I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday bird blogging

An osprey, a rare visitor to the Chobe River.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday bird blogging

And we now resume our regular blogging schedule, even as I am starting to think that it will be weeks before I have the African story sorted out and that "catching up" is not something I may be able to do.

I can post the pictures, but explaining them, conveying what it was like to be there, is turning out to be extraordinarily difficult.

Anyway, here's a dark-capped bulbul. I saw a lot of them around the hotel in Johannesburg, and at first their behavior puzzled me. Several of them sat in a leafless tree, and periodically one would take off, fly in a small circle, and return to the same branch. My impression was that they were aimless and not very bright; I finally realized that they were catching insects so small I couldn't see them, so smoothly I couldn't even catch them in the act.

This bulbul, behind our lodge in Botswana, has something a little more exciting to show for his efforts.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started

Back in Johannesburg, back at the D'Oreale Grande, after a journey that was less than two weeks but seemed much longer. Every day was so rich and full of new experiences that it was as though time itself expanded and suddenly accommodated many more hours than the paltry twenty-four I'm used to.

I'm having herb tea in the garden, listening to what I now know are Cape turtledoves cooing in the trees, the four notes that struck me as so foreign, doves "with a South African accent," our first day here, and now is a familiar, and reassuring, sound.

The tour group has broken up. Those going on the optional extension to Cape Town left this morning; everyone else is doing a tour of Soweto and a visit to Nelson Mandela's house, now a museum, before heading to the airport for flights home this evening.

I woke up with one of those intestinal viruses we were warned to expect here, which at least waited until the last day to show up. I couldn't possibly endure a bus tour, so I arranged to keep my hotel room until five o'clock and I'm trying to recover enough to face the sixteen hour flight tonight. Being unwell so far away from home is always stressful; being unwell here is almost hallucinatory.

Wherever you go, there you are. I've quoted that many times about being in new places and new situations. I've always thought that it was obviously true, that it was in fact what I love most about travel. When you find yourself on the Great Wall, or riding a camel by the pyramids, or sitting at a cafe in Paris, the fact that it's still you there, the same old self, is what makes the new place, a place you may have dreamed about for years, suddenly possible, suddenly real.
                       The world, it was the old world yet,
                       I was I, my things were wet
But so much of this trip felt like a dream, a fiction, that I started to feel as though I myself was also a fiction. I don't think I've ever been less self-conscious, in the best possible way, than I was on this trip.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Leaving Zambia

This morning we're flying to Lusaka, and then back to Johannesburg. There were several elephants grazing in the bush by the lodge's airstrip, and a family of warthogs trotting across the tarmac.

Another elephant family, with a very young baby, came out as our truck stopped, and it was a magic moment. After so much wildlife, so many elephants, it was the perfect coda.

Then our plane arrived, roaring down the airstrip. Mama elephant trumpeted indignantly and hustled the baby out of there. Goodbye, Zambia.

Goodbye, Africa.

Friday, April 13, 2012


No picture here, just a story.

I noticed him when I was walking through the corn field on the way to the school. I had fallen behind the group and the children holding my hands were tugging at me to go faster, and I caught a glimpse of a boy sitting alone on the ground, watching us go by. I had an impression that he was crippled, but didn't really see him clearly.

Later, after the visits to the school and the orphanage, when everyone was milling around outside and taking photos, I saw him coming down the hill. He couldn't walk; his legs were folded underneath him and he moved forward by swinging his hips one side at a time. His right arm ended above the elbow, without a hand.

It had taken him all that time to catch up with us, and I walked over and asked him his name.

"Paul," he said shyly.

"Hi, Paul." I told him that my name was Kathleen and I came from New York, in America. I thanked him for letting us visit his village. I shook his left hand, and told him that I was very happy to meet him.

And he gave me such a radiant smile it pierced my heart. I hadn't done anything more than I had done with the other children; in fact I had done less.

I didn't take his picture. This was just a reflex; I would never take a picture of a disabled child in New York, so of course I wouldn't take one in Zambia. He wasn't on display like the wildlife. But in fact getting their pictures taken and seeing their digital selves was such a treat for all the other children in the village, it probably would have been an even bigger one for Paul, one way in which he could have been like all the other children there. It was the one gift I could have given him -- I'm not Angelina Jolie, I can't adopt him and give him a new life and have him seen by the finest doctors -- and it didn't even occur to me until much later that I could have, should have, done it.

Instead what I have is that smile, the gift that he gave me, I who already have so much.

I've promised myself that I'm going to be worthy of it.

More pictures of the children

Village children

Sausage tree

Really, that's what it's called.

What else would you call them? Those are actually the fruits of this peculiar tree, not some tasty cured meats that someone hung from the branches to keep them away from the hyenas.

Up close, the "sausages" are some kind of potato-like tuber. We'd seen several of these trees before but this was my first opportunity to get a good picture, so I stood underneath the tree and aimed up. And after narrowly escaping getting conked on the head by several falling sausages, I decided that the picture above was quite good enough.


The feet of the one of the women dancing. Those are rattles attached to her ankles.

Orchestra seating

Some of the seats around the small stage where the dancers and musicians performed. Each one was a different shape and design.


Petronella was our guide through the cultural village, taking us to present ourselves to the village headman, taking us through the houses and explaining the rituals, and here, describing a magic talisman in the museum.


(Thanks to Ron Adler for letting me post his pictures of the orphanage as his were much better than mine.)

