Oor die rand van uitgebrand

“These challenging times” nearly got me down, but rhymes like this one picked me up again.

The image of the rhyme in Afrikaans "oor die rand van uitgebrand" with doodles by Gerhi Janse van vuuren

The full text in Afrikaans:

Oor die rand van uitgebrand

Ek spartel rond

In my eie wond

En terwyl ek in infeksie swem

Wonder ek waarvoor is ek dan bestem?

Veraf hoor ek ’n hond blaf

En vaagweg wonder ek wanneer hulle maskers gaan afskaf …?

Maar, ag, dis sommer laf – 

Wie sal laat los wat soveel mag verskaf?

Só sak ek dieper in die donker af en af

Tot net duskant die graf …

Skielik gly daar ’n rympie by my verby.

Sal ek hom betyds raakgevat kry?

Ek volg hom op en op 

Tot my kop

Bo die oppervlak uitpop!

Rympies word my antidepressant

Vat my aan die hand 

En lei my terug oor die rand van uitgebrand.

Where I am going with this blog from here.

Since the beginning of this year I had been recovering from burn-out from the work and personal overwhelm of 2020-2021. In the depths of my despair I began to make rhymes. They are my antidepressants and I share them here. They are also a form of advocacy and resistance.

The plan is to post one every weekend – but as soon as this becomes too much like work, I will stop.

I want them to offer joy, giggles, sniffles and reflection.

Thanks to my sister Monica Bosman who is my soundboard and my language editor Find her here.

To my Husband Gerhi who does the doodles. Find him at www.gerhi.com 

And my son who edits and posts my videos.

Yip, it is a family affair…


(vir my ma op moedersdag – vir elke ander ma én vir ons Universele Ma)

‘n Rympie deur Petro Janse van Vuuren

An image of a poem I wrote for my mom on mother's Day . Title: Perlemoer- "Mother of Pearl"
Vir Moedersdag

Three weeks ago I visited my mom for a week in Stellenbosch. I am recovering from burn-out and this visit finally made me feel that recovery might actually be possible…

It is meant for my mom, yes, but also for every other mom and for our Universal Mother.

And it is written in my Mother-tongue. As are most of my rhymes.

Here is the full text in Afrikaans:


(vir my ma)

Sewe dae in Ma se Spa, 

En ek kan weer vir die lewe sê, Ja!

Ma het my kos uit die tuin gevoer;

My gelos om te slaap, lánk na die duiwe begin koer;

Buite by my gesit as ek dóér

             oor die berge kyk, waar dit met wyn en asyn boer,

             my kaal voete in die herfsbedekte grasvloer;

My met versies en kersies aangepoer;

My lomerig-luuks in die osoonborrelbad laat sloer;

Oor my tone geloer,

             terwyl Ma se vingers doelgerig oor my voetsole toer;

Ure met my gesprekke gevoer

             om die gekrampte gedagtes en gevoelens los te woer

             en weer die hoop in my wakker te roer. 

Ek, afgebrokkel van die kosmos,

’n Fyngemaalde stukkie rots,

Wat kon land in die stil, donker kalmte

             van ’n moeder se omhelsende warmte,

om my weer aanmekaar te snoer.

            ’n Week, ’n leeftyd, in die hart van my Perlemoer.

Where I am going with this blog from here.

Since the beginning of this year I had been recovering from burn-out from the work and personal overwhelm of 2020-2021. In the depths of my despair I began to make rhymes. They are my antidepressants and I share them here. They are also a form of advocacy and resistance.

The plan is to post one every weekend – but as soon as this becomes too much like work, I will stop.

I want them to offer joy, giggles, sniffles and reflection.

Thanks to my sister Monica Bosman who is my soundboard and my language editor Find her here.

To my husband Gerhi who does the doodles. Find him at www.gerhi.com

And my son who edits and posts my videos.

Whose bed can you hide under?

