As the temperature drops here, I consider my packing for 35 degrees within a few days. It is immensely hard to think ‘frocks and sandals’ whilst similarly pulling on a second cosy jumper. My swimming costumes was understandably quite forgot till just this morning when it yelled at me from deep inside my knicker drawer. Sunglasses, malaria tablets, small but powerful binoculars, flimsy this and even more flimsy that. Don’t forget the shoes with covered toes for safaris into the bush. I never did ask why I needed them but I am guessing it’s to do with snakes and spiders, both at ground level and horribly silent in their approach. I remember a safari years ago when I watched a big web hurtle towards me with no ducking options as the jeep bounced and jiggled through a dried up river bed. As it wrapped itself around my face I did wonder if I would make it home in one piece. I obviously did.
Another time, in among a different set of wildlife, with a big ass river flowing through it, I asked the very tall guide where his rifle was. He shook his head. No rifle. I had been told he was the very best guide in the Kruger area but his ‘no rifle’ thing still bothered me. When we stopped beside said fast flowing river, he told us to stay put. No arguments with that! He got out and looked around with his shaven black head all full of experience and wisdom and knowledge, and in his hand he held a spear. Lordy, are we in the Dark Ages here? But he told me his spear was faster than a rifle bullet and I believed him. He had such a presence, such calm, such strength. When we did clamber out onto the dried up dust bowl of an earth, he led us to the river bank. Hippos. The most lethal of all. You don’t mess with hippos and they are surprisingly quick on their feet if they don’t like the look of you. We think they just yawn a lot and then fix on tutus and dance in cartoons, but don’t fall for that one.
The skill these guides have is way beyond the most of us. I’ve met one who lost an arm to a lion. He could still boogie with the rest of us. But, my safely organised ventures into the wild animal kingdom will be, well, safely organised, and on a daily basis I will wander around the camp, read, write, sew and laugh with the black women, who always laugh, by the way, and they have not much to laugh about by western standards. Their attitude to life is one of thankfulness and of anticipation and of hope and it makes us over here look like right twits with all our ‘things’ and all our ‘worries’. Finding a snake in a handbag is just what happens. Monkeys wrecking the kitchen are just monkeys wrecking the kitchen and they are swiftly dispatched with a menacing cucumber or a broom and a great deal of shouting. Then, they laugh again.
And then, they begin to sing.
I remember going into town to stock up on supplies for the kitchen. We had our list and our list included 4 barrels of water. I’m talking BARRELS. We loaded up with crates of fresh avocados, greens, salads, cucumbers (for the monkeys), a whole box of beef and chicken and pork and something I didn’t recognise at all, plus the water. When we arrived back and began to unload, the laughing black women came out to help. ‘I’ll take one end of this barrel’ I said to one of them. ‘No, Ma, she said, and hoisted one onto each shoulder as if they were bags of cotton wool. My mouth took a while to shut.
Over the past day or two I have fretted with lists and with tasks to make everything just so for my time of absence. I have left phone numbers for the carers, the nurses, the doctor, the neighbours, the stair lift fitters and the lady who sorts personal alarms. My head is mince. But, when I consider how the other half lives and the way they live it, I want to learn from them. Everything is fixable. And, if it isn’t, then it isn’t.
There is, however, a daunting loneliness in this journey. Before, there were two of us to discuss, plan, work things through. Now, it is just me, and will always be ‘just me.’ If I hover over that feeling, I confound myself. Sitting here, looking at the jobs still to be done, jobs that won’t be done when Mrs Perfect is thousands of miles away, jobs that matter not one jot in the grand scheme of things, I find a smile. Not least as I consider these African women who have walked and hitched across miles of dangerous land to find work.
Everything, you big twit, will be ok. And if it isn’t, it isn’t.
I am ready, and then some, for those big black women to boogie-hug me and to welcome back Mama Bear, as I will welcome them, back into my arms.