Lily waiting for the birds to come (Oct, '13)
In my last post about bread, I failed to mention how quickly the bread molds here. Not too good for the couple that eats maybe four slices a week, but extremely fortunate for the pigeons, doves and sparrows!
Before my grandbabies flew the South African coop, Lily would come to my house and feed the birds. I tried to show her how to crumble it into beak-sized pieces, but sometimes she would just throw the whole slice on the lawn. Then she’d climb into a chair on the patio and wait for the birds to come.
I know how she feels. I’m hesitant to share just how much I enjoy watching the birds in my backyard, for fear of being branded an old lady. But I’m excited to share some of the pictures I’ve taken of my feathered friends. I’m especially excited today, because there’s a weaver bird constructing a nest in the corner!
When we moved in to this house, I noticed a birdfeeder situated right outside the lounge window, near a bird bath. I asked the gardener what the owner put in there and he told me pieces of fruit. Then the owner confirmed that she chopped overripe fruit and watched the white-eyes flock to it.
I learned through experience that you can’t just quarter the fruit and put it out. No, and they can’t even be hefty chunks. These birds are apparently accustomed to a fine dice, approximately ¼ inch square. And they’ve got me trained – every other morning I make a little fruit salad of four fruits from the following list: banana, orange, apple, pear, paw-paw (papaya), mango, and avo. I put half into a container to put out the following day. By throwing pomegranate avrils, quince, and guava onto the ground, the little darlings made it extremely obvious they would prefer I didn’t include those fruits in their daily diet.
At first, it was mainly white eyes coming to the feeder. The feeder hangs between two small trees and ten minutes after I put the fruit in there, those trees were loaded with white eyes. Lately, the fruit has also attracted bulbuls, mousebirds, cape sparrows and weavers. The bulbuls and mousebirds have crested heads, and the mousebird has a very long tail. They’re wary of my camera, but I keep trying to get the perfect shot.
There’s still moldy bread in the house, which I now throw out in the yard to the delight of the huge red-eyed pigeons and the lovely cooing soft grey doves. They’re also the most frequent visitors to the bird baths.
The garden itself attracts sunbirds, which enjoy the red hot poker nectar and the bugs that get caught in that flower. It also comes to the sugar water feeder, and hovers, so when I first saw it I thought it was a hummingbird, but they’re much bigger than a hummingbird, and not as colorful.
There’s a happy little bird I see every day, strutting around the lawn, pecking all over; I think it may be a wagtail. There’s a funny-looking bird called a hoopoe that digs insects from the lawn. The robin is smaller than the ones in the US, but even here they are harbingers of spring, and dig around the lawn in search of insects.
There is a huge bird that comes round in the morning and its raucous call brings a smile to my face whenever I hear it. In the ibis family, it’s named a hadeda because of its call: HAAAAA, HAA-DE-DAA. I can’t wait for my friend Sue to wake up to its song!
I wish you could hear the sound of my back yard. It’s lovely, with a variety of birds singing from every direction
Please don’t hesitate to correct the info I’m sharing. I’ve been looking in a book, trying to determine which is which. That’s also why I’ve not been specific in naming them.
I hope you enjoy the photos.
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Bread is plentiful in South Africa, and some of it is downright cheap. It’s not unusual for working folks to eat a loaf of bread or several rolls for lunch. When we moved in, the owner advised me to always have brown bread and peanut butter for Evelina, the domestic worker, and Collins, the gardener, to eat while they had their sweet, milky rooibos tea or coffee.
In the bigger cities, there are bakeries specializing in bread. Here in Witbank, there are some artisanal breads in most of the grocery stores: rustic looking round loaves with a crack down the middle; long thin loaves; short fat loaves; flat breads covered in sun-dried tomatoes and onions. They cost between R15 and R32 ($1.50-$3.20) Oftentimes those breads are just sitting out in the air with pre-priced brown bags beside them. Occasionally they’ll have netting over top to deter the bugs.
There’s also shelves with rows and rows of square loaves in plastic: white bread, brown bread, best of both white & brown, low gi with nuts and seeds, oatmeal, and even low kilojoule/low calorie (They can’t get it down quite as low as in the US, though. I think they don’t slice it thin enough!) These loaves cost between R9 and R13 (90 cents and $1.30) You learn quickly to check the plastic sleeves for holes – your bread only has to be hard as a rock once as your lesson. You also learn to hang on to the little tabs they close the plastic bags with, because schoolkids save them to turn in to a charity that somehow allows them to purchase wheelchairs for invalids when they get 3,978,652 of them. That’s a rough estimate, obviously. They can also be turned in at the DisChem Pharmacy at the Highveld Mall.
