Comment on or Share this Article >>
1983 Okavango Delta
At 1.15pm, Biggles, Sally and I boarded our vessels to start the three day trip to Maun. We both sighed with relief on leaving the bibulous island of Delta.
After a few calls on friends along the way; the Wildlife dept and Xaxaba camp, we made camp on an island ensconced by palms. Frisco and Cisco disappeared immediately in order to rig up their fishing nets, while Sally and I got cracking on the bacon and eggs, supplied by a kind donor at Xaxaba. I think if I miss anything in the bush then it must be bacon and eggs.
When our tummy’s could take no more, we retired to our sleeping bags, leaving the lads to eat their food in peace.
The following two days passed without incident of any great import. Sally reclining in her bikini, enjoying the tranquility of it all, and myself, being myself, ie very jumpy, tried to accept the unavoidable position of lassitude by reading and ocassionaly retrieving Biggles from her numerous kamakazi missions into the river!
The second night, we camped at an obviously well used mokoro island which unfortunately was infested with fleas. Biggles was driven to despair, as were we all. The mosquito’s (pom poms) were also ubiquitous so we got no sleep that night. Progress was slow the following day, as F and C disappeared for an hour or so to set more nets. Sally and I strode around the island in search of green pigeons, but missed every one we aimed at. About mid-day, for some reason, we got split up. Cisco insisted on taking one route while Frisco and I went the other. The reason for this eluded me. Repeatedly I asked Frisco where Sally was, to which he replied that they were still in the vicinity of an area that encompassed the whole of his wildly flaying arm. Now was not the time to practice my limited knowledge of Tswana, so I just sat tight while Frisco poled with his head constantly looking in the direction of the invisible Cisco. One hour later, after almost grounding the mokoro in very shallow water, we emerged at the main channel. Sally and Cisco were of course nowhere to be seen, so we waited with a man who was busy making a mokoro on the river bank. He had a happy, honest face, which beamed proudly as we touched shore. Biggles leaped on to dry land as soon as we hit the bank, only to find the mans dog waiting close by with a culinary look in his eye. Being the tough little feline she was, she ignored such threats and continued looking for a suitable powder room.
Trying to get any information from the smiley man was like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling. Patience not being one of my virtues, I told Frisco that we must pole on incase the other mokoro had passed already.
Poling past cattle and goats was rather tame after living amidst the Lechwe and impala that were so plentiful farther north. Since the Tse Tse fly are being eradicated, the cattle will move farther in to the swamps. So sad that they are destroying the beauty of the Okavango, which hangs in the balance, a fine line between flourishing wildlife and over-grazing.
We stopped when my conscience got the better of me. Perhaps Sally and Cisco had not yet come down? Visions of search parties and frantic relatives filled my head. I couldn’t possibly arrive in Maun without Sally. Frisco and I made some tea amidst the cattle droppings and began waiting in earnest. An hour later, the lost was found and Cisco and Sally rolled up to the island. Sally jumped into the food box immediately, claiming she had just carried the mokor over patches of sand, and was totally exhausted. Tea was applied to the affected areas and yet again we waited while F and C went off in search of their long lost sister! They returned later complete with a basket of meat and a jug of milk.
Further down the river, we came across an African who spoke a little English… Eureka! He informed us that we could probably make Maun by that very evening. Not a chance, as the lads immediately slowed down a couple of gears, worried that a days work would be lost should they arrive by evening.
But we arrived, and thus begun a painful period of time for me in the den of iniquity that was Maun…
Comment on or Share this Article >>
There will be a bit of a hiatus with my blog after this one as I will be travelling for the month of January. It will resume in February.
Gubinare, Okavango, Botswana, July 1983
We had been'marching' all day across Gubinare and beyond the lagoon. Tea break lasted only half an hour as Chris was eager to get going, so by dusk, we were all pretty weary. Camp was, at this stage, we thought, a long way off. To risk fumbling our way across marshes and plains with lion around would be foolish. Little else to do but to make an almighty fire and sit around it all night. It was the month of June and nights were cold.
Unfortunately, I was not dressed for a night out under the stars, wearing only a flimsy pink shirt and my shorts. Food too was scarce, and the rucksack only packed for a days excursion, so tea was our saviour. Chris had shot a green pigeon so there would be a little protein and our rucksack did contain the basics for survival out here, oil, fat, salt, sugar and tea. Our camp was close to approximately 300 buffalo which added a little excitement to the proceedings.... I had already singled out a tree I would shinny up at a moments notice! There was an abundant supply of firewood around, so a healthy fire could be maintained through the night. After eating our meagre supper and consuming endless cups of tea, we arranged ourselves around the fire, like moths around a candle. The art was to heat up as much of the bod as possible while the remaining part froze into the night. Chris begrudgingly allowed me to use the rucksack as a windbreak, which at least kept the chill from my rather exposed rump. I made a vain attempt at keeping up moral by inflicting on my companions a selection of Beatles songs that i didnt really know the words to. This did little to enhance mine and Chris' strained relations. And as men are wont to do, he defected to a morula tree and made his own fire! I didnt think my singing was that bad.
As the moon came slowly up, our quarters were illuminated. I looked over at Sal, now sleeping peacefully, curled around the fire, and clutching a Barclays Bank moneybag to her bosom, which was full of earth. The 'pillow's ' contents in this instance, were of far more value than the usual paper stuff that banks filled such bags with. Chris was lying with his back to me, his head perched rather precariously on a plastic cannister full of Holsum fat. He looked as tho' he was in the rigamortis position. I simply sat as close as possible to the fire, dreaming of hot baths and cheese sandwiches. That night seemed to go on for an eternity, I was so glad to see the sun come up at 6am. We left imediatley without even the usual procrasting cup of tea. The morning air was still very cold, which hastened our step somewhat and brought us back to camp two hours later. Four green pigeons were zapped en route.
