Little Inspirations: a tribute

The ‘Team’ on a Christmas trip to see the movie, Long Walk to Freedom. (My photo)

It’s been a sad week. I lost someone who was important in my life. One of the first people whom I met when I arrived to live here on South Africa’s shores. A man I met at the clinic here in Somerset West, where I was part of a volunteer group providing help and support to people living with chronic diseases like HIV and TB, which I talked about a few weeks ago. His name was Johannes and he was part of our team (pictured above).

He had already been living with HIV for some 12 years when we first met, although you wouldn’t have thought he was sick. He was our greatest advocate in the campaign we were running to dispel the myths and the stigma attached to HIV. Within our group was a safe place to speak, a place where people could share their stories without judgment. It was through sharing these stories that I started to get to know Johannes.

In my guest post ‘From the Writer’s Desk’ on da-AL’s blog, Happiness Between the Tails, back in January this year, I talked about how some of the main characters in Song of the Sea Goddess came to be. Johannes was one of them.

“A few of my key characters are based on people I met when I first came to live in South Africa. …people who come from what are euphemistically called ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’…

I could have written about some of their struggles, about the conditions in which they live, about the poverty and lack of opportunity… but as I got to them better, I realised that none of them wants to dwell on any of that.

So I decided I could give them better lives, locate them in a much more pleasant place and put a positive spin on this beautiful country.”

You can read the full version here.

Our support group folded after a couple of years, but by that time Johannes was working for me as a gardener, painter and general handy man. In fact, there was little that he couldn’t turn his hand to. His stories continued through our coffee breaks – of how he ran away to sea at the age of twelve and worked on the deep-sea trawlers for years, how he came home, got into a fight and was jailed and then, after he was released, how he turned his life around.

There’s a lovely little pen portrait of ‘Jannie’ by Robbie Cheadle in her recent review of Song of the Sea Goddess on her blog, Roberta Writes. I was delighted the way she ‘got’ all of my characters, and these few lines sum up the character Johannes inspired (and a little part of Johannes himself) perfectly.

“Jannie is an ex-convict who has discovered the errors of his ways and allowed his better nature to reassert itself. He is a lover of animals and the stray dog featured in the story, and Toti, the monkey, both love him.”

The fictional Jannie gets his long brown-black dreadlocks, his watchfulness and his willingness to help from Johannes. He gets his understanding, his gentle ways and his kindness too, as well as his ability to fight in the defence of his friends.

It’s ironic that the da-AL’s post was prefaced by her and her husband’s Covid experience. Fortunately, they came through. Johannes wasn’t so lucky and it was he that I was thinking of when I wrote my poem, Last Gasp on Monday. He lost that particular fight late on Tuesday evening.

Johannes wasn’t just a gardener and handyman, he wasn’t just a source of stories, he was my friend and I shall miss him very much. But just as he will live on in the hearts and memories of those who knew him, part of him will live on in the pages of Song of the Sea Goddess, and the so far unfinished sequel, as well.

Sunset over the Berg River ©Cliff Davies 2019

Johannes Williams, 10.03.64 – 10.08.21
May the sun never set on your memory.

59 thoughts on “Little Inspirations: a tribute

  1. Oh my word! I’m so sorry to hear about Johannes! By the way you describe him, he sounds like a really great guy. Your tribute to him is moving and touching. It’s people like that who bring joy to the lives of others.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Chris, I am so sorry for your loss. I have also known lovely people like Johannes. Some of them inspired some of the poems that are included in my first poetry book which is about my life here in South Africa. My mom calls me a people collector because I always have people I support and help. Some are street people and some are pensioners who aren’t well provided for and don’t have family left here in SA. I am glad you like my portrayal of Jannie. I loved all your characters and I loved that you brought out the best of our people in that book. So many lovely and colourful people. Thanks for the shout out. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

        • I shall go and find it, Robbie. My poems are confined to my WP site, although I have been thinking about publishing a ‘slim volume’ (like one of my characters has done – Connor often brags about his success to me). First I must finish my current project.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Poetry isn’t a big seller for me, Chris, but they do move slowly and I get a lot of satisfaction from publishing them. My poetry books please me as I think they are windows into my soul. I agree you should finish your current WIP first, everything takes time and it is a distraction. I have another Sir Choc book coming out in October and that is also a distraction from my 5 WIPs [smile! – I am finding moving about this year is working better for me than one project at a time]

            Liked by 1 person

            • Well, you’ve sold one more, Robbie! I guess poetry is pretty niche – I’ve only taken up reading it since I’ve started writing it, but both give me pleasure. Whatever I write, I write for pleasure anyway.
              5 WIPs – wow!

              Liked by 1 person

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