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My new home.
Here I sit, on April 6th at the village on Tswaralangwana, my three companions having left for the perennial swamps farther North, leaving me with these wonderful people, with whom I shall live and share all I have for the next several days. Maturu has given me a hut which contains not only a chair (sapora) but a bed as well! Luxury! Not a bed in the conventional sense, but consisting of a wooden platform and supports that sits above the ground. Still luxury.
Upon their departure, Chris left me a letter which contains many mysterious and frightening proposals..... I am definately not ready to marry anyone, esp. not a man twice my age!
The child is singing, the mother sits and weaves a basket. Chickens scratch about in the well worn earth, while dogs lie slothfully around the fire which smokes the barbel Mike caught yesterday. How I wish I could communicate with these folk - maybe given time, I will learn.
Living in a bushman hut, something I have dreamed of, but never expected to actually happen. How I adore these fish eagles. The child smiles so sweetly, her teeth bright in contrast with her fading dusty skin.
I have now spent a week here and it is begining to feel like home. My first day alone last week was terminated as I sat sketching. Sitting by the river in the hot embracing sun, thoughts drifted in and out of my mind. The past few weeks, the 3 McNeils, our few days spent at Baboon camp, and the walk to Tswaralangwana. I miss them already. But wait...... three figures cross my view as I sketch the river bank. So much for their long trek into the perennial swamps! Resisting the urge to run across to them, I finish my sketch first. Chris was sprucing himself up in the river....We all hugged and it was good to see them again, yet I was rather daunted by his letter which has made me v. confused.
My drawing is coming on well, and I enjoy sketching the villagers so much... their bodies form such interesting attitudes, so much more physical somehow than Europeans, so much more in tune with their bodies. When they sit, as they always do during the hottest part of the day, their backs keep straight, at rightangles to their legs, the feet always crossed. Maturu is surely the strongest woman I have ever come across, despite her petite stature, and fairly advanced age. The other day, I began making a table with four support sticks at each corner and a number of poles across them. I was quite pleased with the first stages, especially as I had cut the wood myself. Maturu however obviously decided it would take me forever to finish the project, so she took the axe and marched off bare-footed, into the trees. I followed, and stood in amazement as she hacked, with only a few blows, a large branch from a sturdy tree. Every 'thwack' was accurate, always hitting exactly the same spot. The older woman, whose name escapes me, stood watching as Maturu worked her magic. I felt so feeble in comparison. Within a few minutes, the table was complete. I lay a reed mat over it from my bed. So began the kitchen....
Maturu's husband, James, is making a mokorro, which takes a month, so he works on it every day. He is many years younger than Maturu, but physically they are well matched. He has given me a piece of wood for my table top.
Kinetswi, the young girl of about 3, plays all day contentedly, and I have never yet heard her cry. She amuses herself with whatever is at hand, sometimes singing, or chasing the chickens around the huts. Her teeth are perfectly white, from the absence of sugar I am sure. She is a wonderful model, and I am very fond of her already.
Chris tells me that Maturu does not look any different than she did 20 years ago when he first met her. Her first husband died and James must only be in his late twenties. How she smiles and claps her hands, crying 'Dankie, Dankie' (afrikaans for 'thank you') when I give her tobacco, its a joy just to observe her happiness. I watched her take a fistfull of tobacco as snuff the other day - I couldnt believe the amount that disappeared up her left nostril. Where it went is a mystery.
Kinetswe's mother is pregnant with a large 'P'. I fear she will drop it at any moment. Her days are spent staying out of the sun and always wearing a sad face.I feel so sad for her. Still, she has her 'family', Maturu, James, Kinetswe, and the older lady, so she is not alone, which so many people in the West are. I suppose our communities are not so close-knit as they are here in Africa where everyone becomes family. No class system here either,thats for sure.
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Botswana Calling #7
It was rather ironic that our camp for the night lay no farther than 100 yds from the island we were trying to reach! So, our hike that day that was projected to take us a good few hours dissolved into a time of repose and great progress.
'Twswaralangwana' was an idyllic island, and I knew imediatley that tnis would prove a happy and productive 'home'. The legend of the island (which means 'carry my child') goes like this.
A man took his child for a walk one day, when he met another, who told him of a party over yonder... The man left his child in the care of a zebra - notorious for their kind, but rather stupid disposition - and went to the party.Whilst the zebra was carrying out his duty, he came upon a hyena, who offered to look after the child for a while as the zebra looked tired. The zebra agreed, and gave the child to the hyena, who consequently ate the child. (!) For his stupididty, the zebra was turned into a tree, which still stands, and the island became known as Tswaralangwana.