We have, on gutting the birds, discovered that they are remarkably fond of Motsibi berries which are, as Chris found out to his cost, poisonous to humans. This made hunting a lot simpler, wherever Motsibi flourishes, there do the green pigeons too! Another pigeon we hunt quite regularly is one that does not appear to be in the Roberts Bird book, so has been named the 'Mcensis'.
13th July '83 I smell so sweet, my bath was beautiful, except for the fact the mokoro began drifting off down river.... All in a girls beauty treatment I suppose.
Chris is quite amazing... One minute an evil old bugger, the next a sweet charming person. I remain his friend but find the personality shifts hard to predict and to understand.
21st July 1983 Maun
It does not pay to mentally pre-plan an event as I did with my return to Maun. Hence, on arrival, I was just waiting for my expectations to transpire and even began looking for the negative aspects which blocked all possible positive occurrances. It was really not as bad as I had thought it would be.
The trip from the delta to Maun was 'interesting' to say the least. We left in convoy with some friends of Chris' who were visiting. We arrived at Mokobelo's village in good time. Chris had left his mokoro there and I was going to pole it down to Maun. Unfortunately, or rather, quite typically, the vessel had been 'borrowed', so my maiden trip down the Boro River was postponed. The four others went to Delta camp to fly out while Sally and I went with the infamous rogue 'Killy Billy' to his village downriver. As we neared Xaxaba village, the rinky tinkle of African music drifted over the water. In the distance I could see the bright colours of a washing line and silhouetted figures swaying capriciously with the palm trees. A pit stop was made. Killy Billy refilled his vast tummy with more cardi, leaving Sal and I to scan the collection of mokoro's for our own Cleopatra. It was futile to demand anything of Killy Billy, he was a seperate entity - a rule only unto himself and I felt sure that his vast tummy was cultivated purely by those who fear to cross him. A definate rogue, who has learned all the tricks of the trade in the tourist industry and knows exactly the right buttons to press for instant fascination, followed by great appreciation.. usually in the form of alcohol, food or the latest peice of African technology.... the torch (flashlight). I watched the entire process take place, with Chris' friends as the appreciative party.
It was obvious Sal and I were not going to be permitted to stay with our friends at the wildlife dept, which was just across the river from Killy Billy's village. A whole list of excuses gushed from KB's fat lips - whereas the truth was concealed in the obese and enlarged portion of his brain known as the cunning. He is a notorious poacher, so doesn't get on very well with the legal aspect of that art.
We stayed at his village for what felt like 3 weeks, but was only in fact one night. Our 'kitundu' (luggage) was dumped without an ounce of care right in the centre of the village and within 2 feet of the river which lay dank and still, buzzing with mosquitos. The lagubrious process of carting our meagre belongings to a more inspiring setting proved sufficiantly discomforting. We eventually found a grass area just outside the general throng, altho' I'm convinced it was the toilet, as the aroma was not that of violets.
We went to sleep quite early, which was just as well as the morning rapidly descended into chaos with Sal and I trapsing back and forth to the village in an effort to motivate our trusty, but now extremely drunk poler, KB. Each time we were informed that the second poler had been sent for from Delta camp, but had not yet arrived. This gave KB another hour or in which to consume yet more cardi and enjoy a bit of slap and tickle with one of his wives.
We became a little annoyed at this point, and were fed up with the whole bibulous village. Sitting truculently by the river, surrounded by our treasures, various people wandered down to try and sell us baskets or srounge whatever they could. Enough was enough at this stage, so we marched back to the village and literally stood over our hero, who by now was swaying, until he produced two polers and two mokoros. I found it quite disturbing watching these people reel around and yell at nothing inparticular. A retarded woman writhed sub-conciously around in the dust, her eys rolling, understanding nothing of what we concieve to be reality. Maybe hers was the reality?
When we kept nagging KB, he eventually began giving instructions to various lethargic looking youths draped around the place, and soon, eventually, and not a moment too soon, two mokoros materialized. Amidst the confusion and drunken array, an elderly gentleman emerged wearing a straw hat and carrying a walking stick. He almost looked distinguished. Sal noticed him too and remarked what a wise, respected old gent he must be. I agreed totally that he was truly a breath of fresh air to the proceedings, whereupon the old 'gentelman' extended his wrinkled arm and filled his scrawny hand with a good portion of a young girls rump. A shriek of provocative delight ensued, causing all young maidens in the vicinity to withdraw from the old studs grasp. I laughed out loud... such a 'gentleman'!!
Comment on or Share this Article >>
Okavango Swamps, June 1983
Chris, after a couple of weeks, mastered the mokoro and we have explored some of the islands surrounding the plain, up river. It’s a tremendous, intrepid feeling wandering around these ancient islands which began life as nothing more than an ant hill and perhaps have never been visited by humans. Strangle figs in the process of suffocating the innocent motsaudi trees, slowly winding their vindictive way around unsuspecting hosts. Thick, dense undergrowth providing a perfect carpet for this perfectly perfect wilderness.
Often, we'd stalk duck on the plain when returning to camp. The fowl were easily spotted, as the water level was low, and the bright new errupting grass not yet tall enough to provide cover. The hunt would always be the main topic of conversation around the camp fire that night and the quarry entered in our bird book.
My senses are developing keenly, as the tranquility allows one to recover all ones natural defenses and responses. Every sound, every sight, is as it should be. Nothing is out of place or alien - it is correct and I doubt nothing while living here.
