by Olivia de Vos
Katemba - a Mozambican drink with equal parts dry red wine and cola with ice for hot lazy days
She didn’t dare to open the tent flap. She’d been listening to the strange sounds for what seemed like ages, but could have been two minutes. It wasn’t one of the silly hyena who had tried to drag off the cooler box earlier, and the neighbours’ table. A lot of screaming and shouting and stomping of feet finally convinced him to leave empty-jawed. Joan would forever have a cooler box with hyena teeth marks as a momento.
She always went to great lengths to find an isolated spot in campsites, even if they were unfenced, but people would come and camp close by. She wanted to soak up the sounds of the night and enjoy the bright stars without having to contend with bright lights and hearing long discussions about the sauce for the steak. She had to smile when the neighbours’ steel table started disappearing, probably some smell of meat left on it, too tempting for a hyena which had incredibly strong jaws. At least they’d now stopped yelping, far too eerie for comfort.
This animal was too noisy to be a hyena; they were primarily scavengers, and she wasn’t dead, yet. She had heard of someone’s nose being bitten off by a hyena in their tent, which gave her the shivers. Too noisy for a lion, couldn’t be a zebra or an impala because those weren’t nocturnal. Lions weren’t dangerous, apparently, if you were in your tent with a fly sheet. She decided to stick with that thought. By the heavy tread on the pods on the ground, it sounded like a pretty large animal. She lay still and breathed quietly. Probably not a hippo or a rhino as those were grazers. Hippos were the absolute worst, get between them and the water or the mother and her calf, you were done for. Judging by the sounds, some branches breaking directly overhead, this was a browser, like Google, she thought, very funny. Not a giraffe, heaven knows what they did at night, elephant then. Could they see well in the dark? Was she going to get trampled, could she run away if it tore the tent open, before she got stomped on? Could she run fast enough? Any trees to climb, she hadn’t checked when it was light. After all that thought about where to put the tent, why oh why, under the acacia tree? Oh yes, because she’d had the genius idea of buying a dome tent so that she could move away from neighbours if she had to, so she’d picked up her tent and put it on the other side of the jeep to be further from them, very handy that.
Joan felt around quietly for her torch, and her glasses, always in the side-pocket of the tent, at arm’s length so she could find them in the dark. She left the mobile phone where it was, pretty useless out here. She couldn’t yell for help, the animal might panic and anyway, hadn’t she wanted to be further from the neighbours? It wasn’t completely dark out there; a crescent moon provided a surprising amount of light out here in the bush. It would be a bad idea to switch on the torch but a good idea to have it handy. She could blind the elephant if she could get close enough. Perhaps she could stand on tiptoe and tell him: ‘Hold still now, while I blind you in one eye.’ And the elephant would reply in a gruff voice: ‘Sure, ma’am just you go ahead, that’s fine’. And then swat her with its trunk and she’d be unconscious and trampled to death.
‘Woah there, woah there, calm down,’ I say, Joan pep-talked herself while trying to regulate her breathing, and calm her heart which was racing along, faster than a cheetah chasing an impala. Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts, which one, when, where? Well, after weeks of preparation, filling jerry cans and water containers and fine-tuning the supplies, checking the high-lifting jack and both spare tyres, she’d spent a couple of days at the family farm. Just yesterday, she’d seen the sun rise over the koppies from the stoep. Early morning always smelled fresh, and somehow of wet dust, like the scent of the earth after rain. Guinea fowl were making a tremendous noise in the fields and a baboon barked somewhere, hard to tell whether it was far or near, warning its mates not to come and play on the roof as there was a two-legged pale baboon taking up space. Almost as good as the game reserve. Joan’s heart had stopped thumping, the happy thoughts worked. What had her father always said: ‘The best way to find out is to find out.’ She rolled onto her stomach and fumbled around looking for the zip, quietly, slowly opening the tent and then the flap to peek out. She couldn’t see a thing, and stuck out her arm as if she would be able to see through the blackness with it. The night felt coarse and hard, she leaned further out the tent, looked up to where the moonlight caught something, an elephant’s head where it was still browsing unperturbed. Behind his head, Orion floated in the sky. Joan thought, and thought again, her hand must be touching its enormous leg. Her hand shot back into the tent. Joan shut her eyes and stuck her head into the sleeping bag. She hardly dared breathe or think. The night settled down, eventually the blackness receded. She dared to peek out from her sleeping bag. Her ears, still fine-tuned, picked up the bugs and crickets. She stretched, her hip ached from the hard ground and her muscles complained, but she could move. She looked out of the tent, relieved to see a faint glimmer of light on the horizon, the sun would be out soon, never too early for coffee, she thought, getting up. She closed the fly sheet, she wasn’t sleeping with mozzies or snakes tonight. And, possibly she’d move the tent. And if she didn’t, she would have to put everything back in the jeep if she went for a drive. Or leave the tent open for the day and remove everything anyway so that the baboons could play, otherwise they would shred everything to bits to get inside. Now that was a happy thought, yesterday when she arrived, those baboons racing through the empty tents, swinging round the tent poles and sliding down the rooves of the cottage style tents. They didn’t pay much heed to the woman who had chased them with a spade, it ended in a stand-off until her husband had come along, and the baboons had nonchalantly walked off as if they were planning on going anyway.
‘Two massive bull elephants in the camp last night, look….’ She heard one neighbour saying to the other. ‘Are you sure, how do you know?’ A woman’s voice asked.
‘Well, you can see quite easily, anatomy you know, if the dung and the urine are close together it’s a female…’ The words drifted away as they walked off to the toilets together.
Joan studied the massive round footprints, all around her tent. They definitely could see at night, they’d daintily walked around the tent, scattering pods as they went. She followed the prints and spotted a massive pile of dung, didn’t they eat at least 100kg of food every day? In some parks you couldn’t take any citrus or the elephants would mangle your car to get at it. She hadn’t seen any warnings here, but she didn’t take citrus on her trips anyway, just in case.
Joan decided to pack up all her stuff and follow the guide book’s instructions taking the road West for about 50km, to the Fanta can on the stick, turn North there and carry on for 10km to another camp site. According to the book the site was sort of fenced but there was no water unless you could get the pump going. She didn’t think she’d have any neighbours.
Koppies – local word for hills
Stoep – local word for veranda
Mozzies - mosquitoes
About the auhtor
Olivia moved across continents and cultures to Belgium, where the weather wasn't the only hitch to overcome. She's dabbled in everything from pottery and welding to car maintenance. Some constants remain like enjoying the great outdoors behind a camera lens, on a bicycle or a climbing rope. She loves armchair traveling with a good book when she's not doing the real thing.https://oliviadevos.wordpress.com/