This is how life is meant to be lived. Up with the sun, the sounds, the rise of life in the African Bush, and, then to bed when the almighty dark floats softly down like a mantle. Well, not quite then, to be honest because the dark time is for relaxing after all that fierce heat. That’s the time for conversation, for wine and food and music. It is also the time to hear the sounds of the night creatures, the predators. But, we are safe inside the wooden railings of the stoep, and there are candles and oil lamps flickering to say We Are Here, we humans, we of whom you are always afraid, unless, that is, we break the rules and decide to go for a walk into your domain, which, needless to say, we don’t. Not in the dark.
Spring is holding back. Around some of the homes, green shoots look almost unreal. Watered ahead of schedule, they bring giraffes loping through the acacia to browse and munch a piddling snack. Most of them stay beside the river for now, but one just wandered over here, it’s head higher than any tree, eyes on a small patch of green, one that was stripped in seconds.
Like the high walls of a fortress, the Blue Mountain range shoulders the clear blue sky. Ridges and lines of ancient sediment show me pinks, greys, terracottas and a peppering of low-lying trees. It looks like an easy climb from here but I know different. I could be lost forever and within minutes, not to mention flattened by heat exhaustion and baboons. But I can watch them from a safe place, see how the light changes their flanks as the sun lifts higher. A catch of crystal, a softening of green in new shadow, the dark pock marks along a ridge, caves where creatures rest and wait in expectation of a badly timed passing by. Badly timed for the passer by, I mean, not for the expector.
The floor of the bush is sand yellow and littered with stones and fallen thorns. Yesterday we walked the new puppy a short distance in what passes for shade and my eyes needed to warn my feet to go canny. Those thorns are long enough to go right through a foot and out the other side, however dead they appear to be. The car was like a furnace on our return and yet we had only been out of it for 20 minutes. I watered the house plants this morning, ebullient in their early growth and promising to burst into a storm of colour and density as the Spring moves ever closer. It feels weird, as it did last year, to have left a garden dying just two days ago, only to arrive in one about to be born, so connected am I with the natural process of a seasonal rise and fall. However, I have always been able to adapt and this sunshine sure helps. When I was packing, unpacking, packing and unpacking, it was very hard to think sunshine and warmth. Laying out shorts and swimwear, skimpy frocks and sandals just shivered me. I can’t tell you how many times I dressed, undressed, dressed again for the flights. I even idly wondered if there was a dress code for business class. My daughter put me right on that. Who cares Mum? she said and she was right. I saw many different assemblages of clothing on my fellow passengers and nobody looked at me or anyone else for that matter. Long journeys tense the calmest of us it seems and all we think about is ourself, about whether or not we will manage the fifteen miles between gates, be delayed enough to miss a connection or get sick on the plane. At 0400 in Dubai airport, we are all islands moving together and apart in a communal sea. Who, indeed, cares what anyone is wearing? But the foolery inside my head managed to bother about that until I almost missed my ferry.
No matter, I am here now and here long enough to re-root in the one country I would live as second choice. It bizarres me that this Africa, so rocking with corruption and fear, with huge warm hearts and welcomes regardless of colour or creed, could ever call to me the way she does when rain is in my blood, mizzle mist, stout boots and the familiar call of seabirds canting slight on a westerly breeze. But she does. Africa does. Somewhere in my veins there is a remembering, an ancient call home. I like that.
And for a few weeks I will watch Africa rise into her Springtime before returning to my little homespun bubble. And, I might just pack a thorn to burst it.
We all need to do that now and again, for there is a huge world out there if we just keep our eyes and our hearts open.