Painting in such a place has always been my dream. I am in paradise when I sit amidst such breathtaking utopian splendour, gazing into the distance, then transferring all I see on to the canvas. I feel I am improving steadily, altho' now, after three months of landscape painting, I feel ready to paint more animated subjects.
Janice, Sally's stepsister, who has visited us twice now, took all my best work in lieu of securing my residence/research permit, which in fact I achieved myself! I actually became very depressed when I realised she had taken the best pieces, and I wondered how hard it would be to part with other work. This, I suppose, illuminates the reason why I want so much to become a good artist - simply because it is what I want to do, and not just a means of existence.
Naturally with three people living so closely, conflicts arise, and when one of them is as quick tempered as Chris, they are inevitable. He and I have regular arguments. He seems to change so quickly from being a 'seemingly' caring and loving soul, to a Hyde character who flares up and uses foul, abusive language, often over trivia. I know I am not all that easy to live with, but I can recognise a good man when I see one. Unfortunately Chris is only temporarily so, and I don't think I could ever fully trust him. The problem is that he loves to teach/boss/instruct constantly, and I find myself recoiling from his demanding, supercilious tone. Sally is rather more subservient towards him, and he greatly enjoys playing us off against eachother. I have never lived with such a character before, so do not know quite what to do after his outbursts. I try to patch up our quarrels quickly, to avoid at least 24 hrs of hollow silence. I do think I realize what sort of person he is tho', or rather 'people'.
This place has besotted me, rather more than the man I feel, so must be wary of staying here for the wrong reasons.
It's been a month since Sally and I visited Maun. I believe I'm missing other people now and find myself longing for a party! Music was bestowed upon us briefly by Map, who came to visit from Xaxaba camp and brought his casette player with him. The sound was so remarkable after all this time. I danced around like a crazed thing, completely uninhibited.
We have now moved camp to Gubinare, a large island, first explored with Andy, George and Mike. Having first come simply to camp and see game, Chris got quite carried away and we moved from Tswaralangwana immediately. Our good friends, Kioroletswe and Maturu joined the party and helped move a few vital elements from Ts. to Gubinare. Sally and I helped Maturu gather the now shrivelled morulla;s which she hacks away at with an axe in order to extract the nut which apparently is full of vitamins. Another of Horelwa's children, a young girl by the name of Natallila accompanied Maturu. It was so good to have a child around, smiling and laughing so readily.
With Chris and Kioroletswe's return, came Anthony, Sally’s cousin from UK, plus a lady called Julia, and an Irish Dr. with his Australian girlfriend. There was quite a throng around our new camp that first night. Anthony and Chris amused eachother with cheeky tales of public school days. Julia, a rather typical 'sloane ranger' made regular snide remarks throughout and I took an instant dislike to her. Luckily they only stayed for one night, which was more than enough for me!
Gubinare is a far more interesting island that Tswaralangwana with a large diversity of wildlife. Our camp is covered in spore of every kind and there is an expanse of soft green grass that runs out beyond the Motsaudi tree that is our roof.
Unfortunately, the trees are not so obliging in forming shelves for the few remaining tins, herbs, yeast etc that we have, so they are all stored in cardboard boxes. Not very aesthetically pleasing I must say. A great deal of exploring followed as the island stretches to the hippo lagoon, explored previously and beyond, totaling about 5 km. Chris lead the way on each expedition, with Sally and I following obediently behind. Immediately an animal was sighted, Sal swung into action with her camera. The animals we saw… Lechwe, impala, warthog, tsessebee, kudu, buffalo, all appeared very relaxed upon our approach, maybe because they had never seen humans before and didn’t know the dangers. The warthog, I find the most comical of all the animals with their brisk, unorthodox movements, taking off with their tails in the air as if it were their nose.
My favourite area on the island is the plain, which stretches the entire 5km, flanked on either side by dense woodland. For me, this is Africa, space, sky and the promise of wild herds in the distance. All is wild and honest.
Of course it can be hostile at times, as the three of us found out. It was a truly uncomfortable night….
Comment on or Share this Article >>
Botswana Calling #15 Smelling like Polecats 1983
The next day, I wandered about town again sketching. I had met an American girl called Beth who was working with the basket makers in Etsha and learning Mambakushu. Chris and I had tea with her, such a strange experience drinking from an earthenware mug and talking to a Westerner again!
That afternoon, a lorry was discovered going to Maun, and we made sure we were on it. Mungabe seemed upset that we were leaving so soon, but we needed to move on. The ride on the back of the lorry was amidst a crowd of other passengers, bed rolls, blankets, sacks of mealie meal and crates of coca cola to be delivered en route. The road was not tarred, and wound its way through the amber mopane trees, now rapidly losing their vivid green butterfly leaves. We licked our lips at the culinary sight of guinea fowl, which were unfortunately just out of range, despite constant hammering on the drivers roof by various travellers. We stopped in Gumare in the early evening, where Chris tried to track down an old friend of his who no longer appeared to live there. Music boomed from every angle and beers were bought from celubrious looking establishment backing on to what can only be described as and African 'pub'.
We arrived in Maun the following day and were to spend a week there which proved to be rather turbulent.