Over by the bakery in the grocery stores are shelves of unsliced white and brown bread loaves. Brown bread that hasn’t been sliced is the cheapest, about R7.5. If they have unsliced bread, they also have a machine that you can use to slice it. People get tickled when they see my delight at the process, which I think is pretty awesome.
This is Blue Ribbon brand, but there's also Albany and Sasko brands.
Bread cutting machine
This is the unbelieving bakery lady at PicknPay Grocery Store at the Highveld Mall in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga allowing me to video her using the bread cutting machine
Uncut white bread, 85 cents; Uncut brown bread (in back) 75 cents
One day I was walking past the fish & chips store, and there were four men sitting at an outside table with a loaf of bread and a big square of paper covered with chips (fries), which in turn were covered with tomato sauce (ketchup). Not too unusual, I guess, until I noticed that they were taking a slice of bread, folding it in half, tucking the fries into it, then eating it like a sandwich! What? I stopped short of taking a photo of them, but they were very confused when I asked, incredulously, if they were eating chip sandwiches. Their attitude was “duuuuhhh,” but they simply nodded in the affirmative. Then I noticed that on the menu board you could buy a chip roll for ninety cents.
A week or two later Steven and I were at a church picnic, eating his delicious chicken salad with lettuce on tasty little rolls when I looked over at some friends and asked what they were having on their sandwich. Crisps! Potato chip sandwiches! This time I couldn’t resist the call of the camera and asked our friend Nielen Toerien to let me take pictures of the process. He says he and his boys enjoy chip sandwiches whenever his wife allows it or doesn't know. His wife, Alet, watched apologetically as she ate healthy food and her men ate chip sandwiches.
Apparently this is a nationwide phenomenon; as we were driving up to Lesotho for our mission trip, a few of the men brought the ingredients and shared chip sandwiches.
Eish! (That’s South African for “For crying out loud!”)
Many thanks to Nielen for demonstrating the recipe that apparently every man in South Africa knows! (Hovering over the photos brings up the captions)
Although I’ve been buying magazines for seasonal recipes, I don’t usually spend money on cookbooks. But I found an old cookbook at a church garage sale, and I couldn’t resist. The day I bought it, I sat down on the couch with Steven after supper and opened my new treasure. The pages have separated from the binding; a good sign of a well-used resource, I believe. 60 years of cigarette smoke, grease, and flour flew up in my face as I turned the pages.
So many delightful surprises! This cookbook was published by Royal Baking Powder (PTY.) Ltd; third edition, 1955. I noticed that the flag on the front is not South Africa’s current flag, but the Royal Baking Powder can looks the same.
The last paragraph of the dedication page reads ”And so this book is dedicated to all the young newly-weds in South Africa, many of whom will be coming to grips with a stove for the first time! Every recipe is explained as simply as possible, all measurements and temperatures are accurate, and none of the ingredients are unobtainable or unduly expensive.”
The first paragraph of the Introduction reads “The enjoyment of fine food has been one of the principal delights of men since the beginning of time, and for the woman who would aspire to the power that good cooking offers, there are a few golden rules that cannot be ignored.” The rules follow: make simple meals that can be prepared with ease and don’t experiment indiscriminately. What bride doesn’t need this book?
The section on shopping and food storage talks about using lock-up pantries, and buying good supplies of non-perishable goods. There’s a paragraph dedicated to storage of soap! Don’t store it with your food, keep it in the linen closet and buy a large quantity because it needs to dry out – apparently, the harder the soap, the longer it lasts. Who knew?
I got a clearer understanding of my friend Anthea’s cutlery set, which she graciously loaned for the purpose of our Friendship Group’s Christmas dinner. She has this great wooden box full of silverware that I had no idea how to place on the table, or even what it was all for. Now I know! I also learned that each piece of cutlery should be straight, and placed about one inch from the edge of the table (which should be covered in a damask tablecloth).
Another good section explained how to serve “Maidless Meals.” Truly!
Well worn cover with old South African flag
With all that cutlery, there's barely room for food!
For all of us who need help on the maid's day off...
Interesting reading as that was, I wanted to chew on the meat of the matter, if you know what I mean.
