The Occupation of Survival

Journeys back – into the Middle World Here, in the Middle World between hunter-gatherers and civilisaton-supported settlements, mere survival remains a full-time occupation. The dry season has long sucked the last moisture from the source closer to their little village – a few dozen mud huts at the top of a steep rise.  Now, there’s the shallow pit, hollowed out of the unforgiving rocks a kilometre further upstream. The women take turns with a battered enamel bowl to scoop the muddy water into their containers from a plate-sized puddle at the bottom, a few cups-full at a time. To...

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Bush Road Builders

Journeys back. Elephant “road” through a deep a ravine. Having to go down feels daunting; how we got up and through on the way in is a bit of a mystery. I have made remarks on African roads before, but in passing (if you’ll excuse the pun). There are the “official” ones, built with machinery and adamantly inserted into maps as navigable routes, and a lot can be said about that, for sure. But far more interesting and more extensive are the ones made by the inhabitants of the bush – to get to waterholes, salt licks, isolated villages,...

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Aspirations

Journeys back. How does one do justice to a scene so rich in narrative that it floods the heart and the mind with wonder, compassion, admiration, sadness, delight, irony? Each member of this splendid troupe can be the subject of a page or more. They are clearly a gang, led by the marvellous apparition second from the left in his long(est)-handled vehicle, today swanking defiantly in fancy jacket and long trousers, marvellously rounded off with sandals fashioned from old car tyres. His underlings are comfortably junior, but no less eloquent – from the dejected underdog on the left with...

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Bush Technology

Journeys back. As the semi-nomadic family groups that roam the remote wilderness are left behind and more settled villages are encountered, so are more creations of man. But these are, of necessity, simple and from the land, like this sled, so proudly presented by its owner and maker. It has been fashioned from the trunk of a large tree by no more than an axe, a machete, perhaps a saw. It gets drawn by two oxen with a yoke, the one end of which can be seen in the centre of the sled, with its connecting chain. Along the...

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The Morning Wander

Journeys back. Its whiter whiteness attracted my attention. The skull of a bull giraffe My easy leisure allowed time to wonder at its size, its beautiful perfection, even in this final confirmation of death. It was flawless, smooth like polished marble. Not even a crack or a mark from the bone crusher’s jaws. The skull was heavy as half a sack of meal, and the size of a young goat! The bull had survived to reach the full size that its environment could support. But the time came when its body started a slow decay to the point, not...

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Signs of Civilisation

Journeys back. Slowly, hints of civilisation are emerging – a track, the wheel ruts feint and in places covered in a green sheen of hardy furrow weed. It will eventually lead to another track, more frequently used, perhaps with footpaths that show human signs branching off, and a twisted scrap of orange plastic blown against a shrub… But it will be another day, perhaps two. Here the sky and the veld still tower over the senses and calm the mind to wonder. It is glorious solitude and endless open that makes one want to run, and run, and run...

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Journeys back: Lasts Tastes of the Bush

  Sweet indulgence after a walk from the vehicle that had stretched through the morning and past midday. As one leaves the wilderness the blemishes made by people and their doings will slowly begin to appear and the richness of the bush will be diluted. But until that happens, there is still much to enjoy. With the going relatively easy along our old tracks and the pace slowed by reluctance, there is time for such exploration of those “wonder what’s down there” spots that were passed on the way in. I especially love those check-it-out strolls around the camp...

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Journeys Back: More Petrol Tales

My brother, Phillip, in reaction to my petrol ramblings, sent me this photo to remind me of a petrol miracle we had once lived through together. It happened on the way out from the far north of Mozambique, near the border with Tanzania. As must be expected of experienced wilderness wanderers, we had stashed some petrol in the bush to get us back to Lichinga, which was where we hoped to find a filling station with some stock and a functioning pump – a reasonable assumption at best. As it turned out, the stash was no more than a...

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Journeys Back. Breakfast Break and Petrol Fill-up

Being In the wilderness comes, to me, with certain responsibilities and rules. Very few are written. Some are simply common sense; intuition. Some, including a lot of the intuition, are learnt through experience. I have touched on some, and I will on more, on the journey back. Some have to do with respect for a world where you are a guest – like moving quietly and humbly and with care, for you are in the presence of rhythms and forces and wonders that far, far exceed your abilities to comprehend or oppose, yet are so very fragile to what...

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Journeys Back: It Looks Different Now

On the way in we passed here, down this ancient elephant path through the ravine. Old Kgalilaga had looked away and shook his head wordlessly at my foolishness when I said we’d go down without spending time working on it first – he did so again when we stood looking at it from the other side.  But the fires were flaming high on adrenaline then, and I ignored him. It had been a close thing that could have gone badly wrong – a heart-stopping drop over the lip,  then a gasping slide down over the rough surface. Of course,...

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