Before we reached the island, we came across a different island where a hut had once stood, but was now no more than a heap of ashes. The man who once lived there had been eaten by a hippo, but his spirit would remain until all his possessions had been burned. Then his spirit would be free. No one could live on the island until such time as the spirit was free, or his spirit would return in the form of a black mamba. Talk about gloom and doom, this was all getting a tad grim, and I was glad when we got to reach the other side of the river and set up camp at Tswaralangwana. This was also the island where Chris had lived to write his last book about lions. He was obviosly pleased to be home, altho' he said he would not be complete until he heard a lion roar.
We went to visit a nearby village, and on the way we took a dip in a clear flowing stream which ran down the main channel. Chris had now completely abandoned his flesh coloured undies, so I averted my gaze. "To strut before a wanton ambling nymph to the lassivious pleasing of the lute'...... He always seemed to have an appropriate quote, alhto' I certainly did not consider myself as a wanton ambling nymph!!
The village was small and very friendly. We were welcomed by a Madulla (older gentelman) whom Chris called 'Bilbo'. A little blind but actively involved in smoking a large barbel over a fire when we arrived. Chris conversed with great dexterity and gave his friend a fistful of tobacco. Morotsi's wife emerged from a reed complex, complete with grin and almost a T shirt. Dogs came warily up to us, sniffing enquiringly and I noticed that they all looked remarkably healthy. Maturu's home lay through a small wood and a fascinating display of bellows hung from a tree where we pondered their purpose.
Maturu was down at the river, so we were told by an old lady and one not quite her age, who sat under a reed canopy sheltering from the heat of the day. A child ran screaming to the sanctuary of her mother. Chris told us she had never seen a white person before. The mother's face was covered in what looked to me like birthmarks, but Chris explained that her husband had left her, casting a spell upon her as he did so (how charming). He also, incidentally, left her 'up the duff' (as Jim so delicately put her state of pregnancy). I guess some men are the same all over the world!
After the formal greetings, chairs were produced for our comfort, and various foods offered in hospitality. The ground- up morula nut tasted lovely, and was riddled with vitamins apparantly. Mike took lots of photos, Chris drank from a bucket, I practiced with the air gun and Jim sat patiently waiting . Then the lady arrived. A short, amazingly agile and tough little lady she was too. She wore a rather diaphanous dress and adorned her tiny writsts with ingeneous bracelets made of rubber, tin and beadwork. This was a pure river bushwoman. The others of the village were Bayei people. Her skin was lighter than most other Africans and her buttocks large like all Bushmen, a condition called 'steatopigia' (sp)? which enabled them to store food for when it was scarce. At first she was delighted to see Chris, but then burst forth with a string of abuse, demanding where her new dress was, and why he did not look after her. She was 'dying of hunger' which was a common greeting apparantly. Chris had known her for 20 years, since he was here for a year in 1964, and so she expected him to look after her!
That afternoon we retrieved Chris' fish smoking apparatus from the island across the river, where he once lived (and shot 5 black mambas!).
Mike caught a bounty of fish which we filleted and smoked. Mike is quite an amazing person - he never moans or complains and is never pessimistic. He always looks happy and seems to be well informed about almost everything. His activity causes the rest of us to feel excessively torpid! And we are!! Tea occurs every half an hour and I dont think I have ever consumed so much as these past few days.
Rain followed the excessive heat of the day, so the tent was erected, and then it stopped. We had not yet nailed a goose, as was our intention, although the following evening, Mike shot a pygmy goose, not realising it was 'royal game' and should not be killed. It did seem v. sad to kill such a beautiful bird, altho' it did prove to be good eating. Jim however proclaimed that he preferred fish. Jim has actually adaptedvery well to bush life despite his unenthusiastic attitude to the cuisine. He provides us with jokes and endless amusing stories in the evening, his down to earth approach keeps everything in perspective.
Hope we hear the lion roar tonight!
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Panthera Pardus..... No date, 1983
An extended entry as I didnt do one last week...
