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Maya Fowler

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The great South African holiday

When Elle asked me to write a contribution to their article “The Great South African Holiday” I reflected on farm holidays in the Free State, and a trip to Darling’s Voorkamerfees. And so I wrote two pieces. To read the account of my colourful family and the Shetland pony who broke away to run with the zebra herd, get the October issue of Elle, on street now.

Bonus: you’ll get to see a pic of me, aged three, sitting on said pony. It might be your only opportunity ever to catch a glimpse my natural hair colour.

The other piece recalls my trip to Darling for the Voorkamerfees in 2007:

A road trip and a lucky packet. That’s what we’d come for. It was late August 2007, and we were in Darling for the Voorkamerfees, then a roaring success, and now so popular, tickets are sold out long in advance.

It was the concept that had attracted me as much as the destination. While everyone should visit Darling for its small-town charm, the art, the orchid farm, the nearby Namaqualand flowers (in season) and of course Tannie Evita, the Voorkamerfees is a cultural experience like no other.

It’s a brilliant deal: for R80, you get three surprise events and a minibus taxi to drive you from the one to the next. While you know which artists are attending the festival, you only know who you’re seeing once you get there. And the venues? The voorkamers of a variety of citizens of Darling. And so we got to attend a flute recital in an RDP house, a poetry reading in an ancient mansion (yellowwood floors and all), and a David Kramer show in a thoroughly middle-class lounge.

I was astounded at the community spirit and the pride with which people opened their homes. The little brick house “below the line” really moved me. On rough, bare walls, the owner had stuck her loved ones – computer printouts of graduations, family gatherings and grandchildren at play. And there we sat, on rows of chairs carried in for the occasion, and I got a lump in my throat, thinking of how fortunate I’ve been my whole life, and how much I love this country of ours. But most of all, I was thinking that tonight I was experiencing the privilege of genuine hospitality, pure and simple; untainted by the pretentiousness that coats so much of daily interaction. It was a truly refreshing break.

* This year’s festival has come and gone, but you can follow the link to read more:


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