Category Archives: Friday Frolic

The Revenge of the Ants

Thank heavens it’s Friday! It’s been a long while since I felt relieved to be at the end of a week, and hopefully at the end of the sort of stresses, that while minor, accumulate until you want to scream in treble ratio!

From lights not working, to being overrun with ants, doors jamming, windows refusing to close to the electric gate developing a will of its own this morning, and randomly opening for no apparent reason. Although I’m convinced I do know the reason. The electrician had to programme a new remote yesterday. He couldn’t see the dial for the ants, and so he gave them a good taste of the blue death.

It would appear they have now moved to the other side of the gate and made a mound of soil, high and firm enough to convince the gate it should remain open.

I have never lived in an area as infested with ants as this. Piles of debris line the skirting boards of the house every other day, phalanxes of tiny red colonists wander through the house and swarm over dead moths, cockroaches, and heaven help me if I leave crumbs or unwashed eating utensils overnight. My usual tactic of politely putting crumbs out on the lawn, and other titbits that I think they will enjoy as an incentive not to take over my living quarters have all failed.

So I’m in a quandary. I am averse to using poisons. About twenty years ago I decided the organic route was the one to go, and implemented it where I lived at that time. It was tough. Certain plants survived without all the doctoring with malathion and karbadust and all the other chemicals we used to protect them from predators. Others curled up and died. It takes time to get the balance back – every time we use a spray or douse whatever into nests, we disrupt some fine ecological happening, which results in us having to use more and more noxious substances.

Ant tracks (591x800)

But once the birds that eat the insects return, and spiders that feed on ants, and snakes that feed on spiders and, you get my drift, things settle down, and co-existence can become a way of life. In this case, I don’t think I have the time to wait for that balance, and my garden is too small to have any real impact on this environment. The amount of debris that I sweep out along the wall of my bedroom has me genuinely afraid that I will wake up one morning buried under a pile of rubble.

My usual concoctions have had zero impact, so I have given in and bought those products that I never thought to see on my shelves. My lungs contract whenever I spray, I watch anxiously for little avian corpses, or lizards, or geckos. So far so good, but I am judicious in our use of these poisons, and it seems slowly tipping the balance against the red peril.

It was one of these that was used on the ants in the gate motor yesterday, and I have no doubt the strange behaviour of the gate today is the manifestation of the revenge of the ants! Many years ago I watched a film at the Drive-In in what was then Salisbury, called Phase IV, in which the ants took control of the area and almost managed to destroy the people living there. It made a big impression on me, that movie did.

So now when I look up, and the gate has silently opened, and I have not pressed any remote to make that happen, I find it unnerving. Have I looked closely to see if I can see any obstacle along its pathway. Oh, yes. And I can tell you quite categorically that the ants are there, evidence by the many airholes.

And I worry that they are plotting their ultimate offensive deep underground!

Enjoy the weekend!

 

After the Rain

It’s truly a Friday for a frolic: the mountains are shining, washed green by the rain, puddles abound to the delight of the birds, the sun is playing hid and go seek with the remnant of clouds. There’s nothing like a good storm to clear the air, and when it’s followed by a couple of inches of soft drenching rain for a full day after an agonising hot drought, it’s sheer bliss!

The mountains of Swaziland, soft and fresh after long awaited rain
The mountains of Swaziland, soft and fresh after long awaited rain

Why is it that rain makes such a difference? I suppose in a way it slows things down. Cars that normally drive down our road fast enough to ensure a pall of red dust covers as much distance as possible, have to slow down as their wheels slide alarmingly on the same dust, now turned to mud. Visibility is another factor, especially in our country where mist frequently blankets high lying areas, making driving dangerous.

I love to snuggle up on my bed, or a comfy couch with a good book on a rainy day. There’s a lovely feeling of security being indoors, listening to the rain rattling on the roof, being carried away into the land of make believe. If I don’t have a new book, I enjoy going back to a favourite novel to revisit characters that have entertained over the years, or even a movie.

