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.
"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 Americanisms, American 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.