My friend Russell, on viewing us from the security of his landrover informed us that we smelled like a couple of Polecats!! Charming. I'm sure we did tho', and I was quite relieved to have a hot shower at crocodile camp. Chris stayed at Okavango lodge, which of course aroused Yoey's (the owner's ) curiosity. It was rather enjoyable at first, sitting at the bar, communicating with individuals who spoke the same language, eventually getting rather bibulous. Chris, it transpired, enjoyed drinking and being the centre of attention, which on a regular basis became tiresome and I felt the need to spend some time with other people. I suprised myself with my reaction to Chris' lack of finances (it had not been forwarded by his publisher as promised) and I seemed to lose a little respect almost instantly. Strange, as we had just spent two great months together. It was a little difficult being with a character who people seemed either to love or dislike intensely. The problem was, on retrospect, was that no one in Maun really knew Chris as I did. They saw him as merely an eccentric with romantic theories about lions, not as a person who simply looked at life differently to most.
It was at this stage I met up with Sally Barrow again. She had come to spend some time in the swamps with Chris and I. Unfortunately she too had listened to idle gossip and rumours re Chris and had been advised by her step-sister not to go anywhere with Chris. This of course did little to restore my confidence in Chris and I decided to split from him. Naturally he was very shocked and I hated doing such a thing but when there are 90 people telling you one thing and one attempting to prove you wrong, one is obviously swayed by the 90.
However, after much too-ing and fro-ing, talks, plans, and drinking, I thought that I would be extremely lucky to meet such a fellow as Chris again. I enjoyed his company and his lifestyle, and for once would do as my heart felt.
So, back to the swamps we went....this time on the back of a uni-mog belonging to 'Herman the German', who was going to do some camping with 4 other young chaps and Johnathon Bowles, complete with joint and personal stereo. He was exactly the same in the bush as in town - wearing an expression of perpetual lust.
Chris, Sally and I also had a 'hanger on' by the name of Tim - a supercillious chap from Capetown who was as impractical as Chris but well read.
Chris and I walked from Baboon camp to Twaralangwana, while Sally and Tim came up by mokorrow. Encountered a young buffallo or what remained, being scavenged by vultures and surrounded by lion spore.
Camp has been set up on the island North of Morotsi's village and its now been 6 weeks since we arrived. The going was tough at first, Chris getting increasingly annoyed with our 'girlie girl' fires and lack of bush experience.
Tim, it transpired proved even less experienced in the bush than Sal and I, altho' he gave Chris some stimulating intellectual conversation.
Life was slow, and i found myself disappearing in a whirlwind of activity, making shelves, chairs, tables and bookshelves for the camp. Sketching, painting, running and practicing with the mokorro we named 'Cleopatra'. Chris and Sally seemed happy to idle time away lying in the sun and reading, or talking about subjects already covered hundreds of times before. Feelings of guilt seem to grip me if I am not actively involved in something creative or constructive during the day. Shooting pigeons isnt exactly creative but quite necassary if a protein supply is to be secured. I've found my shooting ablilities have greatly improved. Green pigeons are perhaps the most ubiquitous edible birds in the swamp and are extremely tasty. Their call belies their position and they are hardly discreet, being of an illuminous green colour, with soft mauve wings and bright red beak. It almost seems a shame to shoot them. Finishing them off is the worst job of all, and I detest it. On being awoken by their incessant cooing, I usually get up early and shoot them from the tree which shelters our camp.Then I have the whole day to anticipate our dinner. Lovely.
Comment on or Share this Article >>
Botswana Calling #14
Etsha, N. Okavango Botswana 1983
Next stop was the clinic.We were in search of profilactics and medicine for Smiler's father.The nurse, we were told was in the store, so we sought her out. Such a sweet little lady, she wore a gentle, concerned expression, spoke excellent English, and came up to my waste. An extremely pregnant lady accompanied her. Chris explained the dilema of Smiler's father and then touched upon our little problem. 'Ah, profilactics for malaria' she boomed. 'Er, no, said Chris quietly, 'For the lady' (I was scarlet at this point). 'Oh, don't you take the pill?... No? You want to get pregnant?" 'No, I ...." "Oh, you want some 'F.L's'? "Y...yes" I stammered shyly. "OK, this lady (pointing to pregnant woman) deals with that. Come to the clinic at 2".
After a lunch of Fat cakes and jam, we proceeded yet again to the clinic and were greeted by a man there who helped us seek out the nurse. In the surgery, the nurse gave us the necessary pills for Smiler's father, issuing express instructions for him to be brought to the clinic as soon as possible. She asked us to take a seat, which we did. The nurse began to tell us that she had worked most of her life in Malawi but had travelled a good deal, she had even been to UK. Half way through her life-story, she began harrassing the pregnant lady with instructions re. the condoms. My cheeks flushed becomingly. The conversation continued, but was interrupted a second time with a loud 'thud' as a large box of contraceptives hit the table amidst all three of us. My blush deepened and I struggled to maintain a normal dialogue. I limply enquired about the escalating rates of T.B amongst Botswanan's when I was completely drowned out by the meticulous counting of said 'FL's by the pregnant one....."sixty five, seventy, seventy five...." "How many do you want"? she enquired looking directly at me. I just about burst a blood vessel as Chris let out a loud, raucous laugh. The little nurse told me I could sell some if I liked, whereupon the counting continued...."eighty five, ninety...... Paradise". She uttered the brand name with a look of nostalgic longing, her distended belly hardly proving an advertisement for the product. My embarrassment had now been converted to nervous/hysterical laughter, altho' a rosy glow continued to adorn my face. The nurse offered a knowing smile as the rubber-ware was unaesthetically stuffed into a clinical looking plastic bag.
Our exit was swift, leaving in our wake a baffled looking young man, who had introduced Chris as my father to the nurse.
There were plenty of subjects in Etsha. I delighted in some of the lined old Bayei's faces who proved willing models and who often invited me to their humble abodes. There was tremendous activity throughout this little town... people selling fatcakes (deep fried flour balls), meat, bread, or favours and party's in full swing at all hours of the day, the rinky tinking African music belying their location.