Perhaps the most spectacular event I have ever experienced yet in Africa took place that evening. Whilst I was at Tom's camp, filling the water container for the evenings culinary delights, and giving him the sketch of Baboon Camp, I stayed awhile to hear the events of his day. That morning, the last remaining (there had been three) cat had been taken by a leopard, just outside Tom's hut. He showed me the spore, the drag marks and remains of the cat - it was definately a leopard. 'Panthera Pardus' was also responsible for the death of the other two pets. Enough was enough. Tom had set a trap for the hungry beast consisting of a metal cage with trap door and the remains of the cats torso as bait. Tom was showing me the principles of the trap when a loud 'Clunk' rang out from behind the shower hut. We ran to see what had been caught. Before reaching the cage, loud and angry roars filled the air, followed by futile rattling of iron bars. The leopard had been caught! I ran to get Chris and Mike - Jim was already at the scene. With the aid of the trucks headlights, the beautiful beast stepped into the spotlight. And what an extraordinarily fantastic criminal it was. Despite its bleeding nose, from thrashing against the bars, its eyes were wild and brilliantly green. The teeth, now bared, were deadly, and its displeasure at being caught filled it with wild and magnificent terror.
While Mike distracted its attention with a torch, Tom made several attempts to dart it with a tranquilizer. The third one hit it in it's buttock and after 10 minutes she was out cold. Now it was a helpless pussy cat. Erna put on the generator and the camp was lit sufficiently for closer inspection of the feline. Then begun the procedure of measuring, weighing, temperature taking and general observation. It was a middle aged female, weighing 86lbs, pregnant, and very hungry. She looked so helpless lying there, I could not blame her for taking the cats, she had more than one to feed, and the kitty's lent themselves as easy targets. Erna- at first terrified by the growling and the very presence of the animal, rushed around taking photographs now, as did Jim, who's camera never left his side. Chris was very interested in the whole procedure - a variation on his experience with lions. He sat, looking for a vein in the back leg, in which he put a needle and syringe, containing 'dopram' should any respiration problems arise. She was breathing at a rate of 6 respirations to every 15 seconds. Ocassionally the breathing became shallow, at which point the 'dopram' was administered. Should the breathing stop completely, a hefty thump was applied to the back of the shoulder. Luckily this was not necassary. Tom placed a radio collar around her neck so they could follow her movements and location in the future. Especially interesting as the leopards diet consisted largely of the primate already being studied!
We left the cat under a tree just outside the camp to come round. Tom stayed with her. Coffee was prepared and the evening discussed around the fire. Before we finally hit the sack, the 3 M's and I had our regular tot of Bushmills, Mike gave us a tune on the harmonica and Jim threatened the vociferous fruit bat with the stewing pot! I slept well that night which was just as well as we had a long walk ahead of us.
After a geat deal of procrastination and generally farting around, we organized a cache to be left at Baboon camp for Morotsi to bring up by mokoro at a later stage. Loaded down with all we considered necassary, we trekked off across the bush in search of the Island,'Tswaralangwana' (carry my child). 10am was not of course the ideal time to set out anywhere on foot, and the pack rubbed against my sunburned back. Lechwe puntuated the horizon, standing still and silent against the tall,swaying palm trees and pastel shaded grass. At 12.30, we made camp for lunch in a shaded spot right on the river. Unfortunately, a collection of tourists were camped nearby. I thought how frustrating it must be to travel through such a beautiful place as a tourist, having only limited time. I'm sure a lifetime would never be enough. How lucky I am.
Earl Grey tea tasted so refreshing at mid day, I'm glad I thought to bring it from the Motherland! Even Jim is getting to like the rose 'ip' tea as he refers to it. For the next couple of hours we relaxed and rested our bodies, swimming in the river, fishing, writing and sleeping. Strange to think that this was Easter Sunday, and millions of people were trundling off to church, strutting down to the pub and consuming vicious amounts of chocolate. How good it was to be doing something, with such interesting and fun people, in such an incredible place. Mind you, a nice chunk of chocolate would not go amiss...
Once we had consumed the rice and fish that Mike had so ably prepared, we set off again. Chris was informed by the mokoro poler we had seen earlier, that in crossing directly where he pointed, we would omit having to follow every bend in the river. He was right too, we travelled much farther after his advice, and set up camp on a sandbank by the main channel. Chris and Jim set off to hunt a bird with the shotgun while Mike fished and I set about making the much acclaimed 'pita bread'. The water was relatively shallow, so there was little risk of crocodiles, altho' after listening to tales from Chris, involving our saurian friends, we unanamously decided to erect Mike's tent rather that sleep 'al fresco'. Supper came in the form of francolin, shot by Chris, the remnants of the rice and a poor substitute for stuffing created by myself, due to the fact it was Sunday (always have roast dinner on a sunday at home!) The sunset was inevitably stupendous, in fact even more so than the usual due to erect belches of purple smoke which entered the left of the scene from a distant fire. The night passed without event, apart from the odd spashing barbel and imaginary crocodiles. I lay, sardined by Chris, and his smoking appendage (pipe) and Jims rather ripe set of feet! But there was nowhere on earth I would rather be.