There’s a remake of Far from the Madding Crowd I saw advertised on DSTV the other day – missed it, of course, although that might have been on purpose. Not sure that I can cope with anyone other than Alan Bates playing Oak, Terence Stamp was a hero, and of course Julie Christie as Bathsheba was utterly sublime. Carey Mulligan, Mathias Schoenaerts and Tom Sturridge, while I know are all good actors, for me don’t have the weight of the original cast. I suppose that could also be an age thing.

The movie that always gets me in a weak moment is Out of Africa. For many years, it always seemed to pop up and demand another viewing when I was in a vulnerable state, and I would snuffle happily as Robert Redford, aka Denys Finch Hatton flew to his demise, and howl in delighted anguish at Meryl Streep’s (or is Karen Blixen’s?) throw-away line about the lions guarding his grave on the hillside! I love sad, but at times I also hate what it does to me!

Or what about crying of another sort, that provided by the likes of the Goons, Peter Sellers, and those wonderful Carry On movies that boasted one of the first South African actors to break into the overseas market, Sid James. The world moves at such a pace nowadays, and expectations of what all needs to be achieved are so high, that many of us seldom take time off to simply celebrate life, or talent, and give free rein to the emotions they evoke. Maybe that is why there is so much angst-driven behaviour, and anger, and offence and all those negatives that seem to characterise so much of what goes on around us at the moment. But I don’t want to go there today.

Talking of comedy, son Mark Elderkin is currently in a two-hander with Michele Maxwell at the Rosebank Theatre in Cape Town. Reviews are great, and how I wish I had the wherewithal to pop down and watch it! One day, when my books are flying off the shelves …. !

But the best part of the rain, is the day after it stops, when everything not only looks shiny and clean, but smells fresh too. The mud is a pain, but after the dry spell we have had, I will even look kindly on the mud. As I write this, big dollops of clouds are gathering over the mountains, lower than they have been all summer, so let’s hope their promise is truer than those that came before them.

Have a fab Friday, everyone – I’m off to frolic at the nursery, it’s time to get planting!

 

 

‘Twixt Dawn and Dusk

There was one of those straight white clouds across the sky this morning. It was crystal clear and made me think of the beach in Mozambique, which has so much of my heart. I cannot believe it is two long years since I was last there.

I loved the crisp time of morning just before daybreak, the sky preparing itself to receive the majesty of the sun, clouds scurrying like rabbits across the horizon, knowing they would soon be dispersed by the warmth of those rays. What follows is quite momentous. The sky lightens, the colours change. Some days they are almost nondescript and pale. In a moment this can change to violent oranges and pinks, even a shimmer of green. I would find myself holding my breath. Then there would be the peep of a rim over the horizon, before a passageway of light would stream across the sea. Where it touched the beach, it would make the foam of the waves glisten like golden gossamer threads then fan out across the sand to highlight the dips and crevices of the beach.

There is nothing more magical that the sun greeting the day at the beach
There is nothing more magical that the sun greeting the day at the beach

 

My sons attest to the fact that I love the beginning and end of each day – they complain about all the pictures of sunrises and sunsets on my computer. But to me these are the magical times, and I hate missing even one. These are the times when I stop, and wonder at the overwhelming beauty of our world: the first full of promise for a new day, the second heralds a time of relaxation as the day closes and the rest of the night beckons. I love the slow closing down of an African dusk, Venus appearing as a light proudly proclaiming her place in the heavens, and slowly the rest of the stars are turned on. There is so much comfort in seeing the southern cross showing the way as it has done since time began, the constellations that change with the seasons. Orion will soon disappear to be replaced by Scorpio as the seasons grind inexorably towards the next cycle.

Even cloudy mornings have their attraction, with a promise, of rain, of cold or heat, or somewhere in between. The psalmist says from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same the Lords name is to be praised, and he is right. These are the times to stop everything, and stand and behold the wonder of the Lord.

Away from the beach and to my home in this beautiful Malkerns valley, the sunrises and sunsets are no less spectacular. I love the colour spectrum that ranges from indigos and vivid pinks to the gentlest pastels of violet and apricot and blush. I have to photograph them, to try somehow to hang onto that wonderment, to have it reproduced and put somewhere I can access it easily when I need to feed my soul. So often they only reproduce a fraction of the actual glory of the event.