I was travelling home from a dinner with some friends. Zola*, my uber driver, strikes up a conversation. Like many drivers he goes for politics. He chooses the classic opening line: “Eish, the country is going down the drain…”

“Really?” I say. This driver looks unusually concerned.

“Yes, there is racism everywhere. And they say the foreigners are taking our jobs.”

“That is not how it works,” I counter. “It is not like there are only so many jobs and only a few people can have them. In a healthy country there are enough jobs for everyone. If the country grows, the amount of jobs will grow and there will be enough for us all.”

He thinks for a while and says: “I did not think I would meet someone like you tonight.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you not afraid to be here with the black government and the politics?”
His question reminds me of another taxi driver on another day – one who looked and talked more like me. His name was Arno*. Like other drivers, he also talked politics and it was me who asked him the question: “What do you say about some politicians wanting to drive white people into the ocean?”

He answered with a defiant smile: “Hulle moet maar probeer [Let them try].”
This is not my response to Zola. Instead I answer truthfully: “Yes, I am, sometimes, but…” We have stopped in front of my house by now and I wish to end the conversation on a lighter note, “… don’t worry. My friend Sipho* said I can hide under his bed when they come for me.”

Zola does not yet unlock the car doors and I see the conversation is not over. I wait to hear what is on his mind.

As he unlocks the door he says: “You can come hide under my bed too.”

*All names changed

What to do when your country is hurting?

(The Blog’s dedication story)

In 1994 South Africans were going through the first general election and hope was soaring…

… and I learned how deep and wide our wounds really are and how difficult the road to recovery. It is also the year I found the source of one of the most powerful healing agents: stories.

In January of that year, I was a third year at Stellenbosch University. I was the only woman in a class with 23 guys, I was the only person with low vision (6/60) in a world of people with 20/20 vision and I was the only white student in the black and coloured residence, Goldfields.

You see, since 1992 white residences had been opening their doors to ‘deserving’ and ‘academically promising’ black and coloured students, and the slow integration began. But the traffic was going only one way and I did not think this would work as way for us to heal our rifts. Sure, it was important for the privileges of the white community to be shared with everyone, but what of the value and riches of the black and coloured communities that would be left behind? Should these be disregarded? How could we build a nation, if everyone wanted the same things instead of sharing what everyone had, not just what the white minority had – and I don’t mean material wealth only. We need to understand each other and learn to appreciate each other and until this point, the appreciation was only going one way. That did not seem fair, nor workable as a means to democracy.

So, I applied for Goldfields.

Goldfields was unique in more ways than just being the res designated to black and coloured students. It was also built differently, situated differently and organised differently. It was built not as a multi storied hostel-like structure in the centre of town, but as self-contained, double story units with sic students on each floor sharing a small kitchen and seating area. Twelve or so units were built around a grassy yard where the boys would come to play sports and the girls could watch from their windows or cheer from the fringes of the field. It was set slightly out of the centre of town, but close enough to my faculty building so that I could walk it in 15 minutes. As an ‘older’ student, I thought it idyllic.

My first year roommate, hated it.

She wanted to be with her friends in the middle of student life in the middle of town in the white residences.

She also hated it because instead of us being served 3 meals a day like at the white res’s we were only served supper and had to provide breakfast and lunch for ourselves. This meant we had to share the fridge between six of us and food was never safe in it. The little money she had for food was often wasted when her food went off in our room, or got stolen from the fridge.

She hated it because varsity was tough for her. She came from a very rural setting in the Northern Cape and the adjustment to the ‘cityness’ of Stellenbosch and the whiteness of its entire system was hard for her to adjust to.

She also hated it because she got stuck with the only white student in the res, well-meaning, but clueless and a third year. It was the most unequal match ever. I was a local girl from Stellenbosch, having grown up there. My mom was 5 kilometres away, not 500. I knew the town, I knew the University, I was confident and, truth be told, arrogant in my great adventure as the white student in black res. She just wanted to survive varsity and now she had to deal with me.

