acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Botswana bound

We are off to Botswana tomorrow. Today has been spent catching up, closing off, sorting and packing – watched by the manic monkeys at every turn. This morning I was awake early – not because I had finished sleeping, but because I thought I heard RAIN. I did. A gentle sprinkle but at least something. A start to the rainy season perhaps?

With the ground so hard and dry, a gentle start would be better – or so they say. But I had in mind something more dramatic – a tropical downpour that would fill the dams and flood down the roads; that frogs would party in and grass would start to grow again covering the bald barren earth. With luck it will happen soon and we will return to a lush jungle…sigh.

The packing list includes bedrolls, tent, road food, books, papers, cameras, laptop, fishing gear, medical box, puncture repair kits and assorted tools, and –oh yes, clothes. It’s hard to pack with days ricocheting between blasting heat and winter winds.

I am looking forward to sparkling rivers, elephants in the road, smell of wild sage in the open plains, forest alive with glossy starlings, and nights that belong to owls and cats. So dear friends, my next post will be from there!

Friday, October 24, 2008

I'd like to thank...

Well blow me down.. the very kind and lovely Katherine from NZ - sorry i still dont know how to do links... has generously awarded me the above!!! whoa - THANKS KATHERINE. Funny how awards do mean something after all.
I remember being impressed with Helen Mirren when she took the stage at a glittering event to receive a big award. Instead of the usual train of platitudes and gratitudes she said something like 'my greatest achievement so far has been to make it up the steps in these heels without falling over!' ha funny and i can really relate to that feeling if not to the actual glamour of the event.
anyhow its now my turn to pass it on to seven more blogs that I love, enjoy and enrich my mind, heart and soul.... so here goes in no particular order - on my. do i HAVE to choose!
The Times of Miranda - (wish i could do links!) for being the person who introduced me to the blogosphere and inspires me with her fresh funny enthusiastic and original outlooks on life
Fleeing Muses - - Tam, for her deeply soul searching, thought provoking and consumate word skill postings
Letters from Usedom - - for Angela's sage words, and upbeat take on life that is the cream on the barrel of worldly wisdom and understanding - and for her great friendship
Ngorobob Hill House - - a Janelle's lyrical and joyous descriptions of life on the hill that always lift my spirits;
The Gold Puppy - - Reya for her lovely spiritual posts and amazing photos
Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) - - for her fabulous photos
The Bodhi Tree - wise words and soul searching empathy
Lori Times Five - - another soul connection accross the atlantic
Holey Vision - - for her spunky brave and funny commentaries
oops i think thats more than seven..oh well; actually i could go on - you all inspire, enlighten and uplift my day - thanks for all the fun and friendship xx
(got myself in a complete muddle re text colours - all because i dont know how to do

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Weather Report

After the breathless oven door heat of yesterday we were treated to a light show last night. A fierce wind blew in at sunset driven by convection as hot air changed places with cold. Distant lightening flashes drew closer, moved to the east and conversed with more in the west. Wind blew the chairs off the stoep and forced us to extinguish what was left of the fire as burning embers fled the scene in a westerly direction heading for the tinder grasses.
I went to sleep while wind played with the sheets of wriggly tin on our roof, and lightening danced around. But it was not our turn for rain yet - perhaps we are last on the list. Today the wind has been casting around, clearing up the dust and smoke haze. The mountains reappeared in full glory at sunrise - the view washed clean to illuminate fissured canyons and glowing granite faces.

One day I will think of something else to write about other than waiting for rain........

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

mozambique dreams

We arrive at night under a star spangled sky – too tired to think of anything but sleep after eighteen hours on the road. Morning arrives early with the soft watery sound of tidal floods trickling into the mangroves. The sea is flat as glass and the sun, just up, promises a languid day.

Despite the fog of too little sleep I have to leap out of bed and into the day. Trotting eagerly down the sand steps and along the board walk – sun bleached wood hard under my feet. Bright water coasts in covering fiddler crab holes and swirling between mangrove stems clothed in barnacles and whelks. I step onto the soft white sand already dazzling in the morning sun, to greet the ocean with sleepy feet. Silky warm water washes over my toes and ankles and I drink in the scene.

Distant sailing dhows coast silently past to fishing grounds. Sunlight bounces off the ripples left by fish activity just below the surface. Hermit crabs beetle past on a meandering path to somewhere. Their tracks intertwine and converge along the shallows and I have sand in my toes again.

