Chapter 9: The toddler and the frog

Satara

For a young one in Kruger, it is expected of you to entertain yourself. Yes, it is exciting to go on wildlife safaris, but this can only happen when mom and dad could come along.

Luckily for me, the camp was my playground. And as mentioned in one of the previous chapters, I loved riding my red and white BMX bike around town. Collecting seeds, feathers, and dung.

Sometimes I would join my dad when he was working in the field.

I had a deal with my dad that if I behave and don’t get into any mischief,  I would be rewarded with an Energade energy drink and a Bar One chocolate bar after lunch. This soon became a tradition and one of the men working with my dad would always tease him if he forgot my chocolate.

These men, along with my father, used to teach me a lot about the bushveld. Animals sound. The names of animals in Shangaan. Bird calls. Tracks. And even shared knowledge about the plants and trees.  While they worked, I got to wander around. Obviously not too far from them. In my mind, I wish I had a dog like Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld. Or sometimes I would play the game in my head that my dad would forget me in the field and that I would be raised by a group of Vervet Monkeys.

I always picked up dung and had one of the men identify it for me. As soon as it was identified, I would store it in a little silver container my mom gave me. On this, I used Tip-Ex to draw a snake and skull and wrote a clear warning that no one was allowed to peek inside.

Soon I would also go to school in Skukuza during the week. And there I had friends to play with.

My sister, on the other hand, was not as fortunate. She was too young to go along my dad’s field trips, so she stayed at home with mom. Luckily, she loved playing with our set of plastic animals, watched The Lion King from start to end (sometimes 3-4 times a day) or play other pretend games in the garden.

She and mom soon figured out their little rituals and traditions like going for a walk in the camp, having a plate of chips at the restaurant for lunch or driving to a close by watering hole, Nsemani dam, and just sitting there.

It would however not be fair to say my sister didn’t have any friends. You see, the choice of friends she had was just a bit unorthodox for a little girl.

One day, on one of their walks, my sister came across a few dung beetles. She immediately adopted them. Picking them up and carrying them home with her. Mom tried to persuade her to leave them alone. She told her that they collected dung and rolled them into balls and that this was very disgusting and unsanitary. My sister was in awe, but for all the wrong reasons. She was worried because her pet dung beetles did not have any dung. This actually became the reason for my mom having to drive to the watering hole each morning. My sister demanded fresh dung for her six-legged friends. So my mom prayed that some elephant did their business close to Nsemani dam. My mom would stop. Pick up the fresh, warm elephant dung. Put it in a plastic bag and drive back home. Here it would go into the ice cream container the beetles lived in. My sister would squat by the container and watch the beetles do their business while talking to them, encouraging them to roll their balls of poo.

This continued until gran visited again. She was repulsed by this and could not believe that my mom allowed this disgusting practice. Gran could only stand this for a few days. Then one day she lost it. One morning when my sister was crunched over the container encouraging here friends to roll their balls, Gran swooped in and picked up the container.

“This has to end! It is disgusting!” she said and with these words flung the dung beetle family over the fence. Poo flying all over the place and dung beetles screaming their goodbyes to my sister in a shrill voice. My sister was hysterical, and mom and Gran did not speak to each other for a while.

Luckily these weren’t my dear sister’s only friends.

Another ritual that happened daily was just after bath time in the early evenings. The bathtub had a pipe that ran out in the garden. We soon discovered, that in this pipe lived two frogs. As soon as the water ran out, both frogs would hop out and sit outside the pipe. When all the water ran out they would return to their penthouse pipe home.

Every evening after my sister had her bath she would announce that she would now be visiting her friends. She would put on her PJs and slippers and go sit outside – once again in squatting position.

“Hello, you two!” she would start

“How are you two today? Did you have a nice day? Did you miss me?” were the questions she would start the conversation with. And here she would sit talking to them as if they replied.

Soon this was not only an after-bath time ritual but became a thing that my sister would demand.

“Mom, I want to chat with my friends,” she would say to mom. Mom then had to go and open the faucet and let a little water out. Susan would run out and after a while, my mom would hear

“Hello, you two…” and then the conversation would start.

To this day my parents never wanted to listen to me when I said they should’ve had my sister tested.

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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.