I did everything wrong.

I thought that living with people different from me would change me and help me understand. On some level it did (I don’t flinch and become paranoid if I find myself surrounded by black and coloured people at e.g. a taxi rank – something few of my fellow white South Africans can pull off.  (Just writing this is embarrassing and a terrible indictment – I am sorry we are so fearful, it is unfounded).


All I learned was to persist in my privileged white ways in spite of my surroundings.

So, the food gets stolen. I bring in a little fridge from home (thank God I managed to share it with her) and food is safe. When I visit my mom on the weekend and come back to find that she shared my bed too, with friends of her who found place in the white res, I am unable to just share and accept. I make a scene about people sharing my sheets and now I had to wash them (not because the girls were coloured, but because I wanted clean sheets when I get back from home). Of course I don’t communicate this well at all and the only message she gets is “don’t sleep in my bed, it gets dirty. She also wears my clothes without asking and I cringe. I understand that sharing is the way people get to have more than what they would have if they only used what they themselves owne, but I want to be asked. And I do not understand the difference between people sharing food, (or taking it) and sharing clothes, or taking it. Sharing food is not okay,, but sharing clothes is – between whom?

She brings back ‘huisbrood’ (home made bread from the Nammakwaland) when she comes back from vacation she offers me a piece. I know this bread is valuable to her, it is her umbilical chord. She desperately wants my approval and watches me eat it. It tastes of animal fat and it is dry. I don’t like it, but instead of lying, thanking her for her generosity, I tell her that I don’t like it and with that, I see her face fall. She wants me to approve and like her, but I reject her like every other white in the cosy apartheid system.

And yet,

When she tells me about her home and her school, the awkwardness is gone. I laugh at the antics of her and her friends. I am shocked at the lecherous behaviour of a fat school teacher and how they find ways to deal with it resiliently. I could share my own story of such behaviour, but it only happened a couple of weeks earlier, so I don’t. We laugh like any two people discovering that they are both human.

I remember this moment of story-telling as the only time that the shit of my privilege and her uncertain struggles fall away.

I wish I can tell you there were hours of these moments. I remember only one.

I wish I knew then how to create more such moments.

I wish I was not the agent of her pain, but in many ways I was, bringing the hegemony and sustemic injustice into her room unable and possibly unwilling, to see its insidious, parasitic invasion of all that was dear to her. It would have been easier for her to have a coloured friend staying with her. It would have been less painful if there were no white invader in her world when she needed comfort and companion ship.

Dearest roommate, I dedicate this blog to you.

To everything you taught me unwillingly and unwittingly, especially to the story moments we shared.

Dear Reader, may we share more of these and heal our hurts.

How I will know if a story you send me fits?

Quite frankly: if the story moves me, I will post it.

Especially if it also

  1. Challenges stereotypes,
  2. Builds connection between people, factions, groups   or between ideas
  3. Leaves me more hopeful than before reading it and
  4. Is well told.

I may also post a story from time to time that moves me to raging frustration or stone cold indifference, just to keep it interesting.

Send me your story here.

Our need for stories that move us

I dedicate this blog to the telling of stories that shatter stereotypes, open us up to each other and move us towards one another.

In 1994, when South Africans were going through the first general election and hope was soaring, I learned how deep and wide our wounds really are and how difficult the road to recovery. It is also the year I found the source of one of the most powerful healing agents: stories. (Read the rest of this story)

Find here Four kinds of stories:

  1. Stories I tell about how I was moved by fellow South Africans
  2. Stories that you send me that moved you– Send me one now, if you are moved to do so. If it fits, I will post it. How I will know if it fits?
  3. Fairy tales and other made up stories that move me in some way (or don’t as the case may be)
  4. Commissioned stories that people have asked me to create for special occasions.

