An Afrikaner In Keith

by Eckhardt Bosch

Moving to ‘bonny’ Keith has been, and still is, a wonderful adventure. When I first came to North Scotland, I had a great sense of the unknown.  With the uncertainty, I could not help but reflect on my family history. Just as I moved to an unknown place, so too my forefathers explored new lands.

The Afrikaners have a history of travelling, or as we say in Afrikaans to ‘trek’. The first trek was a voyage way back in 1652, from Holland to the Cape of Good Hope. Jan van Riebeeck and his crew were the first Europeans to settle and to start the rich Afrikaner history. To commence a trek in Africa was no easy task, especially not in light of the distance they had to travel. Despite the hard conditions, they managed to settle in all the corners of Southern Africa rightfully giving them the designation ‘Trekkers’ – those who move and travel. The landing of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 was to initiate two further treks.

The first famous trek happened in 1835 and had its origin in the South and spread to the North. It is known as the ‘Groot Trek’ (the great trek) for two reasons: the sheer amount of people who decided to move, the massive distance (691.58 miles), and the dangerous, even life-threatening, nature of the landscape to be traversed. The second trek happened between the years 1874 and 1906 and is referred to as the ‘Dorsland Trek’ (Thirsty Country Trek). The name itself gives a good indication of how extreme the conditions were. The distance travelled was an astonishing 1591.33 miles through the dry Kalahari desert. Having enough water for all the animals and trekkers must have been a huge challenge. Both events were massive undertakings and definitely not for the faint-hearted, not to mention the fact that the means of transport was ‘Ossewa’ (wagons) pulled by oxen.

While keeping these events in mind, as an Afrikaner, it is easy to draw some correlations between my heritage and my trek to North Scotland. Just like the Trekkers, I had the drive to explore the world and to settle where God wanted me to be. There was a massive difference though! Even though I felt like a trekker, my conditions were everything but uncomfortable. For one, I was travelling comfortably on the fast-moving virgin train with its air-conditioned cabins to Keith. I was, of course, not in doubts as to my destination. I knew my destination, whereas my forefathers did not!  So, I do not resemble the typical Trekker exactly but I would still like to think that I harbour a similarly adventurous spirit as my forebears.

Traversing the 527 miles from Cambridge to Keith, I was delighted to discover kindness and friendliness – not that this meant smooth sailing all the time. I had a steep learning curve ahead of me. First, I had to come to grips with dialectics, next, I had to learn and appreciate the cultural differences. As expected, my cultural background and that of Keith is very different. The difference is not obvious and is often subtle.

To mention one or two humorous instances, when working for the church, it is expected of you to learn the names of all the people as fast as possible. This gives the impression that you care and you know every person personally. If this was not sufficiently difficult, I had to remember the names of all those in two parishes! In South Africa, our cultural heritage sidesteps this issue of remembering everyone’s names. In the Afrikaner tradition, there is an understanding that all people are friends and family and that, therefore, the general designation ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ is sufficient when addressing an individual. Or as we say in Afrikaans, ‘tannie’ for aunt and ‘oom’ for uncle. If you call someone tannie or oom it shows respect and honour to that person. If you greet an older person you say: ‘Good morning Oom John’. However, if you do not know the person’s name you can just address them as ‘oom’ or ‘tannie’, and this will be good enough. In the case of not knowing a younger individual’s name, you can just address him as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’, or in Afrikaans ‘meneer’ for sir and ‘dame’ for madam. This too can save you from embarrassment if you do not know that person’s name. The latter example, however, is falling out of use in present-day South Africa. With this cultural background in mind living in Keith and remembering names was challenging – just imagine if I were to call you uncle or aunt!

One of the consequences of Afrikaners feeling like a great big family is that you can give anyone hugs and kisses. To embrace and show affection is something that always happens in the Afrikaner culture. If you know one another you start and finish your conversion with a hug. If you meet a fellow Afrikaner for the first time, you will start with a formal handshake, after that you always enjoy greeting one another with a hug. In some occasions, you will be welcomed with a kiss as well – not the French way (on the cheek), but the Afrikaner way – on the lips! This reminds me of a ‘tannie’ back home who was still very traditional. She always greeted us with a kiss on the lips. The challenge for me as a boy was always to try to dodge her lips by giving my cheek on the last second. To my dismay, my tactics never worked to avoid those lips. I have to admit that I am glad that this custom is not that prevalent anymore. However, the hug is still very much a part of the Afrikaner package. You will get an Afrikaner hug sooner than later because we are all family!

When moving to Keith, I quickly realized that my cultural paradigm would not work. My observations of Keith people is that they are friendly but with an arm’s distance. They always make sure that there is a wee space between themselves and others. This includes having arms tucked in at the sides and not stretching out as our Afrikaners will do. This for me was very interesting to observe. Knowing this cultural difference, and realising that I should be appropriate with my hug giving, there were still many times that I could not help but hand out hugs. Still, I find it difficult to restrain the Afrikaner impulse! However, there were occasions that I gave hugs to a few in Keith that was totally blown away by me slapping my arms around them. On these occasions, I could feel how they absolutely did not know what to do with themselves. These experiences are extremely funny, knowing that the poor soul who received an Afrikaner hug will never be the same.

Well, living in Keith has also changed me, and I too will never be the same again. I have changed but not through hugs or kisses but due to the friendliness and kindness of the people of Keith who have made me feel at home. Just as my forefathers were shaped by the wilds of Africa, so too am I glad to say that bonny Scotland has shaped me for the better.

Eckhardt Bosch BTh, MTh

Parish Assistant

Keith North, Newmill, Boharm, Rothiemay, Keith St Rufus, Botriphnie and Grange


2 Replies to “An Afrikaner In Keith”

  1. So nice to know you have settled in Keith and are enjoying getting to know the folk round here, (with or without hugs and kisses). This is a lovely little town and the people are renowed for their friendliness. I hope you continue to feel happy here and that the ‘trek’ was worthwhile.

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