Hiking with Jessica

The Red Cedar business has been receiving funding from USAID since March 2004. This will have run its course by the end of February and Red Cedar will face the challenge of having to stand firmly on its own two feet.

Marianna Smith and I planned our final trip to Wupperthal – the team needed to be trained to make body butter cream and they were coming back to Cape Town with us to promote and sell their range of products at The Women’s Expo and The Professional Beauty Expo. Also, more stories needed to be told and Jessica Mouton was awaiting our arrival.

Marianna hired a minibus for the trip, and it was soon fully loaded with packaging, a microwave and mini-oven for Jessica and a washing machine for Linda.

Everything was going well - we were travelling in comfort, feeling cool and relaxed in spite of the 42ºC heat outside. The dirt road between Clanwilliam and Wupperthal takes on a rough ripple at this time of year. Once on this road we felt a little less comfortable but were still cool – air conditioning be praised! That’s when it happened – the sudden realization that the car was handling differently, and then the noise … yes, we had a flat and the tyre was destroyed.

What now? I thought – it was baking hot outside and we had no cell phone reception. Much to my delight and amazement Marianna made quick work of the tyre change – certainly deserving of a Survivor badge!

Jessica is a committed churchgoer and I had made arrangements to go to the 6:30pm service with her. We had expected that we would arrive in Wupperthal for the ringing of the bells at 6pm but the Cedarberg clearly had other plans for us, delaying us with the burst tyre. As it turned out the church service was cancelled anyway.

The first thing we did when we arrived in Wupperthal was to deliver Linda’s washing machine, which she had purchased with her Red Cedar bonus money. Next we delivered Jessica’s microwave and mini-oven, also purchased with her bonus. Red Cedar has received a couple of big orders from the Moravians in Germany and this export opportunity has resulted in good bonuses for the team. Finally, it was time to meet up with Jessica and make a plan to spend some time with her.

Jessica rents a house in Walsekraal, which is below the road heading out to the substation, Nuweplaas. She is 26 and lives on her own, although she previously shared the house with her cousin, Michelle, and friend, Noleen.

Some time ago, Michelle and Noleen started a hiking club. The club has about 12 members from Wupperthal and 12 from Cape Town. They meet roughly four times a year for a planned hike on one of the Cedarberg trails. They quite often arrange a 2-day hike in the area and sleep in an overnight hut. Sometimes they meet in Cape Town. Their love of nature and the outdoors creates a bond between them, which brings much joy.

I understood that hiking is very important to Jessica – it’s what motivates her and makes her shine. And so we arranged to go on a short hike together to Krokkedam, a great way to get some exercise and have a good chat at the same time! We met at 6:30 in the quiet stillness of the morning. The bold shapes and colours of the Cedarberg rocks, the almost-dreamy Eucalyptus trees along our path and the freshness of the early morning after the previous day’s blistering heat felt good.

Jessica’s parents live at the Eselbank substation. Her father, Jerry, grew up there and her mother, Ansie, grew up in Nuweplaas. Ansie used to visit her sister in Eselbank and that was how she met Jerry. Soon they were married and they had two daughters and two sons. Jessica is the second of the four siblings. Jerry is a rooibos tea farmer – some years have been good and some years not so good. Like most farmers he has had to cope with the ups and downs of supply and demand.

Jessica attended school in Eselbank until Standard 4 and then moved to the school in Wupperthal where she stayed in the hostel for Standards 5 to 7. She completed her schooling in Clanwilliam and thoroughly enjoyed hostel life.

After school Jessica stayed with friends of the family in Elsiesriver and worked at a toilet-paper factory in Brackenfell. She enjoyed making friends in the city but from time to time felt very homesick and this was what took her back to Eselbank. She returned to Paarl for three months to do a computer course and some community work but then returned home for good, with a clear idea of what she would like to do.

Jessica set about becoming a tea farmer. She had watched her father over the years and now felt ready to become a farmer herself. As a Moravian she was in a position to apply to the church for land. Her application was successful – she chose a piece of land and set about chopping the bush, clearing and ploughing the land. She then bought 1000 seedlings from a farmer/nurseryman in the village. She planted her first crop in June 2004, and her first harvest was in January 2006. She pays a yearly rental to the church for her piece of land. The rental is very low, but is set to increase substantially.

Jessica applied to join the Red Cedar team in 2004 and was delighted that her application was successful. The extra money she earns there has helped her to get going with her tea-farming enterprise.

By this time, we had reached the point where we overlooked Krokkedam, a waterhole which beckons one down a steep descent to a magical place where the rest of the world seems not to exist.

And then, it was time to head back to Red Cedar, knowing that several products still needed to be made and packed for the expo’s in Cape Town. Jessica loves the production part of the business and is grateful for the skills she has acquired in learning how to make them. She mentioned that she was previously quite shy but, like many of the women on the team, her involvement in Red Cedar has helped her to express herself with greater confidence.