You may also book me to

Tell a story for your people at a special event

Teach your people about story and how to use them for personal or group transformation

Coach you to tell or use stories more effectively as leader or speaker

How do I find time for meaningful focused work in the midst of living and surviving?

You are invited to catch flying pigs with me on 25 Aug

quil and writingFor the past 10 years my husband, Gerhi, have been figuring out how to write the elusive novel and this year he is cracking the mystery. During the same time I have produced a PhD and published a number of research papers. Through all this we have raised our children and worked either on our own businesses or on teaching. We have tried and failed in so many ways; we have also found ways to succeed. What the sessions shares with you are the narrative heuristics that will allow you to improvise your own strategies for accomplishing your meaningful work.

Get the details on the Playing Mantis site


Mending hearts broken by the rat race

The heart of Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE)

There is a war going on – a war for your heart and your soul, for mine. A bit melodramatic?

I wake up in the morning with an unreasonable fear lodged in my chest. What ifI loose? Loose what, I ask myself?

  • The battle against boredom and overwork.
  • The fight to stay fit and healthy when all I want is another doughnut and a good long sit in the sun.
  • The struggle against loneliness, as I long to be with my family but despise them for crowding my headspace.
  • The strife I feel when trying to get friends to come over – do I even have friends?And then the fear that they won’t enjoy it here; so why bother?
  • The war against entropy, in my money matters, my house, my garden, my paperwork, when at the same time I would rather turn a blind eye and read another novel.

I am not one of those people caught up in the rat race: I refuse! I have been there and bought into all its frenzy, and I didn’t get the big house and the two cars, the housekeeper and the swimming pool.

In fact,my rat race brought my family and me to the brink of bankruptcy as we ploughed all our resources into ‘making it’ and failed.

Now that both my husband and I have jobs in education – with a good enough income to survive, but not to get rich, or even get ahead – ­we are much happier and have much more time for our kids, each other, the garden, the house, the friends, and the paperwork.


  • We long for action.
  • We yearn for significance.
  • We pine for the opportunity to express our innermost selves.
  • We wish with all our hearts that someone else would wash the dishes, do the garden, organise our papers.

We now have the time, but no motivation to do all the things on the list. So, and I will only speak for myself here, I sit around wishing for action, for someone to come visit, for some external impetus to get me off my buttto go, go, go! Of course the moment the impetus comes I resent it for stealing my peace and dictating my responses. When is sitting in the sun ‘being mindful’ mad when is it laziness? When is being present with my children healthy and when is it an excuse not to engage with something else?

How much more divided can I get?

This is the war that is destroying my heart and soul.

Inside the race, I feel controlled, diminished and taken advantage of. Outside it I feel useless, insignificant and without value.

Where is the third side of this coin?

That is the essence of my quest through war-torn territories: the search for the third side of the coin – not just in this current struggle, but in all struggles that seem so two dimensional, so binary, so colourless:

Does this mean we should take up more colourful and complex struggles like the one between the students and the government with the Universities and the parents and the whole of South Africa’s history in between?  The same one that colours all organisational and leadership interactions, whether we know it or not: the struggle between those who have and who can and those who have not and can’t – along with all the colours of our rainbow nation getting involved in the mess?

I think so.

This is the heart of the SNE lens: between the strategic plan and embodied reality, you find the narrative, the story, which can integrate opposites, transform ambiguities, dance with contradictions. Between the head that plans and the hands that act, lies this treacherous landscape of the heart, the landscape of stories. Stories long to heal the broken heart. They yearn to bridge the chasms between warring opposites and mend the rifts between binary dichotomies.

Join me on this quest to mend broken hearts – especially those broken by the race for more money, opportunity and power.

Meet me at the next Pig Catching session to help process the grief of your broken heart.

Date:     7 OCt 2016
Time:    7am for 7:15 to 10am Pig Catching
10:30-12:30 Research conversation or maybe we simply continue with the session. NOTE: We will start at 7:15 sharp to make the most of our time.
Facilitator: Petro Janse van Vuuren
Cost: R250
Venue: 305 Long Ave Ferndale
Dress: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
Refreshments: Coffee, tea, muffins and fruit on arrival.
RSVP: by  Wed 5 Oct.