The Bazaruto archipelago is a jewel in the crown of Mozambique’s 3000km tropical coastline. Seen from Google earth it is a swirl of indigo and turquoise seas hemmed in by a chain of islands and an outer reef that keeps the big seas and giant sea creatures at bay.

Here poverty and wealth are rubbing shoulders like so many places in Africa. After fifteen years of war in this country the islands have become a world famous tourist destination. Ski boats race past traditional dhows on their way to trawl the fishing grounds of the reef; conservationists fight to preserve marine life, while dhow crews net the shallows endlessly day and night. Tourism has created on ongoing market for seafood – and growing families need to be fed.

Perhaps it is the contrasts in Africa that draw our attention so insistently. So many opportunities to make a real difference – so much huge potential lying in wait. Held back, in the main, by bureaucracy, human greed, and corruption – global influences that escape the common man.

We spend Sunday finding our feet, unpacking our toys – fishing gear is set out and tackled up; brightly coloured fins and goggles appear; pale bodies seek the sun; camp supplies sorted and fridges stocked.

Monday I go with Lucas, the camp manager, to Morape School. Morape is the nearest village and the one the camp staff hail from. For several years now, we have been dropping boxes of school stationary and educational material at this school – all collected by my amazing friend Angela ( in Germany – paid for with monies earned from teaching English to neighbours children. The boxes are packed with exercise books, pencils, paints, toys, footballs, Portuguese text books, second hand reading glasses, first aid kits, chalk, and small bonus personal items. Into each box I add a photograph of Angela so that the teachers know who the gifts are coming from. Lucas translates for me and we ask the teacher for indicators of anything special they need for next time.

The original school house – a large thatched roof building – was blown down in the cyclone of 2007 – although the concrete base is intact and the flag pole has been re-erected at one end. It needs to be rebuilt. The school yard is an acre of sand fenced in with hand hewn poles. Within this yard are several loosely constructed shade dwellings with rows of bench seats made of poles. There are no desks as such and I wonder what the pupils lean on when doing their work. At the end of each room is a modern looking blackboard; in one room there is an impressive teacher’s desk.

Children gather round in open curiosity as the boxes are unpacked onto the concrete foundation of the old school. The teachers struggle to maintain discipline and keep children in line while books and pencils are handed out. There is much excitement – some children enjoy the camera, others look perplexed and wary; all are entirely engaging in their own way with guileless and spontaneous smiles.

Finally waving goodbye we leave the teachers to get on with their classes and wend our way on sand tracks to the beach to buy seafood from the dhows. A sleepy scene greets us. Fishing nets strung on a pole next to a monkey, tied by the waist to a tree stump in the shade of coconut palms. On seeing our interest in the monkey, a child taunts it gently to provoke interaction. The monkey bounces on his chain but never stretches the limit of its range.

Here the tidal reach is shallow. A dhow is on its way in so we walk down to meet it. Further along three figures are pulling in a net, but the catch is small and hardly replaces the energy expended on heaving in the net. We buy some calamari – strange sea creatures out of their element; fleshy soft beings with enormous blue eyes.

Perfect coastal days flee by – exploring mangroves on fishing canoes – those lovely broad ones that are so stable. With clear calm waters fish explode out of the water around us like silver bullets chased by our shadows. Snorkelling on reefs and sea grass beds where the many coloured starfish lie like cartoons dropped from above; bizarre and beguiling creatures amaze and intrigue. I have to pop my head up from time to time to be sure I am still on the same planet. Fabulous crabs that look like mobile pebbles graced with soft pink seaweed; urchins and slugs, clown fish, anenomes, and a carpet of bling from broken sand oyster shells.

In the reserve the first game introductions have started. Three zebra were released a month ago, and at the bomas, nyalla and wildebeest acclimatise to their new surroundings. Next week, more nyalla, wildebeest, waterbuck, eland and giraffe will arrive. They have been a long time coming as the Sanctuary (Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary – have prioritised community upliftment projects.