A large sled, pulled by four strong looking oxen provided the attraction in the town centre, where they awaited a full load before moving ponderously through the deep sand.
Mungabe offered us his hut for the night which was the height of hospitality. There was no evading such an offer, despite vain attempts to trot off down to the river and pitch our tent. A gang of Mugabe's friends, had by thist time arrived on the scene, so to refuse his kind offere would prove extremely humiliating for the sweet man. What a night it turned out to be! Upon returning from the river, having had a good wash, quite a throng had gathered around the fire outside Mungabe's hut, the majority of whom were rather bibulous. They had consumed it seemed a vast quantity of 'cardy' the local beer. Chairs had been arranged for us inside the hut which afforded a certain amount of privacy for the eating of our goose. A continuous flow of visitors ensued with a rather wobbly Mungabe holding court in the corner.
I found it quite amazing how these folk lived so informally - wandering in and out of eachothers huts continuosly, doors never used and privacy never indulged in. Such gregarious people. A key visitor was that of the 'barmaid' who hauled into the hut a large barrel of evil looking beer. She sat down in the corner and began pouring the contents into large tin mugs. The smell was vomit-inducing and I declined to taste the brew altho' I noticed Chris knocked it back with avengence. The barmaid maintained a demure, sober look throughout, whilst Mungabe slobbered all over her in a very unbecoming fashion.
After an hour of these debauched proceedings, the party, along with the travelling barmaid, moved on... much to my relief. Just as I was about to crawl contentedly into my sleeping bag, I noticed that the hut had no door! Chris was not happy with this arrangement and went out to find one. Within minutes, a moth-eaten old mat appeared at the vaccuos spot, which proved more than useless, despite a roar of approval from the party outside! A succession of equally useless doors appeared before my eyes and I began to lose any inclination to sleep. Chris called out that he was still negotiating and everyone was convinced a door could be found. Eventually a large reed mat was slapped with great dexterity into the doorway, obscuring all signs of the ongoing cardy party. The night proved far from calm - we were visited at regular intervals by various locals, all come to 'meet Mungabe's friends', domestic animals, including one particular goat that had a fetish for Chris' tobacco pouch, and howling children looking for their mother. An excellent recipe for insomnia! The method has been tried and tested.
Comment on or Share this Article >>
Near Etsha, N. Okavango,
After a tranquil start, we arrived on Mungabe's Mother's island - Guda.
The terrain now incorporated cattle and goats, so appeared rather tame in comparison to our previous venues. Again, a swarm of children descended upon us, and a fat, jolly woman who spent the entire time smiling.
As in Opai, the village was situated in the centre of the island, a woodless, shadeless area, which I'm told is designed to view any predators or unwelcome visitors. Some shade was afforded by a reed canopy where we sat on a perfectly situated log. Mungabe invited us to have some milk with our mealie - the prospect of which sounded too good to be true. It was. A large cup of curdled milk, resembling yoghurt, was produced. It tasted vile, and every mouthful came complete with 600 hangers on in the form of flies. Chris explained that Africans cannot digest milk as we can, and so part of the process must be carried out first, to aid digestion. We suffered in silence.
From Guda on up, the water was less plentiful as we were on the very edge of the swamps so we could only take one mokoro. Our worldly possessions became rather more condensed, as did we. The water became so shallow in some areas that we disembarked and walked, while Mungabe or Nelson poled the mokoro around islands to meet us. They had grown up in this terrain and knew so well how to negotiate these water- ways in any situation. Occassionally, we would be confronted by a wall of papyrus, which to my inexperienced eye was simply a wall of papyrus, yet the African eagle eye would decipher an entry point which would lead on to a labyrinth of hippo paths and mokoro lanes, again to be deciphered, so the correct way could be taken. As the day went on, the papyrus seemed to become more dense and the water more shallow, thus making poling almost impossible. The men worked extremely hard, often pushing or puling the craft from both ends. Progress was slow, and the mighty papyrus towered above us for hours on end. Sometimes it seemed as tho' the end was in sight, a flowing channel interrupted the 'forest'. Moments later we were knee deep in water again. Only an illusion. the channel was there only to be crossed. Another endless battle with the accused papyrus ensued. Seeing the polers working so hard, I felt extremely useless sitting so helplessly still. I began clutching reeds, helping pull the mokoro along, for which Mungabe muttered that I was 'Number One'. I poled in places where Nelson pulled, Mungabe poled from the rear and Chris sat amidst 6 inches of water which was now seeping in. Trying desperately to keep our sense of humour, Chris continuosly enquired 'How far is Etsha'? whereupon the reply would either be 'still ahead', 'far but not too far' or 'I don't want to lie to you, so I tell you I do not know'. Good reasoning.
Darkness began to fall, causing every push on the pole to be that more urgent. Luckily there was a full moon which offered perfect light when we finally emerged from the papyrus. The temperature began to drop and I was now very cold. My bum was soaked and I longed to be by a fiercely hot fire. Chris could still not get a positive answer from Mungabe regarding how much farther it was which decided us. We would stop on the next island, Nelson and Mungabe could pole on to Etsha if they liked and return in the morning to pick us up.
What a relief to stand by the fire we made so swiftly, ensconed in a blanket and plucking a spur winged goose that Chris had shot. I slept so soundly, awakening in the morning to Mungabe saying 'Aryai' (let's go!). He was a man of his word. It was eight o'clock and Etsha was only an hour away!
It was a long walk from where we left the mokoro to the actual town of Etsha, a walk where the spoor was that of donkeys and goats, the sounds were of bells and cattle bellowing. Civilization. A regiment of huts stood on the horizon. A horizon devoid of all trees, shimmering in a heat haze and alive with activity.
