Photo credit: MrGuilt on Visual hunt / CC BY
Skukuza has the largest staff village in Kruger, while the other camps have smaller areas where the staff reside. The Skukuza village is just like any very small town in South Africa. It has a church and a small post office. All it needs to be considered a small town and not a village, is a liquor store. The local bar at the golf course probably makes up for that. I am digressing – more about Skukuza in later blogs.
In Satara, where we were currently residing, were none of the luxuries mentioned above. Meaning that, if you were religious and wanted to attend a church service every Sunday you either had to drive 50 kilometres to a church outside the Park, or you would have to listen to the service on the radio. But because there were a lot of churchgoers in all the smaller camps, the pastor dedicated a Sunday evening to them once a month. This ensured that souls were not lost in these far-off camps – just kidding.
If the Kruger has taught me one thing, it is that if you don’t like extreme temperatures you better start living your life right – because you will not survive hell.
On this specific Sunday evening it was about 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and my mother decided that it would be good if the Pressly family attend our first ‘once-a-month’ service. After all, it is what Free State people, like us, do. We move, we settle in and we find the closest church for attending.
My parents, growing up very conservative, also believed in the Western way of full collar and tie when going to a work, a fancy event and church. We dressed up in our mooi-moois (the Afrikaans slang for formal wear) and off to church we went.
Side note: Dressing up for church was not a thing in Kruger. Here it is acceptable to go to church with a T-shirt and flip-flops (plakkies as we call it in Afrikaans). My parents did not get this memo.
The service was held in Satara in a small room allocated for staff meetings. It had tiny windows and only two ceiling fans. I think these fans was a gift from Noah out of the Arc to Moses, which was then used by the Israelites, in their tents while travelling through the desert. After that it was shipped to Paul Kruger himself, where he and Stevenson Hamilton installed them in that very room. These horrible fans were old and dusty and was barely hanging on the ceiling.
The reverend welcomed us all. He prayed and we all stood up for the first hymn that we all sung. We all made up the words as we went along because the leaflets with the lyrics were used as additional fans.
While we were singing, I loosened my tie. Mum would then get this stiff Protestant neck and bulging eyes, signalling me that I can forget about taking off the noose around my neck. What was a fully dressed up boy to do in this heat from hell?
After the hymns there was a suggestion from congress that we move all the chairs to the patio because it is a bit cooler outside. This idea was not just revolutionary because of the unbearable temperature but also because one of the churchgoers said this. You see, I am pretty sure at that stage in time, it was only the reverend who was allowed to speak during church.
We all picked up our chairs and moved outside and settled down. The breeze that came from time to time was warm but blissful in a weird way.
Finally, the reverend started to preach. There we sat, under the stars, in Satara, hearing the Word of the Lord. As we were approaching the end of the service, I was still fiddling with my tie from time to time and mum still gave me ‘the look’. My sister, on the other hand, was intrigued by something else. On the roof of the little conference room, a small cat like figure appeared. It was very curious about the meeting taking place.
My sister immediately whispered to mum to alarm her about the creature on the roof. Mum replied that it is a genet and that my sister should be quiet and sit still. I was glad the attention was not on me and I got to loosen my tie again. However, my sister had no interest to what the old guy in the front was saying or to my mother’s stern ways. All her attention was on what the genet was doing. Keeping a hawk-eye on it as it moved.
The genet kept its curiosity through the last moments in the service. Slowly moving from the one side of the roof to the other. Eventually it settled down and sat on the roof. As if it was listening to what the reverend was saying.
The reverend finished and asked us to bow our heads. We all did this, except my sisters. As the reverend prayed, she kept careful watch over her new buddy – the only entertainment she had during this exhausting service.
As the reverend got into one of the more serious parts of his prayer, he started to raise his voice. Reverends tend to do this when getting emotional during prayer. And as he did this the genet got frightened and scurried away. All hell broke loose (excuse the pun).
My sister yelled out during the prayer: “He chased away the kitty!” followed by a good old hysterical cry.
This was so bad that the reverend had to stop his prayer.
A few others who were also aware of the genet on the roof started laughing explaining it to the reverend. He also thought this was funny.
Mum on the other hand was trying to calm my sister down through her embarrassing wails, demanding that we bring back the genet this instant.
I can’t remember attending a lot of these services after that night. Or my father went on his own from there on out. I think Mum decided that we go again when we were older. We did just that later when moving to Skukuza. But, more on that later.