The moon waxes and wanes, the rhythm of the tides controls our days, and all too soon a week rushes by with the last outgoing tide. We drive through the night, taking turns at the wheel. There are people walking along the road all through the night – drunkards and partygoers make way for early risers and the workforce with never a break in-between. It is a constant stream. By morning we are back in the drought stricken interior. Hopes of rainfall in our absence are dashed. The skinny warthogs come trotting in when they hear our vehicles approach – and the monkeys return around sunset to watch for gaps in doors and windows. The coastal dream becomes a memory package to be stored and revisited at whim.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

mini skirt trouble

Today is 42C – the only breath of wind feels like someone opened an oven door. 33C inside the house. Monkeys are sleeping on the stoep, trying to cool down on the concrete floor (while waiting for the door to be left open); warthogs are stony sculptures sleeping in the dust. Bright blue glossy starlings inspect them for ticks. Anorexic looking kudus stalk past to the waterhole. Thin animals everywhere; skin hanging in folds. The thin ones don’t get to eat with the rest at feeding time as they are not strong enough to fight their way in. Their clocks are ticking. Its depressing to watch them lose condition so quickly and still no sign of life giving rain.

This year is extreme. It is something to experience, but you must guard against depression. Locals call this suicide month. Crops wither, cattle are thin and dying, boreholes drying up – and you cant make water when it is gone. It seems like it will never rain again – ever. With mortality staring us in the face all day, we start to think of our own – worry about our own health. Its inevitable I suppose. And I am not even going into whats happening to the global economy!

With the drought comes veld fires. All over the southern continent tinder dry grasses are swallowed up by racing fires – leaving a desolate landscape in their wake. We have heard of three safari camps burnt to the ground in the past month. What of the rural villages – people and animals caught in the cross fire?

Animals too feel the tension. Across the border in mozambique, there is a new national park. Elephants come into conflict with people here. People plant crops everywhere, even under shade trees. Elephants need to get to water, find shade; they eat crops and trees when there is no grass. Matriarchs particularly are stressed moving their herds of sisters and young – trying to stay alive. Everywhere they go they are chased by people banging pots, or shooting at them. Finally they turn on the first person they see – trampling them to death.

Tension mounts with the mercury rising; with luck storm clouds will build out of the remaining moisture sucked from the earth and every living thing. With the first rain, bright shimmering green bursts on the scene. I am picturing the green inside the dessicated trees, just waiting for its curtain call. The ground shimmers and bakes like an earthen pot in a giant kiln. Walk barefoot at your peril – soon you will be dancing like a cat on a hot tin roof – the ultimate rain dance!

In the old days in South Africa, the Church would blame drought on girls who wore mini skirts. This is retribution…. Fire and brimstone. Maybe they had a point. OK I’ll be good, and wear a long skirt if that’s what it takes.

For now though we watch and wait, and watch and wait- holding our breath as the dramatic tension increases testing the mettle of everyone and everything. This has to break soon and when it does…..there will be a festival of green.

living in a hide

Ok I wont make a habit of this but yesterday the game viewing from the house was truly amazing. Its all about the drought and the few waterholes we pump to nearby. Some of the other boreholes in the reserve are dry so we are bound to be popular, and it’s a sad thing really. We had an informal business meeting all morning and the pageant walking past was very distracting!

So I’ll begin with our normal friends..

1. Warthogs – about 30
2. Monkeys – whole troop – not sure how many – maybe 50?
3. Dassies – rock hyrax, live in the koppies at the back
4. Duiker – small grey antelope - one
5. Steenbok – small golden brown antelope - one
6. Bushbuck – normally shy and tucked away in thickets – one young male
7. Nyalla – the most decorative of antelopes in my opinion, mixed herd of ten?
8. Giraffe – a whole Journey of them with one youngster
9. Eland – massive Taurean antelope – I saw two
10. Kudu – so elegant – four
11. White rhino – two
12. Scrub hare
13. Impala – a big herd – 60+
14. Waterbuck – one male

I think that’s all……. Just had to share with you.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

massage moments

I am so very tired now. My whole body wants to lie down and sleep. Even speaking is an effort. And its only 4pm.

Today I decided to treat myself to a back massage. I had been feeling as though I needed one for some time, and then yesterday I had lower back pain, so I got pro-active and off I went at the appointed time thinking it would be a treat. I was imagining lovely essential oils smells, soft reiki music tinkling away like a running stream; and having all my stresses, new and old, eased out of those big muscles by expert hands.