I think that is one of the reasons I wanted to learn to paint – maybe in the artists palette of colours I can capture better the ethos of the moment. I was in Nelspruit this week, and made use of a gap in appointments to have an art lesson with Colleen Dreyer, a great potter now water colourist of note. We got to talking about this, and how hard it is to interpret the colours of a spectacular sunset. It is so easy to overdo it, and you end up with something that on paper, is gaudy and kitsch. All highlighting how limited we are as human beings.

Sunsets in winter at times are more intense
Sunsets in winter at times are more intense

Which leads me to think of talent, what we do with the gifts we have been given, and how we celebrate them. Another talented artist and teacher, Louise Reilly, was talking about how upset she feels when her pupils downplay their efforts, particularly when she thinks they have produced something good. Why do we do that? Is it an ingrained misunderstanding of humility, is it a need for reassurance, or do we genuinely not like what we do, because we sense we have missed that indefinable essence that we were searching for?

My youngest son, Mark, is an actor. His latest play, Bulawayo Boogie, opened in Cape Town on Wednesday night. I got a non-committal reply to my enquiry yesterday as to how it had gone: “show was fine.” Then I read a fabulous review on Facebook, and thought, “Oh, so it was good, and it went over well!”

Sadly, if we were all able to be completely honest about our achievements, chances are we would be accused of bragging, or boasting, or being big-headed. Happily, we don’t have those worries when we look at what all God paints and performs for us at curtain up and curtain down of each day.

 

 

 

 

The Fourth ‘R’

I must apologise for missing last week’s Friday frolic. All good intentions went overboard when my house took a very close lightning strike the previous night, bringing a mild degree of havoc to various electrical components: electric gates, telephone, outside lights.

I had thought I could get my piece written before my scheduled departure for Maputo at 11 am. Not a hope! As my friend Francois says, I always think I can buy time.

It was good to be with old friends, on a mission, and for me being on a familiar road to the land that I associate with healing and peace, Mozambique. It is two years since I was last there, and it was exciting seeing the sights I love so much, the hectic pavement markets, the crazy drivers, the hustle and bustle of a large African city. Maputo has a distinct character, and I love its zaniness.

The sprawl that is Maputo, with downtown visible on the skyline
The sprawl that is Maputo, with downtown visible on the skyline

In between catching up on each other’s news, our conversation ranged over a number of issues, from our expectations for the weekend, to the weather and at some stage turned to the leaders of various countries, our own included. We are all concerned at the level of corruption, the seeming lack of care for those less privileged, and the impact of this on all our lives. To be honest I don’t think there is a leader in the world who is totally above board – the way the world is structured, the power wielded by business and banks makes it almost impossible.

But then our team leader reminded us that the reason we pray for those in authority, according to Paul’s letter to Timothy (1Tim 2:2) is that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives, not that our leaders be miraculously ‘changed’ or replaced. Food for thought.

As I digested this, I realised that I have a lot to be thankful for, not least being that I do not run the risk of being beheaded if I were to confess my faith, as is happening to many of my Christian brothers and sisters.

When I first went to school a number of decades ago, it was all about the three r’s: reading, writing, ‘rithmatic. Today the three r’s that dominate are race, religion, and I tack onto that responsibility, because I just think that in so many instances the loudest proponents of the first two are the most reluctant to take responsibility for their own actions. Everything they do, no matter how it can be justified, frequently goes against the grain, and often the law. It is all about domination and power. “I want things my way!”

None of this is new. Tribes have sought to dominate others, the more powerful abusing the weaker, and in some cases obliterating them from the face of the earth since time began. Colonisation was not invented in the last couple of centuries. Slavery, too, has been around from long before the west began harvesting Africans, The same goes for religious intolerance – war after war fought in the name of some deity or other, some creed, some political conviction determined to rule the world.

Micah 3:11, written about 700 years before Christ, or nearly three centuries ago, states:

Her heads judge for a bribe

Her priests teach for pay

And her prophets divine for money.

Yet they lean on the Lord, and say,

“Is not the Lord among us?

No harm can come upon us.”

 

Sound familiar?