I began perusing Garnishes & Snacks (they were making radish roses before I was born!); Sandwiches (I’m going to pass on the Marmite butter and hardboiled egg recipe); Seasonings (I didn’t know wine was a seasoning); Soups (What is sago?); Fish (I‘ve actually seen many of the types described in Meat & Fish); Meats (I was flabbergasted -- or should I say flubbergasted -- to see a section on whalemeat!); Poultry & Game (includes information on plucking and cleaning); Sauces, Gravies, Stuffings (What in the world is forcemeat?); Vegetables & Cereals (Including recipes for mealies, marrow, green paw-paws, and pumpkin); Salads & Dressings (Beetroot Cup Salad – Cook as many beets as you have people, form them into a bowl, fill with a mixture of cooked vegetables & top with mayo.); Light Meals (Stuffed Vegetable Marrow sounds similar to our favorite Weight Watcher recipe Beef Stuffed Zucchini Boats); Leftovers & Canned Comfort (Jellied Fish & Capers, anyone?)…
Ooooohhh, now we’re getting to the good stuff! Desserts (Lots of puddings & custards); Pastry Making (I’m always looking for a piecrust recipe that turns out); Bread Making (Excellent explanation of all the types of yeast I’ve seen on the grocer’s shelves); Baking-Mix Recipes (sounds like Bisquick & I’m going to try it); Cakes & Biscuits (Remember, biscuits are cookies); Icings & Fillings (Who knew you could use monkey nuts as an almond paste substitute); and Home-made Sweets (Sweets or sweeties are candy).
Next to the recipes everyone should know: Home Canning & Preserves (A word of caution: when using caustic soda for peeling fruits, keep vinegar & water or lemon juice & water nearby in case of burns); Beverages (If I can find a new-laid egg, I might try some Chocolate Egg-Nog); Invalid Cooking (Try Tomato & Liver Soup for anaemia or Albumen Water for Diarrhoea & Dysentery); Household Budget (blah, blah, blah); Menu Planning (School lunch boxes should include a meaty sandwich, fresh fruit or pudding, whole tomato or grated carrot, and a glass of milk or a cup of hot cocoa); and finally….
SOUTH AFRICAN RECIPES! Naturally, they have names I can’t pronounce or understand: Fish Kedgeree; Penang; Perlemoen; Gesmoorde Hoender; Bredie; and Frikkadel (that one makes me smile). I do recognize a few: Sosaties (Dutch Kabobs); Bobotie (a casserole); Boerwors (sausage); Biltong (kind of like jerky); Melktart (custard pie); Koeksisters (doughnuts soaked in syrup – beyond delicious when they’re fresh); and a variety of chutneys (it seems South Africans prefer not to spice their food as they cook; they just add a chutney at the table.)
As I was reading the recipes, I realized the ingredients were measured in cups, not millimeters or grams! And the temperatures were noted in Fahrenheit, not Celsius! Then I remembered Sandra (the lady who owns our home) telling me how troublesome it was to make the switch to metrics when she was a child. She even left me a conversion chart next to the oven.
Apparently it’s true that everything old is new again!
You didn't think I'd lie to you, did you?
They sell koeksisters at the coffee shop at church for 50 cents each. mmmmmmmmm.......
When I saw in the local paper that the catholic church in Witbank was having a garage sale, I had to check it out. Having worked at church rummage sales, I knew that the good stuff had probably already gone to the staff of volunteers. And even though there really isn’t anything I need, I still decided to go – hitting a garage sale on a Saturday morning just feels a little like home. Besides, it was the first garage sale I’ve seen advertised!
This being South Africa, I didn’t think I needed to be at the sale right at 9:00 when it started – no one gets anywhere on time here! Apparently the rules are different when it comes to garage sales, because when I got to the church, the parking lot was full. So was the hall inside. And there were no prices on anything; I was told they’d let me know how much when I was done shopping.
So I opened my reusable shopping bag and began poking at the stuff on the tables. Turns out people at garage sales are the same world over, because if someone sees you gazing at something with a thoughtful face, they grab it! That’s what happened with the yoga mat I was considering, but not seriously, because it came with weights (which I have) and cords (which I have) and VHS tapes (which I haven’t used for quite a long time).
I did find a couple serving dishes, which could come in handy. Then I eavesdropped on a conversation between two young men – “What do you think this is, bru?” “It’s a steamer, man. My gran’s got one.” “I never would have guessed,” the first guy said. Smiling, I grabbed the Tupperware egg separator just because. There was a pair of earrings I’m sure my friend will like. Into the bag went a planter for herbs… I thought I was leaving, so I showed a man what I had collected and he said “How about a hundred rand for everything?”
