‘We have booked ourselves a trip to South Africa.’ Her blue water colour eyes and cheeky smile stare at me across the office desk. I feel the little green monster clawing his way up my back and onto my shoulder. ‘I knew you would like to know.’ She is one of our youngest residents at the Assisted Living Complex where I work.
‘Oh my word.’ I can feel my heart thumping with excitement.. I cup my chin in my hands and meet her gaze. ‘You are so lucky. I can already feel my mind easing into bush mode.’ She chuckles and I can feel her excitement. ‘You will be paying a visit to Kruger?’ I ask.
‘Mmmm..I am not sure. We have been there before and I do feel that once you have been into the African bush…you have seen the bush.’ I can feel a look of amazement creeping across my face as she continues, ‘and once you have seen an elephant, what else is there to see about them? They are just animals.’ A furrow deepens between my eyebrows.
‘Have you got five minutes?’ I grin. ‘I will help you to find a little magic in the African bush.’ She nods and sits down with a funny little smile lifting the corner of her lips.
‘Do yourselves a favour. Venture into the sun burnt haven of Kruger, feast your eyes and open your ears. Listen carefully as the land is full of song. ‘Natures Chimes’ I call them. The whistling wind, the mournful call of the dove, whispering leaves and the gentle hum of midges Keep listening and you will hear the high pitched bark of the zebras, the chatter of monkeys and the insane giggling of the hyenas. When you find a baobab tree, inspect it closely…in the safety of the camp. They are amazing and create their own ecosystem. They support the life of countless creatures, from the largest of mammals, the elephants to the thousands of tiny creatures that scamper in and out of its crevices. Birds nest in the grotesque branches; baboons dine on the fruit; bush babies and fruit bats drink the nectar and pollinate the flowers. While broody birds police the trees, don’t be put off by the call of the ‘go away bird’. Search the sky for a glimpse of the magnificent Martial Eagle as he cruises the empty air pockets and soak up the resonant calls of the glossy starlings drifting on the wind. You might be lucky enough to catch sight of a tawny lion slinking through the trees. Enjoy the sweet scent of steaming buffalo dung that invades your senses and admire the endless horizon stitched across the sky.On Nature’s grand stage, embrace the sticky breeze caressing your bare arms and throw your soul to the wilderness.
Powerful, dignified and awe inspiring comes to mind when I think about elephants. Hil, an elephant’s body might be vastly different from our own, but their behaviour is so human. Watch a family of elephants frolicking at the water pan. They are a noisy vibrant mass of exuberance anxious mums keep an eye on their youngsters…hauling them out of deep water with powerful and versatile trunks. Enjoy the show of humour as they play tricks on each other, tumbling around with joy while one little loner displays a show of jealousy and throws a tantrum…stomping out of the water and literally turns his back on the gleeful sounds. Close your eyes and feel rather than hear the subliminal rumble as they amble up the sand choked gully, stopping to strip the bark off a wizened baobab tree, their creamy tusks gleaming in the sunlight. They exude the essence of life and despite their bulky appearance, they move like dancers..light on their feet as their soles spread to take their immense weight. ‘The colliding of two giants’..where elephant and Continent meet. Hil, you think we are advanced in long range communications..we are.. but only by using equipment. Elephants communicate with infra-sound over a vast distance which is inaudible to human ears and they also appear to have a broad vocabulary with many distinct calls that have specific meanings. Watch them as they march to a drum roll of Africa pounding beneath their feet and feel the air vibrating with the excitement of love and trust that bonds them together..a powerful ingredient and one that us humans could learn from.’ She is looking at me with a far away expression and I think maybe I am boring her. I raise an eyebrow and her eyes focus back on me.
‘Carry on..you have my attention.’ She laughs.
‘Fall under the spell of the African bush and celebrate the intricate web of life that teems under each fallen log, woolly tuft of grass and in the burbling streams. Allow yourself to be encompassed by the invisible aura that surrounds these majestic animals and reaches deep into the human soul in a mysterious and mystifying way. Elephants know and feel different emotions as they celebrate the birth of a baby and they mourn the death of loved ones. Elephants show all the best attributes of mankind with few of them displaying our darker sides. We call ourselves moral..but as humans, we are capable of immense cruelty. The elephants complex social structures are not ours to break. They forge these bonds over a life time. Sadly humans’ myopic greed for ivory is driving these tusk cursed animals to extinction.’ I pause and there is not a sound. ‘Hil, please go into Kruger. As the sun rays tip toe into early evening and crickets and cicadas shred the air…breath deeply sucking the fresh air into your lungs and allow these ambassadors of the wild to creep into your heart and to share their source of great wisdom and peace. With their large powerful trunks swinging freely..let your mind go with them and engage with the beauty that surrounds them. They are the gods of the African bush and I defy you to come back and tell me that …’once you have seen an elephant..what more is there to see.’ Go and enjoy Africa through my eyes.’
Three weeks later she came bounding into my office with a wide grin and twinkling eyes. Before I could say anything she grabbed my hand, ‘how long have you got?’ her laugh tinkles. ‘It was awe inspiring. We saw so much game. The elephants…were …just amazing. I did not want to leave them. We watched the breeding herd and I could feel their emotion. We watched as they all appeared to stop as one…lifting their trunks into the air…still as can be, before moving on. The ranger said they were probably receiving a message. I loved their wrinkled coats and huge Africa shaped ears.’ She laughs. ‘Now you have me using your descriptions. Thank you for opening my eyes to what the African bush offers.’ She squeezed my hand. ‘We saw giraffe, lion, a variety of buck and rhino.’ Her voice falters. ‘The rhino are being poached at an alarming rate. It is tragic. I know you had told me but I had never felt connected before, but seeing them this on this trip and looking at them through fresh eyes I can now understand your fear. These beautiful animals belong in the African bush. It is their home. Before I left, you told me that you were on the board of directors of a group?’ I nod feeling close to tears.
‘Yes, I am on the board of directors for Chengeta Wildlife. We offer a comprehensive training to anti-poaching units through out Africa.’ I wipe away a tear that has crept out and down my cheek. She has made me feel so homesick.
‘I am sorry I did not buy any of your calendars.’ She smiled. ‘I wish I had. I did not want to leave Kruger you know.’ I nod, fully understanding that she had now left a huge chunk of her heart buried deep within the sun kissed African bush. We sit in comfortable silence and I hold onto that thought keeping it close to my heart and I feel her emptiness..we are now connected by an invisible bond.
‘Yes, Hil. I can fully understand how you feel. I am a child of Africa..it is in my very being. Each animal that is slaughtered for greed…I feel the pain. That is why I am determined that I will promote Chengeta Wildlife as I have huge belief in what we are going to achieve. We are a force for good and we are a part of these animals future.’ I hand her a web site address. I know she will have a look and see that we are fundraising. As she disappears, there is a feeling of peace in the office and I smile…one more convert.