The economy of the countryside
by De Wet Barnard, veterinarean on Modimolle (sent in by Morné du Plessis)
One of my very first visits to a farm in Nylstroom went like this:
While I was attending to a horse, the farmer (at that stage everyone that owned land of more than 10 ha, was a farmer in my eyes) asked whether I am seeing a lady, because he has a beautiful daughter he wants to introduce me to. I laughed and said he must first show me a picture of her.
This was a general offer in the countryside, I realised.
A month or so thereafter a beautiful, young brunette with a Daschund under the arm walked into the clinic where I was working. We talked for much longer than was nececitated by the dog’s ailment. I admitted the dog for treatment of an abcess and when I later looked at the patient’s information form, the surname did appear familiar to me. My receptionist informed me that the lady was indeed the daughter of the farmer with the horse.
Two days later I phoned her to find out how the dog was doing, and ‘Oh, yes, your father said the two of us should meet for coffee...’
Our first official date was at the Zeemeeuw Huis in Warmdbad. After dinner I was dragged to my (future) sister-in-law’s house for coffee. Of course the whole extended family was there.
As I was new in the area, coming from the big city, I was not at all familiar with the social dynamics of a small countryside town.
After being asked where in town I live, the conversation turned to the local property market and, of course, estate agents. Due to my recent search for suitable accommodation (my previous addresses being the hospital where I was born, my mother’s house, a student commune and a friend’s flat in Stellenbosch) I felt I could also contribute on the topic, and said: ‘Well, if anyone in this town wants to rent property, they just shouldn’t make use of XXX Properties.’
A deadly silence fell upon us. Someone cleared his throat and suddenly a new topic was under discussion. Months later I would find out I was sitting in the house of the son of the owner of said XXX Properties.
Today, while my assistants were shaving our accountant’s dog to prepare her for sterilazation, I said to them: ‘You better treat this dog nicely, because her owner is the person who calculates our payslips each month.’
My team worked with much more care than I am used to.
The world is small, and a countryside community like ours, even smaller. If you go to the store late on a Sunday morning to get firewood, meat and garlic bread, you better be dressed neatly, because one tends to let your greyer-haired clients’ eyebrows rise when you bump into them and you’re not wearing church clothes like they do.
Here we all know each other, whether you want to or not. In the countryside clients and contacts aren’t mere names on an invoice, but real people whom you are familiar with (or know the gossip stories about).
The cashier at the branch, who rings up the elderly lady’s star-pack chicken, knows that the lady’s husband at home has recently had a stroke and that things are tough. The person from the finance department, who has to grant a loan to a well-known farmer in the district, knows that if there isn’t enough rain this year, the farm will be reposessed by the bank.
Business in the countryside is different. It’s not clients you work with; it’s people. People you know.
And that matters.