I don’t condone bigotry, racism, intolerance, or misogyny in any form, but I do question how these ills are being dealt with. Destroying universities, killing students in incomprehensible campus shootings, pillage, kidnapping innocent girls, destroying works of art are all senseless and do nothing to resolve any of the issues that concern almost all of us.

God’s heart is always about His children, and how the actions of adults will impact on the children. My generation didn’t do a great job, but neither did their parents, or their governments. But surely the lesson we should take forward is to make a better world for our children. If we are unable to look back into history, and learn the lessons of the past, how do we create a better future.

Solomon, writing in the full gamut of his wisdom in Ecclesiastes says:

That which has been is what will be

That which is done is what will be done

And there is nothing new under the sun.

Sadly, violence begets violence, hatred demands a partner, bigotry seeks to control no matter the cost.

But there has to be a better way, if for no reason other than to ensure an environment conducive to the development for our children. That is, and always has been, the heart of the God of Abraham. Throughout the scriptures, He talks about the consequences for the children, what will befall them if we do not take responsibility for our actions today.

This is the way of love. Perfect love. Love that does not seek to control, or to destroy. Sacrificial love that conquers all, that is prepared to lose its head in order to save a child.

My father taught me that the only place you see the colour of a person is in their eyes. And there are only two colours: good or bad. My faith teaches me there is a God whose desire is for all men to have fellowship with Him, regardless of colour, tribe or nationality. But He will never force this communion. He simply holds out his scarred hands, and says “Come to Me.” If you refuse, that’s okay, He will wait as long as it takes for you to answer. If you should refuse to the end, He will mourn for you, as a Father for His child.

That is the fourth R – it stands for redemption.

Inhaca0097
The spire of the cathedral in Maputo lifts the cross high above the city

I Don’t Want These Suckers!

One of my loves is gardening, and I am delighted to be in a home with a well-established garden. Those who came before me did a great job, and in spite of the drought and precious little watering over the past months, my garden has faithfully continued to fill my life with colour. Certain vegetables, too, have continued producing, some quite out of season, so I have eaten quite comfortably from the patch behind the house.

The drought notwithstanding, my garden fills my life with colour
The drought notwithstanding, my garden fills my life with colour

 

 

I have always had a desire to be self-sufficient, and so I find it very fulfilling being able to pick my meal most days. I even had a cauliflower last week – whoever heard of a ‘cauli’ in the heat of February! Broccoli too. It doesn’t look great, but it’s sweet and I have no doubt full of goodness. Then I have green beans, aubergines, green peppers, and for the first time I am picking tomatoes! My garden would do a Master Chef pantry proud!

Many years ago I decided to go with organic gardening as much as I could – there is a good argument for companion planting, and the less poison we use, the more birds we attract. It’s a hard transition to make, and you have to be quite hard-hearted in allowing certain plants to die. I remember feeling a little desperate one day as a treasured tea bush succumbed to ants. A few minutes later I watched bronze manikins neatly removing aphids from my cabbage plants – it is worth losing a few exotics to establish balance, and a healthy ecology, I decided.

I am blessed to have always lived where there is a plethora of birds. This morning I sent out a recording to friends and family of the Heuglin Robins greeting the day. Their song was underpinned by the tinny tweet of the Sunbirds as they drew nectar from the Honeysuckle. A quick flash of yellow, and the masked weavers are cutting some more of the bronze pennesetum grass heads for their nests. The fly catchers and other insect eating birds do a pretty fine job of devouring crickets, cutworms and the like.

Don’t, however, leave your strawberries exposed because they’ll willingly help themselves to more than their fair share of them.

There are, however, two pests that I have not discovered predators for: shongololos and snails. For those not of this continent, a shongololo is a millipede. Now I’ve always quite liked them. they’re seem quite friendly and have a fun way of curling themselves into a ball if you touch them. I never realised how much damage they cause until I inherited this wonderful garden, where they abound, in the house, outside, they seem to be everywhere.

My first crop of broccoli was great. I cut the main head, and left the plant to produce secondary florets – I’m not fussy about appearance when I am feeding myself alone. I wanted to be ill a couple of days later when I found about eight of these shiny carapaced worms, heads buried into the succulent cut stem of my broccoli plant. It was revolting. I have quite a strong stomach but there was something obscene about the way they were buried into the stem. I am separated from the main road to the nearest town by a wall, so I pulled the offending suckers off my plant and hurled them over the wall – flying lessons.