Mungabe seemed proud to be with us and went to great pains to introduce us to his friends and show us around this small 'laid back' town. Etsha evolved due to the influx of immigrants from Angola in 1967 who settled there and brought with them basket craft which is so well practiced throughout Botswana today. It was refreshing to be amidst people again and everyone seemed friendly. The main store (which we made a b line for) was run by a welshman who started it in 1967 and took great delight in showing us all his warehouses, ex warehouses and stock. I was, quite frankly, a lot more interested in the actual store where we bought milk powder, mealie meal, tobacco, jam and..... chewing gum! Next stop the 'clinic'.
Comment on or Share this Article >>
May 1983. Opai village Okavango swamps.
The afternoon saw the purchasing of a mokorro by Chris but unfortunately it was submerged in the water when the deal was made and has since proven to be the bain of our lives due to its low slung attitude, giving half an inch leeway either side!
We spent the night in Opai village. The evening was very enjoyable due to the fact that two hunters had returned bearing a lechwe (small buck). This was food for all. Chris and I enjoyed the liver whilst sitting with Smiler et al, who were waiting for the mealie meal to arrive. The radio was on constantly and Chris managed to tune into an Afrikaans station for a spot of Beethoven. So strange to hear such music in that wilderness. An old African, who had once worked for Chris, appeared at that stage and greeted Chris like a long lost friend. Chris told me he was a bit of a useless old boy, but had a kind heart. We found a use for the old and rather prosaic pair of sunglasses I had been carting around for weeks. What a swell he looked! Sunglasses are a real status symbol in the delta, he was still sporting them the next morning!
After the feast, the whole Yei village began preparing for a party at a village farther down in the swamps. Best clothes were adorned and an aura of anticipation descended upon them all. I would loved to have joined them but Smiler explained that it was purely a 'Yei occasion". Couldnt argue with that altho' it did pique my curiosity.
As I walked to my little tent, which was pitched amidst the palms outside the village, threads of music and laughter came dancing through the night as the happy throng poled down the river.
The sunrise the following morning was perhaps the most breathtaking I had ever seen. A line of dreamy palms silhouetted against a deep vermillion sky. Magnificent.
After promising to purchase batteries, sugar and tobacco for various villagers, we left Opai quite early, leaving instructions for the collecting of the mokoro the following week. Smiler remained in his village. A substitute was found by the name of Nelson. Not quite the same body power, but efficient non the less. Again the landscape changed, Qu-a trees becoming more prolific and vast open plains awash with the new tea-coloured water on its way from Angola. Water birds appeared around every corner. Chris shot two white-backed ducks (thalasorniss leuconotus) which proved delicious eating. Occassionally we crossed the Boro, where the water became deep and was avenued by papyrus, which Mungabe cut, stripped and ate. He offered some to me, which I accepted despite its unappetising appearance. With the texture of polystyrene, the taste could hardly be described as any more stimulating, yet if the locals ate it, who was I to pass judgement?
These days of lying torpid in a mokoro enabled my mind to wander over the past and what my life contains now. I feel so free. It is quite natural I would think to feel inhibited by this 'freedom' for a conscience exits which takes one back (too often) to the organised, planned and predictable 9-5 routine which 99.9% of the population are engaged in. I detest that existence, yet the lifestyle I strive for will never be recognised or accepted by the majority of the population. It is both inspiring and comforting to meet Chris, who is himself fighting societies opinions and values.
We camped on yet another beautiful island that night and ate the duck with relish. Mungabe had found a turtle, which he was going to eat, but it disappeared somehow before he got the chance. I was rather relieved.
The following day proved most hazardous and perhaps the most exciting of all...
Comment on or Share this Article >>
Botswana Calling #11
The gentlemen that were going to take us up to the Northern swamps were named Smiler and Mungabe. I named Smiler 'Mr. Universe' as his muscles were well hewn and he was very statuesque. All came from poling his mokorro through the swamps, not from going to a gym! They were indeed organic. Mungabe was not so striking but a good poler and a good friend of Smiler's. Smiler's sister accompanied us and was like a little housewife. Whenever we arrived at an island that looked hospitable enough to camp on, she made their beds, the mealie meal and the fire before finally relaxing on her own bed. This after a day of poling!
Chris and I existed on the rest of a goose he had shot previously. We had been too far from home to get back before nightfall and without food. I felt cold and hungry and was not looking forward to the bleak night ahead. Chris spied some spur winged geese on the horizon and within minutes he had got us some supper.Close by was a mokorro island which contained the remnants of a fire sufficient enough to both keep us warm and cook the goose. How quickly ones circumstances can change in this paradise!
Meanwhile, back in the swamps.... Mungabe and Smiler proved interesting company, conversing with Chris more and more each evening. Smiler came complete with radio, which was rather a strange sight and sound after so long without one.
To glide gracefully over the new waters to the sound of fish eagles, low murmering African voices and the gentle splash of water as the n'cashe (pole) hit the water was magnificent.
Our three polers, always happy, instilled amazing confidence in one and should not have been afraid had a hippo raised its vicious head right next to our boat. The most frightening part of our journey came at a huge lagoon called 'Da-o' where a legendary snake of enormous proportions made its home. As we approached, an ominous silence crept over our party. It was incredibly eerie. The poles did not touch the bottom and we were manouvered entirely by a rowing action afforded by the poles. That hole was deep and the lagoon vast, I felt so vulnerable. It was such a relief to be past it.