I thought I was done, but I had to walk past the book tables on my way to the car – uh oh! Only R10 per! The first book I picked up was full of quotes from Nelson Mandela. Then I found a novel that looked like a light read. Next, a guidebook on the animals at Kruger. Then I saw The Royal Hostess – South Africa’s own Cook Book. My head knows that I can’t begin collecting cookbooks here; they’re too heavy to bring back home. But my heart said “It’s a cookbook!” So I bought it.
Then I saw the piles of clothes on the floor beside a table with a tub and scale. Purchases from the clothing and linen sections had to be weighed! R10 per kilogram. Unusual and clever! Similar idea to the one bag for $2 sale on the second day at the Fishkill UMC rummage sales. Remembering that we usually give away blankets on our mission trips, I went over to the linen section to see what I could see. Two crocheted granny square afghans that would cover a full-sized bed -- with no unintentional holes. Score! Two afghans and a doily bring another hundred rand to the church.
As I was paying for my afghans, I spied a camp cot. Hmmmm. I remembered the tragic end of my air mattress on the mission trip in Swaziland, when my husband set up our tent under the thorn tree. It looked like a sturdy cot. The man that collected my first R100 scurried over to tell me he had just priced these cots at Camperworld and they were only asking one-third the price of a new cot. He assured me it was a good one, and it came with its own carrying case.
It’s for charity, right? Now my bag and my arms are full – the young man who didn't know what a steamer was is a volunteer and he comes to my rescue and carries the cot to the car. I can smell the boerwoers on the braai as I’m walking to the car, but I resist. Now I can tell Steven there was something I wanted that I didn’t buy!
The launch in Community Central
In September of 2013, Inspire, the missions leg of New Life Church in Witbank, launched a program called Sponsor a Child. Members of the church were encouraged to participate by sponsoring a child for R500 ($50) per month; by shopping for food and other items for the children; by distributing the food; or by praying for the children. Steven and I signed on to be part of the team, so please realize when I say “we” I’m talking about the whole group of people involved in this ministry. Gate through the razor wire
We started with less than 20 children, and at the end of the launch, there were more sponsors than there were children. As many as would sponsor were accepted, because there is no shortage of needy children in our neighborhood. We’ve been serving 32 children since November, boys and girls between the ages of 2 and 19; and we're prepared to take on another eight this month.
The children are orphans, many living in an informal settlement (shanty towns) with their ugogo (grandmother). The majority of children were suggested by Emelda Lombe, who runs Blessings, a crèche (nursery school) near the informal settlement. She knows their situation because the women come through the fence and share their sad tales. The head of the ministry heard of another woman caring for 9 orphans in her RDP (Rural Development Project) house in Ackerville, and we also deliver to them. Each box holds food for a month
Emelda gathered all the info on the children for us – their birthdays and their clothing sizes. One day as she was gathering information, she went to a home in the early afternoon and knocked on the door. Everything was locked up. Knowing there were people inside, Emelda kept knocking. Finally the grandmother answered and Emelda asked why everything was closed up. The lady explained that they had no food, so she and the children went to bed. No food. Inspire rushed the first shopping and delivery dates to get some nourishment to the children.
I’m part of the shopping crew. Once a month we go to Witbank
Cash n Carry, which is a grocery supplier to some small markets in town. We spend R400 per child, and shop the sales, which means the brands of food may change, but the list stays pretty consistent:
20 kilograms (44 pounds) of mealie meal (cornmeal); 500g of dried beans; 1K instant porridge; 500m salt; 2K rice; 750ml cooking oil; 400g peanut butter; 450g mixed fruit jam; 500g pasta; 4 200g boxes of soya mince (soy crumbles) with gravy; 4 envelopes of soup mix (think Lipton Onion Soup); 4 400g tins of vegetables; 1K sugar; 1 dozen eggs; 2 loaves of bread; 2L of long life full cream milk. When prices are low enough they get 155g tins of pilchards in tomato sauce and 300g tins of corned meat. In addition to food, we also provide a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, a facecloth, a bar of soap, and four rolls of toilet paper.
These provisions have to last a month in a home without electricity or running water. We really try to get the kids protein and items that will keep their bellies full. Hopefully, the families are able to purchase a few fresh items themselves. Every time I go into Cash n Carry, I tell anyone listening who we’re buying this stuff for. The manager got wind of it and now we get a 1.5% discount, which saves us more than R300 each trip. God bless them.
