My native language, Afrikaans, has some wonderful words. One of them is DWAAL, which defies translation. It is a gothic word used for wandering dream-like, without purpose and with nameless longing. It evokes images of walking through abandoned mansions at night, down endless passageways. It has undertones of the mystical and paranormal. It also refers to life journeys, which are off the beaten path and may end in tragedy. No writer captured this haunting quality better than Eugene Marais, one of my favourite writers. His anthology, DWAALSTORIES – (Tales of Getting Lost), is peopled with characters off track – lost - and has its origin in the oral tradition of the San people. In his story "Die Towenares", (The Sorceress) he writes: "Sy wag nie meer nie. Sy maak nie meer nie. Sy hoor nie meer nie. G’n een roep haar van ver." ( She no longer waits. She no longer makes. She no longer hears. No one calls her from afar.)
These are "dwaal" sentences. In these days of Covid-19, I think we all "dwaal". We may not wander restlessly through gothic mansions or get lost in the veld following "dwaalligte", (imaginary, phantom lights), but there is this dream-like quality about our existence. Much as we try to impose structure and cheery normality, put rainbows in windows, we cannot shake the sense that we are adrift. We are stuck in our rooms, but our minds roam far outside. And at night when we close our eyes to sleep, we get lost wandering labyrinths or vast deserts: losing our way, even as we tread the same paths over and over again. "Dwalend."
Image credit: Keith Alexander, "Kate’s cupboard".