War had been declared. I don’t know how many have flown across the wall, but I have pulled them out of bean plants, off the aubergines, cabbages, as well as from the flower beds. I have blamed them for every blemish I’ve found on vegetable and bloom. Until today, when I discovered that the little round holes on the tomatoes are in fact caused by the snails! So a couple of them went flying over the wall, until I remembered my daughter-in-law telling me they are equipped with radar and always come home!

He looks so sweet, but he messes up my vegies - gggrrrr
The drought notwithstanding, my garden fills my life with colour

 

Filled with black thoughts, I wandered back to my desk muttering about suckers, which led me to wondering where the term “sucker” comes from. Onto the internet, one site the author had to close down because the majority of comments left were somewhat blue. Shongololos and snails certainly do not evoke any lustful emotions in me, so onto the next site – ah, this is more like it!

A number of definitions from un-weaned children to lollipops. One of the more interesting definitions was to do with plants, an unwanted shoot that comes from the base. It is recommended that this sucker be removed because it saps the energy of the plant. How very apt. The next definition was a more derogatory interpretation of the word, where I discovered that the slang term used to portray a person who is easily deceived, traces to a fish in America that is easily caught during its annual migrations.

There are about fourteen different meanings for sucker, but the one that made me laugh was tacked onto the end of the list:

Also the old name of inhabitants of Illinois.

I wonder if that tells us something about the importance of that state in the American elections?

Talking of elections, anyone listening to Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address last night, could be forgiven for thinking they had tuned in to the wrong station, his speech was so muted. I was amused to hear Pieter Mulder’s description afterwards: The gas is out of the bottle. Poor JZ really was quite deflated.

If my sons were here, they would be asking how on earth I got from shongololos in my garden to the American elections and Jacob Zuma?

I have no idea, but I do think it’s fun to have illogical thought sequences sometimes, isn’t it?

So What Did You Do?

Blowing balloons (800x588)My trip to Cape Town has flown by and I was welcomed home with a thunder storm that brought a small measure of relief to the thirsty earth. Sadly too late for the herbs in my barrow, but they can be replanted.

I had a window seat on the flight home and so could see much of the devastation the drought has caused to much of southern Africa. Over the Karoo the expression that came unbidden to mind was ‘scorched earth’ – the land dark red, barren, the vague outline of ‘once-were’ fields naked in the glare of a relentless sun. The colour of the earth changed subtly the nearer to the Highveld we flew, but still frighteningly devoid of vegetation.

How does one describe such utter desolation? The usual description is: It’s like a desert. But it isn’t. Deserts might not have rich green fields, but they do have life and plants that are adapted to survive in them. This has no life, because it isn’t desert, it is rich farmland that has had the life sucked out of it.

As is the way of humanity, we cast about for someone to blame for our misfortunes. The first institution in these cases is the government of the land, or in this case a number of governments are involved. Why did they wait so long to warn their citizens, why didn’t they introduce water restrictions earlier, why aren’t they distributing enough to the hardest hit areas, the whys go on and on.

When we get tired of blaming Government, we move onto the various Water authorities, for not fixing pipes timeously. I have even heard the ubiquitous car wash industry being blamed. For those not from these parts, the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes in where jobs in the formal sector fall way short of the number required to sustain the large majority of the population. So the informal sector flourishes, pavement markets abound, and men with buckets clean cars for a paltry sum of money. How these chaps have contributed to the drought escapes me, but we have to blame someone!

This tendency of casting blame for natural catastrophes is a world-wide phenomenon. I wait for it now, when there are floods in England, fires in America, hurricanes in the West Indies. It takes a scant 24 hours before someone is crying foul of the authorities, who haven’t prepared for it, are not doing enough, and in fact have caused the entire debacle. It’s so illogical that someone somewhere must realise this. The sad truth is that our modern day Joe Soap citizen is molly-coddled, his every need taken care of by some agency or other. The fear of lawsuits has diminished ensured that every care is taken in the interest of public safety, to the point where the public now expects to be protected, even from the elements.