There are 18 million orphans in Africa because of AIDS, an entire generation of parents decimated, so I imagine that most villages of any size have an orphanage like this one. Some people in the village have taken in orphans to raise along with their own children; it's hard to imagine how people who are already struggling can take on this great burden, all these children to feed and clothe and educate, but all of the children in this village seem happy and well-taken care of -- the little girls who fought over who got to hold my hand and thought it was great giggling fun leading me in circles in the cornfield so that I got to the orphanage late could have been children anywhere.

I arrived just as the children were singing a song for us and everyone was crowded around the doors so I couldn't see much. We sang America the Beautiful as our song for them.


The school principal met with us in his small cinderblock office, full of stacks of books, with charts tracking the students' progress taped to the walls, and then walked us around the grounds, where the foundations for a new building are slowly being built. The energy and enthusiasm just pours out of him; he seems completely unfazed by the enormous challenges of his job.

Like having to worry about his students being killed on the way to school in the morning. This school, like the one in Zimbabwe, is seriously overcrowded. Classes have to start at 7 in the morning to accommodate two shifts of students, and it's dangerous for children to be out walking so early when there are so many animals around. When the new school buildings are completed, he will be able to start classes later, and it will be safer for the children.

The determination to get an education is awe-inspiring; there are children who walk fourteen kilometers in both directions to come to school (and risk being eaten by crocodiles along the way). It makes me want to smack certain teenage girls of my acquaintance upside the head until they realize how privileged they are to have an education available for the taking.

(And it's disheartening to compare to the current state of affairs in the United States, where one of our greatest strengths, good public education, is now regarded as one more commodity to be privatized, one more pillar of big bad government to be undermined and abolished and starved into mediocrity.)


Chickens investigating a pan of dirty dishes, maybe hoping to find some interesting scraps.

Which probably explains why clean dishes are laid out to dry on racks like this.

Main street

Village life

We were actually visiting two villages. One, the Chiawa Cultural Village, is part of an effort to demonstrate and preserve aspects of traditional Goba village life. There's a museum, a curio shop where most of the proceeds go back to the artisans, performances of traditional dances and games and rituals.

First, though, we visited the village down the road, a village where people actually live now. Children started to follow us around, at first a few, then a few more, then dozens. They grabbed our hands while we walked, and begged to have their pictures taken so they could admire their digital faces.

Morning on the Zambezi

The village was a 45-minute boat ride away. Or it would have been -- our boat broke down and we waited on one of the islands in the river until a backup arrived. We hadn't been nearly this far up the river before, and once you get past the new safari lodges going up, you see daily life by the river: men fishing, women doing laundry, children playing.

Everyone smiled and waved as we went by.

Zambezi sunrise

This morning, instead of a game drive or walk, we're going upriver to visit a local village, so we got to sleep in until the ungodly hour of 6:30.

I was awake long before the knock at my door, so I had a chance to appreciate the sunrise from my tent. This may be the only place I've ever been where the sunrises are as spectacular as the sunsets. Or where I'm just as likely to be awake for them.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I haven't been taking nearly as many pictures of wildlife here as I did in Chobe. Part of it is just proximity; the animals here are much less accustomed to being around humans and tend to flee at our approach. Also, I have seen a lot of elephants at this point and no longer feel that I have to have a picture of every single one of them.

But it's also that I am enjoying just being here, without feeling that I have to capture it with my camera. This park is so wild and unspoiled, I don't want to see it through a viewfinder. I just want to be here.

But I had to take this picture of a waterbuck, with the characteristic white ring on the rump clearly visible.

How lovely to see you again

This afternoon, I opted for a game drive. We found the same pride of lions not far from where we'd seen them last night -- since they'd fed recently, Russell said it wasn't likely they'd being going anywhere until it was time for them to hunt again.

This pride consists of females and young males, but honestly I can't tell them apart.

Elephants at breakfast

We can watch elephants while we eat breakfast on the terrace here, just like in Zimbabwe.

The difference is that the elephants here could come up and join us if they were so inclined.


Vultures circling overhead.

We've seen lots of vultures in Africa; the guides have sometimes used them as a sign that there might be a kill worth exploring. But it's a little disconcerting when you're on foot in the middle of the park and it's you they're circling. You start to think, Uh, do they know something we don't know?


Here I am with my friend and guardian Gift, in front of a thousand year-old, more or less, baobab tree - click to enlarge. (No one really knows how old these trees are, as they don't have growth rings.)

I've seen many of these trees since I've been in Africa, with their huge squat trunks like thirty or forty smaller trees smooshed together, but this was my first opportunity to see one up close.

More of the strange and beautiful surroundings


Here are pictures of some of the animal tracks we followed. There were impalas.

And elephants.

And hippos.

Walking safari

We had a choice of activities this morning -- game drive, fishing, walking safari. I chose the walk, eager for a chance to stretch my legs and see some of the amazing rock formations and plant life in the park up close. Of course, unlike most nature walks, this one requires that you be accompanied by a gentleman with a rifle. (Which, we were reassured, there was almost no chance he would have to use, but just in case...)

So the six of us who were walking, plus the two guides from the lodge, Pikasa and Laxon (whose names I am probably badly misspelling), and our sharpshooter, whose name was Gift, took a boat down the river to the national park, and disembarked into yet another new world.

The sandy path from the river up to the grassland wound through these tall red banks, carved into finger-shaped columns and elaborate waves by a much higher river in the past, and our footprints mixed with the tracks of the animals that had already walked through here this morning.

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