Thirteen Years: A Visit To The Military Hospital

AIDS was… an illness in stages, a very long flight of steps that led assuredly to death, but whose every step represented a unique apprenticeship. It was a disease that gave death time to live and its victims time to die, time to discover time, and in the end to discover life.

~ Hervé Guibert

A Visit To The Military Hospital

Continued from… Sizing Up Property

They all strolled back to the house of Ken and Iris after Ken had locked up the house of their friends again. Iris offered them another drink. Jeanne, Annie and Isaac each opted for a cup of tea, while Jacques and Ken drank beer. Iris also made herself a cup of tea. The ladies took place at the table on the porch and the men stayed with Ken, who was about to start the fire for the barbecue.

Jacques curiously watched Ken as he worked. In the Netherlands, he was used to making the barbecue fire using briquettes, but Ken now made the fire the way most South Africans did it — using chunks of wood. The wood would burn until it was coal and ready for the meat to be barbecued. This process took a couple of hours. Where it was still early afternoon and they had only planned the barbecue for dinner, the fire already burned abundantly.

While the men chatted around the fire, the ladies looked through photographs that Iris had retrieved from her bedroom. The photos showed her children and grandchildren. Annie just enjoyed being close to these people and spending time with her friend and ex-colleague Jeanne. From where they sat, she had a good view of the men. She kept a watchful eye over Isaac, who alternated sitting and standing close to the fire. However, she didn’t have to worry about him, because Isaac made a point of taking it more than easy.

Iris got up to go into the kitchen. She wanted to make pot bread. Just like potjiekos or pot food, they prepared the bread in a traditional round cast iron three-legged pot. This pot was also heated over a barbecue fire and we cooked food in it. Potjiekos included meat, vegetables and rice or potatoes, which all cooked in layers. The food would never be stirred and little fluids were added to the ingredients. Different spices and cooking in a cast-iron pot over an open fire gave the potjiekos its distinctive taste. Pot bread was nothing other than a normal bread mix, but then cooked in a cast-iron pot. Yet again, this method added a distinctive taste to it.

When the meat came off the barbecue, the pot bread was ready too. In the meantime, Iris had made a mixed salad using lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and croutons. Jeanne had brought a wheat salad with her, which was simply divine.

Both Annie and Jacques didn’t feel ashamed when they helped themselves to a second plate of food. Isaac only ate a small piece of meat, but he had a generous helping of each of the rest of the dishes. All of them enjoyed the dinner and their hosts thanked their host profusely for a wonderful afternoon when the four visitors were ready to leave. When they drove off, Annie looked through the back window of the car and it didn’t surprise her to see Iris crying again. She herself had tears in her eyes.

Jeanne didn’t take the same road back to Cape Town. Not long after being back on the main road, she turned off in the direction of Kleinmond. From Kleinmond, they followed the coastal road to Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay, Rooi-Els and then to Gordon’s Bay. En route, they stopped several times.

Annie just couldn’t stop making pictures of the sunset, which was a mix of bright colors — yellow, orange, red and pink. The lower the sun, the brighter the pink became and then blue added itself to the color spectacle. On the other side of the bay, Table Mountain at first was a light grayish color, only to turn almost black by the time the sun was almost fully set.

When they reached Gordon’s Bay — the route they just drove from Hermanus to Gordon’s Bay was also known as the Whale route — Jeanne left the coastal road to drive to her house via the highway. By then, it was dark outside.

Knowing Jeanne had to work the next morning, Isaac, Annie and Jacques didn’t hang around once they had arrived at Jeanne’s place. After hugging Jeanne and thanking her for a wonderful day, they drove off to return to Isaac’s house.

“Who wants a milkshake?” Isaac asked when they were close to his house.

Both Annie and Jacques nodded in agreement, and Isaac drove to the same Spur where they had been on their first night in South Africa.

It was not late when they returned to Isaac’s house, but since they were all tired after a day out in nature, they retired to bed early.

On Monday morning, Isaac had to see the doctor again.

His doctor was in the same military hospital where Annie had worked for a couple of years before her immigration to the Netherlands. Since Annie wanted to visit some of her ex-colleagues, she and Jacques drove to the hospital with Isaac. Both Jeanne and Kathy knew she would visit, but they had kept it as a surprise.

Jacques didn’t want to go to the personnel office with Annie, Kathy and Jeanne, so he stayed behind in Kathy’s office with a magazine. Isaac went to see the doctor.

In the personnel office, where Annie had worked for almost four years, it surprised her to see quite several ex-colleagues still worked there. More surprised were these ex-colleagues when they saw Annie. She left them seven years before, when she transferred to the headquarters of the military medical services.

Work came to a complete halt while they fired off questions at Annie so quickly, she hardly had time to answer them. Mostly, they wanted to know what it was like to live overseas and if Annie found South Africa had changed since she had left the country.

While she was in the personnel office, a colonel entered. Jeanne introduced Annie to the colonel and Annie saw something of surprise and shock in his eyes when he heard her name. She smiled at him, but it was only after he had left the office she realized who it was. Isaac had spoken to this colonel while he was in the hospital in Rotterdam. This man had told Isaac the army wouldn’t pay his Dutch hospital bill.

After keeping her ex-colleagues from their work for more than an hour, Annie went to find her husband still sitting in Kathy’s office. Since the word had spread Annie was in the building, people from other departments came to Kathy’s office to find her. She answered the same questions repeatedly, while waiting for Isaac to return from his doctor’s appointment.

To be continued… Underdressed In A Posh Restaurant

Note: This series is a rework of a self-published book (2009), rewritten for this blog, and in loving memory of a dear friend who suffered from and passed because of AIDS. Keep in mind this story happens in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. Names of characters have been changed to protect their privacy.

© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay

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