But what of us, the citizens and residents of these lands? Are we sure that we have been judicious in our use of this valuable resource. I have to start with myself: Do I harvest rain water as I should? Do I have a set up to utilise my grey water? Do I practice water wise techniques as a matter of course in my garden, and ensure that those who work for me do too? The answer is no, I don’t, and this makes me as culpable as the next person. We all know that water in this part of the world is a precious commodity, but we become inured during the time of plenty, and we are not careful, we don’t guard this resource as we should.

Mickey Reilly of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks began selling off game back in March 2015, because he knew the drought was coming, understood there would not be enough grazing for his herds. Many farmers throughout the region also knew we were due a bad one, and began stockpiling hay, doing what they could to protect their dams and livestock. Anyone listening to weather forecasters around the world must have heard them warn that another powerful el Niño weather pattern was about to be unleashed. What did any of us do to prepare for it? What did I do?

I am not absolving any authorities of blame – they did all wake up months too late. Their plans are feeble and insufficient and they have a lot to answer for. But so do we. It is time that each one of us, as intelligent human beings, took responsibility for own lives, for our surroundings, our land, individually and collectively, and by so doing maybe, just maybe, we can mitigate some of the effects of the tragedies that strike any part of our globe each day.

Right, that’s enough of that.

On a happier note, for those of you who haven’t got here yet, spending time with grandchildren is simply the best. It is so refreshing to see life through eyes that have not yet been dulled by life, simple pastimes and experiences that generate so much pleasure and amusement. A sneeze becomes a great giggle, the aquarium a place of magical mystery and adventure, train rides, swings, the world is full of wonder. Even swimming in icy water is something to be embraced!

What could be more fun on your 5th birthday than a ride on the blue train
What could be more fun on your 5th birthday than a ride on the blue train

 

As grandparent I am free to enjoy it all, without any of the concern of a parent. All those precious moments that I missed with my sons, because life was a rush of working, instilling values, school, activities, rush, rush, rush, I now get to experience with two precious little people who in turn delight in sharing themselves. These moments are about learning once more how to enjoy what life has to offer minute by minute, and somehow being with them puts much of what tends to vex me into perspective, a place where what is important is the relationship, the love, the fun.

It’s exhausting, but worth every stiff muscle and undignified stoop.

I highly recommend it!

 

Delicate Blooms in a Rugged Land

Little late getting words on the page today. That’s because I’m in Johannesburg, and tomorrow I’ll be in Cape Town ready to celebrate a very important fifth birthday on Wednesday!

I came from Swaziland with one of the shuttle services, Sky World, beautifully driven by Mduduzi Tembe. The three other passengers and I talked freely in the beginning, but once through the border at Ngwenya, everyone settled into their own world, sealed by headphone or book.

The effects of the drought are visible, even on the Highveld, which those of us who live lower down are convinced always gets all the rain. We try not to mind too much, reminding ourselves that as long as the rivers are being filled, there is some benefit to us. But the fields of maize, the grazing paddocks are not the verdant green we’re accustomed to at this time of the year.

Glorious Blue (800x600)
What a glorious blue!

 

 

It’s great being a passenger, because I got to enjoy the scenery, and I was thrilled to see pockets of bright yellow, deep blues, purples and pinks as the summer flowers bloom, regardless of the conditions wrought by El Nino, God or man’s wickedness, whatever.

The Highveld cannot compete with Namaqualand, but at this time of the year, wild flowers abound. This time last year I was part of a group that was led around the pastures of this area by a young lady, Hester, who delighted in sharing her knowledge of our indigenous heritage with us.

We were all enthralled with views of orchids, I think we saw seven different species, including the black orchid, eucomis in droves in the marshlands, pelargoniums to name but a few. We also made friends with a group of beautiful horses, some inquisitive cows, and saw a rare sighting of pink flamingos. That might have been the previous year – just to remain truthful!

