Glenda Kemp, South Africa’s notorious snake swinging stripper is marching in to the Botswana bush, to the sound of the song: “Ek is ‘n dapper muis.” The brave mouse that was not afraid of anything. But, what about spiders? Spiders? Well beside spiders, I am not afraid of anything. But what about…leaving home? Long journeys in a car? Cooking? Wild animals running free? Using the bush as a toilet? Going without bathing?…
Help, what am I doing here?
I know the answer to that question: For the love of a boyfriend. A woman in love is like a drunk man; you can’t reason with him.
The first time my knees shook involuntary was the first night of sleeping in the bush of Botswana. Sleeping in the open, on the top of the Land Rover.
My vocabulary does not include describing the sounds that emerge when a lioness makes her kill on a helpless buck. The good old word ‘terrifying’ sure does describe what was going on inside of me and the buck. This is not like sounds from afar or a close up on the television. This is darkness. The collision of the encounter between the two animals was directly next to our car.
On hindsight it was a blessing that the buck was around or else we might never have made it in to the safe interior of the Land Rover.
Run Baby Run
This was the second time I discovered that my knees can actually shake involuntary without my having any control over them. It would have been cool if it was a freak show competition, but it was a lion outside my tent and I could smell his breath.
The haunting sound from afar had my hair stand up; now accompanied by the smell of his breath I wondered how much protection the thin canvas of the tent provided.
I would have run to the Land Rover but, except for the movement of my knees, I was frozen.
One month ago I was on a stage, applauded by admirers. Now, here I was listed as “strippers delight” on a lions menu, served with shaky knees and the aroma of fear.
Somebody do something.
My memory does not serve me well as to who ran first, me or Karl (I am sure I was waiting for his instructions), but when we dived in to the land Rover the rest of the paying clients were already piled up inside. A speechless bunch we were, but we were alive!
ELEPHANT IN CHARGE
…an elephant once did. I was preparing food for 15 clients. The garlic and onions and tomatoes (all hundred of them) were all cut up and neatly prepared to go in to the pot. It is at this stage that an enormous elephant decides to look me in the eye while putting one foot in front of the other in my direction. From the outside we were an uneven match. One of us was at a disadvantage. His trunk was touching my table. I leaned forward over the camping table throwing my body as a protector over the smelly garlic and onions. I looked the elephant in the eye and told him in no uncertain terms that if he dared to touch my ingredients he will regret ever having met me. I really did. The elephant turned around and walked away.
Karl recently reminded me of our one- motor- motorboat that lost its motor in the bottom of the swamps just before sunset. I know; that was when I developed a great respect for the dug out makoro boats that glide along at the slow pace of a hand movement, but do get there.
I also remembered when Karl rescued a big bird that managed to get entangled in something in a high tree. He surprised me at the dedication he dedicated to this one single bird in distress. That was a dear moment when Karl and the bird descended from the tree, bruised but free.
Why anyone would pay money to be all shook up in an old land rover and live on a cup of water a day and be imprisoned in the heat of a car, is beyond my understanding. The entire holiday they would complain and suffer and when we got back to Johannesburg they would rave about the wonderful holiday. Working as ‘chef’ demanded hard work and lots of planning.
When we got to the point where we slept in a bed with a roof over us it was pure luxury. The lodge was not the kind with the stars but it did have running water and you could submerge in it. You also could sit down at a table (after days of ‘scraping’ food out the fire) and be served food from a kitchen.
So then what is the highlight of this story? The occupant that shared a room with me! For non paying clients you would think they would keep a lower profile than to get to the intimate point of reading my book at the same time as me. I do not take kindly to surprises and did not do so then.
The bed under me was bliss and the blanket over me was cozily pulled up with my arms sticking out to hold the book that was resting on my chest. My knees were pulled up. A serene scene.
You know that feeling when someone is looking at you? I had that. In spite of being very involved in whatever I was reading, an uneasy feeling came over me. I did not have far to look. In fact it was far too near. It was as close as my pulled up knees. It was just above the book. (If it was that close, how come I am still here to tell the story?)
My eyes had stopped reading even though they looked as if they were still in focus on the story line. I would count up to three and then look up; with my eyes only, as to not alert whoever or whatever was giving me this uneasy being- observed feeling. So I looked up. 4 eyes meet at arms length. It was intense. There peering over my book was the biggest rat I had ever seen! A big fat hairy rat breathing in to my breath. Amazing how long a person can stay frozen in a moment before defencses sets in.
They heard my screams in every place they found themselves. The people and the animals in that vicinity. It was the scream of an endangered species. It was my screams.
By the time the ‘rescue’ team stopped me from running; the ammunition and firearms were already aimed in the direction of my room. There was no lion or snake or escaped Wildman. Only a crumbled blanket had reached the far side of the room with a moving object sandwiched inside. The movements were strong in that blanket but not enough to warrant firearms.
Why people made such a small thing of a big fat rat is beyond me. We are all entitled to our opinions.
A Hairy Story
Oh the adventures of a bush safari! Nothing like a good campfire coffee! Savor every sip as you gaze in to the secret language of the camp fire; dressed in its glow as a protection garment from the wild life watching in the dark bushes around you. A feeling as safe and warm as the coffee stroking your throat. Then as suddenly as a lion making its leap, the peace is disrupted. The coffee in your mouth turns to needles and a wild beast from inside seems to have you by the throat. Poisoned coffee? Help seemed as near as the nearest doctor or hospital which was not near at all. Even trying not to swallow was like trying not to breath. The needles persisted in their attack on wherever the coffee had touched. It was anybody’s guess as to who had done it? The first clue instruction was to shine a torch down my throat. For the second clue, shine a torch in to the empty coffee cup. And there was the culprit! A hairy caterpillar without its hair. That was the closest I ever will get to a caterpillar. Sharing hot coffee and prickly hair. Sounds like a visit to the wrong hair dresser. I survived. The caterpillar? Sorry, it did not make it.
There was one breath of fresh air that blew into the safaris. She came in as a client from Germany and stayed as the wife of Karl’s partner; Manfred Röbke.
Yes Brigitte and I were allies and together concurred the monkeys, the elephants and the food. Blessed again with a forever friend. Brigitte remembers ……
…… (Taken directly from her email, written from Germany where she now lives. With her permission)
“The roads seem to become sandier every year, we got stuck a lot, had to unpack the cars, walk and pack them again. Flat tyres, rain, leaky tents, mud, bad mood and little animals.
Moremi Game Reserve
Lunchtime and I try to prepare lunch, but no way. 5 huge baboons keep a close eye on every tiny movement I make. They can’t decide whether to take food from the big hole where the rubbish is dumped into, or our stuff. I grab the large bush knife ready to attack if they come close and try to guard my belongings. They are very clever and even seem to know what time it takes for me to catch them. Right then I have to pee.
Trousers down, one eye toward the baboons, one eye checking on the people at the camp site, in one hand the knife, in the other hand toilet paper. …………… ”