The Bush

river wide angle2

The rains are late. Late, late.

They say, here they say, that Mozambique sucked all our rain up and poured it down further south in devastating torrents. That’s Africa for you: feast or famine. Drought or flood.   We don’t do Middle Ground in this part of the world.

The heat bears down so that the earth is singed and sharp grass whispers hoarsely and then the baked ground sends it right back up again, as if you’re in a rotisserie being toasted from all sides.

buffalo3

We are in the game park where weary animals – many with young for Mother Nature is out of sync – the rain isn’t here but the babies are – must walk and walk and walk, their feet and hooves kick up plumes of whitepepper dust, their heads are bent as they follow wellworn paths so that the earth is threaded with the ribbons of their endless, ancient tread.

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The river has shrunk to skinny ribbons and sporadic pools and elephants dig in the sand for a wetness they can smell but can’t see.  The occasional waterhole has soupy depths just enough for the zebra to get in up to their shoulders, I imagine cool relief flood their faces as they sink in.

zebra-waterhole.jpg

Far to the south of the park, though, the Silele Swamp is an astonishing green,  a wide brushstroke of lime between blonde grasslands and a pale high cloudless sky. No rain today, then, we say. The marsh grass is still rudely luridly green, I imagine roots that snake deep into the soil in search of a drink. Game swarms to this place.  Families of elephant rush in and languish, wildebeeste, buffalo, giraffe. As if Noah’s Arc has docked somewhere close by and let everybody out to stretch their legs.

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From our camp, in the high hot afternoon when the cicadas sing a breathy, exhausted tune, I sit in the shade and scan the space below with my lens. Here Africa spills away and the game can trek unmarked by us, uninhibited. Giraffe straddle shallow pools of water to drink, their long legs stretched wide apart so that their necks can drop low enough, then they seem as elegant A frames against a dwindling river bed. The zebra hack and bark, the baboon fight and I can hear their squeals and screams stream up the valley towards me, the impala huff and puff and occasionally I hear the thrilling trumpet of an irritated elephant.

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At night, as I lie in my bed with a full fat moon so bright it’s as if a careless Celestial resident left the lights on,  I hear the bellow of lions.

rising moon2

We can’t find them come dawn though. Somewhere over distant savannah, a halo of vultures circles lazily on the soft pearly morning air. Dad always used to say – where there are vultures, there are lion. He also used to say, where there are tsetse flies there are lion. Those we bear in abundance, they bite ankles hard so that hot red itchy weals swell. They are armour plated; every time I swat one, it shakes its heads, regains its balances and carries on apparently unfazed.

young ostriches

Whenever I am lucky enough to escape to the Bush (why the bush, asks B’s girlfriend so that we must explain what we have always known – a bush is a shrub, the Bush is the endless millionmile scramble of gloriously untamed, un-reined Africa), whenever I am forced to abandon screen, an umbilical connection to the ether, I feel liberated. Immensely, enormously, madly, recklessly liberated, as if all my senses have been let out to play and dance and sing.

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3 Responses to “The Bush”

  1. Catherine Says:

    I love your post. My sister lives in Zambia and we have visited quite a few times. We have been into the bush on many occasions and your writing brings back those memories so clearly. I loved it there, but sadly my BIL passed away 9 years ago and he was very knowledgeable about the bush. Its never the same now, so we havent been back.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Thank you Catherine – for reading and popping up to say hello. My sis lives in Zm too. I am sorry about your brother in law. It’s hard to go back – when a place is so changed.

  2. Lesley Reader Says:

    I love your photos and descriptions. I live in Dar but get out to the bush as often as I can. Tanzania is truly magnificent.

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