The Black Orchid (459x800)
The exotic black orchid

 

Some of these flowers are large and vibrant, others nestle shyly in the grass, others still are tiny but perfect, delicately painted to perfection. This brings me to some of what it is that I love about Africa. This is a rugged land, hard and resilient, from the mountains to the lowlands, and on to the coastal areas. In absolute contrast some of the plants and flowers. Yes we have the aloes, with their thick succulent leaves covered in spikes, and the stiff unyielding cycads, with their huge orange cones, or smaller ones in some instances, but if you take time to wander and look, you will find extraordinary gems, some so tiny you need a magnifying glass to appreciate their markings, thriving against what seem to be unsurmountable odds.

And so to the people of this land, this crazy mix of cultures, and tribes, and colours and hang-ups and loves and hates. We are a cauldron of ingredients making the most exotic dish. Sometimes the flavours clash and jar, but in the main they blend and make a wholesome dish. In reflection of the countryside, sometimes the smallest of people, or the tiniest incident, brings so much joy and pleasure. When that happens the sun shines as it should, and the rain brings blessing.

Delicate Whites (800x600)

And as the plants and flowers jostle for their space in the unforgiving terrain, and sometimes intrude where they shouldn’t, so do we, the people of Africa. The fights erupt, words are hurled, insults are traded. But beneath the bluster of the bullies, friendships flourish too, different folk live happily together, and look sadly at those who find integration so hard.

I wonder if we will ever come to a place where we will all be able to respect our diversity, be intrigued rather than irritated by our differences, and laugh together, so the devil may be shamed once and for all.

Maybe it’s a pipedream, but I love this land, and I mean all the countries that encompass my Africa: Swaziland, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Botswana, enough to live in hope for a time when the rainbow will be out for all to see, its pot of gold spilling riches for all.

Six Hippo Weeks

I never finished telling about my Kruger Walk, for which I apologise unreservedly. I do intend to write that last episode, but fore that I need to tell this story.

The highlight of that trip was the walk we took on the final afternoon. We went up a kopje that looked out over hectares of pristine bush, and made our way down the other side towards the river. Our destination was an outcrop of large rocks overlooking the Oliphants River. We had no sooner settled down to watch the day close when a herd of about twenty ellies arrived for their evening drink and forage in the reeeds. There were waterbuck, an amazing array of birds, hippos, it was quite awe-inspiring.

We sat, mostly in silence, enjoying being a part of the natural world for the better part of an hour, when we saw a curtain of rain approaching from the east.

We watched the curtain of rain coming in across the mountain
We watched the curtain of rain coming in across the mountain

There was something incredibly humbling about being in that place at that time watching the first rains of the season making their way across the mountains. A bright flash of lighting, with its crack of thunder, brought our reveries to a quick end, as we packed up and made our way back to the vehicle. The rain fell unremittingly. The next morning as we were driven back to Letaba we were drenched and frozen as the limited roof of the safari van offered little protection against the driving rain. I have never been so drenched.

Looking back, I think those were the first and the last rains of the season. The drought has dragged on, the heat is only now beginning to waver, but still the clouds meanly hang on to their bounty, teasing as they pass indolently overhead. Even the storms seem to belch a maudlin greeting as the thunder rolls by and the lighting is a distant flicker in a sky far away.

There is something quite unnerving watching plants frazzled by a searing sun, the life being sucked out of them. A friend who farms Nguni cattle says they won’t eat the grass because it is too hard and crunchy. The local game parks are having to use all their expertise to manage game, but still cattle and wildlife are dying and there is nothing we can do about it, but pray.

I am fortunate to live in a house on the edge of a sugar farm, lovely open vistas, and almost within sight of one of Swaziland’s oldest game parks, Mlilwane. Over the years farmers in this area have got used to various wild animals leaving their sanctuary thinking the fields of cane, vegetables, pineapples provide better grazing. This year it’s happening on a larger scale as the grass in Mlilwane gets less and less.

My neighbours are building a large hangar, outside the protection of their yard, and close to one of the many irrigation dams in this area. I see that dam from my office window, and enjoy the feeling of serenity its reflections offer. But I digress! One day a couple of weeks before Christmas, the men building the hangar heard a strange noise emanating from the dam and on turning to look were horrified to see an enormous hippo rising out of the water. As one they took to their heels and scarpered.