We get the bread at Spar Supermarket, 64 loaves for R8,29 (82 cents) each. They also provide us with apple boxes to pack the supplies for delivery. God bless them, too.
Each month we spend the other R100 on clothing or other necessities. In March, we bought everyone a Dri-Mac. Well, Dri-Mac is a name brand like Dickies, and we bought the clothes at Pep stores and Ackermans, so I guess we bought them black windbreakers. In the past we’ve bought shirts and pants, underwear, backpacks, and school supplies. Clothes are more expensive for the teenagers, but we try to get all the kids close to the same thing.
When we’re packing the boxes, we write “God loves ______” on the outside of the box. One, we want the kids to know that every good gift comes from God; and two, the clothing is child-specific. We also insert a poster with a picture and a Bible verse on it, and the name and contact info for the church. It’s our hope that the kids and their caretakers will begin to understand that God will take care of them, and they will begin to trust him with their lives on this earth and beyond.
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Our first delivery -- we were quite excited! (L) The people carrying their goodies home (R) Little ones trying on their windbreakers, even though it was hot outside
Even deeper than ankle height!
When my grandson Adrien was riding in the car with us our first day in South Africa, he asked: “How can you tell if someone is driving drunk in the US?” We responded confidently that they wove all over the road. Then he asked “How can you tell if someone is driving drunk in South Africa?” No idea. “They drive in a straight line!” LOL. Number 219 on this street, maybe?
Having lived here for a year, I get the joke. There are so many potholes in eMalahleni that you don’t dare drive in a straight line! These are not your garden variety potholes, mind you. People will drive anywhere to avoid them -- up on people’s lawns, for instance – and regularly on the wrong side of the road! But some of the potholes stretch across the entire road, which makes them impossible to miss. Some are so deep that if you drive through them in a Toyota Corolla, the bottom of your car scrapes against the road. (Don’t ask how I know that)
It seems that the local municipality had a corrupt administrator for several years and he didn’t care about maintaining the town. Shortly after we got here, the government of South Africa replaced the bad guy with a good guy who is determined to bring things back up to snuff. He has a lot of obstacles, not the least of which is the fiscal budget. Shortly after Theo van Vuuren came into office as interim administrator, someone came around and numbered the potholes, which gave rise to a great hope that they would be repaired. I believe number 257 was on Betsie Street, just outside the gate of our community. Car on sidewalk in classic avoidance technique!
And sure enough, some potholes were filled. However, during the rainy season, many repairs were washed away and new potholes were created. And as people drive around them, the edges crumble more and the holes get bigger. And the bigger holes hold more rain, and the overflow from the rain washes more dirt out from under the asphalt, which means when cars drive on that, it crumbles more….Eish!
There is an enterprising group of people who go to the busiest intersections, fill these gaping holes with rocks, broken bricks, sticks and so on, then sweep the dirt back in to keep them close to level with the road. They or one of their friends stand with a tin can, collecting donations from grateful drivers.
They may soon need to find other employment, however, because it was reported in the newspaper that “A local hardware store, Timbercity/Pennypinchers Witbank, is selling cold asphalt at cost and encouraging the community, businesses and schools to help with the pothole epidemic that is escalating in our city. They have purchased 500 bags and are selling them at R55 (US $5.50) per 25kg (55 lbs) bag.”
In my humble opinion, the best option would be to simply rebuild the streets, one at a time, but I know that’s not even a vague possibility with the budget the municipality is forced to work within. I guess I’ll just keep watching to see how many people make the repairs themselves. And more importantly, keep watching for potholes so my car and I don’t disappear into one!
White Rhino At Tshukudu
As soon as you get to South Africa, you’re bombarded with the concept of the “Big 5.” These animals are on the paper currency, they’re on every kind of souvenir you can imagine – postcards, playing cards, puzzles, tee shirts, even ostrich eggs. So far, nothing on black velvet, but there’s still places I haven’t been!
Apparently, since the beginning of time, people have been on the hunt for these animals. And at some point, big game hunters (the guys with the funny hats carrying a blunderbuss) or their guides coined the phrase “Big 5.” You might think this refers to the size of the animals in question, but no, the distinction comes from the fact that these five animals are the most dangerous and difficult to hunt on foot. As time went on, it became a very successful marketing phrase.
