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Marianna Smith and I decided that it was time for one of our regular visits to Wupperthal. Marianna initiated and manages the Red Cedar business and the group needed to be trained in the making of the latest product – a Body Scrub. The car was laden with raw materials and provisions for our stay and we set off for Wupperthal.

As one drives out of Clanwilliam the dirt road begins and soon after that the ascent into the Cederberg starts. The journey through the mountains, surrounded by boulders, crags and peaks reminds one of the journey of one’s own life and certainly gets the creative juices going. We talked about the Red Cedar stories, and those which still needed to be told.

Later that evening we sat on the verandah of our faithful old guesthouse, feeling deeply relaxed. After a long drive and the chaos of city life the silence and peace of Wupperthal is utterly calming. The topic of storytelling came up again and it was decided that Gwen’s story should be told.

Gwen Snygans is a naturally talented lady. She is involved in all aspects of Red Cedar, including the finances. She is also a caregiver and has taken on the role of caring for her parents and her disabled sister. She is very committed to her Red Cedar activities and also to her family.

To get to the heart of another person’s story it is helpful to be with them in their home environment and Gwen agreed to take me to her home. En route we walked past the Mission Store, which is where the locals buy some of their provisions. Nearing the Van Schalkwyk bakery we were greeted by the irresistible smell of fresh bread – so good that I can almost smell it now. As we walked along the road the familiar donkey cart passed by, carrying bricks for the building of much needed toilets.

As Gwen’s story started to unfold I noticed that several of the village dogs were following closely in our wake, as if they too wanted to be a part of it all.

Gwen is a Wupperthalian of long lineage and her parents were both born in the village. Her mother, Margrieta, moved to Cape Town as a young person to do domestic work and then marriage took her to Port Elizabeth where she gave birth to seven children. After her husband died, Margrieta and her seven children moved back to Wupperthal, where they lived with her parents. Soon afterwards she met Gwen’s father, Daniel, and married for the second time. They had three children together - Elfrieda, Andrew and Gwen. Daniel worked as a builder and did general handyman work.

Gwen attended school in Wupperthal and matriculated in Clanwilliam. By the time she finished school her mother was suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and lower back problems, with the result that now she is not very mobile. Gwen’s father also has high blood pressure, but he enjoys growing vegetables and keeping a pig, and these activities keep him relatively fit. One of Gwen’s half sisters is epileptic. She had a bad seizure when she was very young, which left her disabled. Daniel and Margrieta get a pension and her sister gets a grant, but from an early age Gwen was needed at home to ‘hold everything together’. She tried living in Cape Town for a year but it was not easy finding work and she found that she did not like city life. Gwen has a beautiful daughter, Gaylin, who is the apple of her grandparents’ eye.

By the time we reached Gwen’s home a significant part of the story had already been told. The house is nestled against the mountain above the road, which leads one in the direction of outlying substations – Bekerskraal and Nuweplaas. Above the houses are the kraals where the residents keep pigs, goats, cows and sheep.

Gwen invited me in to meet her mother, Margrieta, who is a kindly, gracious woman. I commented that her English was excellent and she told me that it was the result of working for a doctor when she lived in Port Elizabeth. We chatted and I took photographs of mother and daughter. As we were leaving the house we looked out over the patchwork of vegetable plots on the fertile flatlands below the houses. Here and there gardeners were rhythmically turning the soil and directing the ‘leiwater’ to their crops.

Gwen and I set off again in the direction of Lekkerbekkie restaurant, which is situated between the information centre and the museum. From the verandah of the restaurant we could see the rooibos tea court, which is a very busy place in the season from January to April. Rooibos extract is used in all the Red Cedar products. We sat in the shade and quenched our thirst and then talked some more. Apparently in Wupperthal it is the custom that the oldest son gets the house when the parents pass on. However, in Gwen’s case her parents have left her the house in their will, which everyone thinks is only fair in view of the fact that she is the primary caregiver.

Gwen heard about the soap project through the church and applied for a job. When I asked her how the work had impacted on her life she said that mostly she feels uplifted by the knowledge she has gained. She also feels empowered through her earnings. Looking after family is now a choice, which she does willingly. Working for Red Cedar provides her with the opportunity to travel to Cape Town for marketing and she has also attended an expo. Wupperthal is socially very quiet for a young, single woman and Gwen embraces the chance to get out of the village every now and then. Gwen’s older sister, Elfrieda has offered to look after the family unit should Gwen have to travel for Red Cedar.

Work still needed to be done, so we finished our tea and headed back to the soap making facility, both expressing positive feelings about the future of Red Cedar.