a way in telling one about something happening to him that it feels as if you have experienced it with him. He also tells his sons stories. One of the ‘series’ he tells them is about Buks, a farm dog. Buks is an awesome dog. He can make plans and fight lions and nothing ever gets the better of him. The stories are entertaining and get made up as Abri goes, which sometimes are very, very funny. When he goes away, he records a few stories, so that his sons can listen to them. They love it! And not only does it stimulate the boys’ imaginations, but it tightens the relationship between a father and his children.

In South Africa, as I believe in other cultures too, we still have a few storytellers. They are mostly humorous and are limited to a few TV shows and yearly cultural festivals and people have to pay to hear them, but at least they still exist. Are there still people telling ghost stories for fun and for free around a camp fire like we did when we were children?

God is a great storyteller. He created billions of characters throughout history and has ‘scripted’ their stories for them. I wonder how many of us live out our stories as He has originally plotted it out. Or how we deviated from His script for our lives to instead live our own, ‘better’ versions through the choices we make? He also made sure that a lot of His stories got written down for us, so that we can learn from the lives of Adam and Noah and Esther and ultimately, Jesus, and that we can have a ‘compass’ to live our own stories by. Luckily it is also electronically available…

I sometimes ponder on how much we miss out on because of the entertainment we choose thanks to our technologically advancing lives. I wonder how many unsaid words there are between us because we choose to live virtually with our eyes glued to a little electronic devise in our hands, instead of looking around in awe at the world and playing out the ‘scripts’ we have with our loved ones.

Unless we switch off that little device every now and then, we will probably never know.

 

©  Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopeful Writer. Forever dreamer. Temporarily living in Cairo, Egypt.