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 3: Our first night in Kruger

General, Skukuza

While my dad had his interview we had the chance to explore Skukuza rest camp. My mom gave Susan and myself money to buy our self a little souvenir. We were both amazed by these tiny figurines with fur and feathers. Susan picked a baby vervet monkey and I got an ostrich.

After dad’s interview, the family spent the day exploring the park, always on the lookout for animals. We saw a lot! Elephants, various antelope, zebras, buffalo, wildebeest, crocs, hippo, and baboons.

Every time we sighted an animal, my gran would roll down the window and greet them as if they were old time friends.

“Hello Mr. Elephant!”

“Oh hello there Mr. Wildebeest!”

This was hilarious to me and Susan.

As this continued my mom got irritated with gran’s shenanigans My mom would lock her eyes with my father and determinedly roll her eyes. My dad would smile in return, with only his two front teeth showing, enlightened by the situation. According to mom, this was not etiquette when visiting Kruger. It upsets the animals. (Take note Emsie Schoeman and Ace Ventura!)

After being out the whole day, we drove to Granokoppie, a granite hill where you can get out of the car and admire the beautiful view from the hill. This hill is also known as Mathekenyane.

Pronounced mat-tek-en-yaan, meaning sand flea

We drove up the hill and just as we reached the top Susan announced that she desperately had to go to the bathroom. This was problematic due to the lack of public bathrooms in the wilderness. The closest bathroom was 15 kilometers away and for a three-year-old holding it in for that long would not do the trick.

Luckily we were alone on the hill. My mom and Susan got out. I was instructed to close my eyes as Susan then picked one of the tiny craters on the hill to do her business in. In Afrikaans, we call this taking a “veltie” since you do your business in the veld.

This made me laugh uncontrollably. When my parents interrogated me on why this so funny I exclaimed:

“What if a baboon comes along and thinks it is Oros and drinks it?”

To those not familiar with Oros – It is a South African orange juice concentrate. When you prepare it, it has the same colour as urine.

(Please don’t judge me for this. What do you expect from a 6-year-old – toilet humour is gold!)

Me being hysterical about this made the grown-ups laugh as well. Susan was not very impressed with the fact that a baboon might drink her pee.

To this day when we visit Mathekenyane, we recall this memory.

All the campsites in the Kruger have a strict timetable, where the visitors have to be back at the campsite before a certain time (usually just before dawn depending on the time of year). We stayed out of the camp the entire day and only returned just before the gates closed. I asked what happens if you do not obey the gate times. Mom told us that then you have to sleep in your car in the middle of the wilderness. I think she tried to scare us with this statement, but to me, this sounded pretty exciting! I begged them to turn around. Dad said that if they find you outside the gate after closing time, you need to pay a big fine. He mentioned something about using my savings to pay it. This made me change my mind in an instant.

The next mission was to find our chalet inside the camp. We drove around for a quite some time. Skukuza’s layout can be confusing, especially if you are not familiar with the camp. Eventually, we found our chalet – and to by this time, we all just wanted to eat and go to bed. Also, we were bound for Welkom early the next morning.

We all got out of the car to see our room for the night. My dad unlocked the door and the rest of us followed him promptly, suitcases by our sides. All of us stood in a straight line marveling at what was in front of us. We immediately realised we might have a difficult night ahead of us.

In front of us, we saw that in this chalet there was only one double bed. There were five of us. This was due to the fact that we planned to travel back to Middelburg the same day. My father’s interview was longer than anticipated and they insisted that he sleeps over.

My mother encouraged him to go to the office and ask if they can make rearrangements, however, my father felt like that might leave a bad impression. So we decided to leave this problem for later and first go grab a bite at Skukuza’s restaurant.

When we returned, I started to admire the curtains of the chalet. It is a thick Sound of Music-like curtain with various pictures of animals on it. The wooden bed stood in the middle of the room with its headrest against a ledge. Luckily we each traveled with our own pillows. No blankets and linen were needed since it was so hot and humid.

All five of us stood beside the bed, planning how this is going to work. My mom suggested that we all sleep sideways, then we would all fit in. Since we all knew from the start that it was going to be an uncomfortable night, we went in with the right mindset to bear with one another. One by one we got into bed in this order: Me, gran, Susan, mom, and dad. All of us just barely fitting in. We tried to make the best of the situation. We laid there, had a brief discussion about the day and how my dad’s interview went. (Spoiler alert: he got the job. But we did not know this yet.) We said our goodnights and the tiny chalet went quiet.

I remember it was so dark that you really could not see your hand in front of your face.

Suddenly a sound filled the air. High pitched and ominous. Susan and I both shot up. What demon was this? What on earth could make such a sound? Mom calmed us down and explained that it is a hyena. Just like Shenzi, Bonzai, and Ed from The Lion King. However, this time The Lion King did not cut it. We were scared.

“Hello Mr. Hyena,” Gran said in an attempt to calm us down. Susan and I did not think gran’s greeting was so hilarious after all.

In our minds, the hyena would find some way into the chalet, crush our bones and rip us apart. At this point, I think my dad regrets telling us that they have the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom earlier that day.

(Follow this link to hear what it sounds link http://ow.ly/QQGB30iIbME)

The lights came on.

We switched places so that Susan and I could be in the middle.

The lights went out.

The hyenas continued.

Then, another animal joined the hyena choir. This time the sound somewhat of a baby crying. Again Susan and I shot up.

The lights went on.

“It is a Bush Baby,” mom explained.

(Follow this link to hear a bush baby: http://ow.ly/MKvx30iIbXE)

The lights went out.

The sounds continued.

Then my father started to complain that it was too hot and cramped.

The lights went on.

Time for a new plan. My mom suggested that one of the kids sleep on the ledge on which the bed was against. Since I was the oldest, it was decided that I will sleep on the ledge. My mom took a sheet and made a little bed for me on the ledge. Now I was sleeping higher than the rest. Now there was a bit of more space for them on the bed.

The lights went out.

The sounds continued for a while but then faded out. A few minutes passed.

A new sound then filled the air. This one was different. It was soothing.

“Did you hear that?” mom whispered, “It is lions roaring!”

The bush baby and the hyena were gone now. Only the lion filled the air with its mighty roar.

I don’t know how long my family was still awake and if they were, like me, listening to the sounds of the marvelous lion. All I can remember, at that moment I was on my back looking up into complete darkness, listening to one of the best sounds in the world. It was calming. It made me smile. I was thinking: “I could get used to this…” as I drifted away into a deep sleep.

(Check out this link to listen to how a Lion’s roar sound: http://ow.ly/HrES30iIbkL)