Well the music and smells were on cue, but the therapist was big and strong, with very strong fingers that poked right into my knotty bits, through my whole body and out the other side. It was sore! I began to imagine she was remembering ancestral scenes from the anglo-boer war and was now exacting revenge. Even the music began to sound like little drummer boys marching before the troops. I wimpered, and gasped. No – this isn’t like the picture!!!

I could see her toes. See the weight come off one foot as she really leaned into the job. I can do this, I promised myself – I wont cry, or whimper too much. But ‘aish’ that hurts! “shame’ said the therapist not meaning it.
All too soon (not) it was over. Phewee. She met me at the door. “You must come back. I can’t fix it all in one session”. “oh OK’ (WHAT?), I mumbled, finding it difficult to speak. ”probably not this week though..”

“Remember to drink lots of water so you don’t start to detox (what?) or get headaches (!) … nausea..(!) “ none of this was in my plan. I imagined floating home, the picture of serenity and calm - not this spaced out wounded stumbling.

I drove home. Everyone overtaking me on the road. Perhaps there is something wrong with the speedo – I cant be driving THAT slow.

… but I do think my back feels better, or will when the bruising subsides.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

rabbits and spiders

This morning I woke up just after 4am to hear the lions calling. It was still dark and it was a treat to hear them as they haven’t been around for a while. Apparently one of the females has cubs in another part of the reserve. Possibly this was the males doing a territorial patrol.

The second time I heard them, I decided to get up and make coffee. K was already up watching TV so we went out onto the stoep to listen again. A slight tinge of dawn light nudged at the eastern horizon.

Clutching our coffee cups we jumped in the vehicle to see if we could find our feline friends. We drove slowly, shining a spotlight into the bush on either side of the road.
We saw three rabbits – not together but in all. Wide eyed and fully awake, they hopped speedily into the underbrush.

On an open piece of ground, millions of tiny stars reflected back at me as if the earth had been scattered with diamonds. Spiders’ eyes showed a dazzling light that decried their body size. There is a smell of moisture in the air although it hasn’t rained. Cold moist air must have flooded down from the mountains in the night. Something brought the spiders out en masse for this lovely display.

Dawn light crept slowly into the scene but all we found of lions so far were some fresh tracks. Apparently elephants came by last night too. They have feasted on the bull rushes at the waterhole and it now looks as though it has been chopped with machetes. It is always astounding how quiet a herd of elephants can be!

So although the superstars of our animal pageant were off stage, it allowed the rabbits and spiders to captivate and beguile on centre stage as the curtains opened on the new day.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

feeding time

Rogue baboon tries to compete with resident warthog population at feeding time...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Dry Season Rolls On... and on..

The dry season rolls on. Cloudless blue skies look down on a haze of dust that has completely obscured the Drakensburg Mountains from our view. Warthogs and monkeys continue to follow us beadily through the windows.

Last night I forgot to latch the front door before going to bed. It was closed but not latched. The front door is two enormous railway sleeper pages, held together with a kind of welded giant u-bolt that slips over the handles.

So this morning I met a monkey in the passage, who fled through the small gap in the front door. In the kitchen and dining room the tables and floor were covered in broken corn chips, like an orange snow storm had blown through. A packet of cookies left by last weeks visitors had been discovered; a half eaten cookie lay abandoned in the haste of retreat, between the kitchen and the front door, in a nest of crumbs;

The pile of washing up from last nights (late) dinner had supported a precariously balanced dish of strawberries and meringues; somehow every strawberry had been picked off this dish without upsetting the balance – impressive! This raid had been in whisper mode! And thank you monkeys for not leaving a fresh poo for me to step in – obviously they had had a relaxed time prior to discovery.

The less adventurous monkeys who had stayed outside, were looking extremely agitated and seemed to beg recognition for good behaviour.

A knock on effect from all the hungry and desparate animals; is the damage to the trees. Elephants eat trees. Its one of the things they do. Why are people always surprised, shocked , outraged when they see a tree that has been eaten by elephants? If there was plenty of lush green grass they would of course prefer this, but there isn’t and they need to eat. Meanwhile humans can scrape roads, move trees that are in their path, or block sun from the pool, or whatever, at whim. But when an elephant eats a tree there is a lot of tut tutting, and mutters about ‘too many elephants’ – I am on the ele’s side, in this, by the way .

However, I must say that when you see a tree that has been tusked, and the bark peeled off in great strips, it looks sore – like an open wound. And when the feeding process has totally ring barked a tree so that it is doomed to die – that is sad.