The first I knew of the new arrival was when I received a message telling me to take care on my early morning walks as there was now a resident hippo, who was regally named Prince Harry. How anyone thought there can be any likeness to that red-headed royal I know not. Luckily for the Prince, Harry turned out to be Harriet.

There is something oddly satisfying about having a hippo visit, knowing she was wandering around investigating the area, hoping for a sight of her, while being terrified of meeting her on one of the pathways. She didn’t really like the sugar cane, the reeds in our dams did not seem to satisfy her, although she loved the dams in this area.

Lady Harriet, the unhappy hippo
Lady Harriet, the unhappy hippo

Poor Harriet, she really was a lost soul, and rambled far and wide looking for who knows what. The game rangers tried to move her, but she soon found her way back to the dam near us. “Our dam”! She wasn’t from Mlilwane, but had apparently come up from the Usutu River, which is so low it can hardly be called a river, which flows close by. Why she was alone, is another mystery.

Each day the reports would go out: she’s at Dalcrue; she’s at Eagles’ Nest; she’s in someone’s garden; she’s back.

Needless to say the unthinkable happened. A dog, objecting to this stranger that wandered near to his territory, got too close, and those great jaws brought its life to an abrupt and violent end. The owner was rightly indignant, and once again Mlilwane despatched their game rangers to see if they could persuade Harriet to move to a more suitable environment for lonely, hungry hippos. Peace reigned for a few days, and then there was a splash, a rumble and Harriet was back.

The novelty of playing host to a resident hippo was beginning to wear off. People were having to ensure children and dogs were safely behind fences well before nightfall, security guards patrolling at night were at risk, it was all getting a little fraught. And then a second dog was found lifeless in the reeds of the dam.

Poor Harriet is no more. There really was no choice, hard as that might seem. This area, while farmland, is simply too populated to risk having a displaced hippopotamus looking for food, for company, for a return to her normalcy, I would imagine.

We are all sad, but forevermore we will talk about the Christmas when the hippo came to visit, rather than the drought that devastated.

 

Welcome to 2016

A belated welcome to 2016! It’s a new year and one about which I feel really positive. I know the outlook is gloomy, the economies of the world are going belly-up, ISIS are a miserable bunch of killers, to coin Barack Obama’s phrase, (or was it thugs?) the weather is up the creek with El Nino causing havoc on all continents, but it’s going to be a good year!

I love my cover picture, the amazing reflections of the trees in the silence of the river. I feel it represent so much about our lives – our outer selves reflecting our inner souls, or maybe keeping lots hidden in the deep depths below those reflections. It could also depict thoughts and ideas, reflecting on the life and times around us. As such, it gives me freedom to write pretty much what I want to on this site, without having to stick to a straight and narrow theme.

Having said that, I feel that this year I need to be more disciplined, more focussed in following a thought to completion. I have no doubt this intention will astound those who know me, who have had to cope with my grasshopper thoughts leaping from one idea to another concept!

Thanks to my son Dwayne, I now have a better idea of how this website works, so hopefully it will be easier to follow. My intention is to post two blogs each week: Beside Still Waters and Friday Frolics. The former will share lessons I learnt along my path to healing from deep emotional wounds, how my Lord, Jesus Christ, has led me through valleys and paths, smooth and stony, to a place of peace, grounded in His love.

The latter will be more light-hearted, my take on the events of the week, interesting bits and pieces, much as I have before. Living in Swaziland, in Africa, there is frequently much to amaze and amuse, that needs to be shared.

I will also be sharing excerpts from two manuscripts, Of Feathers and Fire, and Sipho’s War, which are almost complete and I am about to begin the hullabaloo once more of looking for publishers! Or agents! Or I will self-publish. I would really appreciate any constructive

The happy chaos of being a writer, notebooks, dictionaries, and of course, a room with a view!
The happy chaos of being a writer, notebooks, dictionaries, and of course, a room with a view!

feedback, good or bad, positive or negative to these so I can correct errors or misconceptions before the expense of printing! I will not, however, respond to hate mail, and haters may well find themselves blocked!

 

For the rest, I look forward to interacting with you this year.