Camped on a beautiful island with plenty of palms, and two bushmen-type huts which unfortunately could not be used due to the invasion of mosquitos. The evening proved humorous with both men greatly amused by Chris' imitation of an innocent young man who had fallen into the hands of the legendary Namwerei. She was a witch who lured young men to an island and removed their testicles. So the saying goes, glad I'm a woman!
Mungabe and Smiler woke us early. Within a few minutes we were on the water again. The Northern swamps contained a different type of beauty to the annual. Palm trees were ubiquitous, yet there was an air of wild, unkempt timelessness about the area that both excited and enthralled me. I felt that I wanted to transform all I saw into words or pictures, yet verbal description or photographs would be so inadequate. One's feelings and impressions could only be converted through one who had seen, absorbed and expressed these into a vision from the heart. Nothing an electrical, technical gadget or any form of crude apparatus could ever capture.
A great deal of what I saw I converted into sketches, Smiler's stupendous body proving an admirable life study!
That afternoon we arrived at Smiler's village, Opai. From the river it was an idyllic sight, completely dwarfed by palms and surrounded by mokorro's. A throng of laughing children ran out to meet their brother/friend/cheif, who was more than happy to be home. Lifting a tiny boy up over his muscular shoulders, he invited us 'in'. Opai proved a hive of activity, women sitting under the shade of a large acacia weaving baskets, chopping melons and avidly pummelling mealies into a fine powder. Smiler's wife sat with the women, yet showed no recognition or joy at her husbands return. Then I noticed the abundance of women in proportion to the absence of young men. The children were all exceptionally good looking.... in fact. all resembling Smiler! Obviously, as he was the chiefs son, favours of every description were bestowed upon him. His house was situated in what was by far the best spot in the village with adoining 'dining room' and yard. We were hustled into this yard after the time-honoured procedure of greeting all the occupants. We were invited to sit and have some tea. A wooden chair materialized for Chris and Mungabe. (in Yei custom, men are treated with much more respect than womenfolk).
While I was perched on my heels, women of varying ages began rallying around making the fire up and preparing food for the men. These people of the Okavango existed almost entirely on fish which were prepared in such a way so as to make the most vile stench. I declined the offer of food, making gestures that implied I had stomach ache.
While all this activity was going on, a large collection of children and teenagers had gathered to view these strange visitors. I took advantage and did some sketches of them. Such excellent models!
After tea, Smiler asked Chris to look at his father, who had been extremely ill for a week. On examination, Chris diagnosed TB which is a common disease amongst the Africans in large parts of the continent now. We urged him to come with us to Etsha, where there is a clinic, but the old man would not. THe anti-biotics we left him with were more for phsychological purposes than for anything else. It must be rather a frightening prospect being ill so far away from any medical help. Yet maybe more frightening to leave the swamps and all you have known to see a Dr. in a crowded town. Chris would see what he could do in Etsha.
Comment on or Share this Article >>
Today I went out with Kioroletswe again to watch him work on his mokoro. He works on it every day, and it will take a month to complete. Maturu and the old lady came too. They called out words in Tsetswana while pointing at grass, tree, lowrie bird etc. and I tried to repeat them. Kioroletswe is a very happy fellow and a hard worker. He has about 2 weeks to go before his dug out canoe is finished. His hands are covered in blisters from all the chipping. I sat for a few hours drawing him while his mother sat watching proudly over the whole scene. The sun gathered momentum, so I went to the river for a swim and to try some fishing. The old lady came to the channel with me before tottering back to the village. I proceeded to catch a series of large and aggressive looking pike, under the rapacious eye of a wonderfully symphonic fish eagle. Frustrated at not being able to get any bream, I left my feathered friend a pike before setting off back to camp. The remaining pike I attatched to a good strong reed. 'Haliaetus Vocifer' was ubiquitos that day as were the pelicans occupying their usual haunt where the river widened. As I was putting on my shoes after crossing the channel, I heard the most amazing sound. At first I thought it was an aeroplane, but on looking up, realised it was a huge bird...( still to be indentified) The noise was produced as it swooped and dived through the air, a loud 'swoosh', as if it were falling. I stood in amazement as it flew off into the trees. Must ask Chris what that was.
Every day I seem to be getting closer to Maturu and the village people. Horelwa watched incredulously the other day as I trod the morula fruit in a large bucket attempting to make some 'okavango wine'. Chris had collected a lot of the fruit and we couldnt eat them all, so thought this might be a good idea. I have left it fermenting in the bucket... I do hope its a success. Bread, the traditional way was next on the menu, and after leaving it overnight in the large three legged pot over a few coals, found that it tasted.... hmmm, not too bad. Maturu likes it anyway! I've kept a loaf for Mike and Chris' return, no reason they shouldn't suffer with the rest of us!
How I am enjoying my art here. It occupies most of my time. I especially enjoy sketching the people, as they are always engaged in some creative activity. Even nose blowing is a physical activity, they do it with such gusto I wonder a blood vessel isnt burst (they use the finger over one nostril method, which I hadnt actually witnessed before).
Today I painted the village again, from the far side of the island and am pleased with the result. Think it worked well because I stood in the shelter of what will soon become a tiny island when the flood comes, and thus avoided the blistering sun. Time does not seem to exist, neither does technology, mechanisation or greed. I'm sure living in an environment like this it would be impossible for anyone to think evil thoughts. I love being ensconced in nature like this.This is the real life.
This evening was wonderful, Maturu, who is such a happy, homely lady, came to visit me. After clearing her nose thoroughly, she squatted down by the fire. I left my writing in an effort to communicate with her, for she was now my guest. She seemed to delight in answering all my questions regarding Tswana words. Kioroletswe soon appeared with his own chair and sporting the white sun cap. I dont think he ever takes it off! There followed another Tswana lesson, which involved me pointing randomly about at vairous objects and them telling me the Tswana words, which I had to then write down quickly or I would forget all.
