Listening to the colourful mamas laughing as they clear the breakfast dishes and prepare for their room cleaning tasks is Africa for me. I am astonished each time I come here to find such joy in ordinary hard work, and it is hard, even for they who are so used to this 38 degree heat. They brush the courtyards with palm branches and clean down rugs with a hosepipe, turning the jet of water on each other often. The shrieks of laughter drown out even the birds, even the Ha-di-das and the Squeaky Barrow birds and the rise of it turns our heads, each one of us, for nobody can avoid such punctuation. Last evening, Sindi came to tell us that the power had gone off in the kitchen and that she, generally capable of bring down a buffalo, should the need arise, refused to touch the mains switches because Tembe had soaked her shorts and they were still wet.
We’ve been here five days now and waking at 5 am has already become a habit. Everyone else is up by then, anyway, heading off for game drives into the bush, or to clear sickle bush on the reserve, all grabbing coffee and toast and chilli peanut butter spread which tastes surprisingly wonderful in the warm sunshine. Vervet monkeys crash through the branches around the lodge, just waiting for the chance to grab from any abandoned plate, which is why we don’t abandon them. They, in this place, are scavenging pests, although it is hard to see them that way when their cute little faces peer at us through the acacia branches. As I wandered into the gardens this morning I saw two blue waxbills picking through the leaves, the aquamarine of their tiny wings, a flash of rainbow. A loan scarlet-chested sunbird watched me for a while from the top of a frangipane and, over there, where the mother bush buck and calf lie almost invisibly bar the flicking of their ears, a yellow-fronted tinkerbird skittered through the emerging blaze of orange blooms on the fire poi tree, which is not what it’s called at all.
To be honest, it is a lot to take in. I try to remember the names of everything, and yet I often have to ask a passing guide who is only too happy to help. Their passion for their work, that of understanding everything that lives as a dynamic part of this eco-system makes them approachable at all times. I marvel at their dedication, these young people, so bursting with knowledge and, better, the endless (it seems) burn to find out more and more again. I overhear conversations about the Klaserie lions, K2 having been spotted or that K5, a lone female, starving and yet ferociously sure of herself has now been accepted into the pride, causing sighs of relief through the ranks of volunteers and guides alike. Without this serendipity, she would have slowly starved to death. Even though it is the lionesses who hunt and kill, as a rule, they always have to stand back once the buffalo or impala or zebra or giraffe is down because they could easily be mortally wounded by a male should one step forward before he is done. And it isn’t just one male. It could be 2 or 3 or even more, so that she is lucky to pick at bones once they roll away full-bellied to sleep off a feast. It seems the animal kingdom still holds with the ‘guys come first’ rule, even if it is the females who do all the hard work.
Last evening, as we sat around the braai table, I heard rustles in the bush. The bush is all of two feet away from the dying fire and rustles can be any size you care to make them as you peer into the darkness. Predators, unlike prey, can see better in the dark, and I felt very vulnerable in my light desert khaki, even though I know that the hyenas we just heard whooping in the distance are, indeed, in the distance, and that leopards keep well away from humans, ditto lethal snakes and spiders. But the weeny little scared bit of me suddenly finds her voice and tells me there are always exceptions. After all, didn’t we have a spitting cobra in the courtyard this afternoon? It didn’t mean to be there, having squiggled its way along a nice cool pipe, and all it wanted to do after said squiggle was to make an immediate u-turn, but nevertheless, a snake startled is more than a snake. It’s Trouble.
This is life in Africa and not one of the creatures who can hurt us wants to, possibly with the exception of the Grumpy Ones, such as buffalo and white rhino, but the chances of either wandering into our space is ten zillion to one. So I sat there, telling my wee inner fearty that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Even five days into this Big Adventure has learned me much. I doubt I will ever be confidently cocksure which, I am reliably informed by the well-experienced guides, is exactly how you do get eaten.
It is like so much in life. Whilst writing my book I constantly questioned myself. I knew I could write, but the world of writers is massiverous and it is very hard indeed to find either an agent or a publisher. What made me think I would make it? Well…..nothing really beyond a decision to never never never give up. In the face of self-doubt and the voice of a cynical world, we are, all of us, alone with our dream. One person, one vision, one body, one mind. Although we all nod as we read uplifting wisdoms from those who have followed their dream, taken the bare bones of it and slowly, patiently, steadfastly and against tremendous odds, built it into a shape even they could not imagine at the start, it is not enough to nod. Those who refuse to allow monkey mind to be at the wheel must continually and continuously whack him on the head with a broomstick, for not one us is really free of him. Although it may appear that ‘this’ person who achieved ‘this success’ is lucky, fortunate, chosen by Lady Fate to rise higher than the rest, this is all a pack of lies. Although it can immediately step us back into the shadows, cause us to let go of our precious and fragile dream, for…… how can I ever achieve what they have achieved…….look at me……I’m just a this, or just a that…..I tell you right now that this thinking is not for dreamers.
Sometimes there is no road; sometimes there is only you peering into the darkness, imagining monsters; often there is no encouragement so don’t bother seeking it; the same goes for approval. Expect to inconvenience people; expect criticism and cynical eyebrows raised. Expect to go a bit hungry, to be tired out at times, to be filled with self-doubt and to hear hyenas whooping in the distance. Expect it and be done.
This is how you build a dream.