A fun and informative website regarding the Big 5 is: big5.southafrica.net
A few people still shoot guns to kill the lion, the rhino, the leopard, the cape buffalo and the elephant for trophies. It’s legal to hunt these animals, and many others, on almost 9000 game ranches and in some provincial game reserves in South Africa. Most people shoot with their cameras, though, and usually nobody gets hurt. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that someone fell out of a game drive vehicle and broke some bone trying to get the perfect shot.
I’m pleased to say that over the course of a year, Steven and I have got our trophy pictures of the Big 5. Some we found on our own, just driving around. Some our rangers pointed out in the wild on a game drive. And in the interest of being completely transparent, some are in big pens, even though the photos don’t show it.
Rhino was the first we saw on our own. There are two types of rhino, white and black. It seems that back in the day, people noticed the wide mouth on one rhino and that word “wide” became muddled into “white.” The black is just different than the white. Rangers have shared a way to tell which is which if you see a rhino with its baby: It’s a black rhino if the baby rhino follows the mother, remembering that black mothers carry their babies on their back. It’s a white rhino if the baby is in front of the mother, remembering that white mothers push their babies in carriages in front of them. They told us other stuff, about how one of them can’t lift its head high, and how wide the mouths are, but the mother/baby story is the one that I remember. I would be remiss (& she'd probably yell at me) if I failed to report that when my daughter Sarah was on a game drive at Kruger, she got to be part of a team that tranquilized a rhino so it could be transported. She often brags that she's touched a rhino. Elephant at Black Rhino
The elephant was second. We were on a game drive near Pilannesberg and Steven had been pestering our ranger all day to find an elephant. Steven was regaling the South Africans in the vehicle with riddles about elephants (How does an elephant hide in a cherry tree? Paints his toenails red) and other such silliness. The sun was going down, and we wanted a really good sunset shot. The driver obliged by turning around and – there was a fantastic elephant! He was about 13 years old, sent away from his herd because he was becoming a threat to the main male. He just ambled up to a tree next to the vehicle! Some people were quite nervous at the close proximity, but Steven just kept snapping photos, barely able to contain his jubilation. Cape Buffalo at Kruger
Our third sighting occurred as we entered Kruger National Park. Driving across a bridge, Steven spied a Cape Buffalo. It was a fine looking specimen with a beautiful boss (that’s what it’s called when the horns grow together across the top of the male’s head). We also saw several buffalo in the water on our most recent safari at Tshukudu Game Reserve. There were females with little horns, babies with nubby horns, and young males who hadn’t grown their boss yet.
Also at Tshukudu we were introduced to leopards (#4) and a lion (thus concluding the Big 5). They were behind a fence. Not like a zoo, mind you, they had lots of room to wander. But these are nocturnal animals, and it’s difficult to spot them in the wild. We’ve heard them, we’ve seen their kill up in a tree; but we’d never seen one. Our ranger told us the leopards had been taken into someone’s home as babies, but when the owners realized they were still wild animals, they had to be put in a safe place. Once a wild animal becomes comfortable around humans, it’s doubly dangerous, because they don’t bother to turn tail and go in the other direction as they normally would; and they may associate humans with food (and get irritated if they don’t get any!). The lion is very old, about 24 years, I think. He was part of the breeding project when the game reserve began.
Leopard at Tshukudu. Can't see the fence, can you?
Lion at Tshukudu. See the fence on the right?
There are so many beautiful animals here in the wilds of South Africa – don’t tell anyone, but I like giraffes better than the Big 5! Just because we’ve gotten great shots of the obligatory animals doesn’t mean we’re going to quit taking pictures. As a matter of fact, I’m developing a new obsession: the little 5. Really! There’s the elephant shrew; the buffalo weaver bird (we’ve seen their big sloppy nests); the rhino beetle; the leopard tortoise (we saw a dead one on a game walk); and the antlion. Stay tuned!
I did finally get to take a picture of Jenn in Puerto Vallarta!
It’s great living in South Africa, and since we’ve moved here, we’ve done what we’ve done every other place we’ve moved to – Be Tourists! You can be sure I’ve Googled, gone to Trip Advisor, read Fodor’s and every magazine article I can get my hands on before we even settle into the car to begin our adventure. Of course, the obligatory camera hangs around my neck. Oh, did someone take my picture kissing a hippo?
Having been a Creative Memories scrapbooking consultant in a previous life, I totally understand how important it is to have pictures of your adventures. I also appreciate why people want to have their picture taken with identifiable backgrounds. That's why I never hesitate to walk up to people taking pictures of their family and ask if I can take a photo of them all together with their camera. And that’s why my daughter Jennifer & I spent – seriously – thirty minutes taking pictures of people in Puerto Vallarta! People just kept handing us their cameras. Apparently, a cruise ship had just docked.