The pesky cat still scrounges around the camp looking for any tasty morsels left hanging about. At one point, 85% of her disappeared into the 3 legged pot in an effort to devour the remnants of food left in the bottom. This was more than Maturu could stand, she leapt to her tiny feet, marched towards the unsuspecting feline, picked it up by the scruff of its neck and flung it straight over the fire into the trunk of a tree which interrupted it's maiden (altho' I'm not sure this hasnt happened before) flight, causing a loud 'thud' to ring out in the night. That cat has guts, as it came right back for more. Even the chickens gang up on it, a wonder it's still in one peice. It must be on life #8 at least. I named the cat 'Biggles' after the old WW11 pilot and allowed her to sleep on my bed after that.
The week I spent alone with Maturu was very interesting and productive. I learned a great deal about all kinds of things, perhaps most about myself. It seems I do my best work when I am free from distraction, which is difficult in the first world, but here there is a different peace and I love to watch Maturu and Kioroletswe live in such harmony with their environment.
Mike left today,back to Alaska. We went with him to Baboon camp to see him off. He was getting a lift into town with Tom. 'If I don't see you in the future, I'll see you in the pasture' were his parting words. This made me cry, I know we will miss him. Chris told me to 'put a stone in your stomach' which apparantly is what the Zulus say for 'be brave'.
Chris and I are going with an African fellow called 'Smiler' and Mungabe, from Baboon camp up into the perennial swamp, stopping at islands along the way. I can hardly wait, I am so excited to see another part of the swamps.
Comment on or Share this Article >>
The folk in the huts on the other side of Tswaralangwana are a very friendly bunch. The eldest of them, Chris has named 'Bilbo', a rum old chap who only 'just' sports a pair of shorts, and a T shirt bearing the motif of a football player. An avid poler by any standards, he even left without his passenger, Jim, the other morning! The McNeil party is reknowned for their procrastination, so I can hardly blame him.
Jim has now left for 'civilization'. I think he was just about ready... the menu was proving too monotonous and he had actually lost quite a bit of weight. We were all sad to see him go as he lent a light hearted angle to the whole trip. He was however, replaced by the arrival of two of Chris' friends, George and Andy, along with Erna from Baboon camp. Andy Green is a geologist from Capetown, but currently living in Gaborone. Chris and he get on really well, both resembling 'wizened gnomes' with their abundant facial foliage, slight build and stork-like legs (at least true for Chris, Andy's are more of the fire hydrant variety). They both have a fantasy that one day they will go into partnership as a safari company, taking informative trips with small groups into the Kalahari and Okavango. I'm sure they would make a great team if they ever got organised enough to do this!
George is an older English genteman who has worked in London for the Bank of England most of his life, having recently arrived in Botswana to work in Gaborone. His contract is now finished and he is to return to the UK next week. I admire him tremendously - entering into all the walks and excursions with the alacrity of a schoolboy. This with a painful looking war wound on his leg. "Got whilst on active service with the Chundits in Japan, under Wingate" he casually mentions. He went on to explain that he was marching 800 miles behind Japanese lines in an effort to destroy bases, H.Q's and supply stores. Should an encounter with the Japanese occur, instant decapitation or torture followed. This made our little soirees seem like a walk in the park, albeit with the vicious attacks of elephant grass.
Later in the day, Chris took us all on a lion hunt, which was abortive but fascinating. We saw the huge morula tree, whose fruit is sweet and juicy and is my main source of vitamin c at present. Chris identified the various spore we came across, along with the trees, and birds. Everything is such a revelation to me, so much to learn, I am fortunate to have such a knowledgeable teacher.
Chris shaved off his beard the other day, which was quite a revelation, one never knows what lurks behind a mans facial fuzz. In this instance, I am pleased to report, Chris has a very nice face.
The past few evenings have been most enjoyable with such good company around the camp fire. Sue and her friend Ross whom I met in Kenya and also studies primates, arrived at this popular venue. It was nice to have another female around especially one so friendly as she. Chris seems to gather momentum when he has an audience, becoming loquacious, yet very funny in his melifluos rhetoric.
During the day, the men folk go and fish, leaving me the opportunity to paint in peace and solitude. I have done a couple of small oil sketches, which I am pleased with and today I completed something a little larger. This was done in great discomfort as I was perched on the top of a termite hill overlooking the low and disappearing swamp. I intend to do another from the same spot when the floods some down, which should be any day . I can hardly wait to see this. Tswaralangwana will become an island again. We will have to rely on Mokoro's to get anywhere.
The last, I anticipate, of the rain fell the other day, causing the European contingent to taste 'hut fever' for the first time. My hut became the centre of all debauched proceedings. Friends taking refuge from leaky tents and soggy sleeping bags. Tea flowed continuosly, as did the cigarettes and whisky. Entertainment came in the form of Chris reciting Shakespeare. Sue made popcorn. By the time the rain stopped, I emerged quite giddy from the tea - or was it the whisky? Popcorn?? Anyway I missed the same pigeon five times before it finally got bored and flew away!
The men went hunting for geese, while Chris and I poled across to see the island where he began his latest book and where he wants to build his house. From the outside, it looked like a tangle of trees and vines, yet once inside it resembled a palace. The aerial roots from the fig lent themselves perfectly as doors and windows, while the large, forbidding trunk spued forth idyllic seats and stairways. I could visualize his dream easily, altho' the quantity of black mamba's he had slayed there was somewhat disconcerting.
I sketched for an hour or more, while Chris lay sleeping by the fire.