The predominant tree here is mopane – which has a leaf shaped like a butterfly. It gives us wonderful golden fall colours at the start of winter. It is hard wood, but not the most favourite, so tends to be left till last. Favourites are the lovely knob thorn acacias which have prominent knobs all the way up the trunk; and give off the most beautiful scent when in flower; marulas, which are soft wood but yield copious sweet fruits which the elephants love; comipheras (sp?)– which are spikey, unfriendly looking but extraordinary and beautiful too; Dalbergia or zebra wood which has HUGE SPIKES so must be awful to eat. In fact just about everything apart from mopane. All these sustain the browser species like giraffe and kudu, year round. Elephants can switch when the grass comes up.

Another culprit is the porcupine. He has been eating bark but from a lower level. He has munched into the bases of many trees, leaving raw open orange wounds. This year he seems to favour the Tamboti tree – which I always thought was semi poisonous? At least we cannot cook on it in the fire because even the smoke on our food will make us very sick. When carved though it is aromatic – a bit like sandalwood.

And of course we cannot end this blog post without mentioning our friends the monkeys. We had two guava bushes growing outside the kitchen door. The monkeys use these to perch on while watching us move food around the kitchen. Guava trees are a ‘problem’ tree in this country and it is forbidden to plant them. They grow easily from seed – as these two did. The monkeys have now bitten the bark off these trees all the way from ground up. So that’s the end of that.

So sorry trees – we know you are having a hard time too, but summer IS coming…..

Miranda's Memes

Meme from The Times of Miranda blogspot

I am not sure what a meme is exactly, and it doesn’t appear in my dictionary – which is ancient and tattered anyway and probably needs updating as language is a living thing isn’t it? But hey I did the phone book thing. First go to the address book, hit any key three times (without looking I suppose); then scroll down three times and tell the world about the person whose name appears.

Well I tried all the keys finally out of curiosity, but the first name that REALLY came up was the name of the lady that bought my gallery in Chobe. She is a lovely elegant Irish born lady who was previously attached to the University of Botswana in Gabarone. Approaching retirement she was casting around for a new path. Heard about our little art gallery for sale and knew this was the right thing. She has close ties with the Art Department at the University and these are now partners with her in the gallery (I still have a small interest too – share wise but a big interest generally).

Whilst we all had lots of fun building the business over ten years; my travelling lifestyle meant that I had very little time actually on site and this was not working for me or the gallery. It needed to be owner run and now it is.

One of the first new artists we introduced to C when she took over was a Zimbabwean called Collins. K met him in a pub in Kasane, and brought him round to the house with his portfolio of pictures. Whilst he was showing us these lovely pastels he let them fall on the floor; the dogs walk on them. No Collins – you must take care of your work! Now he has a gallery to exhibit in and has been selling really well.

So more about C. She plays tennis regularly and so is really fit. She has that English thing of looking serious, then laughing a lot, then looking serious again. Funny dry humour just below the surface. Her brother is a big important cellist in one of the best European orchestras. Also funny and nice.

Ooh now I feel I should tell you about all the people in my phone book!

The second meme is a series of questions that must be answered in eight words;

WHERE WERE YOU TEN YEARS AGO? We bought our place in the lowveld then;
WHATS ON YOUR TO DO LIST TODAY? Make list of paintings that have just gone to gallery for exhibition; update stock lists etc; do emails; try to make sense of emails from Nairobi partner…. Do a run to town; sort photographs and files; write blog posts and maybe a little sleep as last night was LATE;
WHAT IF YOU WERE A BILLIONAIRE? Um I’d probably be stressing about banks crashing…. Too much to stuff in the mattress? Save pockets of environment; back alternative energy research and sciences; initiate more bee projects in rural areas; promote arts as educational tool; save the world generally I suppose…..

FIVE PLACES YOU HAVE LIVED: Canada, England, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana
Smoking; binge tidying up instead of doing it every day; not always following my intuition
Smoked salmon on rye with horseradish; (is that a snack? Depends on the size I suppose) raw veg/fruit; wasabi rice crackers
Well Miranda already tagged Tam Janelle and Geli soooooooo
I am going to Tag Reya, Absolute Vanilla, Holey Vision, and Lori Ann – OK that’s four but M did 4 ….. he he

guess i forgot about the eight words mandate then!

There ya go!