Other Pig Catching dates this year:
9 Dec
Please diarise!

Join our group on Facebook<http://playingmantis.us10.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=bd2144f97d4741293f68d899e&id=5904ae36ee&e=ef28aa4955>:

Bring your curiosity, your open minds and your questions.

About Pig Catching:

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.

Please note: No pigs get harmed, our pigs are purely metaphorical and they have wings.

Storytelling for Leaders

Through the ages from ancient myths to modern fantasy, Bible stories to Grimm fairy tales, story tellers from the earliest times until now has harnessed the power of story to move others and to convey meaning that otherwise seem abstract and complex.

Now discover the secrets of story for yourself and learn to use it to draw people together and to show them your take on the world.  Employ it to impact them on a core values level and create conditions for shift to happen.

Neuro-scientific research now substantiates the kind of experiential learning made possible when using stories as an effective model with a good ROI.

The Playing Mantis Story Strategies for Leaders course teach you to

  • Employ stories as tools for inspiring followership and support for your ideas.
  • Create ‘aha-experiences’ that instigate authentic action in your team or your clients.
  • Package large amounts of information, complicated material and abstract ideas succinctly and clearly.
  • Use story as strategy to understand how people adapt to new information or behaviour.
  • Discover and hone your own personal story telling style and voice
  • Frame your personal experiences as stories with impact.
  • Use voice and gesture to communicate subtleties and deep meaning.

You will learn about the:

  • Seven elements of the well told story.
  • Six principles of impactful delivery.
  • Five kinds of resistance that stories help overcome.
  • Four tensions that engage the audience and draw them into the story
  • Three levels of character that ensure audience identification

What participants say:

Your unique way with stories and characters opened a fresh perspective on my own character and story. I was moved by the way in which the stories brought the participants straight to the heart of their search for meaning.-Dr Jeanette de Klerk, Office for Moral Leadership, University of Stellenbosch

I have learnt the building blocks to structure a presentation from presenting a problem to providing the solution. I also know how to involve the audience and to avoid common pitfalls of starting a presentation.-Richard Kunz – Lecturer at the University of Kwazulu Natal

Thank you so much for a wonderful session. Everyone I talked to enjoyed the workshop and found value in it. One of them wrote in an email:

“The session with Petro and the notes she gave were very valuable to me. They represent part of my own personal wish list. I am inspired by her simple steps and spent the time on the plane reflecting on what she said and how I could use the steps effectively in current projects. I also want to use them to write stories for my grandchildren. I am truly inspired.”

Thank you for your passion, creativity and authenticity. We enjoyed you. – Alinda Nortje, Executive Charperson, Free to Grow

Course details

The Playing Mantis Story Strategies for Leaders consists of 6 half-day workshops that you can select from or combine in what-ever way that suits your time and budget constraints. Between sessions participants get the chance to try out their skills in the workplace and develop their craft over time so that they become competent and well-rehearsed story tellers.

We suggest that you begin with sessions 1 and 2 as a starting point and only add other sessions if it works for you. You can add a storytelling event as a goal to work towards if you wish.

In each of the 6 sessions you will

  • Gain a theoretical understanding of story principles
  • Watch and analyse a youtube clip of corporate storytelling examples.
  • Learn practical story telling techniques
  • Tell and assess a story of your own
  • Assess and learn from the stories of other participants

The six modules

Module Theoretical principle Practical technique
1 Seven elements of the welltold story How to shape a story
2 Six principles of impactful delivery Using your voice and body
3 Five types of resistance Audience interaction
4 Four tensions that drive action Pause and pace
5 Three levels of character Using the stage
6 Story sharing event Integrating your skills

The Lion’s Bride

One day a very handsome young man comes to a certain kraal and asks the parents if he could marry their daughter. They don’t like him, saying that they don’t know where he comes from. But the daughter is so taken by his beauty and strength and she pleads with such passion that they give in and allow them to wed.