I also understand why some people DON’T want their picture taken under any circumstances. Can you say “self-conscious”? I see it in their eyes: “I’m too fat; My hair’s a mess; I look awful in this outfit….” When my daughter Sarah used to duck out of photos I was taking I would remind her that one day she would be asking “Where was I when you guys were having so much fun?” The people who love us already know what we look like and their affection for us doesn’t change when we don’t look good in a photo.
By the way, I get just as irritated as everyone else at the people who always look good in photos. How do they do that?
I am saddened by the photo takers, though, when I can tell that they’re so wrapped up in getting “the shot” that they don’t truly experience the moment. People who walk up to the Lincoln Memorial having given their companion explicit instructions on the angle, the background, the lighting; have their picture taken; then walk back so their companion can have that same great shot. But neither of them took the time to comprehend the greatness of the man, the wisdom of his words, or the beauty of the monument. They’re going to tell their friends they were there, but they can’t honestly say they experienced it.
The same thing happened when we went to see Jessica the Hippo. In a nutshell, you’ve got a hippo that was raised by humans but lives in the Blyde River as a wild animal. She comes to a dock at her humans’ home to be fed and she allows women to kiss her snout as she drinks sweetened rooibos tea. Can you imagine! You can touch – kiss, even – a wild animal. You can watch as her eyelids and nostrils open and close, feel the wiry bristles on her snout, feel her breath as she opens wide her mouth to receive the sliced sweet potatoes. I forgot all about photos while I was having this incredible experience! Jill is totally in the moment
But I saw people not even looking at the hippo, only looking at the camera, while they were feeding her. Firstly, do not stick your hand near a hippo’s mouth without watching said hippo! Secondly, what are you going to tell your friends when they ask what her skin felt like, what color her tongue was, how big her tusks were?
On the other hand, I saw a couple from Lincoln NE last week totally wrapped up in what they were experiencing in South Africa. They were in the moment. They looked into the leopard’s eyes, and rubbed his fur, and listened to his purr. They weren’t talking about the next place they were going, they were enjoying where they were NOW. They listened to the lions call and the birds chatter and the hippos snort. Truthfully, I was afraid they didn’t even bring a camera – that would have made me sad! Then I realized that they did indeed have a camera and they were using it wisely; somehow, they had hit a wonderful balance of snapping a few pictures that would bring back the memory of their experience.
May we all do the same.
Deon stops driving & stands up to talk
FACT: People go to game reserves to see game. The smart ones also absorb the knowledge and wisdom that is doled out on a game drive.
To the best of my knowledge, game drives in South Africa must be conducted by certified professionals called park rangers or guides. This ensures that the facts they share regarding the animals and environment are true and that the visitors, the wildlife and the land remain safe. The rangers are also responsible for keeping tabs on all the animals’ health and whereabouts.
Game reserves differ from the national parks in that they are run to make a profit for the owners. Many game reserves started out as cattle farms and have gradually been developed into a reserve. The game are purchased, from the national parks or other reserves. The owners have strict guidelines regarding their animals and national veterinarians come to check on their health and well-being. Whenever babies are born, they have to be reported to the officials, who come to examine them. Although I prefer to believe that owners have a more altruistic motive (they love the animals), the fact is that they must care for their animals or their business will die.
It’s not like a zoo. Occasionally the animals are in pens, large pens (over a hectare). That seems to happen when the animal is unable to live in the wild because it’s injured or too comfortable around humans. Sometimes it’s done for breeding purposes. But most often the animals live as they would in the wild, if there was more wild for them to live in. They live in herds, they mate and have babies, they hunt and get hunted. In other words, they live their lives the way God intended.
And it’s amazing to be riding along and see a journey of giraffe walking across the road. Or to watch zebra in a herd and understand completely their defense of disruptive coloration – with those stripes going every whichaway, it’s hard to focus on just one. And just when you think you’ve seen all the impala you’ll ever want to see, the whole herd starts running and leaping and you can’t take your eyes off them.
Out of the vehicle for a photo at Black Rhino Reserve near Pilanesberg
These two were leading the parade across the road
This lion is 24 years old. He was part of the breeding project when the reserve started. Most lions live to about 12 years.
