Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Slegs Only

Last weekend my nephew and his friend Aidan, who had never been here before, flew into South Africa from Canada.  We met them at OR Tambo Airport. As we drove home on the highway, we passed through several sections where roadworks were in progress. It was dark and some stretches had no road markings. This made driving difficult—with no demarcated traffic lanes, we weren't sure where to drive.

"At least we can follow the cat's eyes to get some idea where the lanes are," I commented.

Aidan had no idea what cat's eyes were and I laughed as I imagined what he might be visualising. I explained that they were reflective markers on the road surface. They shone as the car's lights fell on them.

"Oh, the snow ploughs would take those out at home," he said. 

We chatted about how our UK friends were puzzled when we said, "Turn right at the next robot". They imagined a large mechanical figure at the side of the road directing traffic, whereas in fact we were using the common South African term for a traffic light.

I recalled how, in the seventies, my uncle from the UK had been intrigued by one of our road markings—an arrow pointing to the left and the words 'SLEGS ONLY'.  He joked about what a sleg looked like and wondered why only slegs could travel down those lanes. What are slegs? Oh, they don't exist. Slegs is the Afrikaans word meaning only. The marking did not denote a lane for mysterious monsters, but a lane dedicated to left-turning-traffic. And Afrikaans? That's one of our 11 official languages.

Today I asked Erin, my eight-year-old granddaughter, to imagine what a sleg looked like. She beamed and said, "I've got a nice imagination. I imagined a chameleon with 100 legs, 16 eyes, 55 tail. And it's pink."

"Can you imagine a sleg?" I asked.

She nodded.

"Can you draw one for me?"

 She sat down and without a moment's hesitation drew a sleg. When I suggested that she used her picture as a book cover and write a story about it, her face lit up and she rattled off the names of the characters as they ran into her mind- Duggal, Mr and Mrs Blob . . .  I could almost see the wheels of her imagination turning as her story came to life. I have no doubt that she will write her book and read it to me. 

Today I planned to write a blog about the differences my visitors found between Canada and South Africa, perhaps an addition to Grace's blog posts International Views of AmericanismsAmerican Views of Internationalisms and More International Variety . My post has morphed into a few thoughts about imagination. This blog reflects my writing process, I write my first draft with a definite idea in mind, but it tends to change into a totally different story once my imagination gets going.

I pray that I will approach my writing with the same confidence, enthusiasm and imagination as Erin. God gave us our imaginations and, if we ask Him, will use them to breathe life into our characters and stories.


  1. Oh I love the drawing. I learnt a bit about South Africa today. When I visited Canada I taught my friends new things. we were wrapping things I and I was saying I have to buy some sticky tape. My friend calls it scotch tape I think or the name its called. She was going back to Texas and order it on the next order form just cos she like the sound of it. The other thing I converted several to saying brekky (short for Breakfast) I would say see you at brekky or whats for brekky.
    There were things that confused me. On the trip up to my friends place near Whistler I had her and the bus driver in stichers trying to say Canucks (I think I spelt it wrong). I was getting it so wrong and they found it so funny.

  2. Love Erin's drawing of a sleg, Ruth Ann!!

    You got Canuck right, Jenny. I'm from Canada and I would know what you meant by sticky tape and brekky.

    Enjoyed this post :)

  3. From Marion:

    Ruth, I have no doubt that Erin is going to grow up with an absolute love and passion for writing (under the guidance of her Granny). Tell Erin I love her Sleg!

    Jenny, we South African's have so much in common with Australia. We also call it sticky tape and often go out for brekky!

  4. That looks like a pretty authentic sleg to me.
    Although Australia does seem to have a bit in common with South Africa, I've never heard of traffic lights being called robots. I love it.
    Jenny's 'brekky' comments reminds me of how we Aussies love to abbreviate several words which often seem to perplex the rest of the world.

  5. Ruth, tell Erin I love her Sleg. It's just how I would have imagined it too, if I'd ever thought that way.

    The Afrikaans street sign I always love, and maybe Erin could draw this for us too, is the phrase for "cul-de-sac". They call it "Straat loop dood." In other words, literally, "Street walks dead."

  6. Delightful! Obviously a sleg is a slug with legs.

  7. Really enjoyed reading this--thanks for a great story.

  8. Many thanks for all the comments, I enjoyed reading them. International differences fascinate me.

    It's also interesting to see how our imaginations vary. I visualise a sleg almost the same as Donna's, but mine would have little wheels instead of legs.