It all starts with the daylight, around 5 am. I can see the sun through the curtains and it beckons me like a warm friend. I just have to throw back the covers and leap out of bed because, well, because turning over for more sleep would be just rude. Besides, I am a child in the mornings wherever I am, excited, full of bounce and way too much for most people. Then there’s the monkeys, bashing and crashing through the trees and sounding like distant thunder as they traverse the tin roof, careless of latent sleepers. Babies clutched under maternal bellies, they swing like acrobats from branch to branch, sending down a sudden shower of last night’s rain onto my head as I walk. I find them, again, around the kitchen, rifling through the bags of rubbish for a bit of old pizza or a crust of bread. With tiny agile fingers, they pull apart a bin liner, discarding what they don’t want and fighting over what they do. They don’t mind me, down here, watching them, although they are wary.
Around me graze the antelope, impala, nyala, bush buck, daker, also wary. I sit quite still so as not to frighten them off as they browse the new shoots on the acacia, now plump with juicy foliage after all the rain. I check around my feet for snakes. All clear. The groundsmen arrive for work and I greet them. When I ask them how they are, they always say ‘I’m good, and you?’ There’s only answer to that. If they are always ‘good’, arriving for another day’s work beneath a merciless sun, then so am I, on holiday with no agenda at all. Some of the guides are up and a few volunteers straggle in for toast and coffee, each with a plan for the hours ahead, be it research, photography or to go out into the local community to work with the farmers or the school children. I get to know their names, the volunteers who come for varying lengths of time and ask them about their lives back home. Some are very young, some older and all have stories to tell and reasons for coming here. Thrown together under one roof with a common cause makes friends of strangers pretty quickquick.
I work on my tapestries – fantasy landscapes with spectacular wools. I weave a painting, with no initial plan, no idea how it will turn out and only knowing it’s done once I reach the top. I might work on my current one for a whole morning, if the mood takes me, and when I feel myself stiffening up, I wander out to watch the multicolour of birds or the Skink (lizard) – I have named Cullen. Cullen lives in the tree beside my little house and has become quite friendly. Once, he ran over my foot as I sat in my doorway absorbing some sun. He’s quite beautiful, with a light stripe down his back and shiny eyes. However, there are more beautiful lizards than he, big tree iguanas, some speckled to blend with the tree bark and others with bright turquoise heads that don’t blend at all but, instead, catch the eye like a rainbow.
Last night I heard the lions roar. I am getting the hang of the night sounds now and when I hear one, in the pitch of the night, I just have to go to the window. It’s foolish, I know. There is hardly going to be a leopard, or lion or hyena right there on the grass just waiting to say hi, but I still have to look. Just nearby is a big five reserve and that is where they will be and where I will absolutely not be. The high fence boundaries this plainsgame reserve (nothing that bites) and I can hear, but only imagine, what goes on as the night raiders waken hungry. It’s quite a shivery thing, hearing the whoop of a hyena or the slow lazy lion call or the sawing grunt of a leopard. Yesterday we found hyena scat inside the fence which did unnerve me somewhat, plus a bit of fence pushed up. There were fragments of hair on the wire – leopard and hyena. So, nobody walks out in the dark for obvious reasons. We wake with the sun and when the sun sets, we might sit out awhile but we don’t walk into the dark cover of the bush, and we are always vigilantly torched up, watching for a flash of eyes caught in the beam.
Life on the island might feel a bit tame for a while. I remember last time I came home and walked along the track and into the woods, and feeling momentarily unsure about sitting on a cluster of rocks. I wouldn’t do that here. It made me laugh at myself, but I still felt the hairs on my neck rise and a shiver go through me, even though it was chilly and wet and Scotland. When I first arrived this time, in early November, I was scared of everything, including the monkeys. That sounds ridiculous now. It thinks me of that old saying, ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ to be honest, I never really understood it, but I do now. Fear is a good thing if there is a real reason for it such as meeting danger on a path, but imagined fear is not healthy at all. Research on that imagined fear is vital. Once I know how to navigate my way around or through said imagined fear, the fear just melts away. Sitting for the first time at the wheel of a car is terrifying. What if I crash/turn over/hit someone/can’t stop? Imagined fear. As I learn how to drive well, this fear goes away because through practice and study I grow more confident, although I am still cautious and vigilant for the rest of my driving days.
There is much written on overcoming fear and some of it is very helpful, although the tactics employed by ‘professionals’ can seem rather drastic to my way of thinking. If I am scared of something, to the point of real terror, I know I need to do my homework, in order to understand just how the object of my fear really ticks. Often I need to make myself do whatever I am scared of doing. When I was sick, way back, I found it almost impossible to go down to the village shop. I would panic, find breathing difficult, my legs turned to stone. If I had to go to the mainland or into a crowd (anything over 3 people!) I was a mess. Even now I might balk at putting myself out there, choosing instead to stay home and eat pasta and pesto, again, but I do know that fears multiply if not acknowledged and addressed. I don’t beat myself up anymore. I’m super kind to me. I comfort, encourage gently and says things like “You are wonderful. You can do this. It’s ok.” And before I know what’s happening I am out there, and the terrors have gone to bother someone else.
I think we all have imaginary fears, and some of them can be very real. Paralyzing. Stultifying. Crippling. We walk between the dark and the light and it was always thus. We cannot have only light. We need the dark. As long as it doesn’t turn us black inside.
Knowledge, Self-Love, and Good Books. My answers to everything.