Chapter 6: Lost in translation

General, Satara

Being new in Kruger we were as curious as a wildcat! We could not help asking other staff what they have seen recently or what encounters they had in previous situations. We loved spending time with rangers and tour guides and tap them for the latest happenings of the bushveld.

I must say, we’ve been living in Kruger for over 20 years and we are still this way.

I must take the time to tip my hat to my parents. Since I could remember they have always cared a lot about the people around them. They will always go the extra mile to make sure that they have a good chat with an old-timer or make sure a young adult who is far away from his parents, has a warm meal. This is just how they are and I can only wish to be like them.

It was in this short time while living in Satara, where my parents befriended a young guide. He was a good chap with splendid manners and (of course) he loved nature. He was the type of guy that you would want your daughter to marry. But with this said and done he was as Afrikaans as can come and terrible in the English language.

At this time the Kruger still had Night Drives that could be led by an Afrikaans guide, however, in some cases this young man (let’s call him Jan for the sake of his identity and to make the tale flow better) had to do a Night Drive in English.

The struggle was real, people!

Jan was quite a talkative guy, but only when he could do it in Afrikaans. When someone spoke to him in English the cat would gobble up his tongue and he would struggle through the conversation.

However, he was our number one entertainer when it came to the latest happenings in Kruger. We often consulted him before going on family drives. He told us where we were most likely to see cheetah or where the lions caught a buffalo. He would let us know where we could find rhinos and shared interesting tales about dung beetles and shongololos (a type of millipede).

The time came where he told us an epic tale that made my parents laugh uncontrollably and to this day one of their favourite tales to share with friends.

One night Jan was getting ready to go out on a Night Drive – one he thought would just be in Afrikaans. However, when he pitched up for work he was informed that all the people in the truck were tourists from overseas. Jan immediately realised that this is a disaster waiting to happen.

Unfortunately, there were no other guides to take over, so Jan was stuck to do the Night Drive – in the best English he could muster.

He decided that he would do the bare minimum. He would only drive and point out the animals that they see, and name the animal.

He thought it would go like this. He would drive. They see a leopard. He says “leopard”. They watch the animal for a few minutes and then drive away. He drives further. Spot an elephant. He announces “elephant” and off they would go again. Plain, simple and foolproof. Or so he thought.

Little did Jan know that the tourists on the Night Drive truck were of the inquisitive kind.

Jan’s plan worked well up to a certain point.

It was when he saw a spotted eagle-owl high up in the tree when the trouble started.

He could correctly identify and pronounce the owl’s name in English (with a heavy accent) but then one of the tourists asked for more information about the owl.

Everyone went quiet with anticipation, waiting for more information.

Jan wanted to explain that most owls can rotate their necks to a maximum of 270 degrees without breaking blood vessels or tearing tendons.

The pressure was on and all poor Jan could get out in a heavy Afrikaans accent was:

“Owls can almost screw their heads right off.”

After that comment, Jan knew he was in more trouble than he had signed up for. He just went on with the drive praying that there would be no more questions.

But we all know that would make a boring story. To be honest the worst was still to come.

After a while, one of the tourists on the truck spotted an interesting looking shrub. The tourist asked Jan to stop and asked the obvious question: What is the shrubs’ name?

The shrub the tourist was pointing to was a Wild Gardenia.

Gardenia thunbergia.

A forest Gardenia.

A White Gardenia.

umKhwakhwane.

umKhangazi.

All these different names for this shrub, however, Jan only knew the Afrikaans for it:

A Wilde Katjiepiering.

Again the whole truck went quiet waiting in anticipation for Jan’s answer on this.

A million things were going through Jan’s mind. He did all he could to think of the right name for it in English but just could not think of the name for this damn tree.

Jan, being a man who is proud of what he does, and also having his own pride did not want to say, “I don’t know,” so he did what he could. He inhaled and gathered all the confidence he could and directly translated it to:

“Sir, that is a Wild Pussy Saucer Tree.”

And that was the end of it. He sat back down and knew he had to return to the camp as soon as possible.

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