After the wedding, she leaves with her new husband – his name was Kambunde to go to his house. As they come near the new kraal, she hears a terrible roaring and she sees that the inhabitants there are lions. Her husband turns out to be a lion too and she turns around to run away, but he shouts: “Come!”. She cries bitterly, but enters the village by his side. The lion’s sisters come to console her saying that, as the Lion’s Bride, she will always have more meat to eat than what the people could ever give her. But she continues to cry and she still wants to run away.

Now, because she is always sad and never high of spirits, Kambunde grows angry and weary of her and he takes her away to a cave. He carries her across a river and over rocks and boulders to a narrow valley in the mountains. As they get there, the woman sees piles of dry bones and skeletal remains strewn everywhere. Now she is very scared, but Kambunde says: “Don’t be afraid. These are just the bones left here by the hyenas after feeding.” And Kambunde leaves her there.

All by herself, she explores the cave and far into the darkness at the very back she finds a skeleton – an old woman. The skeleton speaks to her: How did you come to be here, poor child? I am Kambunde’s grandmother. They treated me just like they are treating you now.” The woman begins to shiver and weep. “Oh, Granndmother, please help me”.

“Yes, I’ll help you” she says. “Take this flea. Sit on it and say: ‘Hurry, hurry my dear elephant’. But you may not doubt for one moment what you are saying and you may not laugh under any circumstances.” The young woman promises to do exactly as instructed. She sits on the flea and it carries her off like an elephant.

But as they ride out of the narrow valley where the cave is, the hyenas come out laughing incessantly: “You will never get out of here, hehehehe!” She can’t help herself and she too starts laughing. Instantly, she finds herself back inside the cave.

The old woman is angry, but the younger woman cries and pleads with her so that she feels sorry for her and gives her another flea. She sits on it and say again: “Hurry, hurry my dear elephant” and the flea carries her away. Again the hyenas come out just as she gets to the edge of the valley and again they laugh unceasingly. Again the foolish young woman cannot help herself and she bursts out laughing. Again the enchantment is broken and she returns to the cave.

This time the old woman is very sad. “I only had three fleas and this is my last one. If you laugh again, you will be lost forever”. This time the young woman clenched her jaw and bit her toungue so that she doesn’t laugh. The hyenas cajole and try their best, but she stays serious.

A little while later, Kambunde comes to the cave and he calls: “Come out wife. I can’t see you. It is your husband Kambunde calling you” but there is no answer. Then he gets angry and he turns to the grandmother: “you probably gave her one of your fleas didn’t you?” The old woman gets angry too: “There are no fleas here, only dead bones.”

Kambunde cals the other lions and they quickly pick up the trail left by the fleeing woman. As they come closer hot on her heels, she calls again: “Hurry, hurry my dear elephant”. The elephant grows larger and creates a big river behind them.  The lions are washed away by the flood – all except Kambunde. He makes it to the other side.

Just as he is about to catch up to them, the elephant creates another river, even bigger than the previous one and the lion is left stranded on the other side. He cannot cross.

In the meantime, the elephant arrives with the woman on his back at the home of her parents. He remains a real elephant and he us given many watermelons as a reward.

Kambunde finally manages to cross the river and he sneaks into the yard through the gate of the cattle enclosure. The woman sees him and runs along the wooden fence where all the tools are kept. She stubs her toe against an old hand plough and her blood drips onto the ground. All of a sudden the hand plough disappears and in its place stands an old woman: “Don’t worry my child, I am here to help you,” she says. In an instant the old woman turns into a large tree so that Kambunde is unable to pass. There was smoke and flames and Kambunde burnsto ashes.

Finally the young woman is safe and she and her family can continue living in peace. This all happened long ago and the story remains.