Disruptive coloration at its best. BTW, which side of the zebra has the most stripes? Ready? The OUTSIDE, of course! Rangers also have a fun sense of humor
Deon explaining all about elephant dung
The rangers are an incredible resource. They’re constantly trying to get everyone to wrap their heads around the idea that the WHOLE environment is amazing, not just the big five animals everyone hopes to see. They’ll stop beside the shepherd’s tree to explain how it got its name – the inside hollows out and holds fresh water that shepherds can drink, the roots can be ground up and eaten as a porridge, the leaves provide shelter from the sun, and on and on. A ranger will see a community spider web, and even the squeamish folks are intrigued at the concept of teeny-tiny spiders that work together to ensure that every member gets fed. These guides don’t hesitate to pick up scat/dung/poop and make it interesting – elephants only get about 60% (or is it 40%?) of the nutrients out of the grass they eat, they poop the rest out. In the dry season, when herbivores have a hard time finding food to graze on, they can eat the elephant dung for nourishment. How cool is that?
The best rangers explain everything. They don’t sugarcoat animal behavior, but they delight in the cycle of life. They understand how to track game and they point out the footprints, the scat, the broken limbs, the flat grass, even the scent of urine wafting in the wind. They hold up their hands for silence so everyone can hear the animals calling to each other.
In short, if you want to experience an incredible game drive get an incredible guide. Here’s to you, Deon, at Tshukudu! And Matthew, too, at Black Rhino!
Drakensberg Mountains with baobab tree in forefront.
Steven & I by the baobab tree in the orange grove
We’re back from a weekend safari to Tshukudu Bush Camp (http://www.tshukudubushcamp.co.za
) near Hoedspruit, in the province of Limpopo. The game reserve was separated from Kruger National Park – the place everyone goes to see the Big 5 – by a fence. We went on a tour arranged by Big Tau Safaris (http://www.bigtausafaris.co.za
) with co-workers of my husband, and it was SO easy!
Louis owns Big Tau Safaris and he is certified to guide in every province in South Africa. Very knowledgeable as to wildlife and African life in general, he really kept us entertained from the moment he picked us up. It’s about a three hour drive from eMalahleni to Hoedspruit, but Louis drove us through Dullstrom (Emnotweni) and a few other fun places along the way, all the while sharing information about the countryside we were traveling. We went up and down the Drakensberg Mountains – the Ndebele people live at the top. We passed two rivers, the Oliphants and the Blyde, that were flooding over their banks because officials had opened the sluice gates on the local dams.
We’ve had a lot of rain and it was even raining when we left eMalahleni. But we urged Louis to drive toward the patch of blue sky we could see through the clouds, and ever obliging, he got us to the sunshine! We stopped to see a Baobab tree, which are HUGE trees that were brought to South Africa by elephants, who ate the fruit elsewhere and pooped the seeds in Limpopo. Louis told us the trees are 80% water. One of the trees we stopped to see was in the middle of an orange grove – quite a difference in size!
After lunch at the Baobab restaurant and a quick stop at the PicNPay in Hoedspruit for meal supplies, Louis drove us to the Tshukudu (which means rhino in the Sotho language) Game Reserve. The Tshukudu Bush Camp is self-catering, which means you’re responsible for your own food and refreshments. It is not the most luxurious game reserve accommodations we’ve enjoyed. There were no warm cloths to wipe the journey’s dust off your face or tiny shampoos and lotions in the bathroom; no wi-fi or TV. But the thatched cottages are clean, the beds are comfortable, there’s hot water AND air-conditioning. There are two other accommodations, the lodge and the tent camp in the reserve, which undoubtedly create a different (not necessarily better) experience.
There’s a pool, an indoor dining room with a satellite TV, a community outdoor dining area, a community kitchen, and a boma. A boma is an enclosure; in this case just outside the kitchen, with tables and chairs around a big fire pit. The staff keep the fire going, and use a shovel to bring coals from the fire to the braai (grill) for cooking the food. There is also a dormitory area where learners stay on educational field trips. Behind the boma there are two sets of stairs. One leads to an elevated observation deck. The other leads to a suspension bridge that takes you to a blind overlooking the dam.
When we got there we were greeted by Deon, the park ranger and man in charge of the bush camp; his miniature dachshund Flinters (Afrikaans for tatters); and his favorite cheetah, Ntombi (Zulu for little girl). We had a few minutes to carry our luggage to our cottage before we went on our first game drive. When we came out to join the group, everyone was getting their photo taken with Ntombi. Of course we wanted our turn, too!
Deon getting loved by Ntombi
Nothing like a cup of coffee with a cheetah!
Something caught her attention just as the shutter snapped