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...